Straddling the Tectonic Plates

Even rebuilt with steel beams beneath the concrete bridge that crosses right over the San Andreas Fault, the constant movement of the tectonic plates continues to bend the guardrails.
Gilda felt secure on the side of the moving plates that some say will not slip into the Pacific Ocean — if she should roll that long!
I wondered how ofter these samples of earthquake movement in this region have to be moved further apart.

I’m no stranger to living on shaky ground. A rock n’ roll life may be part of the reason why this California girl is attracted to the San Andreas Fault as if it were some mystical goddess.

I’ve resided not far from the fault line whether near the north, central or south end of this approximate 800 mile long geologic rift that separates the Pacific Tectonic Plate from the North American Tectonic Plate. This tickles my muse.

In a muse tickling mood, we pointed Gilda to the most active center of the San Andreas Fault, that is also near the physical center of this north-south fault. Parkfield, CA is a small speck on the map, while home to a giant earthquake research center. “The Earthquake Capitol of the World is so named not for the size of its earthquakes, but rather the regularity of them. Since the nineteenth century, the area has experienced magnitude 6.0 shakers on average every 22 years. The last 6.0 quake was in 2004,” writes Discover Central California

Once Gilda made the northerly turn off of California Highway 46, not far from Paso Robles, memories rattled through me.

Haze muddled the July 21,1952 morning air — a year after my mother’s premature death when I was unceremoniously handed over to an older couple who lived in the Mojave Desert. (Northeast from Los Angeles, this high desert valley is marked by the Garlock Fault to the north, that intersects with the San Andreas Fault to the west.) Early morning light slipped through the windows when I awoke to a loud crack beneath the sofa where I slept. The sofa rolled and I watched a corner china cabinet sway and push ceramic bowls and plates from the top shelf and then shatter against the cracking concrete floor.

The San Andreas Fault wasn’t to blame for this 7.7 Richter scale shaker. It was a small fault that runs parallel to the Garlock Fault.

“Were you scared?” Spouse asked as we rambled along the quiet country road, Cholame Valley Road.

“Were you scared?” Spouse asked as we rambled along the quiet country road, Cholame Valley Road.

“No. It was a like a dream. It was later when I got the bejeezus scared out of me. After the quake I went outside with the folks to check on the chicken barns. Just as we entered the barns, not only was there the longest, fattest snake in the world at my feet, but at the same time an after shock shook the ground. Everyone screamed!”

Then there was the 1969 5.7 shaker north of San Francisco while I lived in San Jose with my new husband who was a geology major at San Jose State University. And the big talk was that all Californians must have water beds to ride out earthquakes with pizzazz; and the earth moving research that pretty much determined that fault lines and plate tectonics are in constant movement shaping the continents on this planet.

Like the shifting earth below me, I continued my relationship with the San Andreas Fault throughout my moves about the state. But to visit the single most active center of the fault enchanted me ever since I read about this tiny town called Parkfield, with more cattle than people, and maybe some of the most intriguing geologic research around.

“Gilda, today we cross the Pacific Plate into the North American Plate!” I exclaimed to this German-made miss as we neared the landmark bridge that crosses the active fault line. I was as excited as a kid on her way to Disneyland.

And there was the sign, and the bridge that bends with the moving tectonic plates.

Crossing the tectonic plates

What’s it like? Did the mystical goddess touch me? No. But the sensation of straddling two tectonic plates is pretty cool.

Parkfield? Quirky. Rustic.Tiny. In other words, don’t blink or sneeze while driving through Parkfield.

But it does has lodging, a few RV hookups, a restaurant, and a park that’s picnic perfect. Gilda took the near one-lane road like the lady that she is — until we came to where the road turns to dirt, and decided that the big oak tree in front of the V6 Ranch entrance was a good place for a picnic. Silence. Absolute silence reigned. And nothing moved or shook except the wind through the oaks.



Must have milk shake here.

Thanks to rancher John Varian and his V6 Ranch, Parkfield offers a variety of public events throughout the year. The big event is the Mother’s Day weekend Bluegrass Festival — with available camping — where you might just be there “when it happens.” 

The final note: While visiting the earthquake center of the world you might ride a horse, or you might help a cattle drive, but you won’t be able to fill your vehicle with gas — so enter the North American Tectonic Plate with a full tank.


Gilda straddles the North American plate and Pacific plate. It was cosmic.



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