The Earthquake Trail
by: Dan Frost
photography by: Marian Little Utley
The 1906 earthquake that rocked San Francisco, burning the city for three days, was the worst temblor ever to strike a mainland American city. Yet it left its most visible reminders in the most rural of places, the Point Reyes National Seashore.
There, a 90-minute drive from the Golden Gate Bridge, visitors can see demonstrations of how the ground can move.
On the paved half-mile Earthquake Trail at Point Reyes’ Bear Valley Visitor Center in Olema, nature itself tells the story. Rocks in the area are granite, more commonly found in the southern Sierra Nevada mountains, and highly unusual on the northern California coast. And Point Reyes has no redwood trees, which don’t care for granitic soil, but which grow abundantly in a state park only six miles away.
That’s because Point Reyes, a triangular peninsula of only 100 square miles, has been inching up the coast from Los Angeles over the past several million years, on its way, apparently, to Alaska. Earthquakes like the one in 1906 are merely the rare occasions when geologic activity becomes apparent to the naked eye.
Californians live with that prospect, and are even notoriously blasé about it, because the same underground forces that can level cities and raze houses are also responsible for the stunning natural beauty of the region. The San Andreas Fault extends in a straight line along the edge of the Point Reyes peninsula, exactly underneath Tomales Bay.