Sunday, October 22, 2017

Fairview Peak Earthquake Faults, Nevada

 Many times I've crossed Nevada on Highway 50 and east of Fallon seen the sign for "Earthquake Faults Six Miles" and an arrow pointing south. (Find it here on Google maps.) I've always been on a deadline and passed right by. But recently, we had a little extra time to spare, and I decided it was the day to go explore these earthquake faults.

Nevada has a long history of earthquakes. There are so many faults in the state (I'm speaking of the geologic variety here). The whole Basin and Range geologic province depends on faults for its interesting topography.

On December 16, 1954, a magnitude 7.2 earthquake rocked the Great Basin. It's epicenter was near Fairview Peak, east of Fallon. Two other large earthquakes had already occurred earlier in the year, and another one followed a few minutes later a bit to the north. The result was more than a 20-foot rise in mountains in some places! Very few people live in this area, otherwise it would surely have made big news. The earthquake was felt as far west as Sacramento, with plaster falling in the capitol building in Carson City, Nevada. Pictures rattled and chimneys cracked in Fallon, Eureka, and Austin, Nevada. Waterlines broke in Lovelock and Gabbs. But overall, there was not much damage for the size of these earthquakes.

We were in the van, which has very low clearance, but the sign said that we should make it. So we puttered off, enjoying our audiobook (We Are Legion: We Are Bob--fun listen, we recommend it). We followed the signs up a spur road, and it eventually got so steep we couldn't go any further. We were almost to the parking lot, and no one else was in the area, so we got out and hiked up to the displacement. It was really obvious, even 60+ years later!

There was a little trail going up, so we followed it. (You can see how close we got the van to the parking area--almost!)

Don't fall off! Oh my, it must have been something to have been in the area. You can see a great photo of a new cliff next to a cabin on the Nevada Bureau of Mines and Geology blog. It also mentions some of the stories about the earthquakes.

The Online Nevada Encyclopedia website mentions that the earthquakes opened up large cracks in roadways, allowed huge boulders to tumble onto roads, and substantially affected farmers' irrigation wells. It also mentions that although the 1906 San Francisco earthquake had just three feet of displacement, these earthquakes caused up to 20 feet of displacement, and the fault scarps were 54 miles long.

Another good account of a road trip is on this virtual trip. A fun story is on the Looking for Detachment blog.

If you're into the geology behind it all, check out this 1996 article in the Journal of Geophysical Research.

It doesn't take too long to walk along the earthquake scarp, so before long we were headed back to the van. I loved the golden rabbitbrush.

I had to stop again to take a photo of it and Fairview Peak. You can see the moon ready to set behind the peak, along with some communications towers on the top of it. About midway down there's a jagged scar showing more of the earthquake scarp.

We had gained some elevation so had a really nice view looking down towards the Chalk Mountains.

This detour was well worth the time. Just thinking about the immensity of these earthquakes--and that more will be happening within our lifetimes, and probably in more populated areas--makes you want to be prepared. Or be lucky enough to be outside in the boonies when the next big one hits!
p.s. If you'd like to spend more time in this area, check out The Great Highway 50 Rock Tour from Fallon to the Fairview Peak Earthquake Faults, with a number of stops along the way. We might have to go look for Nevada wonderstone on our next trip.

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