Step on the San Andreas Fault in Palm Springs

Get up close to this fascinating geological feature

Posted By: Monday, April 25, 2016

It’s perhaps one of the best known, and most menacing geological features in North America.  The San Andreas fault is the oft-blamed continental rift responsible for plenty of earthquakes in California.

While the science of this tear in the earth’s crust is fascinating, did you know you can actually get up close with this amazing feature, right in the Palm Springs area?

Seeing geology up close

The fault is the visible boundary between two massive tectonic plates, the North American plate and the Pacific plate. The seam runs about 800 miles through California (see map at bottom), and may be best known for causing a serious quake (and resulting fire and destruction) on April 18, 1906 in San Francisco.

The US Geological Service explains on its website, “the San Andreas is the "master" fault of an intricate fault network that cuts through rocks of the California coastal region. The entire San Andreas fault system is more than 800 miles long and extends to depths of at least 10 miles within the Earth. In detail, the fault is a complex zone of crushed and broken rock from a few hundred feet to a mile wide.”

The fault is a popular sight with not just geology buffs, but with the curious who like their vacation photos to be a little out of the ordinary.

Finding the fault is easy enough, but getting up close to it, can take planning.  Fortunately, there’s a whole organization and their website that can help you; the very helpful

San Andreas Fault - What to look for

The San Andreas Fault can be most easily accessed in the Palm Springs area in places such as Desert Hot Springs, Indio, and in and around the Salton Sea, but it’s also distantly visible from Joshua Tree Park.

It’s best to do some research and see what you might want to view, since as the website explains, “virtually all traces of the ‘giant crack in the ground’ so many people imagine the SAF to be, have been erased. Erosion fills and covers the fault, plows and bulldozers reshape the surface, roads and neighborhoods are built on the fault. The actual surface trace of the fault is subtle.”

Cool highlights: mud pots, and an oasis!

Some of the cool highlights of the fault include the Thousand Palms Oasis. which sits atop the fault and drinks water from the deep fissure. The Salton Sea State Recreation Area also has many outstanding and unique geologic stops like the Mud Pots near Niland, Mullet Island, or Obsidian Butte.  The best way to get directions is to stop in to the Salton Sea State Recreation Area Visitor Centre and get some guidance (and maps!) from a ranger.  The sites are relatively easy to access if you know where they are. The Salton Sea is a great day trip, as it’s just a couple hours of driving time from Palm Springs.

Image Credits: Main image and map courtesy Thule Scientific, highway photo courtesy, mud pots courtesy Roadside America.


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