Travel the San Andreas Fault Line

By Alan Haskvitz, nationally recognized educational consultant

For more free educational resources go to

Finding fault can be fun for the whole family and since we are so good at that The Car Family decided to take on California’s very own, the San Andreas. The best part of this quest was it is the type of educational endeavor that you can adjust to your own time restraints. You can travel the 60 plus miles of the fault line in Los Angeles County in a day, including some side trips. Or you can turn the journey into a two-week exploration zigzagging over land that even Huell Howser hasn’t discovered. Either way you are afforded a close up look at the one geological force that literally holds the fate of California in its grasp while you get a glimpse of a California that many coast clingers have never seen.

The San Andreas is all in California stretching the 650 or so miles from the Salton Sea area to Cape Mendocino. It runs through Desert Hot Springs, San Bernardino, Wrightwood, Palmdale, Parkfield, San Juan Bautista, Daly City and exits into the Pacific for a final time near the Shelter Cove nine-hole golf course. Which, by the way, is a splendid treat as it is probably the only golf course in the world built around an airstrip with a view of migrating whales possible.

To best prepare yourself for this venture you need to purchase a remarkable book by David K. Lynch appropriately called, A Field Guide to the San Andreas ( It should have been called a fun guide because it is lively reading filled with geological terms that a layman can understand. Every mile of the fault is mapped with GPS coordinates and notes. It is full of insights explaining every formation and rock type. Call it the original drive-by geology book.

A good vehicle is also needed for the somewhat remote trip. A SUV is not necessary and unless you go after a rain or snowstorm the roads are kept in dandy shape. We were treated to a BMW 328 sedan for this trek and it is truly one of the best vehicles for driving the canyons and highways. Blessed with an excellent 24 mpg and a cruising range of at least 360 miles, our test vehicle’s brakes, handling, and passenger comfort were extraordinary considering the $32,000 price tag for the 230 horsepower Bimmer. Since the fault line twists and turns, it even has nearly a 45 degree change near the Grapevine, the BMW’s tight suspension and crisp handling were well appreciated. However, the trunk is a bit small so for those of you with more to tote, the new Kia Rondo is a minivan with a bob tail rear and a price tag equally short at under $19,000. Good handling for a van, the Rondo gets over 25 mpg in freeway driving and over 22 on two lane roads. Both vehicles have a tidy turning radius which  is a must when you find yourself lost on a tight road bordered by forgive me not granite formations.

We started our adventure by heading towards San Bernardino, electing not to visit the desert areas around the Salton Sea and Palm Desert in the heat of summer. Besides, we were cherry picking the best drives and views and most of them start at the intersection of the 210 and the 15. If you elect to run the fault from south to north you can start in Brawley and end at the Pacific Ocean south of Eureka. Lynch has divided these into 12 sections each of which has outstanding views and vibrant landscapes that could finally challenge your flat screen’s pixels. Our trip was mainly paved roads with a few sections of good gravel ones.

Fighting the urge to keep right on going until we reached Las Vegas we quickly exited after the 210-15 merge onto Kenwood Avenue. We turned under the freeway and, as Rod Sterling said, “You are entering another dimension.” Suddenly there was no traffic, no noise, and just a hint of smog to reassure you that Los Angeles isn’t too far away.

The road quickly dead ends and magically you are on old Route 66, AKA Cajon Blvd. There are several painted markers on the asphalt to that effect. The usual metal ones were stolen so many times the highway department decided to challenge the thieves a bit more. Now if they are stolen it’s the asphalt. In just a few miles we were at Blue Cut, named for the color of the rocks. Of course, we couldn’t tell, but the tremendous forces created by the fault line are easily visible.

Blue Cut was the start of our fault-finding mission. Indeed, within a few miles of the turn-off we arrived at 34 16.068 and 117 27.351, which are the coordinates of the fault in this area. If you are looking to buy prime San Francisco property in the next million or so years stay on the west side of the fault line. The land on the east side is heading toward Mexico and Arizona. Indeed the rocks  near this location are from Arizona. As such we expected them to be more red than blue, but the Grand Canyon State’s politics might have changed over time.

As you travel under the 215 you are traveling on the Pelona Shist of the Pacific Plate and crossing over to the North American Plate. No immigration and no customs officers here, but the message is clear, this is the Mother of all American earthquake faults. As you journey on you will find Lost Lake, which is a sag pond and the light colored and very rounded Mormon rocks. Exit to Wrightwood and turn on the Lone Pine Canyon Road. You are now essentially riding on top of the fault line.

Climbing higher you can catch a glimpse of the Mojave Desert through Sheep Creek Canyon. When you reach downtown Wrightwood you are truly seeing a community on the go as it sits right on the fault. Continuing on you come to the Big Pines Ranger Station at 6874 feet of elevation. It is all downhill from here, but before you leave have a picnic. You might want to know that the station rests on scarp from the 1857 earthquake in case you want to impress your friends or win at Scrabble.

There is an abundance of vivid scenery as you head towards Jackson Lake and Palmdale on the Big Pines Highway. Jackson Lake is just a small pond and will probably disappear with the next large flood so you might want to take a photo just to remember the good old days. On each side of the road you will see small landsides indicating an active fault line as well as mangled rock formations showing the tremendous power of Mother Nature. Don’t forget to stop at Punchbowl Park and visit the information center for a quick education about the area floral and fauna as well as its fossils. The Punchbowl is 60 million years old and was a shallow sea. Over time the silt deposits and its granite base were lifted to this elevation. If you feel fit, take the hikes and buy the guidebook to keep a college professor happy.

After you have traveled about 60 miles from the Blue Cut you can take a quick nap at Peolona Vista Park before driving to Palmdale. That is the terminus of this section of the fault finding venture, with the next being the Palmdale to Frazier Park trip where the sharpest angle on the fault, nearly 45 degrees, awaits.

If you have time don’t forget the Hollister to Daly City run where you can most clearly see the effects of earthquakes on these communities with their crooked curbs and fences. Continuing on above San Francisco you follow Route 1 through Bodega Bay, Point Reyes, and finally Shelter Cove and that well deserved round of golf. This is one family outing that is never short of things to see, and, with the Lynch book and a digital camera could make you the scourge of the vacation slideshow competition.

Family conference: This is a great trip and extremely educational. Once you see the forces of the fault and what it has created you are certainly going to have more respect for that earthquake kit and definitely take out quake insurance. With the number of communities built on or near the fault line any shift could well bring on the greatest disaster in human history. And remember, the San Francisco fault wasn’t even on the San Andreas.

Earthquake information

Before we describe this must do travel experience we started to learn about earthquake faults in California in general. Since the San Andreas gets most the attention we were surprised that there is one running right under our little community called the Malibu reverse fault. (

Current earthquake information posted daily.

An interactive map site may give you some great insights into the expansive nature of the fault line.

Cities built on the San Andreas Fault line: Desert Hot Springs, San Bernardino, Wrightwood, Palmdale, Gorman, Frazier Park, Daly City, Point Reyes Station and Bodega Bay.

For more educational materials go to