Lately, there has been quite a bit of press about the recent “San Andreas” movie. To me, this movie sets back the general public’s knowledge and understanding about how earthquakes create damage in Southern California.
Some basic stereotypes exist in the movie, many of which are completely false. Starting with the magnitude of the earthquake in the movie – No fault line in Southern California is capable of anything larger than about an 8.2. The only one truly capable of such an event, the San Andreas Fault, is also many miles from Los Angeles and is mostly separated from the Los Angeles Basin by the San Gabriel Mountains. Anything larger than a 9.0 is in the domain of “megathrusts” or subduction zones. In California, the only subduction zone is the southern end of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which ends at the “Mendocino Triple Junction” just offshore of Cape Mendocino. It last produced something close to a 9.2 or so in January 1700.
Tsunamis, especially ones of great height, are also not in the forecast for a large earthquake here in Southern California. Tsunamis are created by the large scale displacement of water, similar to sloshing in a bathtub. Move your hand below the water quickly, you create a wave on the surface. Usually, tsunamis that are related to earthquakes are caused by the movement of the fault itself, typically megathrust faults underneath the ocean. We just don’t have those in Southern California. Even the largest tsunami generated by such a fault may only be tens of feet high, certainly not hundreds of feet.
Big cracks just don’t open up in the land from earthquakes, certainly nothing like those represented in the movie. Fissures are created by earthquakes, however. These fissures are usually the result of settlement or fault movement. They aren’t that large either way.
Structural damage is also not going to be as great as represented. Mind you, a large magnitude earthquake centered in the Los Angeles Basin will do a great deal of damage. Water mains, sewer mains, gas lines, power lines, and other utilities will be compromised in many locations creating shortages and, in some cases, fires. Buildings may collapse or be damaged beyond repair. The underlying geology will determine some of the damage extent. The rest will be determined by building type and its susceptibility to seismic waves. Either way, the skyscrapers in Downtown Los Angeles won’t be toppling like trees anytime soon. I’d still stay away from the area after a major event though, as there would be an immense amount of glass and debris creating hazards for travel.
Keeping all this in mind, and also keeping with the theme that Southern California officials have been doing, use this opportunity to prepare yourself for a major earthquake. They can strike at any time and will create problems for all of us that live, work, and visit this region. The best way to survive a major catastrophe is to be prepared. Part of that preparation is to know your region, know the routes, and know where the problem areas may be following a major earthquake.
For further information, I highly recommend contacting your local Emergency Services agency in your city and county. They have a great deal of resources to help you prepare for an event like a major earthquake.
We decided on another early start for the day, planning to get to Monterey about dawn. We had a long day ahead, with lots of rain forecast. How much rain, we didn’t quite know. Our route was simple at first, taking US 101 to SR-156 over to Hwy 1. We took the old road through Del Monte, which still has old concrete exposed, then continued to Monterey via the freeway. It was still dark by the time we got to the old train station in Monterey, but we got photos anyway. Jake had wanted to test his new camera and see how well it did with longer exposure night shots. If it was just dark, it would have been easier. Winds and increasing rainfall made it much more difficult. Some of the gusts got up to the 30 mph range, quite a lot for a camera on a tripod! We had a couple more stops to make before heading through Big Sur, fuel for the car and ourselves. We managed to take care of both in the same parking lot. After breakfast, we headed out, time for Big Sur.
Just as we crossed the Carmel River, I noticed what appeared to be a piece of bridge rail. We turned back around to get a closer view and it turned out to be a lot more. The end cap for the original Carmel River Bridge was preserved here in 1995. That bridge was washed out in March, and rapidly replaced with the current span. The end cap was placed here, along with a plaque, to commemorate the quick replacement of such an important bridge. Among others listed on the plaque, was a local businessman – Clint Eastwood. A couple miles south of the bridge, Big Sur begins. Well, maybe not officially, but for me it does – at the Curves Next 74 Miles sign.
Heading south into Big Sur, the weather was quite varied. It stayed pretty decent most of the time on the north end, but wasn’t as kind as we got further south. We stopped at a few bridges to take photos, one of them being the famous Bixby Creek Bridge. After stopping at the Ripplewood Resort to get snacks and take a break, I decided we should try to see Pfeiffer Beach. I hadn’t been there in quite some time and had wanted to visit. Now, being a very rainy day with creeks running high, you’d think heading down a narrow road in a canyon would be a bad idea. Well, it was. Aside from all the debris on the roadway, we were stopped by a creek crossing. It may not have been too deep, but I didn’t want to chance it. So, back up we went. I’ll return again when it isn’t quite as wet. At the top of the big grade after Big Sur, we hit fog. Normally, there would be a nice view of the coast from the top, this time all we saw was the road. After a rather quick descent, we got below the clouds, and could actually see a fair distance down the coast. We stopped again to see McWay Falls, which is always a beautiful sight, even in this weather. It didn’t rain the whole time we were there, but started as we left. At various times, the rain got really heavy, but didn’t bring down the rocks that I had thought it would. After Lucia, we went through a couple of sections of the highway that were being reconstructed. One section, at Rain Rocks and Pitkins Curve, a new bridge and rock shed are being built. That project is expected to be completed in 2012. From there, the highway wasn’t too bad, with the weather ranging from fog to dry. At Ragged Point, we just had to see how expensive fuel was there, and we weren’t let down – $4.799/gallon. Just remember, if you fill up here, it is by choice. Much cheaper stations exist in Monterey and Cambria. A few miles further, about 74 miles north of the curves sign, the road hits a straightaway. With the Big Sur coast is behind us, the rest should be easy!
Near San Simeon, we stopped to see the elephant seals. It may have been raining rather steadily, but it was still worth the stop. At the south end, there was a new pup, very small compared to the adults lounging about. I didn’t stop here in June on my bike trip. I was enjoying the tailwind too much. This time, it would have been a headwind, plus the rain. Continuing south, I noticed that all the creeks we passed over were flooding. It would be a sign of things to come, which we would find out soon enough. In Cambria, we looked for an old Auto Club parking sign, but to no avail, it wasn’t there. We did get some good cinnamon rolls at Lynn’s however. We took the old highway through Cayucos, trying to follow more of old Hwy 1 when possible. At Morro Bay, we decided to skip the old road, but take another route around via Los Osos. Here we would encounter our first major flooding. The creek that runs into Morro Bay here, Chorro Creek was nearly up to the bridge. Just to the south of the bridge, it was lapping against the roadway. Yikes! Just a bit more and even this road would be underwater. Still, we kept on going, taking Turri Road instead of Los Osos Valley Road, which is a much more scenic alternative. I took the same route on my tour in June. Jake certainly enjoyed it, comparing various spots to Colorado and even Norway.
South of San Luis Obispo, we left the freeway for a while, or so was the plan. Ontario Road, old US 101 north of Avila Beach, was closed at San Luis Obispo Creek. The whole valley floor was underwater, much to the chagrin of the cows we saw standing in a flooded field. So, back onto the freeway we went. Even that bridge had only a few feet before it too would get inundated. After we crossed the creek on 101, we got back onto the old highway. The roadway to Avila Beach was also closed, and we could tell why. Half of the roadway was underwater here. We could only imagine how it was further down. Things seemed to be ok as we headed south, but that would soon change. Just south of Pismo Beach on Hwy 1, we were greeted with another closure. This one was passable, barely. Most of the cars ahead were going through, so we did too. Not the best idea, but we could see how deep it was at least. The adjacent campgrounds were well underwater here. After heading a bit further south, we found another closure. This time, we’d have to detour. I knew some of the ways through Grover Beach, where this closure was located, but needed help. For the first time in a long time, I called the Caltrans Highway Information number (800-427-7623). They listed five closures for Hwy 1, five! None of them for Big Sur much to my surprise, all of them in this area. So, with that knowledge, we found our way back to Hwy 1, and to yet another detour. The grade past Halcyon Road was closed, so we took El Campo Road around the closure, back again to Hwy 1. The next known closure was just a few miles ahead, at the railroad underpass. We went over to see how bad the flooding was, and found a car with water up to the top of the doors underneath. I guess the detour was just too long for them to take! From there, we headed south to Guadalupe, where we spotted a Union Pacific Track Inspection car. I hadn’t seen one before, so it was neat to find. The next closure was south of 166, so we headed east toward Santa Maria, taking some other roads bypassing most of town. At Hwy 135, we headed south, rejoining Hwy 1 for a bit south of Orcutt. Jake hadn’t taken the old Harris Grade before, so we took that instead of the main road. It was a bit steeper and rockier than the current Hwy 1, and for the first time in a while, we were on the hill side of the roadway. So, now we had to deal with rocks on the road. Not many, thankfully. Light traffic on the grade also helped.
At Lompoc, we continued south on Hwy 1, through fairly steady rain, but no more flooding. The trip south from Gaviota on Hwy 101 was also uneventful, with the exception of the ever increasing traffic and the larger potholes developing through Goleta. Overall, the trip was a success, except for the flooding, road closures, and heavy rain. I was glad to get back home, and it was good timing that we did when we did. I checked the Caltrans and CHP site for more information, found that a few of the roads we had taken were now closed. Floodwaters did indeed rise above the roadway around Morro Bay, and Hwy 1 had yet more closures. Still, what a trip! I enjoy a bit of adversity on a journey such as this. Taking those detours allowed for greater knowledge of the area and to see different areas. Some of the roads weren’t ones I had any plans to take, but now know where they go, and if they would be useful to me in the future. Each trip is different. Perhaps the next time, the roads won’t be so flooded.