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2020 Trip Report - San Andreas Fault Tour

San Andreas Fault Tour

By Bob Jacoby
Photos by Bill Neill

It has been about nine years since we did the last DE San Andreas Fault trip and everyone was anticipating a fun two day weekend as we attempted to follow the fault from its beginning in Brawley to our Sunday stopping point at Whitewater. We were very fortunate this time to have DE resident geologist, Bill Neill, with us. This made a huge difference in that with Bill’s expertise we actually were able to understand some of the interesting sights along the way.

At one time or another we had a total of nine cars and fifteen people on this fun and educational trip. Attendees, other than myself included Michael Vermette, Chris Parker, Norma and Danny Siler, Bill and Julie Smith, Steven Faulstich, Marian Johns, David and Lois Hess, Paul Rourman (“Panamint Paul”), Jerry and Dolly Dupree, Frederick Raab and Denise Toland.

The group met on Saturday morning at the gazebo at the park in downtown Brawley. After we discussed the administrative trivia, we got down to business as Bill Neill talked about what we were about to see. Bill informed us that we were in the Salton Trough that is the transition between the south end of the San Andreas Fault to the north and the Imperial Fault to the south. Bill explained to us that we were going to be heading north and gradually descending toward the Salton Sea.

Our first stop was about a half an hour away at an extensive geothermal area, including a large plant, near several buttes. This excursion required our initial use of four wheel drive as we negotiated the steep ascent to the top of Salton Butte. (Yes, even Mr. Bill’s new Rubicon made it to the top!) Fortunately, it was a clear day and from the top we could see expansive views of the Salton Sea.

Our next stop was the excellent Sonny Bono National Wildlife Refuge which is right on the eastern shore of the Salton Sea. The visitor center has some excellent interpretation and it was also the beginning of an excellent two mile round trip hike which was outstanding.

From the Refuge we continued on some easy, but fun, dirt roads towards the attraction that everyone was waiting for – the amazing mud pots. There were a number of these mud volcanoes some of which were several feet high. They made bizarre gurgling sounds and were really pretty amazing to encounter. They are located on some semi obscure dirt roads which somewhat prevents large crowds from visiting them.

After negotiating some more dirt roads along the Salton Sea we eventually hit pavement on Highway 111 and before we knew it we were at the Salton Sea State Recreational Area. This proved to be a good lunch stop with lots of space and a pretty good visitor center. For anyone visiting the Salton Sea this is a must stop.

After lunch we headed back out on 111 heading north. Bill Neill pointed out to us that for a few miles this highway is more or less over the fault.

After a few miles we turned right and headed eastbound on roads through the orchard country.  We were heading into the Mecca Hills  as we followed the fault and searched for the dirt road that would take us into Painted Canyon. Painted Canyon is a narrow stream cut gorge in the Mecca Hills. As we entered  the canyon we crossed the San Andreas Fault and entered the Painted Canyon Fault Zone. The road dead ends at the canyon wall so we parked our vehicles and did a little hiking and climbing. Some folks even choose to climb the ladders which are available. The beauty of this place is remarkable and it is amazing that this isn’t at least a state park, if not a national monument.For many, Painted Canyon was the highpoint of our first day of travel.

By the time we left it was getting late and we caravaned further north to Indio and our overnight stop. That evening most of us met in Indio for a superb Mexican dinner. Thanks go to Jerry and Dolly for finding this place. Everyone on the trip seemed to really enjoy it.

On Sunday we reconvened in Indio on Dillion Road just north of I-10. At that time we were joined by Fredric Raab and his friend Denise. Even though there was a threat of rain later in the day, we ended up having  a most interesting time. Our first stop was the Coachella Valley Nature Reserve. This is one of the largest oases along the fault. These oases are caused by the fault where it dams the underground water and brings it to the surface. We spent about an hour exploring this special place and really enjoyed being able to hike right on the fault.

From the oasis we continued heading westward and encountered several different branches of the San Andreas Fault. Very visible was a line of scarps and pressure ridges stretching off the north side of the hills. Many thanks to Bill Neill for pointing this out to us. The amazing thing was that there were a number of houses on these ridges. You have to wonder if the homeowners know their property is right on the Fault! 

We eventually arrived at Route 62 to follow it for a mile or so where we turned off onto a network of dirt roads through the windmills in the area. It was truly amazing how large they are. As we continued west on the dirt road we soon came to an abrupt stop as we found ourselves looking at a spectacular view of Whitewater Canyon. That was quite an escarpment!

We were forced to head south along the escarpment until we found the very steep dirt road heading down toward I-10 and Whitewater Canyon Road. The plan was then to take the short drive up Whitewater Canyon and conclude the trip with lunch there. Unfortunately, the place was packed so we all said our goodbyes and everyone headed for home after enjoying a fun and educational weekend.