When the Big One Strikes… A Hike Along Earthquake Trail: Pt. Reyes

At 7.9 on the Richter scale, the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake wreaked massive damage both in structures destroyed and lives lost. This photo is from the National Archives.

I was wrapping up my day at the Lung Association in Sacramento when the building started moving shortly after 5 p.m. on October 17th, 1989. Peggy and I were at the very beginning of our relationship. You might say, it was off to a shaky start. “Is this the big one?” leapt into my mind as I ran outside. But buildings weren’t falling or people screaming. “Not this time,” we thought, relieved. 

Had you been one of 62,000 baseball fans crammed into Candlestick Park for the World Series, or worse, commuting home from work in the Bay Area, your perspective would have been substantially different. A major 6.9 earthquake had ripped into the Santa Cruz Mountains along the San Andreas Fault south of the stadium. Nearby freeways collapsed including a section of the Bay Bridge, numerous buildings were destroyed or damaged, 63 people were killed and 3,757 injured by what became known as the Loma Prieta Earthquake.

A number of faults are located under the Bay Area. The next big earthquake is projected to be along the Hayward Fault. The Pt. Reyes National Seashore is the land jutting out to the left of the San Andreas fault at the top of the diagram.

Eighty-three years before the Loma Prieta earthquake, an even greater one shook the Bay Area. Blame plate tectonics. The San Andreas Fault, marks a distinct boundary as the Pacific Plate grinds its way north past the North American Plate, building pressure until an earthquake erupts.  At 7.9 on the Richter Scale, the energy released from the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake equaled blowing up an estimated 6,270,000 tons of TNT! 

Earthquake Trail, found next to the Visitors’ Center at Pt. Reyes National Seashore, commemorates the event. Peggy and I were there last week and went for a walk along the trail. Like San Francisco, Pt. Reyes felt the full fury of the earthquake as portions of the land moved north as much as 20 feet.

With arms stretched out, Peggy points to two sections of a fence that were separated during the San Francisco Earthquake. They have been rebuilt to demonstrate the power of the earthquake. The lower fence had moved 16 feet north. The San Andreas Fault is located directly under Peggy’s feet.

The trail is easy to hike and is well marked with information signs. Its bucolic, serene beauty makes the damage done by the 1906 earthquake hard to imagine, however. 

A bridge along Earthquake Trail at Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Photo by Curt Mekemson.
The peaceful beauty found along the Earthquake Trail at Pt. Reyes belies the potentially destructive force that lies just beneath it. Fall leaves added color.
While the trail is short and easy to hike, it provides a variety of scenery, like this meadow…
Interesting trees are perfect for little people to explore… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
A fun stump found along the trail.
Peggy took an interesting closeup. She saw a dragon, a monster, and more….oh, my.
Various Conifers…
And in conclusion, a bit of sunshine.

NEXT POST: More photos from around Pt. Reyes National Seashore and our maiden three week voyage with Iorek the Truck and Serafina the trailer.

Earthquake Swallows Cow… Pt. Reyes National Seashore: Part 1

Sanderlings take flight at Pt. Reyes National Seashore on Limantour Beach. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Pt. Reyes National Seashore is an American Treasure. In this photo, Sanderlings take flight on Limantour Beach. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photo of bull elk at Pt. Reyes National Seashore by Curtis Mekemson.

A bull elk is outlined against the sky at the Pierce Ranch.

My legs were not working and I was laughing. I had just completed one of Pt. Reyes’ easiest walks from the park headquarters out to the beach and back via Bear Valley. At the end of the 10 mile round trip, I had gratefully fallen into my car and driven to Bodega Bay. It was 1969 and the pre-Yuppified Inn-at-the-Tides consisted of motel cabins going for $15 as opposed to rooms starting at $200. My legs had gone on strike when I stepped out of the car to register.

I had just completed a year of recruiting for Peace Corps in the Southern United States where exercise had consisted of traveling between airports, motels and college campuses from Texas to Washington DC.  Adding injury to insult, I had eaten most of my meals at Southern restaurants serving large helpings of Southern food. Curt had become a little chubby. The legs were not happy. Fortunately, a half-pint of whiskey and a full night’s sleep ended their rebellion. The next morning I returned to my exploration of Pt. Reyes and the beginning of a life-long love affair with the North Coast of California.

Peggy and I returned to the area last week for three days and stayed at Olema Campground in the small town of the same name. It’s always been my campground of choice and has changed little over the decades. Even the restrooms have remained the same. I’ve used the campground as my jump off point for exploring Pt. Reyes, as a writing retreat, and as a campsite for the 500 mile-bike treks and 7 day walking tours I led on the North Coast during the 70s, 80s and 90s.

Photo of Olema Campground next to Pt. Reyes National Seashore by Curtis Mekemson.

One of my favorite campsites at Olema Campground backs up to a small stream and looks out on Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Obviously, we were celebrating Halloween.

Pumpkin carving photo by Curtis Mekemson.

Peggy and I join my Sister Nancy and her husband Jim each year for a pumpkin carving contest. We brought ours to Pt. Reyes. This witch was my entry in the contest.

Peggy's pumpkin. (She won the contest. Our grandkids voted without knowing who had carved the pumpkins.)

Peggy’s pumpkin. (She won the contest. Our grandkids voted without knowing who had carved the pumpkins.)

Our friends Ken and Leslie Lake joined us at the campground, arriving just in time to eat lunch in Pt. Reyes Station and to visit the Bovine Bakery and Pt. Reyes Books. The bookstore is a jewel and the bakery has buttermilk scones to die for. They, along with the Station House Café, are required stops on my trips to Pt. Reyes.

 Photo of Point Reyes Books and Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station by Curtis Mekemson.

Two of my favorite stops at Pt. Reyes Station. For a small, locally owned bookstore, Point Reyes Books has a great selection. And I’ve never met a pastry at the Bovine Bakery I didn’t like. More often than not, people are lined up out the door.

Afterwards we visited the park’s information center in Bear Valley and did a short walk around the Earthquake Trail. The Olema Campground is located a quarter of mile from the park headquarters and the infamous San Andreas Fault. Sitting in camp we could look across the fault at the peripatetic park. It had begun life some 300 miles to the south and is still working its way north. Normally its progress is measured in inches over decades. In 1906 it jumped 20 feet in the earthquake that was responsible for the destruction of San Francisco. Local legend is the earth cracked open, swallowed an Olema cow, and closed, leaving only the tail showing.

Pt. Reyes National Seashore photo by Curtis Mekemson.

A view along the Earthquake Trail. One of the things I like about Pt. Reyes National Seashore is the diversity of environments…

Photo by Curtis Mekemson of how far the San Andreas Fault slipped near Olema, California in 1906.

Leslie and Peggy stand on the San Andreas Fault and demonstrate how far the fault slipped in 1906.

This old black and white photo included by the park service along the EarthQuake Trail shows the actual slippage created by the 1906 earthquake.

This old black and white photo included by the park service along the Earthquake Trail shows the actual slippage created by the 1906 earthquake. You can see the actual crack in the ground.

And this photo from the Earthquake Trail shows the result of the 1906 earthquake on San Francisco.

And this photo from the Earthquake Trail shows the impact of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco.

NEXT BLOG: We will visit Limantour Beach and go for a beach walk.