There’s a little known town in the middle of California called Parkfield. It straddles the San Andreas Fault – literally. One side of the town’s small, wooden bridge (with its out-of-kilter supports) is the Northern American Plate and the other, the Pacific Plate. It’s one of those special places – if you like feeling the earth shake.
It had a special claim to fame – during the 1980s Parkfield’s population of 18 swelled with visiting seismologists and geo-physicists … all there because of the earthquake research instruments in the area. The earth on either side of the fault slides in opposite directions – something’s gotta give.
Every 22 years so a magnitude 6 earthquake had occurred here and another one was predicted for 1988.
Some of the instruments were strainmetres designed and made at Queensland University and sunk deep into the ground by Ross and his workmates.
That’s why we follow the San Andreas Fault through California’s countryside in 2009 – a sentimental journey type of thing. But also because I’d heard so much about these special ‘hot’ places over the years, I caught the ‘plate tectonics’ bug’ from Ross. I had to see them for myself.
Parkfield’s a bit of a one-horse town – the Parkfield Inn, the Parkfield Elementary school with its enrolment of 11 and not much else. The locals called it the ‘The Earthquake Capitol of the World’ with the usual American panache and confidence, and a little tongue-in-cheek too. A slogan … Parkfield – Be There When it Happens was on tea-towels, tin mugs, keyrings and postcards they sold.
But that was back in the 80s – the predicted earthquake didn’t happen until 2004 and it was centred 20 miles further up the road.
Now, the Parkfield Inn is the place where city ‘cow-pokes’ (and cow-pokettes) come to experience a genuine cattle drive; and brides from the dry, dusty confines of Bakersfield enjoy country weddings in the Inn’s grounds. They’re a friendly mob here.
Special thanks to Rich – longtime American colleague of Ross, now retired field technician and fellow earthquake enthusiast who took us around the fault zone and shared his great knowledge of the secrets of the earth.
Another fascinating thing in Parkfield – several little kids in the school grounds with with ropes practicing their lassoing skills on a metal-shaped cow head. Priceless!