Central California Tectonics Field Trip

Deformation associated with the San Andreas Fault along Highway 14, near Palmdale, California. The strata in the roadcut are lower to middle Pliocene  gypsiferous, lacustrine rocks of the Anaverde Formation (a sag-pond deposit). Undeformed Pleistocene gravel unconformably overlies the Anaverde Formation.


I took part in a  central California tectonics field trip a few weeks ago that the Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) sponsored. Tanya Atwater and Art Sylvester, professors emeriti at the University of California Santa Barbara, Department of Earth Sciences, led the field trip. During the field trip, we made numerous stops between Los Angeles and Hollister at areas where the San Andreas Fault bounds the North American/Pacific plates. Interspersed with fault-specific localities, we explored associated geology such as turbidites around Point Lobos, marine terraces in the Morro Bay area, and pillow/flow basalt at Port San Luis. The final stop on the field trip was an overlook on Santa Barbara geology at La Cumbre Peak with Tanya’s explanation on the tectonic evolution of the Transverse Ranges. If you are not familiar with the tectonic history of this general area, go to Tanya’s web site (http://emvc.geol.ucsb.edu/) and download her visualizations on global/regional tectonics. There are also visualization downloads on ice-age earth and sea level changes, so treat yourself to some very worthwhile earth science information by downloading these visualizations, too.

The following photos are from what I think are field trip highlights, including a brief caption regarding the geology shown in each photo. More information on many of the photo localities can be found in “Roadside Geology of Southern California“, 2016, by Art Sylvester and Elizabeth Gans.

Pallet Creek trench site, near Juniper Creek, consists of sag pond deposits that developed atop the San Andreas fault during the past 2000 years. These strata now underlie a terrace adjacent to Pallet Creek. In the late 1970’s, Kerry Sieh pioneered the idea of trenching strata along a fault to determine age constraints on fault movement at this locality.

On Tejon Pass, near Gorman, CA, it’s possible to place your feet on both the Pacific and the North American plates with little stretching effort. In this locality, the Pacific plate consists of quartz monzonite that is separated from the sandstone-silt strata of the North American plate by a zone of black-colored gouge developed along the San Andreas Fault.

Wallace Creek, a drainage from the Tremblor Range of the North American plate, takes a right-angle bend where it crosses the San Andreas Fault and enters the Pacific plate, The current offset is approximately 100 yards. Check out the aerial photo at http://epod.usra.edu/blog/2006/12/aerial-photo-of-wallace-creek-and-san-andreas-fault.html for a great view of the offset.

Cholame Creek near Parkfield, CA, delineates the trace of the San Andreas Fault. The plate boundary is well marked here and a similar sign is placed where one goes from the North American back to the Pacific plate.

The Parkfield Experiment is an earthquake research project focused on the San Andreas Fault. The USGS and the State of California are the primary agencies involved in this project. For more info on the project, go to https://earthquake.usgs.gov/research/parkfield/index.php.

Late Mesozoic Franciscan rocks along the Parkfield Grade are a chaotic assemblage of blocks of pillow basalt, chert, blue schist in a graywacke matrix. Note the scattered blocks of these rocks on the hillside and the blue schist block downslope in the foreground of this photo.

Pinnacles National Park contains remnants of the approximately 23 million-year old Neenach Volcanics. This volcanic area developed atop the San Andreas Fault system, and some Neenach rocks are now displaced northward on the west side of the San Andreas Fault system about 320 km.

In Old Town Hollister, CA, near Park Hill, a street curb is offset along the Calaveras fault.

Creep is occurring along the Calaveras fault in Old Town Hollister.

A building at the DeRose Vineyards near Hollister exhibits buckling due to movement along the San Andreas Fault.

A concrete drain ditch at DeRose Vineyards shows about 1 meter offset along the San Andreas Fault.

The San Juan Bautista mission west of Hollister is built adjacent to a straight hillside which is the San Andreas Fault scarp (located downslope from the white fence in the photo).

The Weston Beach area at Point Lobos, Monterrey Peninsula, has turbidite strata (the Paleocene Carmello Formation) that are contained within a submarine canyon that is cut into Silurian granitodiorite.

The Paleocene strata at Weston Beach are well know for their trace fossil assemblage. One of the more interesting, Hillichnus (shown in the central part of this photo), probably represents a feeding trace of a deposit-feeding bivalve.

The Tertiary volcanic rocks on Pinnacles National Park’s west side are also part of the Neenach volcanics originally located further south near Lancaster, CA. As noted above, the volcanics in Pinnacles National Park have been displaced about 320 km northwards along the San Andreas Fault system.

The Balconies Cave is a talus cave developed within the Tertiary volcanics on the west side of Pinnacles National Park.

Morro Rock is part of the Morro Rock-Islay Hill Complex. The complex is a series of 27-23 million-year old volcanic plugs that stretch for 29 km southeast of Morro Rock.

We stopped at the Montana de Oro State Park beach to see marine terraces (there are 6 terrace levels here). Unfortunately, because of the incoming marine layer, it was hard to see anything except an outcrop of the Miocene Monterrey Formation topped by Quaternary sediment.

Pillow basalt (23 million years in age) occurs at Port San Luis.

Pillow basalt is surrounded by shattered glass fragments at Port San Luis.

Pillow basalt is topped by ropy basalt flows at Port San Luis.

A view of Santa Barbara, CA, from La Cumbre Peak in the Transverse Ranges.  La Cumbre Peak tops out at 3,997 feet within the Santa Ynez Mountains north of Santa Barbara, California. The peak consists of  Eocene Matilija Sandstone. The existence of the Transverse Ranges is a topic that Tanya and her accompanying visualizations explain well. So once again – go to Tanya’s visualization web page and download her work on the Tranverse Ranges.

We are ready for the concert at La Cumbre Peak!! Great way to end a fantastic field trip.


Canadian Rockies – Alberta Badlands Geology Guidebook

The Canadian Rockies to Alberta Badlands geology guidebook is published by the Association for Women Geoscientists.

The Association for Women Geoscientists (AWG) published their first geology field trip guidebook in late 2016 and it is now available for sale to the general public. This guideboook is a collection of geology road logs, associated geological information, and local cultural history of areas within the Canadian Rockies and the Alberta Badlands. The following text is a brief summary of the guidebook:

“TECTONICS, CLIMATE CHANGE AND EVOLUTION – SOUTHERN CANADIAN CORDILLERA: Road Log and Accompanying Narratives From: Calgary – Lake Louise – Icefields – Field – Revelstoke – Fernie -Dinosaur Provincial Park – Calgary”, published by the Association for Women Geoscientists, 2016.

This field trip guidebook is written by Katherine J.E. Boggs and Debra L. Hanneman, and edited by Janet Wert Crampton and Stephanie Yager. It is the AWG’s first fully published field trip guidebook and is a field-tested guide from their two-week 2014 field trip through the Canadian Rockies and Alberta’s Badlands area.

The guidebook is a 209-page geology tour through many of the well-known parts of the Alberta Canadian Rockies, including the Front and Main Ranges of the Canadian Rockies and the Columbia Icefields. The Burgess Shale’s Walcott Quarry, the Okanagan Valley vineyards, and the Rocky Mountain Trench are trip highlights for geo-tours in British Columbia. The field trip guidebook ends with a geology tour of the Crowsnest Pass area on the British Columbia/Alberta border, and with field stops in Alberta’s Dinosaur Provincial Park and at the Royal Tyrrell Museum, Drumheller, Alberta.

The field guide is printed on double-sided 8.5″ x 11″ pages with the guide cover on 100 lb paper and the text on 80 lb paper. It has black wire-o binding and a clear acetate front and a black acetate backing for improved field durability. The guidebook’s cost is $55 USD (which includes shipping), and can be purchased at the AWG online store or by phoning the AWG main office at 303-412-6219.