Earthquakes in California are a part of daily living; the San Andreas fault, one of the most famous in the world, rocks and rolls daily. It’s just one of many. The August 23, 2011 East Coast earthquake was a bit more of a surprise, but even then geologists said that it was not unexpected. The 5.8-magnitude earthquake ran along an ancient fault that helped to build the Appalachians.
If you wander down to the small city of Coalinga, tucked away from Interstate 5 down State Highway 33, you quickly notice that the historic downtown doesn’t appear to have many historic buildings. Then you find the memorial square with a plaque that explains the problem. Coalinga’s “big one” occurred on May 2, 1983, just before five in the afternoon. Practically all the original buildings in its eight-block downtown area turned to rubble after the famous 6.5-magnitude earthquake.
Coalinga was named for its coaling station – Coaling Station A – and, like other towns in this sparsely populated part of California, relied heavily on the oil industry for income. One of its more delightful aspects are the oil pumps, painted to resemble animals, that line the hills coming in. This “Iron Zoo” alone is worth the trip, but the local Lions’ Club came up with an unusual antidote and tribute to the loss of their downtown area.
Where the structures once were, they’ve dotted the whole area with more than 20 markers that explain what was there – and each one includes a picture. The visitor to Coalinga can see what the buildings were like before this particular California earthquake hit. Further information is available at the R.C. Baker Museum, where entry is free (bring cash for your souvenirs and donation).
If you’re interested in California earthquakes, spare a half-day to visit Parkfield, a few miles farther south. While it’s somewhat of a detour, Parkfield is the earthquake capital of the USA. The USGS has a long-time research center there, where the ground bristles with sensors, but perhaps more amusing is the jagged-edge historical marker, with one piece set either side of the jagged San Andreas fault.
- Coalinga earthquake at USGS
- R.C. Baker Museum
- Iron Zoo
- Parkfield Experiment
Beatles at Abbey Road
- Earthquakes in New York
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