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Epicenter

Started: 2018-06-02 20:54:44

Submitted: 2018-06-02 23:10:43

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator visits the epicenter of the Loma Prieta Earthquake in the Forest of Nisene Marks near Santa Cruz

At some point in my time in San Francisco I picked up the book 101 Great Hikes of the San Francisco Bay Area by Ann Marie Brown. The book has led me to a number of interesting hikes in the area, including one of my favorites, Tomales Point.

While thumbing through the book, one of the hikes mentioned that one could see a sign marking the epicenter of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park, next to Santa Cruz; though the author seemed to be of the opinion that it was just a boring sign so why would one bother.

I, on the other hand, lived through the Loma Prieta earthquake, the largest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay Area in living memory, and if there was a marker commemorating the epicenter I was going to see it.

On Saturday, 26 May, I woke up early enough to stage some sort of expedition and decided to drive to Santa Cruz and hike to the Loma Prieta epicenter. I invited Kiesa to come along, with the promise of a short hike (not more than four miles round-trip), which ought to be within Julian's capabilities (and if he didn't want to walk all the way, it wasn't too far to carry him). Kiesa agreed, and we packed a lunch, and set off for Santa Cruz.

We arrived at the state park in time for lunch and found a picnic table in the redwood forest. Most of the redwoods in the valley had been logged, so the forest was second- or third-growth. As we ate, and fended off mosquitos, I read the park brochure to get a better idea of the history of the park.

Julian in the redwoods
Julian in the redwoods

After eating our picnic lunch, we drove to the gate at the end of the road and began our hike up the valley. The trail followed a fire road through the forest, which Julian thought was a little too boring to hike straight up; he wanted to walk on the brush on the side of the trail instead. Many of the redwood trees in the forest were in family circles around the stump of an old-growth tree that had been logged.

Calvin, Julian, and Kiesa walk in the Forrest of Nisene Marks
Calvin, Julian, and Kiesa walk in the Forrest of Nisene Marks

The trail took us past the site of the Loma Prieta lumber mill and the Loma Prieta town site, established at the end of the 19th century when the railroad built a branch line into the valley to begin logging the redwoods. "Loma Prieta" was the name of a nearby hill; the park brochure gave the rough translation of Loma Prieta from Spanish as "dark hill". At the mill site only a few timbers remained; we saw nothing at the town site except a flat spot behind a fence obviously erected to keep us from tromping over the flat spot.

Trail in the Forest of Nisene Marks
Trail in the Forest of Nisene Marks

We left the fire road to cross the creek we'd been following, then follow the creek as it wound its way through the hills. The trail followed an obvious railroad grade along the creek, with the rail bed cut through the hillside, lining up with the rail bed on the other side of the creek, missing only a trestle in between to connect them.

After a half-mile or so hiking along the creek, we reached the trail closure (due to storm damage further up the trail) at a sign proclaiming the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake.

Jaeger at the Loma Prieta Earthquake epicenter
Jaeger at the Loma Prieta Earthquake epicenter

I was thrilled to see the marker; Calvin, somewhat less so.

Calvin and Kiesa at the Loma Prieta Earthquake epicenter
Calvin and Kiesa at the Loma Prieta Earthquake epicenter

Aside from the sign, there wasn't anything to see at the site: no rift in the ground or other indication of the force of the earth unleashed at this point. (I got the impression that the epicenter wasn't quite literally under our feet, but was near enough that the state park decided to put the marker here because that's where the trail was.) All of the action took place several kilometers under the surface -- and the damage was felt a hundred kilometers away in San Francisco and Oakland.

Julian plays with join grass
Julian plays with join grass

Having reached the end of the trail, we turned back to return to the car, which Julian appreciated, since we were now heading in the direction he thought we should be going. I gave him some join grass to play with, and he enjoyed the popping sound the segments made as he pulled them apart (and then he tried to put the segments back together). This distracted him for the next half-mile back to the fire road, at which point he tripped on the trail and could be consoled only by the kid's chocolate Cliff bar I brought.

Banana slug on redwood leaves
Banana slug on redwood leaves

Julian did not seem impressed by the handful of banana slugs I saw on the trail, but I did at least manage to interest Calvin in them. Once we were off the trail and back onto the fire road (which seemed too dry to sustain banana slugs) Julian decided that maybe he would like to see more banana slugs after all.

Julian and Kiesa walk in the Forest of Nisene Marks
Julian and Kiesa walk in the Forest of Nisene Marks

We returned to the car and headed home after a nice walk through the forest, marking one more item off my todo list before I leave San Francisco.

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