Tag: travel blogging

When the earth moves….

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.

Earthquake country
Earthquake country

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.

Ross reading the rocks
Ross reading the rocks

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.

Be There When It Happens
Be There When It Happens

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.

Standing on the fault line.
Standing on the fault line with Rich.

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!

What an amazing story this earth could tell.
What an amazing story this earth could tell.

The town that took on McDonalds and won

Pain before pleasure? No pain, no gain? Light at the end of the tunnel? Well-worn clichés failed to distance me from the glare, heat and massive trucks on the freeway out of LA. We were on our way to Arizona at last.

At least we had ‘Betty’, our new GPS Tomtom (she of the pleasant, American voice); and best of all, no arguments over navigation.

Betty ... our faithful guide
Betty ... our faithful guide

800 kilometres on the AAA map  didn’t look all that far. To reach Red Rock Country, all we had to do was negotiate the intricate LA freeways, cross some desert and some high country, and along the way, check out one of the Australian-designed earthquake strain-metres at Pinon Flats that Ross installed ten years ago (sadly, it’d been left in a sad state of repair and was no longer working).

We were on our way to the Grand Canyon, like millions before us – but first, three days in Sedona awaited. Sedona is not as famous a landmark as its cousin ‘up the road’. But if you like mesas, buttes and mountains, this is the place to go.

I’ll jump over commenting on the amazing earthquake country we travelled through, made all the better with Ross’s knowledge of plate tectonics, fault zones and geology – that will be a later blog. And I’ll slip past the baked-dry desert country before by-passing Phoenix (with Glen Campbell echoing though my brain), and heading north to Sedona.

Even though I’d seen its famous images in books, our introduction to the magnificent, natural red rock sculptures is hard to describe – so I’ll let photos do it.

First sight of Sedona
First sight of Sedona

The formations have been created over 350 million years. They’ve been oceans and deserts, they’ve felt the force of volcanic eruptions and faulting, and that most insistent of weathering and erosion, wind and water.

The canyons and monoliths tell their history – like the layers in a story this area records its life within ten layers of sedimentary rock 5000 feet high – grayish limestones, brilliant and beautiful pale-pinks to reddish-brown sandstones and dark shales.

Room with a view
Room with a view

No wonder this part of the country was sacred to countless generations of the local tribes, the Havasupai, and to their descendants today.

But then there are the NEW AGErs who come to this place to worship at the altar of the VORTEX. Apparently, people stand in these places and feel a certain type of energy. We climb the Airport Vortex, close to our accommodation – it is a magnificent view across the mountains at that time of the day. Did I feel the vortex stirring up my energies? No, all I felt was an ant-bite. And serves me right, I had sat on it.

From the number of New Age shops, crystal shops, coffee shops, in peak-season this town must buzz with tourists and/or those seeking inner strength and energy, or communication with the earth spirits, and rip-off merchants. We are lucky, we visit in off-time.

Another amazing thing about Sedona – in an attempt to keep the colour and tones of this town matching the magnificent landscape that surrounds them, the people of this desert town took on the might and money of McDonald’s Fast Food all the way to the courts, and won. They forced McDonald’s to use teal-green arches not gold. My estimation of the ‘good burghers’ of Sedona goes up many notches.

The Green Arches

If we ever return to the US, Sedona’s landscapes will be on the list to visit again. But I’ve heard there are other places just as beautiful further south. Maybe it will be worthwhile venturing off-track next time.


Too busy travelling to write a travel blog

Even on holidays in the ‘good old US of A’ I can’t keep away from the computer – although not much writing happening on my manuscript.

There are so many things I could write – about the things we’ve seen and done in two weeks (with still four to go). So what I will do is try to capture some of the highlights.

Like in Los Angeles – crazy, noisy, hot and smoggy still from the fires that are burning in deep crevasses in the far hills; freeways like spaghetti (clover-leaf? – no, spag is more like it); friendly people; and an oasis – the Embassy Hotel in Arcadia.

And amongst all the things in this crazy city, with the ability to restore one’s senses – the Huntington Library in Pasadena … with its Art Collections and Botanical Gardens.

In 1919, wealthy, railroad magnate, and a man of vision, Henry Huntington and his wife Arabella began the process of transforming their massive collection of rare and valuable books, their significant art collection into a centre of research, education and beauty.

Huntington Library_ The Book of Hours

Now, for $15, anyone can see, study or just marvel at the collections. Which is what we did. But not all of the 6 million items.

Imagine an opened copy of one of the illustrated manuscripts, ‘The Book of Hours’; or the double-elephant folio edition of Audubon’s Birds of America or some early editions of Shakespeare’s works; or pages of Jack Kerouac’s working drafts with words scratched out. Then there’s the gallery filled with many of Thomas Gainsborough’s paintings with the Blue Boy up one end in the middle of the dim hall – capturing your attention as you enter the huge, parquetry-floored room.

Gainsborough's famous 'Blue Boy'
Gainsborough's famous 'Blue Boy'

And then, there’re the rooms filled with the the collections revolving around the history of Science,  Medicine and Biology and Physics – from Ptolemy, Galileo, Newton, Darwin and Einstein.

My brain and imagination still reels from the experience.My brain and imagination still reels from the experience.

A copy of his telescope when he first saw the surface of the moon - accompanied by his words of wonder at the sight.
A copy of his telescope when he first saw the surface of the moon - accompanied by his words of wonder at the sight.

Next highlight will be deep in mesa country … not as famous as its deeper cousin up the road, but a magical place of pure colour to thrill the senses. (i.e. when I can get an internet connection again)