We were headed home a week or two ago, and were taking a "short cut" along the San Andreas fault in Lone Pine Canyon and through the town of Wrightwood. That's right, "through" the town. The village is built on top of the San Andreas! But that's not what I learned. I've known of the close proximity of the fault and the town for years.
It had something to do with the town's other famous natural hazard: the Wrightwood mudflow. There is a slope south of the town heading at an elevation of more than 8,000 feet composed of deeply weathered and crushed Pelona Schist. As can be seen in the picture below, the slope is so steep that trees and shrubs can't gain a roothold, and failures are constant, especially during the spring snowmelt and during heavy rainstorms.
The Pelona schist formed in the accretionary wedge of the subduction zone that lay off the California coast during the Mesozoic Era, and as such may be similar to the Franciscan Complex farther to the north. It is an attractive muscovite mica quartz albite schist in hand samples, but it doesn't do well on steep slopes.
This basic information was something I was made aware of during my first geology class at Chaffey College many years ago. One thing I didn't know is that the mud passed beyond Wrightwood and continued for 15 miles into the adjacent Mojave Desert. The flow traveled a vertical mile, from 8,000 feet to 3,000 feet.
The town of Wrightwood is easy to visit. It is just off of Highway 138 west of Cajon Pass on the Angeles Crest Highway. As noted previously, the town sits on the San Andreas fault, so the locality is a good spot to visit and reflect on the many hazards that must be dealt with when one decides to take up residence in the state. For more information on the mudflow, check out this state report: http://www.wrightwoodcalif.com/mudflows/79MortonMudRpt.pdf
The Other California is my on again-off again blog series on the geologically interesting places in our fair state that don't show up on the tourist guides.