Shaking, Rattling and Rolling

In Geology, History

Keeler, CA – Now pretty much a ghost town is once again shaking and rattling as a nearby fault has suddenly become active. Photo by Matthew High.

In 1872 John Muir was awakened in his cabin by a rumble in the ground and the sound of rocks pouring from the walls of Yosemite Valley. He rushed outside to survey the scene in the moonlight and promptly proclaimed, “A noble earthquake!” What John Muir felt was the shockwave from a large earthquake by Lone Pine that killed 26 people and was felt all over California. Since then Lone Pine has been relatively quiet but things are changing and the ground is again shaking in the Eastern Sierra.

Although there aren’t nearly as many earthquakes in the Eastern Sierra as there are along the coast where the Pacific Plate is subducting under the North American Plate, they can still be dangerous. Although there was no seismographical equipment at the time, the 1872 quake is thought be researchers to be at least 7.6 or greater on the Richter scale – similar in size to the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake that leveled much of the city and was responsible for 376 people being killed.

The Lone Pine quakes are the result of 2 faults running parallel to each other. As the faults move the ground between them can subside suddenly forming a graben. In 1872 a graben was believed to have formed and filled by a new spring forming today’s Diaz Lake. Long Valley is also believed to be a graben.

The earthquakes are centered about 5-7 miles south-south east of Keeler (east of Lone Pine) with quakes up to 5.2 in magnitude and coming at a rate of 1-2 per hour. Fortunately Keeler is pretty much deserted now that Los Angeles has diverted all the water from Owens Lake leaving nothing but a dry, alkali husk.

All pretty exciting if you’re a geology nut.

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2 commentsOn Shaking, Rattling and Rolling

  • Were you referring to the Long Valley below Mammoth Lakes? If so I think that it’s a caldera not a graben.


    • A graben is the chunk that falls or subsides during a geological event such an earthquake or the collapse of a magma chamber where there are distinct scarps on both sides. Long Valley is a caldera but the chunk that collapsed and is what the city of Mammoth Lakes now resides on (in part) is the graben. The Great Basin from California to the rockies is a series of grabens and horsts (the opposite of a graben.)

      You can read more about grabens and horsts on wikipedia or check out my former geology professors blog: Garry Hayes Geotripper Blog ( He’s got his own writeup and theory on what he thinks is happening beneath Keeler.

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