About an hour from the Nevada border, Mono Lake appears, with its bulbous and surreal mineral formations known as tufa towers. Even for someone with no particular interest in rocks, these are captivating, otherworldly sights. But for James Faulds, Nevada’s state geologist, they are something more — clues to a great tectonic mystery unfolding in the American West. If he’s right, all of this, from the wastes of the Mojave Desert to the night-lit casinos of Reno, will someday be beachfront property.
For more than a century, the San Andreas Fault has been considered the undisputed heavyweight champion of large-scale deformation in the West. It is here that the North American and Pacific Plates meet, jostling for position with often violent results. Eventually, the theory goes, the thin sliver of land between the fault and the ocean — from the southern tip of the Baja Peninsula to the Santa Cruz Mountains — will break off from the mainland and slide north, until LA drifts past San Francisco.