A champion of all the North American continent's geophysical growing pains, and still one of the earth's most active, is the San Andreas Fault, which begins in northern California, slashes south along the coastal mountains, and curves eastward down toward Mexico. The west side of San Andreas arcs steadily northward nearly 2 in. a year, grinding the two faces of the great crack in the earth's surface layers until something has to give and let the faces slip into realignment. The crumbling rock where the slip starts is the epicenter of an earthquake of the kind that often...

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