Scary beauty surrounds Cameron Barrows. He works in lush groves of fan palms that erupt like mirages from moonscape terrain. Hot springs bubble beneath them. Sand dunes drift nearby.
"It's an amazing place," said Barrows, director of the Coachella Valley Preserve east of Palm Springs. The 20,000-acre sanctuary owes its splendors to the San Andreas fault, the frightening part of the bargain.
Many scientists say the Coachella Valley is where the 750-mile San Andreas seems most prone for an epic earthquake, a monster that would be enormously more powerful than the recent temblors in San Simeon, Calif., and Bam, Iran.
"There's not a lot we can do about that," Barrows said with a resigned smile. He was outside the preserve's visitors center, a 1930s log cabin that sits directly above the fault. "I'm not a worrying type person."
As the possible generator of the feared Big One, the San Andreas once dominated the quake worries of Californians. But that was before "subsidiary faults" in locales such as Loma Prieta and, especially, Northridge reordered popular anxieties. They flattened buildings and buckled interstates while the San Andreas remained relatively quiet, as it has since the great San Francisco quake of 1906.
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