Earthquakes in Dixie Valley

East of Fallon, south of Highway 50, lies Fairview Peak where, at 3:08 a.m. on December 16, 1954, an earthquake measuring 7.3 magnitude not only shocked locals, but was widely felt in many of the western states. Slightly further east and just north of Highway 50, between the Stillwater Range and the Clan Alpine Mountains in Dixie Valley, a second severe (magnitude 7.1) earthquake jolted the area on the same day.

Although Dixie Valley lies only seventy miles east of Fallon, and the two earthquakes seem to be related to earlier severe quakes that took place in July and August 1954, both the location and effects of these events are substantially different.

The first noticeable difference is that the December earthquakes affected a much larger area. One source claimed that people in Arizona, California, Idaho, Oregon, and Utah felt the main quake. A Fallon weekly newspaper noted that the first (Fairview) quake drove Fallon residents out into the twenty-degree night. It even awakened Reno residents, and in Carson City, plaster fell in the eighty-four-year-old capitol building. Sources also noted that hundreds of aftershocks occurred.

Another substantial difference was the damage. Unlike the rolling effect of the earlier Lahontan Valley quakes, Dixie Valley experienced sharp shocks that opened large cracks of up to thirty inches across in the earth and roadways. The shocks also moved huge boulders, some weighing fifty tons, onto the main highway. Timbers of one mine, at the 200 foot level, were found to be crushed after this quake, while no such measurement was available for the summer quakes.

Most notable are the specific effects that Dixie Valley settlers experienced. First, they felt no heavy aftershocks, as is usually the case following a severe earthquake. Seismologists claimed this made earthquake history, since the July and August events were trailed by a series of "mean little temblors."

Instead, according to first hand accounts, the Dixie Valley resounded with loud booms starting moments before the quake was first felt and lasting until long after it stopped. Another difference was the sheer size of this event and its aftermath. The Fallon Eagle wrote, "The Thursday earthquake may be the largest, as far as upheaval, that has taken place in this country in modern times. Judging from the gigantic faults and displacement areas in hard-hit Dixie Valley, [it] greatly exceeds the San Francisco jolt of 1906 . . ." The San Andreas rift caused only a three-foot displacement while the fifty-four-mile-long fault area at Dixie Valley included downdrops of more than twenty feet. Another difference was that the quake opened four faults along both mountain ranges flanking the Valley as well as near Fairview Peak.

Finally, since Dixie Valley's chief water sources were artesian wells rather than canal irrigation, the effect on farmers' water supplies was substantial after the earth moved.

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