Do Faults Like Pandas? (By Matt)


Ed. Note: Here is a little background on faults from Wikipedia.

The only visible part of the most famous overthrust fault in DC (Darton’s fault) has an amazing view of the national zoo from its perch just above where Adams Mill Rd peaks on its rise from Rock Creek Park. It sat up there as little Butterstick the Panda was born and must really enjoy the view of the creek bottom when the leaves turn in the fall. Zoo Lights evenings in December must be cool too, romantic even. If the “Fault Seeking Fault” section of hadn’t been overtaken by scammers and weirdos years ago, he might have a snowball’s chance in hell of sharing those evenings with a special lady fault (Don’t hate. Faults can’t just go out and cruise happy hour looking for love like the rest of us.)

But perhaps the biggest issue for the fault since the 1920s is that it has been housed in an “exhibit”, clearly not designed by the flappers of that time, who rained reigned cool. I’ve never been at the mouth of a sealed mine, but that’s what the concrete walls and black chain link hemming in that little fault look like to me. I hope that any self-respecting flapper would have smacked whatever person or agency representatives responsible for designing that exhibit in the mouth with a beaded purse and a string of pearls on opening day.

If that agency or anyone from that design team is still kicking, they should be fitted with an ankle bracelet set to tase whenever it is within 50 yards of a drafting table. I say this because if the design sensibility encapsulated in that exhibit ever catches on I am sure that we will be opening our arms to Communism and, as much as I love a long line for bread, I’d rather not. Continues after the jump.


It is unclear to me, because I have not really done any significant research, as to why the geologist N.H. Darton (hence Darton’s fault) had it caged as it is. I do know that he did want to preserve it and protect it against weather and vandalism (what I wouldn’t give for a nickel for every time I set out with my high school buddies to paint “Say No To Crack” on a fault line), but did he have to hire Bunkers-R-Us to do it?

Living in the neighborhood, I have come to love that little fault. Inside the bunker there is just one well-dusted sign with virtually no discernible information, lots of leaves, a knotted tree root, and the ground. I swear that if there is a fault in that ground, it is the most ground-looking fault I have ever seen. But, like my mom tells me when I ask about Santa: seeing is not believing, believing is believing.

I’ll never tire of walking past a few tourist folk peering through the chain link and wondering what the hell is in there. There are always as many answers as there are people when I play the tourist in arms and ask them what they are looking at. Inevitably, one smart guy is convinced he knows what it is. It’s what’s left of an old building from the days of Lincoln. The tree root must be endangered. It used to be an exit from secret tunnels the President could use to escape in case of attack.

But I would give up all the answers and laughter for a facelift for that poor old fault. How about DC use some of the funds I just read about it dedicating to art over the next five years and create some art to put around that little guy. Make the coolest and weirdest overthrust fault exhibit ever. Dress him up and let him show you what an overthrust fault with a little pizzazz can do. Geology may not be hip and faults may not be sexy, but neither would a lion if he didn’t have his mane.

And, by the way, word is that there are seven faults running through the zoo. Clearly, it is a chicken or the egg question when you’re discussing which came first, the zoo or the faults. Reason leads me to reason that faults don’t get bunched up around zoos like that on accident. So, you ask: Do faults like pandas? Yes.

18 Comment

  • It is kind of confusing, this post. I’m sorry.

  • So funny! I always wondered what that little bunker was. Why do they cage it!? I love the posts by Matt… write more of them!

  • Of course, calling it the most famous fault in DC is kinda like referring to the most famous polish transvestite midget trapezist. Most people didn’t even know there were any.

    But I actually kinda like that old thing. Yeah, it’s weird, but definitely unique. I also suppose at one point it didn’t have a chain link fence surrounding it, which would make it a little less industrial looking.

  • This post is the definition of obfuscating. Good to know about the faults though.

  • Whiskey



  • “clearly not designed by the flappers of that time, who rained cool.”

    You mean reigned? This post was hard to read. It’s like it was written in Spanish and then translated by Google.

  • I agree with mjbrox and others – what is this about really? faults, pandas, using Google to translate as anon at 4:23 states? This post is just plain weird.

  • This post made me laugh (and left me feeling confused)

  • yeah 2 thumbs down on the incoherence here.

  • Didn’t it used to house groundhogs or prairie dogs or something?

  • I spent the day at home trying to recover from a nasty head cold and read this post and thought the NyQuil made me hazier than normal. Sorry, this post made no sense whatsoever.

  • and i thought it was to keep the wiley roots caged. gotta watch out for them, especially at night.

  • wow the national zoo’s website is not messing around with the geology detail…

  • from the zoo site – somewhat more coherent

    Water and the Fall Line have not been the only forces shaping the park. Tectonics, or movements within the Earth’s crust, also affect the Zoo’s geology. Within the Zoo, there are at least seven faults—areas where two blocks of earth have slid past one another. Most of the faults are hidden underground. But the most famous one, located at the Adams Mill Road entrance, is actually on exhibit! Geologist N. H. Darton had a cage put around the exposure of the fault in the 1920s to save it from vandalism and other destructive forces. Since then, it’s been called Darton’s fault. The exhibit cage has done its job as far as human interference goes, but it hasn’t kept out 60 years of natural weathering which has partially obliterated the fault. A big tree root follows the weathered, indistinct fault and helps delineate it.

    An interpretive sign within the cage says that sometime within the last 70 million years forces in the Earth pushed old metamorphic Piedmont rocks over much younger Coastal Plain sediments. Geologists now think that the fault occurred much more recently—within the last several million years—and that the upper layer is probably river terrace gravels, not Coastal Plain sediments. Though Darton’s fault occurred relatively recently on the geologic timescale, no earthquakes have been recorded in the District in historic times.

  • Thank you Eric.

    Now, if we get a good strong earthquake, my Petworth home will become desired ocean front property.


  • thanks eric. that was interesting.

  • I thought this post was confusing at first esp, since I am reading it at 8:46am and I have yet to drink something caffinated but I enjoyed it a lot and it was quirky, fun and enlightening as I had no idea we had a caged fault so close by!

  • I am all for breaking rules and being creative whence writing but this was just plain weird and very hard to read. I apologise if I have offended.

    El Puma

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