The newest tourist attraction along the Wasatch Front may well be the section of the Wasatch Fault recently exposed by excavation at Seven Peaks Resort.
To geologists, the sight is beautiful. To the novice, the 50-foot evidence of the mighty power of geological forces is both exciting and frightening.Geologist Lehi Hintze said, "The beauty of the exposure is that it is far and away the largest exposure in Utah. It is new, clean and fresh. It shows material on both sides of the fault, both bedrock and alluvial materials."
Hintze got his first good look at the fault on a Sunday stroll last week. Seven Peaks Resort made a deep cut in rock across the fault line to make room for a funicular as part of a proposed ski resort. A funicular is a special railroad designed to go up steep grades. As soil was moved away, the fault was exposed.
Hintze said he was amazed at the changes in the face of the mountain and walked up to get a better look. The exposed fault was "even better than I expected."
Hintze was quick to share his find with other geologists. The next day geologists from the Utah Geological and Mineral Survey came down to the eastern end of 300 North in Provo to have a look at the fault.
Deputy state geologist Bill Lund said the site represents a research opportunity for structural geologists and earthquake specialists. The polished and striated surface of the exposed face is called slickenside.
The polishing of the huge surface was done millions of years ago, said Lund, as blocks moved against each other. The vertical scratches confirm the movement along the fault is vertical, as the block moved up against a sinking block.
Lund was back in Provo Sunday with a group of about 30 friends, pointing out different geological features of fault activity. Victor Borcherds, owner of Seven Peaks Resort, happened to arrive at about the same time to show his wife the fault face. During a one-hour period, 50 people were at the site.
During the week, geologists from Brigham Young University and other parts of the state have come to Seven Peaks. Nearby residents have also come to have a look at the fault.
Seven Peaks Director of Mountain Operations Kent Compton said the location of the fault was known before it was unearthed. In planning the resort, geological hazards have been carefully considered. The funicular route is being designed to minimize the risk of loss in an earthquake.
All hotel and restaurant structures will also be well away from the fault, he said. Shaking from an earthquake is expected to be much worse in the valley, which is on the slip side of the fault, rather than on the uphill side, said Compton.
Another geological hazard the resort planners have taken into account is the possibility of falling rocks. Compton said they are doing a survey of the large rocks on the mountain above Seven Peaks Resort. A special computer program predicts the trajectory of the rocks if they fall. Rocks that threaten the resort will be stabilized.