The Blackhawk Landslide
by Frank Rodrigue

Photo Credit: Kerry Sieh

Quoted from a geology book listed below

Certainly the largest slide in the Transverse Range province is the Blackhawk, on the north slope of the San Bernardino Mountains. This prehistoric slide is one of the largest known in North America. It was studied in detail by R. L. Shreve, who showed that the slide moved to it's resting place on a cushion of compressed air. (This mechanism has since been recognized as applicable to other slides.) The end of the slide can be seen from State Highway 247, about 10 miles east of Lucerne Valley; the only satisfactory way to see the entire slide is from the air. The Blackhawk slide is 5 miles long, about 2 miles wide, and 30-100 feet thick. It is a tongue like sheet of brecciated Pennsylvanian Furnace Limestone derived from Blackhawk mountain about 4,000 feet above. In the source area, the Furnace Limestone has been thrust northward over uncemented sandstone and weathered gneiss that subsequently were eroded away, leaving a precipitous slope. Once the softer rocks were undermined, presumably during a wet period about 17,000 years ago, a mass of limestone breccia collapsed and slipped rapidly into upper Blackhawk Canyon, forming a stream of rubble about 2,000 feet wide and 300-400 feet deep. As the slide moved down the canyon (at about 170 mph), it passed over a resistant gneissic ridge that crosses the canyon, and was thus launched into the air-a geologic version of a flying carpet. Calculations indicate that sheet of moving breccia was probably as high as 400 feet above the canyon floor immediately after becoming airborne, but that it settled quickly, compressing the air trapped beneath to a frictionless blanket less than a meter thick. While airborne, the slide possibly attained velocities of 270 mph, and the entire distance from launching point to resting place were covered in about 80 seconds. These values are based on a consideration of local geometry and are consistent with the behavior of similar slides observed during formation. As the slide spread over the desert floor, the air cushion became thinner, permitting the slide to settle. A characteristic of such slides is the presence of large blocks that, although badly shattered, have fragments that retain their original orientation to one another-much like a jigsaw puzzle with pieces pulled slightly apart. This feature supports the view that carpet like sheets of rock can be moved almost intact on cushions of compressed air. Shortly after the slide occurred, small ponds developed in depressions on it's surface and one of these has yielded fresh-water mollusk shells that give a radiocarbon age of 17,400 years. Because the pond sediments are composed largely of materials pulverized during the slide and covered with different, probably windblown materials, the ponds are probably only slightly younger that the actual age of the slide.

Reference: Geology of California, second edition
by Robert M. Norris & Robert W. Webb

A letter to Pat Judkins from Lloyd Peyton August 19, 1995

Dear Pat:

I'd be glad to tell you what little I know of the Black Hawk Slide.

As you know, I lived for 25 years on Peyton Place on the south side of Cougar Buttes. And for all of those years, I sat on my front porch and marveled at the beauty of the Black Hawk Slide across the valley from my house.

Santa Fe Road dead-ends at the slide. As I understand it, many, many years ago, a gigantic chunk of the San Bernardino Mountains broke away and, supported by a cushion of air trapped beneath it, managed to travel for a distance far greater horizontally across the valley floor than an avalanche normally would.

Over the years I lined my driveway with rocks from the slide, rocks which originated high in the San Bernardinos. When I moved back to Los Angeles I brought many of them with me and I now have specimens from the Black Hawk avalanche lining my flower bed in front of my home in Silver Lake.

I've also got some lava from Negro Butte and some quartz from the back country, so I have a little bit of Lucerne Valley right here at home.

Lloyd Peyton

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