Bet you didn't know quicksand is a real SoCal thing


The Southern California News Group likes to share selected buzzworthy stories across the chain — it's part of the business model, here and elsewhere, to fill the pages of print newspapers while employing fewer and fewer reporters. This weekend's all-arounder, front and center on the Daily News website, is from the sister paper in Riverside, the Press-Enterprise, and brings the news that not many readers in the San Fernando Valley are probably worried about. That is the peril posed by quicksand. Yes quicksand, that trope of hundreds of cinema and TV westerns — which, come to think of it, were mostly filmed in and around the San Fernando Valley.

"It’s a natural phenomenon lurking in Southern California, in or along creeks and rivers, dry washes and lakes where groundwater is close to or coming up to the surface," the papers remind us. Horses and riders walking along river washes have been caught up in it, including last June in the brush along the Santa Ana River.

Quicksand is sand saturated with enough water that a little vibration — such as stepping on it — can change its properties so it behaves like a liquid instead of a solid, said Katherine Kendrick, a research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Pasadena and a UC Riverside adjunct assistant professor.

Rounded grains of sand, which have been smoothed over time by flowing water, later can’t bear loads when groundwater moves up through them, but can bear weight better if they’re dry or water is moving down through them, said Izbicki, adding people sometimes mistake deep mud or sand channels for quicksand.

The Santa Ana River with its silty sand has geological conditions conducive to quicksand, said Riverside City Engineer Mark Steuer, a registered geotechnical engineer.

The river stretches from the San Bernardino Mountains to the Pacific Ocean.

The way all-arounders work is that a nut graf is crafted to allow the story to have news relevance in all of the new group's readership areas. In this case, it is found in the fourth paragraph.

"It [quicksand] might be found in the region’s other alluvial river channels, the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, said U.S. Geological Survey research hydrologist John Izbicki." Yes, it might!

Ten years ago or more, the MythBusters on the Discovery Channel did some mucking around in quicksand.

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