We investigate the Quaternary slip rate for the Blackwater fault, Eastern California shear zone, through mapping and geochronology of offset volcanic rocks. Basalt flows of the Black Mountains support the presence of faulting at 3.77 ± 0.11 Ma, 1.8 ± 0.1 km of subsequent slip, and a well-constrained long-term slip rate of 0.49 ± 0.04 mm/yr. Total slip diminishes northward, evidenced by a 0.3–1.8 km offset of a 7.23 ± 1.07 Ma dacite flow in the Black Hills and fault termination in the Lava Mountains, 5 km short of the Garlock fault. Slow long-term slip rate together with sparse evidence for Holocene rupture contradict predictions of rapid slip rate from tectonic geodesy. These results support the conclusion that as much as 95% of geodetic strain accumulation across the Blackwater fault, and thus from 1 to 6 mm/yr of geodetic strain measured across the Eastern California shear zone, is a transitory phenomenon. Discrepant geologic and geodetic results may indicate an increased near-term seismic hazard, but merit caution for interpretation of fault slip rates from geodesy alone.