Topographic maps produced from Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data are useful for paleoseismic and neotectonic research because they provide submeter representation of faulting‐related surface features. Offset measurements of geomorphic features, made in the field or on a remotely sensed imagery, commonly assume a straight or smooth (i.e., undeflected) pre‐earthquake geometry. Here, we present results from investigation of an ∼20 cm deep and >5 m wide swale with a sharp bend along the San Andreas fault (SAF) at the Bidart fan site in the Carrizo Plain, California. From analysis of LiDAR topography images and field measurements, the swale was initially interpreted as a channel tectonically offset ∼4.7 m. Our observations from exposures in four backhoe excavations and 25 hand‐dug trenchettes show that even though a sharp bend in the swale coincides with the trace of the A.D. 1857 fault rupture, the swale formed after the 1857 earthquake and was not tectonically offset. Subtle fractures observed within a surficial gravel unit overlying the 1857 rupture trace are similar to fractures previously documented at the Phelan fan and LY4 paleoseismic sites 3 and 35 km northwest of Bidart fan, respectively. Collectively, the fractures suggest that a post‐1857 moderate‐magnitude earthquake caused ground cracking in the Carrizo and Cholame stretches of the SAF. Our observations emphasize the importance of excavation at key locations to validate remote and ground‐based measurements, and we advocate more geomorphic characterization for each site if excavation is not possible.
Online Material: Figures of trench logs.