I found an answer to why the deadly Chinese quake happened so far from the normal plate boundaries.
All of My Faults Are Stress-Related: Tectonics of the May 12 Sichuan earthquake
This blog -- from Durango CO also has some interesting geo-thoughts about the four corners area. Check the archives section.
We hope to have the details on the panning field trip soon --e. g. if a place can be found with enough water to do the panning as well as a chance to find a flake of gold.