The 5.1-magnitude temblor struck just outside Ludlow on Interstate 40 in San Bernardino County, about 120 miles east of Los Angeles, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The initial reports measured the quake at 5.5 magnitude.
"The ground was rolling underneath but it was very light. Nothing," said Jeremy Chestnut, 20, who works at a Dairy Queen in Ludlow. "I was standing in front of an ice cream machine and it makes the ground shake, too."
The quake is the second one above a magnitude-5.0 to hit Southern California this year. In July, a magnitude-5.4 quake centered in the hills east of Los Angeles was the strongest to rattle a populated area of Southern California since the 1994 Northridge disaster.
In the town of Yermo, about 20 miles from Ludlow, a dozen people in Lee's Tavern didn't seem too concerned when the bottles began to rattle.
"Everyone said, 'Oh, it's an earthquake.'" said Leon Lee, the bar's owner. "We didn't hardly feel anything, just some kind of vibration."
The quake struck 16 miles northwest of Ludlow, which has a population of 10, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
The quake "is relatively shallow and if it were located in a more populated area it could be very damaging," USGS seismologist Richard Buckmaster said. "But it's out in the middle of the desert, in the middle of nowhere."
Across the Colorado River at the western Arizona border, Fort Mojave Tribal police dispatcher Jessica Hopkins said she felt a gentle rumbling.
Shaking was also felt in Las Vegas, said Scott Allison, a spokesman for the Clark County Fire Department in Nevada. He said there were no reports of injuries or damage.
"People were just calling 911 saying, 'Did I feel the earth move?'" Allison said.
The quake was just a few miles from where a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit in 1999. USGS seismologist Lucy Jones said it was probably an aftershock of that shake. She said it's not uncommon for big earthquakes to spawn aftershocks years later.