Saturday, October 31, 2015

Glass Sands at Glass Beach

Chris, Sarah, Dylan, Mary, and Mark at Glass Beach, California.
October 8, 2015

When we finally arrived at Fort Bragg on the northern coast of California, it was 3:00 p.m. We had made the 108-mile, 3-hour drive from Bodega Bay to Fort Bragg in just 6 hours! With several stops along the way, of course. This final stop, though, was the one I was most excited about. There is one sight in Fort Bragg that I'd waited a long time to see: Glass Beach.

Our first stop was this little museum on the south end of town.

Back in 1906, the leaders of Fort Bragg established an official water dump site at the north end of town, where residents and businesses disposed of their garbage by simply shoving it over the cliff and into the ocean. This practice continued at three different sites until 1967, when the state of California stepped in and mandated cleanup operations, which lasted for decades.

The smaller bits of glass in this display are typical of what's now found on Glass Beach.

Anything biodegradable was long gone, of course, but items such as vehicles and appliances had to be hauled away, often sold for scrap or used in artwork. The glass items, however, from bottles to jars to glasses to dishware, had long been pummeled to pieces and polished by the pounding of the surf, and it had begun to be washed up on shore.

The man who runs the museum has been scavenging the glass for decades.
He had many larger pieces, some of which were fashioned into jewelry or sculpture.

Much of the glass cast up on the beach was of jewelry quality and in high demand. Over the years, those pieces have dwindled as beach-goers have helped themselves to the best shards. Even today, there are some who fill up entire bags with the glass bits to take home with them. If they are caught, they are ticketed and must pay a fine, but still visitors persist in doing it. In fact, the loss of the glass has become such a concern that visitors are now encouraged to purchase little bags of broken glass to throw back into the ocean so that it will return again to the beach someday.

Mark, Dylan, Sarah, and Chris hike along the cliff above Glass Beach (at right).
The fog met us there.

We only spent about 20 minutes in the museum before heading to Glass Beach. We hiked a mile or so past the entrance to the beach, hoping to find another way down, but there was none. All we found were signs warning us to stay back from the edge and reminding us that we could be trapped by high tide if we ventured down to the beach below.

View from the cliff above the beach. These waters are very rocky.

Dylan, Mark, and Chris take the steps down to the beach. 
It doesn't look so steep from this angle, but... you can see how steep it truly was. Eventually I did make it to the bottom,
but I hesitated to put my knee through that torment. It was slow going for me.

Glass Beach isn't very large, but I found its jagged terrain to be visually striking. The fog shrouding the ocean and wafting among the rocks just added to its mysterious appeal. Even in Southern California, my favorite beaches were always the rocky ones, with tide pools and sea caves and mini-waterfalls bursting with each new wave.

Chris, Dylan, and Mark sift through the glass-studded sand.

Sarah watches the waves.

Glass Beach, California.

Mark and Dylan continue their search for glass treasure.

I loved this craggy area.

To me, the whisper of waves is the most relaxing sound in the world.

Dylan took this amazingly crisp shot of the crystalline waves rushing to shore.

So, you may ask, what is the big deal? It looks like an ordinary beach with course gravel and large pebbles instead of fine sand. But take a closer look at what's beneath your feet...

This is my closeup of the sand. There is far more glass than pebbles.
The most common bits of glass are white, clear, green, and amber.

This is Dylan's closeup of the sand. He says it puts mine to shame.
(Don't forget, you can click on any of these photos to enlarge them.)

There are places in the rocks like this where the glass has gathered in the seams.
I love the whole pirate's-lair, gems-spilling-out-of-the-treasure-chest look!

My best specimens.

Given the restrictions on collecting glass from the beach, we settled for searching out just a few of the best pieces we could find during our short 2 hours on Glass Beach. We were really hoping to find some of the rarer colors, deep red and bright blue, but I had to settle for two whites, a green, and an amber. And one that I'm not sure what it used to be!

Dylan's four finds. I suspect one or two were interestingly polished rocks
rather than glass, but we couldn't be sure.

Sarah takes her search right into the water.

Sarah decided not to limit herself to what had already been picked through on the beach. Instead, she kicked off her shoes and waded into the surf to see what the tide might carry in. The tide was indeed rising during our visit, and her diligence paid off. While none of us found a coveted blood-red shard, Sarah did find two beautiful blues and an incredibly vivid green unlike any the rest of us had found.

Sarah's tiny treasures.

The sun, shrouded in the haze, is getting lower as the tide comes in.

As we prepare to leave, Dylan takes a final picture of the little cove...

...and here's the picture he captured!

A last family photo on Glass Beach.

Dinner at Denny's in Fort Bragg.

Just 2 blocks up the road from Glass Beach is a Denny's, and that's where we had dinner before starting the drive home. I had actually selected a restaurant across the street, called Jenny's Giant Burgers, but when we drove by we saw that the seating was mostly outside. The kids decided it was a little too cool by now to sit in the damp breeze (although the fog itself seemed to be contained mostly below the cliffs), so they voted to stay warm inside Denny's.

Sarah, Dylan, Chris, and Mark waiting for dinner in Denny's.

Mark went all out on steak and eggs for dinner.

Dylan does love his spaghetti and meatballs.

Another club sandwich for me. Is it any wonder that
I gained almost 8 lbs in 12 days of vacation?

After dinner, we still had a long drive ahead of us (complicated by some serious roadwork along the way) as we returned the Traverse to the rental company in Santa Rosa and then drove back up to the resort in Windsor. In all, it took about 3 hours to get back. It was just growing dark when we left Fort Bragg to drive a narrow, winding highway east to Willits, which was actually the first town in which my son Jacob served on his mission in early 2011. We wished he'd been there with us. Then from Willits we turned south on Highway 101 and continued all the way to our welcoming beds after another very fun, very full day. 

The evening sky as viewed from Denny's at 6:25.

The evening sky 40 minutes later, at 7:05, looking out the window from our booth.

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