Maybe you remember all the happiness you experienced, as a kid, and the look of cheer on your face, when you find on the beach beautiful stones and pebbles with resplendent colors?
Well, in the MacKerricher State Park in California, USA, there is a beach which is completely covered with this type of stones that look real jewels. It earned the nickname: “Glass Beach”. Nothing to do with precious stones, glass or even jewelry, the history of this beach is tinged with a bittersweet taste. Glass Beach is an exceptional place; thanks to an imaginative whim of nature, the ocean, the waves and sand worked together to transform human-made ugliness into a rare and singular phenomenon to behold.
The Human Action
On photos, or the web, Glass Beach makes you dream. In reality, tough, it is much less glamorous: it comes from human pollution, and above all, it is disappearing bit by bit – always under human action. One can find it ironic and despairing … you make your own opinion. This “beach of glass” comes from 60 years of pollution.
An Improbable Legacy of Pollution
Glass Beach (near the city of Fort Bragg) was actually used as a natural landfill until 1967. All residents of Fort Bragg region dumped their waste, for lack of a defined dumpsite, were used to dump their waste materials directly in the beach and in the ocean. Car wrecks, appliances out of use and home garbage… tons piling upon tons by the shore, so much that the lovely coastline place behind took the grim name of the Dumps. In the early 60s, a first attempt at regulation is taken which including the prohibition of deposit of toxic products. The disorder became too much to handle, and thus the local authorities decided to take action. In 1967, the North Coast Water Quality Board was alarmed by the situation, realizing too late the disastrous ecological impact on the environment and decided to close this illegal dumping for good; creating a new location more suited to bulky deposits inland. Several projects were then undertaken to minimize the negative impact, to no avail. Major cleanup campaigns were put in place to eliminate gradually the waste (like setting the mounds of waste afire) in an attempt to reverse decades of human pollution. But millions and millions of broken glass littering the coast could not be removed for lack of resources and technical solutions; it was nature that took care of it, turning this dump into a unique place. 45 years later, these pieces of glass, under the continuous conjugated action of the ocean and weather, had been turned into an incredible amount of sparkling polished glass pebbles under the sun. Today the sand of the beach has been completely replaced by shimmering bed of multicolored stones. A multitude of pieces of glass of all colors polished and spat out by the ocean. The blue pieces for example come from pharmacy bottles and pill containers; the red ones are remains of taillights of the cars. Under the ownership of the California State Park, the beach became a protected area and regional park attached to that of MacKerricher. Nature has reasserted itself, setting a suitable and quite original environment so that an abundant aquatic fauna and flora could thrive. Glass Beach is a place rich in teachings that is helping to increase environmental awareness. Three other glass fields have been identified since; Benicia in California, in the Hawaiian Hanapepe Bay and in Guantanamo Bay in southeastern Cuba.
Glass Beach is disappearing
The story of Glass Beach is an eye-opening case about the scope of human ability to harm nature: Human action caused a disaster; Nature could manage a brilliant outcome; Human once again messes up a natural peaceful oeuvre! Many impressive photos about this exceptional site circulating in the web are now obsolete; alas, reality is less glittering. Locals started witnessing a dire phenomenon: the once thick layer of polished glass is reduced to a gauze-like thin film. Thanks to this atypical nature, Glass Beach has become a tourist spot. But this has led to another phenomenon: the collection of small multicolored glass pieces, although forbidden by regulations. Responsible visitors do collect many stones to admire them for a while before throwing them back. Other visitors come especially with the intention to collect these stones and filling whole bags and take them away as memorabilia, without seeming to care that they contributing negatively, deteriorating the beach and stripping its main attraction. Even more incredible: noting that the beach is disappearing, some share the “good plan” (for example on Yelp) urging others to hurry to go pick the glass pieces before they are gone forever!
Fort Bragg and nearby attractions
Whenever they find themselves in or near Fort Bragg, people take the opportunity to come and breathe the pure air. Approaching the cliffs, they hear then see the foamy waves slapping ashore, creating an enigmatic atmosphere (the same waves responsible for the creation of Glass Beach). But there other near wild and beautiful places you can discover while in the region:
Mendocino Village (10 mi / 15 minutes)
Mendocino is a small fishing village that has become a resort of choice for people in the San Francisco Bay Area; and as a result prices are somewhat high. There are some good famous restaurants, like Mendocino Cafe where you can choose from rich menu of local fish and wine. You can also sleep in Didjeridoo Inn, in a small room with floral wallpaper, so that in the morning you feel like you spent the night at grandma’s. Every morning, the boss invites the guests around the brekky table, while reciting his adventures as abalone fisherman and marijuana pusher (the use of medical marijuana is legal in California and marijuana cultivation is widespread in the North.)
Van Damme State Park (13 mi / 20minutes)
Head to the Van Damme State Park to discover another green canyon, called Fern Canyon. Plus the extra pure air, you will find the most developed and diversified mushrooms that you’ll ever see. Water is of incredible colors – green, turquoise or deep blue. Have fun counting the caves into the cliffs carved by the sea.
Point Cabrillo Lightouse (about 2 hours drive)
Quite rare on the California coast: this lighthouse still functions traditionally and its lens is still in place. At the end of the day, you can and should attend its daily ritual lighting. Comes the sunset, waves, birds and the light from the lighthouse projecting and scanning the surroundings make the place quite magical.
Hotels in Fort Bragg:
North Cliff Hotel
The North Cliff is a hotel / motel of marine style, the rooms are spread over several floors (no lift). Superior rooms (top of the building) have cathedral ceilings that accentuate their vastness. The rooms have a fireplace ( working on gas ) and a balcony that opens to the ocean, just look a little further and the coast is delivers its superb show to your eyes. The decor is a mix of solid wood furniture and stone, and some of little kitsch elements ( including taps ). The corridor leading to the rooms deserve a look, having a feel of the last century. The bedding is excellent and the rooms are calm, although the North Cliff Hotel is located below the main road, it is quiet. The breakfast ( included) is very tasty, served in room with sea views (despite a large lamp in the foreground that would benefit from being shortened a bit). Owners and staff are very friendly and eager to satisfy their customers.
Surf and Sand Lodge
Located on the cliffs of the ocean, Surf and Sand is one of the most wonderful lodges on the coast. It’s comfortable and calm, staff is great and services are reasonably priced.
Higher floors rooms have a view on the pedestrian path under and over the ocean. You have access to a balcony with comfortable chairs, attention to detail make it perfect for a couple of wine glasses at the end of the day. All the rooms are large, look like condominium flats, and come with a refrigerator and a microwave. The beds are comfortable and the bathroom and shower are spacious. You have also a clean sink and mirror in the bathroom. It is perfect when sharing the room with family members, where everyone has his own space; you will love your stay there.
Super 8 Fort Bragg Hotel
At the reception you will be warmly welcomed; the receptionist would suggest excellent nearby places where to eat and best spots to watch the ocean. You may even get a substantial discount at the restaurant next door if you present the hotel’s key. As a standard in the Super 8 Fort Bragg Hotel, rooms are very clean and come with an ocean view, with a hair dryer in the bathroom and all the accessories you need, a fridge, a microwave and a coffee machine.