Through The Looking Glass

Fort Bragg, California

Glass Beach

People scavenge for glass on Glass Beach

People scavenge for glass on Glass Beach

There are some places on earth that blur the distinction of what is natural and what is man-made; other places where mankind’s disregard for the environment results in the creation of a place of unusual beauty, where one man’s trash truly becomes another man’s treasure. One such place is Glass Beach, in California’s Mendocino County. In the 1940s, residents used this small stretch of shoreline as a dump, a practice unimaginable today. Household items were discarded into the sea, from bottles and dishes all the way up to old cars. In the 1960s, the dumping was stopped and the state closed the dump, making efforts to remove what large waste items they could – nature took care of the rest. Over the years, the surf rolled and pounded the trash against the rocks and tumbled them in the sand until there was not much more than pebble-sized items left. Since a great deal of the trash was glass, it is the primary component of the pebbles that cover the entire beach, giving the beach its recent name.

Stone and colored glass co-mingle on the shore

Stone and colored glass co-mingle on the shore

Remarkably, the ecosystem has rebounded and the sea life has put to use the larger objects that did not break down, much in the manner of artificial reefs. The high surf and proliferation of rocks makes underwater exploration difficult and dangerous, but the main draw is the beach itself. A thick layer of the glass pebbles intermingles with sand and stones, tiny pieces of pottery, metal, wood and various other substances worn down to objects of beauty. Since so much of the beach is glass, the sun shines through the wet beads, lighting the shore with a wide variety of colors. There aren’t too many pieces of jagged material left, but occasionally larger objects will break up when they hit the beach, so caution still must be exercised. Collecting is not officially permitted, although officials tend to “look the other way” as it brings tourism to the tiny seaside community.

Some of the color created by water, sun and glass

Some of the color created by water, sun and glass

If you decide to visit Glass Beach, bring some decent footwear – although the beach isn’t very dangerous, you will need to maneuver down small hills to get to the beach, big rocks abound near the water’s edge, and walking through the pebble-strewn beach can be difficult in bare feet. While in town, consider a ride on the historic Skunk Train, originally established in the 1880s as a logging rail line between Fort Bragg and Willits, but now a passenger train using engines from the 1920s. As you take in the unnatural beauty of the beach, try not to disturb the local sea life, and if you feel compelled to take some of the beach home with you, you may want to consider using a container made of something besides glass.

Glass Beach
901 Glass Beach Dr.
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
GPS Coordinates: 39°27’9.77″N 123°48’47.52″W

The Skunk Train
100 W Laurel St.
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
GPS Coordinates: 39°26’43.61″N 123°48’24.91″W

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