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A Beach of Glass

It may not happen often, but occasionally the site of human waste becomes a place of unique beauty through the ministrations of Mother Nature. Case in point: Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, California.

Fort Bragg is located north of San Francisco in beautiful Mendocino County, a place famed for being a literal treasure chest of natural riches: redwood forests, stunning cliffs, and beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean. If you'd visited the area in 1949, you would've found all of the above and…a dump.

Yes, a dump. Though today we know the dangers of using the ocean as a one-size-fits-all dumpster, Americans in the 1940s did not consider the environmental impact of their waste. They used the oceanfront dump to rid themselves of all manner of trash, ranging from general household garbage to used cars. Above, a tire still disintegrating on the beach.

It wasn't until the late 1960s (1967 to be exact) that California realized how much damage was being done by allowing unregulated dumping so near to the ocean. They forbade any further waste disposal and made plans to move the dump to another site, this one located further away from the shoreline. The original dump was allowed to stay as it was, moldering and forgotten beneath the cliffs of Fort Bragg. But Mother Nature had her own agenda.

Since much of the waste had come from homes in the area, bits of broken bottles made up a huge segment of the litter. After 30 years of being pounded by the surf and swirled around in the Pacific, these shards were transformed into smooth pebbles of multi-colored glass that sparkle and glint in the sunshine.

As the seashore began to be covered in the colorful

pebbles brought in by the tide, an entire "beach of glass" took shape.

Once California realized that tourists were seeking out the beach specifically to see the multi-hued beauty of sunlight reflecting on glass, as well as to collect the brilliantly colored pebbles, it was swiftly folded into MacKerricher State Park. Now Glass Beach is listed on the Fort Bragg website as a destination point for visitors in the area.

Glass Beach has been cleaned up since becoming part of a National Park. Remnants of rusty automobile parts have been removed, leaving only those beautifully smoothed globes of glass (which you are no longer allowed to remove, by the way) as a testament to the dump that once was located here. There's also an abundance of tide pools to explore.

Or you could just hang out. It's still a beach, after all. MT

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  • Tracy

    December 28, 2013

    This is incredible!! Thanks so much for sharing.

  • what a miraculous place!The natural magnificence remains unspoiled. I adore these pictures of the rich assortment of sights, and the remarkable sensations.

  • Ellen Girardeau Kempler

    November 28, 2012

    Great photos (especially the dog shot). Although I’ve never been, I blogged about this for my own site and World Travel List. It’s not only a beautiful and rare place, but the environmental success story behind it is inspiring. There’s an embedded link in my post that explains how the glass feeds the sea creatures as it wears down. Now that the trash is gone, the cove keeps getting healthier thanks to the glass, as long as visitors take only photos and leave only footprints! Happy Sails from Gold Boat Journeys: Live. Write. Travel. Explore.

  • Stephen

    November 15, 2011

    Glass beach is really cool. I would have drove right past it if a local had not told me to stop.

    Great photos too!

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