Friday, January 12, 2018

From Trash to Treasure: Hiking from Fort Bragg's Glass Beach to Laguna Point at McKerricher State Park


Date: January 6, 2018
Place: Fort Bragg, California
Coordinates (of Glass Beach parking area): 39.452079, -123.809751
Length: about 4 miles (the straight route from the Mill to Laguna Point I meandered along the coastline).
Level: easy

Next spring I plan to take a group of families on a camping trip to Mendocino Coast. With the excuse of having to prepare for that I left the chikas in care of Pappa Quail and went on a two-day solo trip to Fort Bragg.
After a long drive during which I had to detour the flooded SR 128 and arriving too late to look for a campsite, I crashed at the first motel I came upon that had vacancy and slept well past my normal waking time.
I woke up to a lovely bright morning, a welcomed sight after the heavy rains I left behind in the Bay Area. After large coffee and a long consultation of my maps and brochures I set out to seek the famous Fort Bragg's Glass Beach.
A wonderful day at the Glass Beach of Fort Bragg
A few years ago when I was there with my family we looked for that beach but ended up going down to another one north of it. There was some glass there, and many people, but not the marvelous sea glass cover that I've seen in photos online. This time I was determined to find the exact location.
The first thing I saw when I arrived at the location of the Glass Beach was that the entire area was redone to accommodate the numerous beach comers, both tourists and local. There was a new parking lot at the ocean end of the street, with a decorated restrooms structure, and a water fountain.
I approached the cliff edge and looked down. The waves crashed again and again on the dark rocks.
Cormorant rock
Soon I found myself mesmerized by the repetitive washing of a single sea palm kelp that stood alone on one of the lower rocks. I think I took over 20 photos of that individual alga and when the time came to select a photo for this post I could narrow my choice only to 6 of them.
Sea Palm, Postelsia palmaeformis
A nice cement bike path stretched south to the site of the old lumber mill. Sign posts were placed near the trail with information about he place. One of the signs directed to the Glass Beach, indicating an 'easy trail' to the right (north) and a difficult one to the left (south). I was pretty sure that on my family's previous visit here we chose the easier trail so presently I turned left and looked for the difficult access to the beach.
I quickly found that a new fence was erected between the trail and the coastal cliffs, and there was no sign of a trail going down.
I continued following the trail southward, looking for beach access and enjoying the beautiful day and the pretty sights of the place.
I didn't expect to see much bloom this time of year and indeed there wasn't much. But there was some. I was glad to see our State Flower represented a few very large and very orange blossoms.
California Golden Poppy, Eschscholzia californica
There were also plenty of coastal gumweed bushes along the trail, and they all were in full bloom.
I arrived at the end of the south branch of the trail. Behind a fence and a no trespassing sign was an empty area where once was a huge lumber mill that processed all the redwood trees logged and hauled from many miles around. Now the redwoods are protected and the mill is gone. The sign announced the purchase of that area by the State Parks system and the planned opening in ... 5 years ago. They might need a time machine to accomplish that.
Coastal Gumweed, Grindelia stricta
I didn't see any clear beach access along that trail segment so I turned around and headed back north, looking more closely as to where I might be able to get down to the water. The fence had no holes in it - it looked quite new. It did serve more than the purpose of saving people from collapsing with the cliff edge down to the rocks below:
California Ground Squirrel
The squirrel, as the meadowlark perched on another fence post, were completely unphased by the numerous people that walked or biked on the trail, at only few feet distance.
 I returned to the place where I started walking south, where the fence begun. There was a sign for the Glass Beach behind the fence and a couple of benches, and I saw a little path between the fence and the cliff edge. I followed the path with my eyes and found where it begun - just around the edge of the fence. So I slipped behind it and made my way to the cliff edge where I saw the sign and found a steep trail leading down to the beach.
Fort Bragg's Glass Beach
Up until 1967 this beach served as the main dump of Fort Bragg. The idea was that the ocean will carry off the town's waste, but the currents in this region do not work for the city and the waste stayed in the cove, getting tumbled and stratified by the waves.
The beach was as spectacular as I had imagined. Yet, a local I've met there informed me that nowadays there's much less glass there than used to be only a few years ago. There reason became clear soon enough: before leaving I got to witness people coming down with bags and collecting glass pebbles to take away. (And no, it isn't legal to do so, but there was no one there to enforce that ordinance). It may well be that soon there won't be much to see in that beach other than the usual, natural beauty of that area's coastline.
Sea Laurel, Osmundea spectabilis on a bed of Sea Glass
And strikingly beautiful it is, that area. After satisfying my eyes with sea glass I sat down to take in the natural beauty of that beach. A seal's head bobbed out of the water, and a loon dived in the surf. On the far rocks that enclosed the cove another seal was lying down for her beauty rest.
Harbor Seal
I had a nice chat with the local family that I met there and as they got up to leave I realized that I have spent over an hour on the Glass Beach. It was a well-spent time but I wanted to see more that day, and so I donned my shoes again and walked up the cliffside trail back to the main pavement.
I returned to where the trail merged with the street and found a bunch of blackbirds enjoying kibble that someone had left there under a picnic table.
Blackbird Feeder
Other little birds were roaming through the grass and one of them was came quite close to the trail and wasn't bothered even as I approached to take its photograph.
Savannah Sparrow
After consulting my my map I decided to walk about three miles north along the Coastal Trail to Laguna Point, in McKerricher State Park. As I started northward I saw below the 'easy trail' beach where I was with my family a few years ago.

The beach looked very inviting and the rock features promised excellent tide-pooling, but I left that to another time and continued on.
At first I stayed well off the paved Coastal Trail, but chose to walk instead on a narrow foot path that run along the cliff edge. This, of course, was no straight line but curved in and out as did the coastline itself.

A movement in the air caught my attention - a kestrel hovering in place, looking for something to dive for.
American Kestrel
Away from the main visitors area the and from the cliff edge the land was flat and covered with yellowish-gray grass prairie. Between the dry old grass blades peeked the brilliant green growth of new vegetation. Soon the new plants will outgrow the old, dead grass and the prairie will wear all green.

Here and there I saw some wildflowers. Mainly gummed and fleabane. I expect that spring bloom will be quite a sight here in a couple of months.
Seaside Daisy, Erigeron glaucus
I meandered along the coastline until I arrived to Pudding Creek, which had a wide river mouth with a bright-colored sandy beach. A line of resorts stretched on the other side and a long aluminum bridge carried the Coastal Trail across the creek channel. I could have gone down and crossed along the beach but looking at the time I decided to take the bridge instead.
Pudding Creek
The costal prairie area north of Pudding Creek is park of the McKerricher State Park. I was there with my family many years ago and on that visit we hiked the highlands of the park. Now it was my time to explore its coastal region.
A little bird welcomed me to the park - a song sparrow. Bit it didn't sing. It isn't that time of year yet.
Song Sparrow
After crossing the bridge I veered away from the resorts and continued walking along the cliff edge, looking down and outward to the ocean. There were no humans on beach below me - the few people I've seen were all by the mouth of Pudding Creek.

The beach, however, wan't completely empty. A young gull was walking alone in and out of the strand line. As the waves receded the mud was exposed, all shiny, and reflected the gull like a mirror. The gull's shadow was cast in perpendicular to the gull's real and reflective images, and stretched longer than both, indicating that the sun was westernizing.
Ring-billed Gull, juvenile
A very common plant there is the South Africa native and highly invasive ice plant, introduced here to stabilize the sand. It is a beautiful plant no doubt, but it is also highly aggressive and outcompetes many of the California native species. Every now and then removal efforts are made in one park or another. Here at McKerricher Park it is left to thrive and covers great areas of the coastal prairie. 
Ice Plant flowing down the coastal cliff. 
Another little brown bird was walking in the new grass parallel to me - an American pippit. It wouldn't pose for a photo but also didn't fly off while I had my attention on it. In general I was quite surprised by how little bothered were the local birds by the human presence in the area.
American Pippit
Way down in the cove below swam two ducks - a pair of female bufflehead.  They were the only ducks I've seen that entire hike.
Bufflehead, females
I checked my GPS and realized that I was still ways away from my destination. If I wanted to make it to Laguna Point and make it back to my car before sunset (when I would surely get a ticket, as the parking lot sign said), I would have to abandon the meandering cliff edge and head straight to the Point by the paved Coastal Trail. So I took another long and longing look at the spectacular coastline and started inland.

There are numerous little trails that cut through the prairie between the cliff edge and the Coastal Trail. I quickly found one of them to tread. I paused briefly to photograph an early (or very late) blooming Angelica.
Coast Angelica, Angelica hendersonii 
On the paved trail I quickened my pace, trying to cover the distance to Laguna Point quickly. I came across more people on that trail, including bikers, dog walkers, stroller-pushing families. It was tough to get a human-free photo of this trail but I managed :-)
The Fort Bragg Coastal Trail
I came upon another creek crossing - that of Virgin Creek. A lone grebe floated on the water, occasional taking a dive. Otherwise there were no birds or other animals there. I moved on northward.
Virgin Creek
Every now and then I looked longingly at the ocean. I could get to the edge at any point on any of the many little foot paths that cut through the dunes but I remained focused on my goal to reach Laguna Point promptly. From a distance however, I could appreciate the colorful cover that the reddish ice plant gave the coastal dunes.
Ice plant-ridden Coastal Prairie
Nearing Laguna Point the trail entered a wooded area, of mostly pine trees. I did see one large manzasnita near the trail, and it was covered in flowers.
Manzanita, Arctostaphylos sp.
A pine grove doesn't have much of an undergrowth, but the raibns did bring some mushrooms out of the needle ground cover. Although not as many as I had expected.

The rain that washed the area the day before my arrival had left a few other-world portals on the pavement. All I needed was some imagination to carry me through, like Alice.

At Laguna Point there is another parking lot, picnic tables, and a toilet structures. There is also a boardwalk loop though a magnificent grove of Monterey cypress trees.
Monterey Cypress, Hesperocyparis macrocarpa
The boardwalk leads to the coast where the low tide exposed a jungle of rocks against which the waves crashed and whirled.

A few ravens sat on the railing, observing the people. Every now an then another raven would land next to them, a short quarrel would ensue, and then that raven or another would fly off.
Common Ravens
At the tip of the boardwalk there is an observation deck. A number of people stood there, all looking at a certain point far in the ocean. They were pointing and had their binoculars and cameras pointed there too. A docent welcomed me to the deck and directed my gaze to that very same spot. There, he said, were a number of whales. Soon I detected them too. Photographing them was a different thing, though. On a last moment's decision I chose to take my little point n' shoot camera, the one I bought after Pappa Quail's camera broke at the end of our hike at the Mormon Rocks, and he had borrowed mine. I took it because it was lightweight and had a larger zoom range than my regular camera.
One big drawback this has is the absence of a viewer - all that I was aiming at could be seen only by the view screen. The whales were to the southwest. So was the sun. In short, I was photographing blindly. Of the thirty-something photos I took while pointing my camera in the general direction of the whales, I got a few with a visible spout and only one with the actual whale showing. Still, it was very exciting to see these amazing creatures as they swam along the coastline.
Humpback Whale
After enough whale-watching time I became aware of a raucous from a rock in the water. It wasn't hard to identify the cause - a flock of oystercatches were having a loud discussion on the lee side, just below the rock's ridge.
Black Oystercatchers
A fellow wildlife appreciator near me turned my attention to another group of birds on that same rock, smaller and silent, just below the noisy oystercatchers. There birds, black turnstone and surfbirds, appeared to be resting peacefully, most of them with the beak tucked in the wing.
Black Turnstones and Surfbirds
I completed the boardwalk loop and stopped to think. Walking back would bring me to the Glass Beach just by sunset. Yet, there were other places I wanted to see before the day was over. I came to a decision and went down the road toward the parking lot exit. There I raised my thumb and the first exiting car stopped for me - it was the nice docent who told me about the whales at the observation deck. He gave me a ride back to Fort Bragg and after thanking him I drove south to Van Damme State Park where I found an available campsite and pitched my tent. After that I had just enough time to go and see the pretty sunset from Van Damme State Beach before nightfall.
Sunset at Van Damme State Park Beach
After dinner I went straight into the tent - I had planned to hike from the Pygmy Forest all the way down through the Fern Canyon of Van Damme State Park on the morrow - a longer, more demanding hike. But just before I fell asleep my mind went back to the lovely sunny hike along the coastline. From my tent I could hear the ocean, and I drifted off to dreams.

Many thanks to members of the Birding California Page for their help in identifying the surfburds!
Many thanks to members of the California Native Plants Society for their help in identifying plants! 


  1. very nice place.
    The young gull picture is beautiful and the mushroom is surprising...