Undiscovered gem: Glass Beach

Beach glass everywhere, due to being part of a former landfill? Intriguing. Miles of waves rolling over gravel? Deeply theraputic. Scouring billions of rocks and shells below our feet? Meditative.

I have many fond memories of tide-pooling and beachcombing. Living in one of the most rural areas of Bainbridge Island, they were activities I could do solo that kept me exploring. It’s still one of my happy places. Yet, I’ve never heard of Glass Beach, near Port Townsend.

We journeyed there the previous week, except high winds, low temps, and an impassable high tide forced us to take a rain check. Instead, Chimicum Cafe’s pie satisfied, as did nearby Finnriver Cidery. Both are recommended.

It’s been raining hard all week. Most of the local rivers and streams are near flood stage. And, in classic PNW fashion, the forecast says the sun is making a cameo appearance today. Gloriously. Arriving in Port Townsend around tide’s recession, we park and venture out on our hike.

And hike it is: walking over uneven sand, gravel, logs, and slippery rocks is challenging–making short distances seem much longer. Three miles look and feel like a very long way down the shoreline. “Worth every step–just you wait” my friend affirms.

Bluffs jutt out along the shoreline like immense progress markers for our trek. My friend points to the largest: “We’ll walk down there, past McCurdy Point, where you can see Protection Island–that’s where all the glass is.”

Cliffs tower above beachcombers
Looking toward McCurdy Point
Texture, shadow open up along the cliffs

We quickly mill past other combers, then slow, reaching our destination in just under two hours of casual, photo-laden meandering. Wildlife is out in full force: Harbor seals popping up along the shore; immature bald eagles soar; an osprey swoops; herons skulk, screeching when disturbed; a cormorant stands vigilant on a boulder that looks like a giant tooth; assorted ducks bob up- and down-current. I spy a bird I am unfamiliar with, flitting around in the surf: a black oystercatcher. Cool.

Composition with cormorant
A REAL Seahawk: an osprey
A black oystercatcher
Kelp composition #2

Recent storms washed up large braids of sea kelp, making for beautiful photo compositions. Mount Baker and the Olympic mountains are visible. Warm breezes from sun-baked beaches intermingled with bitter cold surf make for drastic temp changes.

Mount Baker and windsurfer

We round McCurdy Point, and Protection Island comes into full view, along with bizarre art pieces: ancient engines, transaxles, and differentials sit among the rocks and drift logs.

What’s the differential?
Engine beach mind meld

Other folks are already at the magic spot, eyes glued to the ground, as if looking for a lost needle in a haystack. I’m looking for a carpet of glass and don’t see it. And then it happens: I find a piece of glass. And then another. And another. Wait. They’re all over.

First glass found

More and more glass reveals itself. Some is so pitted and rounded, it looks like stone. Clear glass is common. Brown and green, less-so. Blue glass is sought after. Especially, light blue. Pottery bits and brick are also popular.

We continue to search. Sunglasses tint my view, hindering my ability to identify desired glass. Or maybe not. Somehow, within minutes, I come upon the unicorn: red glass. Is it the polarized lenses? Who knows. I call it Beginner’s Luck.

The haul

Whatever, we search for a long time after that, unable to produce more red glass. We find some great pieces. And agates. And shells. Finally, my friend pulls out what amounts to pounds of precious blue glass. It is ceremoniously broken onto the rocks near the shoreline. We are giving back. After a moment of silence, we head back to our car and awaiting ciders.

Giving back to the sea: blue glass

Along the way, we observe tiny sea snails slithering silently on the sand. We poke sea anemones. We soak up the sun.

THAT is a BIG mussel!

Stumbling upon some colossal mussels, and a Giant Pacific chiton the size of my hand, I wonder what planet I’m on. You never know what will wash up after a strong storm. The shoreline changes with each passing tide. New discoveries await. And that’s why I’ll be back–it’s a gem.

GLASS BEACH is located on the western outskirts of Port Townsend, approached only by foot from North Beach Park, about an hour’s drive from the Kingston ferry. Make sure you plan your trip when the tide is out, Hood Canal bridge is open, and the ferries are running. Of course if plans don’t work out, there’s always cider and pie.
All images and content copyright ©2017 Eric Schadel. All rights reserved.

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