At temperatures of around 2,000°C, sand turns into glass. Sometimes, in the event of a lightning strike (or, even rarer, a meteor hit) the resulting heat can fuse the grains together and produce glass entirely naturally. This is not what happened at California’s Glass Beach.
All the glass on Glass Beach (and there’s a lot of it) is man-made. It was put there by the residents of nearby Fort Bragg but, rather than being some kind of collective art project, they were simply getting rid of their rubbish.
It’s not unusual for beaches to have a bit of litter on them, but the Californians really took things to extremes – until the 1960s they threw all their household waste (plus some cars and kitchen appliances) over the cliffs and onto Glass Beach. Of course, back then the locals didn’t call it Glass Beach; they called it “The Dumps”.
Since dumping was banned in 1967, the Pacific Ocean (with a little help from the California State Water Resources Control Board) has undertaken a serious clean-up operation. All the rubbish has been either removed or destroyed, with only the glass remaining. The constant movement of seawater has smoothed and rounded the broken glass, leaving colourful pebbles all over the beach and turning the site into an amazing, semi-natural wonder.
Just three miles from Glass Beach is the International Sea Glass Museum, which features over 3,000 pieces of sea glass. If you like sea glass, but hate beaches, a visit to the museum would be the perfect solution. Alternatively, if you’ve’ve just spent the day at Glass Beach but feel that you haven’t quite seen enough glass, you can stop at the museum on your way home.
On this unusual beach, the sea has managed to turn rubbish into something pretty. There’s no guarantee that this will happen elsewhere, though, and it’s no excuse for throwing your empty cider bottles onto the sand.
The world is full of strange beaches; read about some more of them here.