Thursday, June 21, 2012

Big Sur & Purple Beaches

Go online and type in "Pfeiffer Big Sur" and the first image found is this or something quite close:
minus the cute little father and son combo pictured here. Those are mine and were both quite cold on a very windy day just south of Monterey Bay in California. After already visiting Pebble Beach and the redwoods found in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, we wandered about 12 miles to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park - which is where the photos seen here were actually taken. (At first, we knew we had to be lost because the winding road to reach the spectacular views was nothing like what we expected. I was sincerely relieved that we traveled by day, for the "neighborhoods" we passed through were more like something out of a B-level slasher redneck movie. Seriously, it was just plain weird.) On a side note, the wind was bitterly cold and it also had been far too long since one particular little boy had slept, so we did not think he would enjoy this detour at all and at first he wasn't happy. Since this was a trip long awaited, my husband was set free to wander the rocky shoreline and I meant to return with our boy to the warmth of the rental car, but then something amazing happened - the wind stopped.

Within 5 minutes of the wind calming down, my stout little 2 yr old wanted to explore a bit too. There were a splattering of children and adults in the water and a wonderful stream of freezing water running from the woods out to the crescent bay.  "Down, Down!" struggled the toddler and he begged me to remove his shoes and socks so he could walk across this little stream like Daddy did.
Braving the cold water just to be like daddy
Sure enough, he was in the water quickly and couldn't wait to cross the trickling creek and explore the other side. I was ecstatic! Dying to do a bit more exploring myself, this was a perfect experience to share with my little man. We quickly trekked across to one of the most amazing sites of my marine biologist's Atlantic ocean-trained eyes: PURPLE SAND!
I was completely stupified by the beautifully soft sand that was unlike any color I had ever seen or even imagined. How did I not expect this, or had even heard of it?!! When studying anything for an extended period of time, one begins to feel quite the expert and might take on an attitude of "yeah right, just try and surprise me"... so this was a wonderful time to feel ignorant! All of a sudden I was in awe just like the first time I saw Shamu at Sea World in San Antonio, TX at the age of 10. What a fantastic feeling, and I get to share this with my two favorite people in the world? So cool.
My husband soon returned from his own adventure where he took some great pictures, including a nasty whirpool that would have been all too welcoming had he not been sure footed. Let's just say there was no way I was following him this time.
Whirpool below: Do not jump in!
So now, of course, I had to scrounge around to find out WHY the sand is purple. The mountains surrounding Pfeiffer Big Sur are apparently plentiful in manganese garnet, and depending on conditions can turn the beach anywhere from pink to a dark lavender (which is basically what we saw that day).  Still not happy with this result, I worked my way backwards and just started breaking this whole mystery down into pieces:
1. Garnet is a very deep shade of red, therefore the more concentrated the darker the color.
2. Garnet mines are found all along the Pacific coast, from Alaska down through California.
That is PURPLE sand!

3. These mines are also found on the east coast of the US, including Connecticut and New York. Tours are even available.  Under certain conditions purple sand can be seen on the northern east coast beaches too; and yet another surprise to me.
4. Manganese is a chemical element found naturally and often.

I was clueless as to the geological makeup of the California coastline, and therefore oblivious to the possibilities of tinted sand.  Having seen the black sand beaches of Hawaii, I knew that minerals like those found in lava rock could influence a beach's traits, but it was still so cool to be standing on the soft sand and wonder.
Squishing toes and jumping back to watch the cold Pacific wash the prints away - priceless fun!
Once over the initial shock of the beauty of this purple beach, we quickly began to play new games while waiting for Daddy's return.  The one above is very simple: squish your toes into the sand and jump back fast as the chilly water rushes up to wash away the footprints.  "Footprints" became a favorite word in our house for weeks after this game and is still played on our beach here in Florida.  The next "step" was the discovery of animal footprints and how they are different from ours. Again, very cool.
Instead of a quick 15 minutes, we ended up spending over an hour at Julia Pfieffer Burns.  The rock formations are breathtaking, and we didn't even get to explore the myriad of trails that went up to catch the view from a higher perch. But it was worth the $5/vehicle charge by far and it remains on the list of things to do when we return some day - this time we will spend an entire day there instead of just dropping by.
How a 2 yr old views Big Sur
The picture above is perhaps my favorite of the entire California trip.  I don't know exactly what was going on in that brillaint little mind, but this photo was taken shortly before leaving and he knew this was a last look at the purple beach.  The wonder and excitement had in just an hour will stay with me forever, and I will not give up the child-like enthusiasm felt each time we venture out! I can only hope to encourage that in my son as he grows up too.

Something I took away from this beach, purple sand excluded (although I seriously wished for any type of container to capture a few grains of treasure for home), was the return of my own inspiration.  I learned not to get so caught up in watching others enjoy a new experience and forget to have one for myself too.  This entire trip rocked my marine loving world as I became enthralled and amazed by a NEW ocean and a NEW beach, despite the fact that I get to see one fairly often. The personal renewal that drives creativity and brings on new adventures is one of my favorite experiences possible, and as always I am thankful to have had another beautiful one with my family.

If the water is too cold, dip your toes in anyway - and be glad for it.

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