Purple

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

Pfeiffer Beach Sand and Rocks

The purple sands of Pfeiffer Beach accented with stones worn smooth by ocean waves

As we made our way up the Big Sur coast I had several landmarks that I wanted to visit. I’m a bit of a travel nerd and do some fairly exhaustive research before our trips. One place that I had read was particularly beautiful was Pfeiffer Beach. I had also read that it is not an easy location to access or, at least, that it was not well marked.

That turned out to be the case. If there was a marker for the turnoff to Pfeiffer Beach I don’t recall seeing it. When we stopped for a quick lunch to take to the beach, the restaurant attendant just told us to “turn left at the first paved road after the bridge”. We did, and we quickly saw what ‘inaccessible’ meant. There was a road to Pfeiffer Beach, but it was a narrow tree-lined lane that was impassable for two-way traffic in spots. The beach was crowded as well. Near the beginning of the two mile drive, there were attendants controlling the flow of traffic into and out of the park. It was obvious why once we made it to the parking lot. There are precious few parking spots and the locals really don’t want visitors to block their driveways or clog the tight road.

Once we parked and gathered my camera gear and our picnic lunch, we made our way out to the beach. Once we had cleared the parking lot, it quickly became apparent why this is such a popular spot. Pfeiffer Beach is a sheltered, sandy beach at the base of some dramatic cliffs protected on the ocean side by large rocks undercut with arches. It may not be a great beach for surfing but it’s protected enough to be a great place to stroll, throw or kick a ball, or just sit back and watch the world go by. The only negative I could see was that the wind whipped fine sand particles readily. In high winds it seems that the blowing sand would be more than just a nuisance.

As we wandered about, children splashed in tide pools, dogs ran freely on the wide beach, and many people just kicked back reading and relaxing. In certain places on the beach, we noticed that the golden brown sand was interspersed with purple and black sand. It was fairly obvious that the sand was formed from rock formations on the cliffs above that were being worn down by the constant wind and rain. After a bit of research I found that the purple sand is caused by manganese garnet deposits in the surrounding cliffs. Apparently as they erode they wash down from the cliffs and mix with the regular beach sand. The result is some pretty cool looking abstract images arrayed on the beach, especially in areas where tide pools interact with the purple deposits. The picture above is an example of what some of the beach looks like. Other large sections are just normal golden brown beach sand much like the other beautiful beaches of the Big Sur coast.

Pfeiffer Beach is definitely worth a visit if you are in the area. Even with the crowded, cash-only parking lot, it’s still a beautiful place in this world. Enjoy.

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