Monday, February 13, 2012

Tafoni at Pebble Beach on the San Mateo County coast

I wrote last month about my recent trip home from Santa Cruz to Berkeley, California, along the coast of San Mateo County. On my way down a few days before that I stopped at Pebble Beach, just south of the town of Pescadero. Good reasons to stop at Pebble Beach include the eponymous pebbles, lovely ice plant (see photo at right), the tidepools, and the dramatic white surf crashing over craggy, black stone. Most of all, though, Pebble Beach is known for the tafoni carved into the sandstone, no one quite knows how. (Cf. Jon Boxman's website,, for a wealth of information and citations about tafoni.)

Here's how a sign posted by the California Department of Parks and Recreation describes the tafoni at Pebble Beach:

Tafoni are created by a process called "cavernous weathering." This is the interaction of salt spray and wind on the rock.

The rock here consists of the mudstones, siltstones, and sandstones of the Pigeon Point Formation. Tafoni form best in sandstone because it is soft and porous.

Our wet winters and long, dry summers set the stage for the complex process that has carved intricate patterns in these rocks over hundreds of thousands of years."

I came to know Pebble Beach when I was a teenager, when my family came to this part of California's coast with friends and colleagues and families of friends and colleagues. I spent hours here in my 20s taking photographs of the rocks. You can stare at these forms for hours, and see all manner of creatures in them. As the Parks and Recreation sign suggests, "Use your imagination as you explore. See if you can find a dragonfly or a crocodile." I still have prints of those vintage nineteen-eighty-something photos, and might even be able to dig up the negatives if I tried ... but instead I'll share a few of the born-digital images and video I shot several days into this new year:

Here's a bit of video that puts these strange formations in their native context, and gives a sense of the drama of this stretch of the San Mateo County coast:

You could easily miss the turnoff into Pebble Beach; keep your eyes peeled, and don't be fooled by the sign that emphasizes that Pebble Beach is a part of "Bean Hollow State Beach," bureaucratically speaking; Bean Hollow is also the name of a beach about a mile further south.

Related posts on One Finger Typing:
Taking the coast road north from Santa Cruz
Pacific coast watersheds

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