This post is about beachcombing - literally! Its about time, huh?
One of my favorite beaches in Southeast Alaska is in Wrangell. It is a beach with a big menu: shells, beach glass, petroglyphs, old boats, a great view, and, my favorite, rooting for treasures at an old beach dump. About a mile from downtown is Petroglyph Beach.
When you arrive at Petroglyph Beach there is a nice walkway to an interpretive area. The signage talks about the drawings carved into rocks on the beach. There are stone replicas of some of the petroglyphs for you to make rubbings of.
Stepping off of the stairs at beach level is a sandy area with rows of shells pushed up by the tide. Oh, goody – whelks and blue mussels and cockles and more! Some of the beach glass is smoothed by the waves and sand and some of it is raw and sharp. Lower on the beach are rock outcrops covered with seaweed and barnacles.
Some of the rocks strewn around the beach have ancient pictures on them. Many of them are faint, and it takes a little practice to see them. It is also easier to see the petroglyphs if it is raining and the rocks are wet.
I took a plastic bag out of my backpack and used it to get water to put on the rocks hoping that it would bring out the patterns a little more. Here is a bird. See the head on the left, tail on the right, and foot pointing downward?
There is a bedrock point that has petroglyph faces, a bear head, and other forms.
Click to enlarge any of the photos on this page.
The petroglyphs hold more mystery than history. No one is sure why they were made, or what they say. The point of land that these drawings are on is a very good place to keep lookout or to beach a canoe to wait for the tide to change. There could be many reasons for the artwork to be here.
Walk over a rocky outcrop and the beach changes. There is a graveyard of old wood boats. The graceful hulls made of steam-bent planks have given their years of service and now give way to the elements on this beach. It is intriguing to see ribs, a keel, and a pile of stones that was used for ballast. People are drawn to the hulks with their history and textures. I think that there is a lingering energy of riding the ocean waves within these remains that ignites people’s dreams. They sometimes pat the hulls with a far off look in their eyes.
All that remains of a long pier is the two pilings on the left of the above photo. This was a garbage dump in the 1950’s, and people drove down the pier and threw their trash off onto the beach. Also in the ‘50’s Wrangell had a fire that burned a major portion of the downtown. Some people think that much of the cleanup from that fire was loaded into dumptrucks and then dumped at this beach. Now, sixty-some years later, the surface of the beach is a treasure trove of tidbits. It’s almost a glass and ceramic mosaic in places. Crazing in some of the ceramic shards makes me want to take every one of them home to do an art project with.
I usually find buttons and cup handles. Occasionally there are pieces of pink, purple, and opaque light green glass. Red is pretty rare. Today I found a small, triangular bit of a plate with deep blue patterns. In the past I have hauled home textured glass, jug handles, thick bottoms of blown glass bottles, and more, but today I held my gathering to photographs and that one bit of ceramic with blue pattern.
Yesterday, while my sweetheart and I were moseying around the crunchy beach we struck up a conversation with a visitor. Peter’s work brought him to Wrangell from Anchorage for two weeks, and he decided to come see the petroglyphs. Really though, he seems a lot happier to find an intact Coke bottle!
I gave Peter a plastic grocery bag to carry his treasure in, and he added bits of interesting glass. He commented on seeing the bottom of a glass Clorox bottle. The bases of Purex bottles are also found on the beach. Whether 60 years ago is forever or last week, this age of plastic bottles gives us pause to consider the novelty of glass bleach bottles and glass pop bottles.
Near the pilings the beach and trash has fused into a hardened conglomeration of rust, glass, sand, and treasure. Some of it seems as hard as rock. There are a few hardy souls who dig and pound in this crusty mass to free whole vintage bottles, marbles, and other goodies.
I was back at the beach today. Jenice was there excavating a small hole and found an unbroken glass eyewash cup. A few minutes later she whooped in excitement as she exposed a beautiful blue glass bottle.
This work is tough. I dug in the beach once and wanted to give up after fifteen minutes. My dear one persevered, though. He freed half a dozen beer bottles, mayonnaise and mustard jars, and a few Coke bottles. Our hands were stained with black, smelly yuck, and it didn’t wash off easily. It was summer when I tried this.
Today is a warm day for January. It is just above freezing
out, and Jenice is in sneakers and has bare hands. She's a tough Alaskan girl! She and her husband have unearthed lots of old marbles, collectible bottles, and other fun things. She showed me a metal toy sheriff's badge that she had found about ten minutes before.
On the way home my sweetie and I drove by another beach and saw this...