Monday, June 22, 2015

Moonstone Beach

Moonstone. "Pierre de lune 7(Inde)" by Parent Géry - Own work.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Moonstone, along with pearls and alexandrite, is a birthstone option for those born in the month of June. There are actually several different stones called moonstone. The two most common stones called moonstone are a form of orthoclase feldspar and a form of chalcedony.

Both of these types of stone are used in jewelry, though only the feldspar variety emits the bluish play of color most commonly associated with the term moonstone. Whereas chalcedony is a type of quartz crystal, orthoclase feldspar is an aluminosilicate containing potassium. The feldspar forms in delicate layers creating the opalescent play of color.

It is the chalcedony variety, however, that piqued my interest this month. It did so because it is associated with a distinctive beach in Southern California called Moonstone Beach. I first learned of Moonstone Beach in a 1909 edition of Hunter-Trader-Trapper, an early 19th century journal focused on the ins and outs of hunting, trapping, and trading fur animals in the US and Canada.

The article, called "The Craftsmen of an Isle of Summer," is a delectable read, covering the various artistic trades available in 1909 to travelers amid the Santa Barbara and Santa Catalina islands (now called the Channel Islands) in Southern California. Of particular note, the island of Santa Catalina boasted a bustling town of 1500 people which played host to over 5,000 people in the summers.

Three steamers ran at regular intervals to ferry visitors and residents to and from the mainland each day. There were also several shallow water steamers, which the writer calls "monster glass-bottom boats." {1} These were strictly tourist boats, carrying men, women, and children to the various attractions these extravagant islands had to offer. One made regular visits to the sea lion rookery on Santa Barbara Island.

And one made daily trips to Moonstone Beach. From reading the article, it sounds like Moonstone Beach is on a portion of Catalina Island, "a beach several miles up the island where a little canon comes winding down to the sea." {2}

That very well may be the case, that the glass-bottom boat steamed around to a more inhospitable portion of the island, dropping passengers onto an otherwise deserted beach where they could spend hours collecting stones which, as the writer remarks, "are susceptable [sic] of a fine polish and resemble moonstones, cats eyes, and other semi-precious stones...." {3}

Those same tourists could then return to the Port of Avalon, bringing their cache along with them to turn over to the island's master lapidarists. These jewelers would polish the stones to a high shine and set them into a piece of ready-made jewelry, a ring or a pendant most likely.

Today, Catalina continues to burst to life in the summers, offering a resort-like experience that rivals Hawaii, without the volcano. Visitors can spend their day in the spas and lounges, or they can spend their day hiking, biking, parasailing, helicoptering, boating, and more. Glass-bottom boat tours are still available, and they've now added submarine tours.{4}

However, there is no mention of Moonstone Beach in the 2015 tour guide. There is, however, a Moonstone Beach on the mainland just across the harbor from Santa Catalina Island. Here, similar stones are found just a few nautical miles northeast of the island. This gorgeous stretch of beach, just north of Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo, is open to the public year round, though experts recommend visiting in the autumn months to avoid the summer fog. {5}

Not only is this stretch of coastline breathtaking, with its sculpted cliffs, weathered trees, and tawny beaches, its shores are also dotted with moonstones (chalcedony), jaspers, and all sorts of other quartz stones. According to John McKinney, author of California's Coastal Parks: A Day Hiker's Guide, these beautiful stones, "polished by surf and sand...were carried here by streams from the nearby coastal range."

Moonstone Beach offers far more than moonstones and jasper. It's also a prime spot for surf kayaking, surfing, rock climbing, tide pool scouting, sea cave exploration, and miles of sand into which you can sink your bare feet. {7} If you hike the bluff trails described by John McKinney, you might catch a glimpse of sea otters, and, if your'e there in January or February you might see "the giants [that] swim close to shore." {8} That would be the gray whales that migrate through in midwinter.

That is a lot to look forward to, especially if your birthday is in June. If that is the case, you might have the opportunity to bring home your own birthstone. If you do, then give us a call and we'll help you find the perfect setting in which to mount it.


  1. Holder, Charles Frederick. "The Craftsmen of an Isle of Summer," Hunter-Trader-Trapper, Volume XVIII, No. 5, August 1909, p.19.
  2. Ibid., p. 19.
  3. Ibid., p. 19.
  4. Catalina Island 2015 Official Visitors Guide, p. 16.
  5. Fitzgerald, Nina. "Moonstones And A California Beach," Watching For Rocks blog, January 14, 2012.
  6. McKinney, John. California's Coastal Parks: A Day Hiker's Guide. Berkeley: Wilderness Press, 2005, p. 128.
  7. Humboldt California's Redwood Coast website.
  8. McKinney, p. 128.

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