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Pebble Beach lives up to its name

Too often, the name of a beach, or beach town, raises expectations that it doesn’t meet. For example, Gold Beach. When is the last time an ambitious beachcomber like me exited the town a millionaire?

The answer seems to be never. The town took the name Gold Beach in the 1850s, after the discovery of glittering granules near the mouth of the Rogue River touched off a frenzy of prospecting. None of the treasure-seeking “ever amounted to much,” concedes a Gold Beach website.

Then there’s Agate Beach in Newport. I’ve been there a few times, and have always left the same way I came: agate-less. I’ve heard tales of good picking, though, from other beachcombers, so I guess the name isn’t total baloney. Evidently, I need more patience or better timing to experience the truth behind the name.

I prefer the absolute certainty of Pebble Beach in Crescent City. Bring a Ziploc bag, and bet on stuffing it full of smooth, colorful pebbles — candy for the beachcomber. You have to look in the right place, though. The entire beach — accessible from Pebble Beach Drive, a seaside road that provides a scenic route across town — is at least a mile long, and most of it is sandy. Though great for walking, it’s devoid of anything worth collecting.

The pebbles accumulate at the south end, about two tidepools and, well, a stone’s throw away from Battery Point Lighthouse.

I discovered the pebbly heart of Pebble Beach two years ago, in a strange way. My wife and I had just parked at a turn-out on Pebble Beach Drive when we saw a lone woman sitting on the beach. Was she OK? I took her slumped shoulders as a sign of dejection. Sitting directly on the ground, no blanket under her, had she succumbed to the weight of worry or grief, and collapsed on the spot? She ran her hands idly through the sand at her feet.

A second person came along, sat near her, and she, too, began sweeping her hands through the sand. What were they doing? We just had to follow the stairs down to the beach and find out.

Our conclusion: Far from having a bad day, the two were enjoying a peaceful connection with nature, and the current seemed to flow from the galaxy of pebbles under their fingers.

I, seeing a mother lode at my feet, became a pebble collector instantaneously.

Prior to that day, I assumed the name Pebble Beach was some kind of inside joke, maybe a promotional ploy associating this beach with the famous Pebble Beach near Monterey. Or was it a tribute to a town father/seaman with a funny last name. Captain Josiah Pebble?

A beach on the other side of Crescent City exists in my mind as Sand Dollar Beach, though it’s known to everyone else as Crescent Beach. Over the years, I’ve collected so many sand dollars there that I gladly give them to neighbors when they admire the designs I’ve made of them in our front yard.

“I have dozens more,” I assure them, “waiting their turn to be displayed.”

Who can pass up free, beautiful, 100%-natural-and-organic souvenirs? Not me. Not my wife. It doesn’t matter how much of a surplus we have at home, we must patronize both open-air gift shops — Pebble Beach and Crescent Beach — every time we go to Crescent City.

And if I had to choose one over the other, I must say that scooping pebbles, rolling them around in my palm, and picking out the keepers is more fun than merely spotting a sand dollar and picking it up.

If I lived in Crescent City, I could devote an entire expedition to collecting just white or red or black or green pebbles, or just speckled or streaked or solid ones. On my one or two visits a year, I take whatever catches my eye. And don’t ask me to explain what makes one pebble out of a handful the “it.”

Collecting pebbles is a lot more complicated than collecting nearly identical sand dollars. There’s even suspense: How will the couple hundred I select for the Ziploc look at home, mixed in the bonsai dish I bought for a dollar at a yard sale?

But I, the fearless pebble collector, don’t let the pressure get to me. I can easily laze away an hour, butt on the ground, scooping and culling. As gulls get testy with one another, and as the waves knock themselves out, I calmly scoop on.

Occasionally, I notice that I’m being watched — by a seal doing the doggy-paddle offshore. Its head sticks out of the water, like a submarine periscope. Is it wondering if I’m OK?

Paul Hadella is a freelance writer who lives in Talent. Reach him at talenthouse@charter.net.

Paul Hadella digs through the pebbles that give the beach its name. Photos by Paul Hadella
A sand dollar sticks out of the sand at Crescent Beach.