I just cashed in 30 pounds of beer bottles, three pounds of aluminum — mostly beer cans — and about three pounds of plastic, nearly all individual-serving water bottles. Nothing unusual about it, except the bottles were all coated in a very light, dry grade of beach sand, not the grit and dubious froth of streetside overspill, but good expensive oceanfront bikini girl California sand. I found almost all that garbage on Davenport Beach, on Highway One just north of Santa Cruz. I've spent 50 years combing coastlines, sometimes looking for things, often just walking, and I've never seen so much trash on a California beach. Nothing even close, in fact.
I had been to other beaches earlier in the day, and almost immediately found a small cluster of bottles and cans where some boorish dudes had gathered the night before with a bag of Doritos, some Pepsi and two six packs of bottled beer. To me, that was fairly outrageous, given that it was right inside the front entrance of a state park. However, I cleaned up the trash, including the wrappers, which seemed the obvious thing to do. There was a whole set of orderly garbage cans twenty paces away.
I thought such a deposit of litter didn't say much for the self-respect of some people who visit Santa Cruz area beaches after dark, but I figured that was an anomaly, and I would see more nice clean beaches, as are the rule in the northern half of the state, and states such as Oregon and Washington.
Sea Glass & Clutter
However, later in the morning I visited a second beach, Brighton beach, a county park near Santa Cruz and Capitola. In the lengthy stroll which featured plenty of sea glass, leaping dolphins, crashing brown pelicans, seals, and a kayaker with salmon trolling settup paddling around in the bay, I scrounged a bread bag full of beer and soda cans, water bottles, and expensive beer bottles. Energy drink cans began to crop up.
Amazingly, I grabbed all this trash off open beach within plain view of people who were there ostensibly to enjoy the natural beauty of the place. Certainly, they have learned not to be bothered by a level of disorder and disrespect for the environment that would hardly be tolerated in the north, or I suspect anyplace with a clearly evolved culture.
I've been to Mexico and Spain and neither place would have let things get so out of hand. Nor would Mexicans or Spaniards be able to sit there, in their own visual clutter, staring out at sea as if nothing were amiss, pointedly overlooking the trash that should have been policed before allowing the kids to run amok, or start darting about in the waves. Perhaps it was because they were all absorbed in personal trivia devices or something of the sort.
Any Conceivable Attraction
By the time I reached Davenport, I was thinking it would make sense to bring a trash bag along on my way down the hill, knowing there would be something lying around, but I was unprepared for the reality. I met a local lugging a full 5 gallon bucket of bottles and cans up the trail, and I picked up a few beer cans that had been tossed under the shore pines on the way in. There was also a large, organized pile of trash in a foam cooler near the trailhead, where someone had already begun to make an effort.
The beach is apparently under no jurisdiction except perhaps the county's. This is both good and bad. In most places along the coast from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, you can expect to pay to park if there is any conceivable attraction such as a beach. However, there will nearly always be maintained amenities such as trash cans, bordered parking areas, and even, sometimes, quite well-maintained privies or at least individual toilet cubes.
And, even if a slob party trashes a beach on a Saturday night, which is certainly possible, at least some of them would stand a chance of an expensive citation and some sort of crew would find a way to gather up the trash.
In truth, except for his front yard, even the lowest redneck will either throw his empties into the air and an least shoot at them, or toss them toward the nearest thicket, before he would think to leave them lying in the sand on the beach or out in the open. I'm not sure who the people are who visit Davenport beach, drink their beer, their juice, their sodas, and their energy restoring potions, then can't find the bag they lugged everything down in, full, to lug it back up, empty. Evolution, as I had come to know it, must have dealt these beachgoers only a glancing blow, and left them careless litterbugs whereas most of the rest of us, in these challenging times, don't have to be told to reuse, recycle, and don't leave litter on the beach.
Davenport beach is maybe 500 yards of strollable sand between dramatic crumbling bluffs. There's a frightening bluffside trail worn in by walkers, which follows an unwise course along a sheer cliff that has deep, crooked fissures about three yards back from the brink. Yikes, a real nightmare landscape, but scenic and authentic. The south end has a lively rock formation, some sort of layered effect, sedimentary stone squeezed into brittle cakes, then worn down by the sea. It's a place definitely worth some respect, which it does not get from a lot of people. It is not only by far the dirtiest beach I've ever seen, anywhere, it a positive health hazard. I would not allow children to run on that sand.
There was a small group of late teens to early adults, playing with a pug dog and drinking, but obviously the trash had mostly been left over the weekend. There were small circles of bottles and cans around cratered fire rings, maybe a dozen such heaps, with one especially large one in the center of the beach. One ring had a sad little sacrificial heap of sand fleas, that someone had taken the trouble to capture and then placed on a hot flat rock to shrivel down to ghosty shells.
I found a bed sheet that had probably been used as an extra-large beach towel, and threw everything I could onto it, so I could enfold the contents and hoist the bindle. There were broken beer bottles and other equally hazardous items I could not properly deal with. I don't think the party with the pug dog was going to police the area, either. On my way to the car, with a huge sheet stuffed with about 1/3 the litter I might have gathered if I'd had all day, I met the guy with the white bucket.
He was headed back to refill it. Plainly, he has been dealing with this problem on an ongoing basis.
The first private property we encountered on the way up the hill was posted with a polite message reminding people that there was no authority in charge of cleaning up the trash. It even had a little post offering free trash bags, but the receptacle was empty. Not quite empty: there was some trash in it. Someone had marked up the sign with a spray can, their message crude and illegible, but plain enough, based on the paper products and plastic bags caught in berry vines, turning the quaint old railbed through the dunes into just another soul-deadening waste area.
The parking area, just over Highway One from the main part of Davenport, was littered with fast food wrappers, cigarette packages, diapers, and random trash. It seems if someone set a garbage can out people might use it, but on second thought they'd probably steal it.
This was not an encouraging trip along the California coast. It was nothing to write home about. The final stop, by contrast, was at Miramontes beach in Half Moon Bay. It was about as crowded as expected, for a weekday evening. But in the walk down its crescent of yellowed sand, speckled with broken shell fragments, we encountered virtually no trash. I found one soda can in the blackberries near the steps, but that was about it.