Ruthless waves pound granite cliffs in California's Big Sur, churning up agate, serpentine and jade and spitting them up on shore. Jade Cove harbors the world's only significant underwater deposit of nephrite jade, making it the prime spot to find the stone on the California coast. You can dive in the cove's waters or scour the beach for the green stone, taking home as much as 200 pounds at a time -- if you can carry it.
Park in turnouts along Highway 1, which runs along the Pacific Coast. The north trail to the beach lies a half-mile south of Sand Dollar Beach, with a large national forest sign letting you know you're in the right spot. The first 100 yards to the cliff is fairly level, but you'll have another 150 yards of steep and sometimes slippery switchbacks. Prepare to scramble over railroad ties and boulders along the way. You'll find a second, equally rugged trail down to the southern part of the cove about a half-mile south on Highway 1.
Beachcombing for Jade
The best time to find jade is during low tide when the churning sea has deposited chunks of the smooth, green rock on the beach. Winter storms churn up the ocean bottom just offshore, sweeping previously unearthed jade onto the beach. Collecting jade is legal only below the high tide line along the beach. Pay attention to the surf; crashing rogue waves may sweep you out amid the jagged rocks.
Diving for Jade
Take the southern trail to enter the water at a pebble beach just north of the trailhead for safest entry to the waters of Jade Cove. Dive right outside the surf line and out into deeper waters to find jade lying on the bottom. Because the bottom gets stirred up during winter storms, shallower waters are the most likely place to find jade. When waters are calm, you can also enter from the point of land that separates the south part of Jade Cove from the north end. Plaskett Point, a promontory that separates the cove from Sand Dollar Beach, is another entry point for calm water days. Exiting from this point is difficult, so plan to work your way down the cove and get out elsewhere.
The Jade You'll Find
You'll find several variations of jade along Big Sur. The most common is green jade, which ranges from deep forest green to vivid emerald. Some of the jade has a translucent quality, while other pieces are opaque with a dull finish. Big Sur botryoidal is a rare type of jade with a unique bubbling appearance, also known as bubble or grape jade. Big Sur blue jade has color ranging from a light aqua to deep blue. The green of Big Sur vulcan jade is streaked with red, yellow, orange and brown.