The Big Sur area is a wonderful place to get away from the busy life of living in a city. Here is a place which shows the wild side of nature unlike anywhere else on the California coast. This area of the coast is known as ‘where the mountains meet the sea.’ It was known to the Essalen, the natives of this land, as the edge of the world. It makes sense that this place was called the edge of the world, being the last place on earth to be explored before meeting the expansive Pacific Ocean. Big Sur is a pristine place with abundant water sources, wildlife, botanical and geological wonders. One of these amazing geological anomalies can be found at Jade Cove.
The Jade cove pullout is 70 miles South of Monterey and 70 miles North of San Luis Obispo, between Gorda and Pacific Valley, on Highway 1. It is just south of the entrance to Sand Dollar beach and Plasket Creek Campground. Here are some aerial photos of Jade Cove.
There are a few things to remember when looking for jade in Big Sur. Jade can be found on virtually any of the beaches for miles around( Please be aware that many areas of Big Sur’s coast are private property and these areas should not be intruded!). Choose to stay on one beach or hike to several other coves. Jade can be found even in the Jade Cove parking lot where every once in a while you will even find a nice quality piece of jade that someone threw out! The reason people will usually throw out their jade is often because they are new to jade hunting. Jade should be looked for at the tide level, where the rocks are wet. This is because when jade is wet you can actually see its depth and it will usually stick out like a sore thumb next to other leaverites (as in leave it right there) on the beach. Sometimes when people get back to the parking lot after picking up many pieces (and once they have dried) they no longer look like the gemstone they might have picked up. Since most of the jade that is found in this area has spent a great deal of time in the ocean it acquires a sort of salt rind. This layer of salt, when dry, shows up as white and you can no longer see the color of the jade beneath. Many times you will see the veteran jade hunter “licking” the rock, because this temporarily eliminates that white color of the salt allowing you too see the color of the jade beneath.
Best Times to Look For Jade
There are a few times of the year when it is especially good to look for jade on the beaches of the Jade Cove area.
- Low-Tide: During every month there are some especially low tides that occur. These are prime times to be looking for jade on the beach.
- Early Morning: The earlier the better. Many times you will find that the beach has already been turned up by other hunters who already got the best pickings from the beach.
- Winter: Storms, Swells and Kelp: Winter is the optimum time to look for jade; however, it is dangerous! Summer offers better weather and dry hiking conditions for tourists and first timers. Always where hiking boots or heavy tread sandals. Large waves and wet hiking trails can create a dangerous environment, even for a seasoned hiker. During the summer months the beach is covered in a layer of kelp which can hide the best spots to find jade. In the winter you get larger swells, which not only turn the beaches but also take away the summers kelp. After storms present good jade hunting times since all of the rocks on the beach have been turned up, as well as a small amount of erosion that is created where jade will fall out of the cliff face to turn up as vulcan jade on the beaches.
Note: Please remember to NEVER turn your back to the ocean. The ocean should always be respected because of its unpredictability and amazing power. Bring appropriate shoes, clothing and water. In case of emergency call 911 at Plasket Creek campground.
Rules and Regulations
There are a few rules for gathering jade in the Jade Cove area.
- You may only gather loose jade from below the mean tide level.
- No tools can be used other than to maneuver or lift jade, or scratch the surface to determine if it is jade.
- A lift bag can be used for diving to lift up to 200 pounds.
- You may only collect up to what one individual can carry.
How to Identify Jade?
Most of the jade found at jade cove are different shades of green but can also be found in red, blue, black, brown and the very rare violet.
Some jade can even have a colored rind which can be white and even orange. Jade has a greasy feel to it and shines in the sun. It also has depth which means that you can see into the stone. Another way to identify jade is by its hardness. Jade is harder than steel which means that it can not be scratched by a knife. If you can scratch it with a knife it is probably soapstone or serpentine. Also, a great rule to run by, if you are unsure if the stone is jade, look at it in the sun. The sun brings out the qualities of jade where you can see its depth and translucency. To find out more about the different types of jade check out the Big Sur Jade page.
Serpentine, Soapstone and Agates
There are 3 other stones that are very common at Jade Cove which people seem to easily mistake for jade. These are Serpentine. Soapstone and Agates.
Soapstone is the easiest to identify. You can scratch soapstone with your fingernail. Remember, jade is harder than steel so pull out your knife. If you can scratch it, it isn’t jade. An agate is an unpure form of quartz. The reason a lot of people seem to mistake this stone for jade is because it can have a glow or slight translucency. Agate actually has the same hardness of jade 6.5 to 7. The knife rule does not apply here. Usually you can tell that this isnt jade because of the white quartz veins which commonly run through it. Jade will not have quartz in it. It is also a lot duller of a color than jade, and does not have the same sort of glow or depth.
Serpentine looks like jade because of its color; ranging from black to green, but a totally different stone. Its is easily mistaken as jade. The hardness of serpentine has a fairly wide range from 2.5 to 5.5 due to its differing proportions. This means that your steel knife will scratch it, though sometimes barely. There is one rule that you should always follow. If you are not sure if it is jade, it probably isn’t.