Touring Tafoni in Salt Point State Park

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Sandstone carved from (and protected by) the sea

Walk down to Stump Beach. And keep going. The beach is nice, but there’re bigger grains of sand to fry. Cross the creek and head a short ways south along the bluffs. Rising above the sweeping waves is the tafoni. Curving, crinkled, rounded, sharp-edged sandstone shaped by a strange combination of salt and the elemental forces of the coast, these otherworldly formations remove one from the mundane and place a geas of childlike explorer. The landscape folds itself in ways to bend the mind, lines twisting into unfathomable patterns and declivities that appear as if they were carved by some master’s hand.

Shapes are created from a mixture of salt being deposited within the sandstone by ocean, and the ocean's own power of erosion

Tafoni formations are to me a paradox. A yin and yang of nature and her forces, of the building up and breaking down, creating something surprising. The rocks of Salt Point State Park in California are largely sandstone, a softer material that is essentially countless grains of sand and small rock that were glued together by time, pressure, and some minor chemistry. You can quickly carve names or initials into is using a butter knife or a slightly harder rock (which is almost any rock more dense than a dirt clod). It is a type of stone that I would expect to be quickly battered to bits by the raw, elemental forces of the ocean, by the endless pounding of the waves.

The shore is sculpted

I would expect to find a jumbled and broken shore line, yet this is not the case… well in some stretches it is , but there are also these marvelous formations that seem more the result of slow, gentle erosion than a relentless battering. Granted, many of the more interesting rocks are not permanently subject to the most direct of waves, or are closer to the high tide line, but not all, yet they somehow survive. In part it is due to deposits of salt and mineral from the devouring ocean itself soaking into the sandstone, strengthening it and preserving it, even as the ocean tries to wear it away. Strengthening and dissolving in a single sweeping wave.

Some of the textures are marvelous

The patterns and textures are mesmerizing, drawing a person in, making them want to look closer, to peer more deeply, to discover the secrets behind tafoni.It is a marvel to wander the shore of this marvelous Sate Park, nestled between somewhere and nowhere on the California Coast, lost in a time of its own. The tafoni is part of the magic of this park, one of my favorites, which I will be discussing in a series of posts that will tie this park into the history of San Francisco 70 miles away (as the crow flies), and discuss some of its beauties, making it one of my favorite California State Parks. In the mean time, enjoy some of these images of tafoni and the coast…

Pillow rocks

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
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6 Responses to Touring Tafoni in Salt Point State Park

  1. Very nice find,Galen. Our area is also has a lot of sandstone, and some similar patterning as you have shown. It is millions of years old too, but does not have the constant weathering of the ocean waves. Sometime I will show the natural textures on my blog. If you get a chance, check out our weather here in the north. We have run the gamut this fall from frost, light snow, to fog, rains, to sun and warmth. My post today has fun weather finds.

  2. Vicki says:

    Thanks Galen
    There is some great tafoni up at Sea Ranch (just north of Salt Point) …i never knew the name for it before, so thank you!

  3. abu zar says:

    I love these rocks and you have given a glimpse of some very beautiful textured rocks here….I have made a note of it to make sure i visit it during my trip to that area

  4. Maggie L R says:

    I am adding this to my list of places to see when we finally drive along the west coast of the Continent, Amazing, I love rocks and the amazing variety and rock formations in the world. I love that there is always something new to see.
    Love your photos.

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