Big Sur Jade Hunt: Beginner’s Luck or Fool’s Gold?

Big Sur

For my Aunt Jojo.  One day, I hope we can take this trip together.

I’ve known my cousin Taylor since she was born. When she was in 2nd grade, my Aunt Jojo let me trim Taylor’s bangs the day before class photos.  In this famous portrait, Taylor is wearing a mustard-colored turtleneck, and her bangs are cut straight across her forehead, about two inches above her eyebrows.  She looks more like a child actor in an episode of Star Trek than a second grader.  Fortunately, Taylor has forgiven me for destroying her 2nd grade image… or so I thought.

Child Actor, Star Trek

Taylor is now a grown up, living in Monterey, California.  When she told me she wanted to go jade hunting in Big Sur, I planned a road trip for the following weekend.  Before I arrived, she met an expert jade hunter at a Gangnam Style party.  She traded him surfing lessons for some insider tips on finding the precious green stone.

We started our journey before dawn to get a head start.  Locals often guard the best spots, and only the brave will make it down the rocky cliffs to uncover the treasures below.  For our first-time, we decided to go to Sand Dollar Beach, the beginners beach of jade hunting.


Driving through Big Sur at sunrise was unreal.  A thick layer of fog rolled over the cliffs, as if crawling out of bed and into the sea.  The sun stretched its arms through the fog and ran its long golden fingers over the pink feathery fronds that covered the mountains.  Yes, folks.  I am a poet too.  (Snap, snap.)

Feathery Fronds

Taylor warned me that once we were in Big Sur, we were on our own.  We just had to keep our eyes peeled for a sign located about 30 miles south of Monterey along Highway 1.  So much for the head start.  We drove for an hour before admitting we were lost.  When we finally stopped for directions, we had driven 20 miles past Sand Dollar Beach.

As we approached our approximate destination for the second time, I noticed a tiny sign from my passenger side window for Jade Cove.  Our expert warned us not to attempt Jade Cove without an experienced guide.  I turned to Taylor and said, “Let’s do it.”

Follow Bird Shit Rock to Jade Cove!
Warning Signs
Big Sur Wild Flowers

We followed an unmarked trail that led to the edge of a cliff and stowed our belonging in a nearby bush before carefully scaling down.  We found ourselves in a secret cove, standing before an endless blue-green ocean.

Inside the Cove
Dead Things
Black Turban Snail (I think)

After a few minutes of hunting, I found a greenish rock, covered in a layer of salt.  Since jade is stronger than diamond, we tried to break the small stone with a larger rock, which broke into several pieces.  I tucked the stone in my pocket to bring to our jade expert.

Beginner’s Luck or Fool’s Gold?

We spent some time admiring our secret paradise before beginning our journey back up the cliff.  Taylor climbed up quickly and out of sight.  I always forget that I’m afraid of heights until my life depends on it.  Half way up the cliff, my breath shortened and my heart started racing.  I could feel the distance between me and the rocks below growing with each uncertain step.  If only I could see Taylor, I might be OK.  “Wait!” I yelled.  “Snake?” she yelled back.  But I didn’t hear the question mark in her voice.  The only thing I fear more than heights is snakes.

The Only Way Out

I don’t remember how it happened, but I made it to the top.  (Taylor, I think this makes us even for the Star Trek incident.)  We headed back to Monterey, picking up a pair of hitchhikers along the way.  The couple was heading back home to Oregon after hitching all the way to Southern California.  Coincidentally, one of the hitchhikers had gone to the same elementary school as Taylor and me.

Life if funny like that.  We begin at the same starting point, and then we choose a series of different paths to end up in different places.  Just like in jade hunting, taking the unmarked path may be uncomfortable, but it’s usually the most rewarding.  Recently, I’ve learned to recognize this uncomfortable feeling, and I allow it to lead me to the next adventure.  Life just keeps unfolding before me in beautiful, delicate layers that I want to savor.  I still don’t know if we ever found jade.

I’m no life expert.  I’m no jade hunting expert either, but if you need a weekend adventure, this is it.  Attempt at your own risk and be safe.  Happy hunting!

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