It looks like it is a fancy driveway opening on the water side of Ocean Rd. just north of Scarborough Beach in Narragansett, but it is much more than that. It is your portal to the shore, and once through that portal the only limits to your adventure are your stamina and curiosity.
The beautiful cut stone entrance pillars are also the opening for Bass Rock Road, a signed, public road that leads to the shore front home (don’t turn left on your way down, leave the folks their privacy) and also to a Rhode Island Right of Way to the Shore. There is parking at the end of the street right at the edge of the shore rocks and your entrance to the coast.
A left turn at the water will open up the way to the Towers and town beach in Narragansett, but today the mission is to turn right and hike to the south, past Black Point public access, and on to Scarborough State Beach. The distance is 0.96 miles, one way.
On this walk you will have to scramble over rocks, boulders, and minor bedrock walls. Not difficult, but challenging enough to deserve a recommendation for sneakers or walking shoes. At times you will be stepping from boulder to boulder as you proceed.
Bass Rock itself sits a little out from the shore, and it is a great vantage point from which to scope out the view north, south, and east. Be careful when near the black algae coating near the water! It has a gel like quality which is very slippery when wet (imagine jello underfoot). If the waves are splashing up on the rocks or it is raining, it is a dangerous situation and people should stay back. On my day several fisher-people were casting into the surf from this spot. On a calm day, careful snorklers or scuba divers can get out from the shore from the small protected indent behind the rock. I have filled up bags of mussels here for my family clambakes without even getting wet, albeit at a moon low tide, when the mussels were exposed to my reach.
The first part of the outing is a stretch of boulder hopping, or boulder picking [your way through]. Many of the rocks have been trapped against this shore for a long time…centuries if not millennia, and show the evidence of their stay by their rounded form. Many giant granite “eggs” lie among the more recently broken off and more angular rocks. On the way to becoming “eggs,” the corners and edges of the original chunk of rock have been chipped away by weathering in the surf zone, and those missing pieces have been further ground down and now lie under someone’s towel at the town beach (or elsewhere). Sand production on a rocky ocean shore never stops!
A low bedrock promontory rises up form the boulder field, and the firm flat surface underfoot is welcome. You can notice two things about the massive granite below you. One is the large mineral crystals located in the veins of material crisscrossing through the otherwise uniform granite. When the world was much younger and continents were colliding at this location, the deep rock cracked and splintered and new molten material shot up into the openings and cooled slowly enough to let these large crystals build up. Pink and white feldspar, shinny mica, and smoky quartz make up the majority of the minerals. The pink feldspar and mica show crystal faces when they fracture, and you can catch the sun’s reflection as twinkling points of light if the angle is right. The mica also peels away in square flakes which are perfectly transparent. I have been told that a particularly large crystal, several feet across and located up the coast a few miles, was chipped out and carted west in frontier days to be cleaved for windows in a cabin.
The other notable thing is that the bedrock is cracked along amazingly straight lines. It looks like a bunch of books lying with their bindings upwards, of differing thickness, but all lined up. Here they are almost perpendicular with the cracks running north-south. Later on in the hike the cracks are slightly tilted from vertical and run in slightly different directions. This is called jointing, and it is caused by the bedrock relaxing now that it is no longer buried under tens of miles of other rock. Without that pressure the mineral molecules can take a little more room for themselves, and that shows up as these cracks arranged so symmetrically, like taking your shoes off after a long day on your feet…aahh! You will notice a little further down that there is a second set of jointing cracks at right angles to the first, which makes the uniform slabs also split into rectangular blocks. Many front door stoops and cellar walls in the area were dragged from this natural quarry.
You now pass through a section of rock blocks lying on top of bedrock and come to a…pair of huge iron balls. Yes, you read it right! Perhaps six feet across and joined with a thin connector, they look outrageously out of place. Nearby there is also a large metal tube, almost could be a rusty light pole. My best guess is that it might be part of one of the old light towers which once marked the opening of Narragansett Bay but were destroyed some years ago. I Googled it, but did not get any usable information. Got info to contribute? Please let me know.
The view towards Black Point shows that the shore in that direction is comprised of a series of low rounded bedrock nubs with boulder piles in between. As you make your way south, notice the glacial gouges and striations (smaller grooves) in the bedrock. They all are oriented north-south and were scooped out by rocks imbedded in the bottom of the ice sheet, which scraped their way south to the final melting place of the great ice…Block Island. Many pools of fresh water, stranded high in the nooks and crannies of the bedrock, create mini ecosystems of fresh water which thrive in a temporary limbo until the next big storm inundates them with salt water and the terrestrial world yields to the salty marine environment.
Just as you reach the state land at Black Point you will have to scamper up a little rock face and walk inland on the path along the bluff’s edge. The path is wide and mowed, and takes you all the way around the point to the beach at Scarborough.
I dropped back down to the shore for my walk to check out a little northeast facing beach area, but some folks were enjoying the path above which also offers great views. From here, on a clear day, Point Judith Light is nicely framed in front of Block Island resting on the horizon. Just off shore a weir, or fish trap, with its red marker buoys is easy to see.
I won’t belabor the point, but @$*!#%&! does graffiti get me steamed! Here with public access you will unfortunately see public abuse. Bridge abutments and highway walls are enough of an affront, but to deface these treasures of natural beauty is behavior beyond my ken.
From here the coast turns to the west and joins the wide sandy beach of Scarborough. A highlight of Black Point Park is the old ruins of a church. The mostly intact walls built of rounded fieldstones are still in good condition, and the high round window on the south and seaward facing peak adds an interesting geometric touch. I imagined a congregation gazing out across the water through the large windows with a radiant stained glass scene above adding to the eyeful. The building’s remains stand behind a crumbling seawall and shattered gazebo, both yielding to the sea’s energy. When it was built I’m sure the wall had a wide beach in front of it. Now the waves run up against it, and the effects of sea level rise on permanent shore structures is very apparent.
With my arrival on the sandy strand my day was done. I will leave you with a chicken-or-egg proposition to ponder.
From the beach looking out to the tip of Black Point, the black band of that algae at the water’s edge is clearly visible. Not visible, but present about seven miles southeast of the point and lying on the bottom under 93 feet of water, is the S.S. Black Point. It was the last American flag ship to be sunk by a German U-boat. The sinking occurred several days after Hitler’s death, and one day after all U-boats were ordered by the acting German leader to return peacefully to their bases. It was sunk by the mysterious U-853, which was sunk the following day and lies on the bottom near Block Island, now preserved as a burial site for the men who went down with her.
So what came first? Is the point named after the ship, named for the algae, or the ship for the point? Somewhere, hopefully, there is an inquiring mind that wants to know and cares to share.
See you at the shore.