Fox Island Clay Babies


I was writing up a post about things to do with kids on Fox Island, but then I veered off course (per usual) and came up with this post instead, lol. But that’s OK because it’s about one of the coolest things ever: clay babies!

Clay babies are rare rock-like formations shaped like … cloud animals! How fun is that?? And, lucky us, nearby Fox Island Washington just happens to be one of the handfuls of places around the world where these natural treasures reside.

Read on for how to spot ’em in the wild!

four pics of different types of clay rocks, mostly grey and shaped bubbly
Source: Etsy compilation

First, clay babies go by many names. Scientists call them concretions, Scandinavians (and Canadians!) call them fairy stones, and others believe they’re goddess stones possessing mythical energy.

But I’m going to call ’em Clay Baes. Because I’m so millennial like that. 😜.

FUN FACT: Clay babies look a little different depending on where they’re from!

Despite their many creative calling cards and geographical locations –  these natural formations seem to have a few major things in common. They’re all:

✅ Lightweight

✅ Super smooth

✅ Adorably curvy

Totally whimsical.

They’re also pretty hard to find! (But if you spot them at the Fox Island DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve aka Bella Bella Beach, you have to leave them there! More on that below.)

Fox Island Clay Babies

island aerial viewFox Island’s claybabies (also spelled as one word depending on where you look) are naturally occurring and originate from a rare clay that inhabits the island. That clay’s origin story hails from the way massive glaciers interacted with the soil and how the ice carved out the Puget Sound’s unique geographical display of inlets, bays, and islands a bajillion years ago (give or take).

mount of clay

Around here, a Fox Island clay baby begins its journey to formation when pieces of this special clay break off at the water’s edge and take odd shapes by the push-and-pull of the tide. With a little nudge here, a big stretch there, and a shake-shake-shake at the center, the clay’s once gooey layers compact and harden, and are eventually smoothed out by the elements. Then, hark! A clay baby is born and becomes the cloud animal it was destined to be.  Eventually, the baby surfs to shore and hangs out with the other pebbles for all of eternity. Scientifically speaking, that is.

Rare Finds?

The internet likes to think that each region’s clay babies are a rare phenomenon unlike anywhere else. And most say their particular clay baby location is one of the few places in the world to produce such treasures.

I’ve heard that about Fox Island, too. But … I’ve also seen reports of people finding funky-shaped concretions elsewhere in Washington state like Whidbey Island and along the Skykomish River. Online reports also place the formations in Vermont, Quebec, Scandinavia, and India. This website, in particular, sources some crazy cool-shaped clay babies in Windsor, Connecticut; Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan; and Grand Junction, Colorado.

giant round rock that's grey and smooth

But the claybabies found along the banks of Athabasca River Valley Grand Rapids in Alberta Canada certainly takes the cake for me. Because OMG have you ever seen a larger clay baby???

Sooooo …. safe to say clay babies are not super rare, but they’re hard to come by, and they certainly come in all shapes and sizes. That said, for local adventures, I can say with certainty that I have not found any clay babies on the shores of Gig Harbor, Tacoma, Unversity Place, or Ruston. And, the Fox Island claybabies are pretty hard spot on the beach there.


sign with text, trees in foreground

For us general public peeps, we can pretty much only find clay babies at the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit off Bella Bella Drive. BUT, sorry folks, that area is a nature preserve (and home to one of my favorite posts, Mystery at the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit).

Because it’s a preserve, you can’t remove anything from it. Yep – the land, shells, rocks, plants, driftwood, critters, etc. are all protected. You’re not allowed to beach comb or stash rocks in your pockets or take anything home with you. BUMMER – I know. But, I totally get it. Banning these actions does keep the integrity of the land intact for everyone to enjoy.

Another reason Fox Island clay babies sport a special uniqueness is due to the fact that the island is almost all residential and made up of private property. There are maybe two or three public access points to the water in the entirety of its small island footprint.

As far as this area newbie knows, other public access points to the water on Fox Island include the Fox Island Boat Ramp (barely any parking there) located off the shoulder of the Fox Island Bridge, and parts of the beach below the Fox Island Pier.  Except, I don’t know if the clay has deposits in those areas. I know for sure the island spits out clay babies on the shores of the sandspit, though. (Get it? Spits out? On the sandspit?) 🙂

basket of smooth rocks shaped like animals

However, you can still see pictures of Fox Island clay babies in the public sphere because it’s not against the rules for private landowners to pluck the concretions for keeps off their own properties.

An Arizona blogger has the best pictures of Fox Island clay babies that I’ve seen on the internet. This Anne person said her family’s collection came from her grandparent’s Fox Island home. Her post is from 2012 (ps. how is that 10 years ago already??) but the info and imagery are still good. Plus, theirs look like a dachshund and a turtle!! So freaking awesome. I’m way jealous over here. Anne’s fam was probably fine because her grandparents likely got their amazing green basket of clay babies off their private property. Lucky punks 🙂

wicker basket of smooth grey round rocksBut good news!!! I was especially excited to spot some clay babies this summer in a basket of items for sale at the Fox Island History Museum!

Each clay baby cost just $1, for any size. I was told they were all donated by private property owners. The museum’s clay baby collection is nicely stacked at the museum store by the entrance to its Book Nook. Click those links for museum hours and visitor info.

So, maaaaaybe clay babies aren’t as rare as people say they are – but I know we can all agree that they sure are special. In fact, once you start Googling, claybabies are ALL OVER ETSY each sporting their own regional names and folklore.

SIDE NOTE: I was pretty back-and-forth on whether to say anything, but I feel like here’s a good spot to put a *trigger warning* for anyone Googling for clay babies. Specifically, for anyone sensitive to human fetus-related imagery. In an unexpected turn of events, the search term “clay babies” also brings up some very realistic polymer infant dolls for both fun/collecting and miscarriage memorialization. Yes, I know these artists have a large niche following. But, still. Since the majority of readers here are fellow mamas, a warning seemed relevant here. Or, maybe I’m just crazy.

Also, I really need to stop Googling this topic.

How to Find Clay Babies

woman on rocky beachIn August, my mom and nana were visiting from CA so I showed them what a special place the DeMolay Sandspit is on a beach trip out there one afternoon. Nana settled in near a grass-lined picnic table by the water, taking in the serenity of skies and tides. She kept a watchful eye on Clara and Wyatt, her great-grandchildren (!!), as they worked to fill up their little sturdy beach pails with their favorite blue and purple shovels and laugh as they buried each other’s legs in the sand. Nana’s presence with the kids was oh-so-cute and it also allowed time for my mom and me to plop down our big ‘ol genetically similar bootays on the slopes of the sandspit where the rocks meet the water and embark on a truly spectacular beachcombing sesh.

It was an exploring expedition, really. We were going to find us some clay babies! We ranwoman on rocky beach our hands over the sweeping layers of pebbles and rocks, turning them over into little piles and then smoothing out the tiny trenches our palms left behind. All while trying to spot the elusive, mythical, and magical babies of the clay. (What’s the fun in having my own blog if I can’t be at least a little dramatic?) 😉

Remember how I described clay babies? Smooth, curvy, lightweight. We searched, but our finds were vast. We found foggy sea glass with smooth edges and giant clam shells still home to rough-edged barnacles and some wonderfully-flat stones we so easily stacked into mini yoga piles atop our knees. Some clay baby contenders felt smooth but too heavy. Others were too brown, too bumpy, too something. None met that perfect three-point trifecta of a quintessential Fox Island Clay Baby. Where were all the delicate, airy claybabies hiding?

woman on rocky beachAnd then, out of nowhere, the distinct cool-grey matte tint of a Thanksgiving partridge emerged among the masses. And my heart exploded a little!

And THEN I found a second one!! A dinosaur.

Both are pictured below. And how ’bout those little T-Rex arms?? Rawr!!! I die. Finding not one but two claybabies definitely makes me an official finding expert now, right??

So, yes, I’m proud to say I successfully scouted two claybabies this summer, (that I took pics of and promptly put back for the next person to discover). Don’t call the beach police on me!

Local Folklore

black text on paper
“Along the Waterfront: A History of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Areas” (1979) by Students of Goodman Middle School.

In the PNW, so many names and landmarks, and special places tie back to the Native Americans who called these lands home first.

Clay babies, for example, aren’t even the original PNW name for these concretions. I now present to you: “The Legend of the Mud Babies.”

This tale is printed in one of the very first Gig Harbor history books I bought: “Along the Waterfront: A History of the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Areas” (1979) by the Students of Goodman Middle School.

In this story, much like similar Native American stories in the area, mud babies were made by magic. One story says a young Native American girl used them as toys. In another, she shaped them herself. In this mainstream version, the young girl started out as human but then grew up and married a merman who lived in a glittering kingdom beneath the Sound. As she lived out her new life with him beneath the waves, she popped back onto shore from time to time to shape some mud babies for her human family to find on land as her own special way of telling them that she was OK.

I really like that last one. 🤍

The Clay

Now, those veins of clay in which they come from are super rare. So rare, in fact, that you don’t see a lot of pictures of clay veins anywhere. As I researched for this post, the lack of visuals on this particular phenomenon made me wonder where exactly the clay was, and what it looked like. Like, what does a “vein” of clay in the ground resemble? Does it look like the marbling in granite? Were the veins beneath the water or around it? I still don’t know the answers to those exact questions but I’m happy to report that the kids and I decided to scout out those very ideas at Bella Bella — and we found the mothership!

clayPart of the island is home to mounds of awesome earth clay just piled up on the shoreline, collecting in and around tree roots and stacking in the most wonderful-looking layers below little cliffs. I don’t want to post exactly where they are in case the piles are in danger of being harvested by whatever the clay-swiping equivalent of copper wire scavengers are (or something lol) but I can say it was SO COOL to see the material collect among the beach’s regular ‘ol landscape of pebbles, sand, and mud.

black and white image of brick factory with silo
University of Washington, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

FUN FACT: The Fox Island clay that shapes its baes is the same natural material this region’s non-native settlers put to use with not one, but two Fox Island brick factories in the late 1800s.

One of them was the Fox Island Clay Works (pictured right, circa 1888; and below via Google Maps) stood on the southeast shore facing the Tacoma area.

It has the modern-day Brick Kiln Road named after it.  [More info at the Harbor History Museum Blog].  [Bigger pic linked here]



This isn’t a clay bae, but look! My mom found a rock in the shape of a polar bear’s foot 🙂

Proving all rocks on Fox Island have a little whimsey in ’em!


 Anywhoo, I hope you get to see a clay baby for yourself one day!



About Tonya Strickland

Tonya Strickland is a journalist and Instagram influencer in the family and travel niche. A former newspaper reporter, Tonya shares unfiltered #momlife content about places to go with kids. Her family moved from California's Central Coast to Washington state in August 2020. Their adventures now continue in the Pacific Northwest.

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