The Aquinnah Cliffs, which are also referred to as the Gay Head Cliffs, have long attracted visitors to the Martha's Vineyard town of Aquinnah. Their appeal lies largely in their colorful nature. It took millions of years for these cliffs to form, and their dazzling mix of colors is tied to the fact that various clays, sands, and gravels make up their sedimentary layers. Only adding to the allure of an Aquinnah Cliffs visit is the lovely half-mile beach that can be found near their base, and there's even a picturesque lighthouse to complete the relaxing maritime setting.
Much like the Grand Canyon, the sedimentary layers of the Aquinnah Cliffs provide excellent insight into the natural history of the region in which they are found. Martha's Vineyard was a land that was once covered in forests before it eventually flooded, only to see new growth periods time and again. Glaciers and erosion had a lot to do with the formation of the landscape, and fascinating fossils that have been revealed due to erosion include the bones of ancient sharks, crabs, and clams.
Evidence of the glacial history of the Martha's Vineyard area can be found in the large rocks that are scattered about the Aquinnah Cliffs beach. These rocks, which are known as erratics, were moved by glaciers, and when the ice of these glaciers melted, they were left behind. These same glaciers had a lot to do with the formation of other East Coast islands, such as Block Island and Long Island.
The Aquinnah Cliffs are a national landmark. They stretch for approximately a mile along the westerly coast of Martha's Vineyard, and as their name reveals, the town of Aquinnah is not far off. The beach found at the base of the Gay Head Cliffs in Martha's Vineyard is called Moshup Beach.
In days gone by, Moshup Beach was a clothing-optional beach, and indulging in nude mud baths was a common practice. These days, however, the clothing-optional approach is prohibited. Instead, Moshup Beach is a family-friendly strip of sand, and thanks in part to the fact that it is owned by the Wampanoag Tribe, it remains very much in a natural state. As a side note, nudists still show up in the area from time to time.
Moshup Beach is a public Martha's Vineyard beach, and as you might expect, it can get crowded during the peak summer season when the weather and water are warm. That being said, it is almost always less crowded than most of the other public beaches on the island. Should you wish to avoid the crowds, you can get a great view of the cliffs and the beach from the lookout point near the Gay Head Lighthouse. This lighthouse is one of many lighthouses in Martha's Vineyard, and only adds to the picturesque scene at Aquinnah Cliffs. As for those who prefer to take it all in from the sand, there is a boardwalk that leads down to the beach. Near this boardwalk's beginning point are a small pay parking lot and public restrooms. Swimming is the main beach activity, and while it might prove tempting, visitors are not permitted to climb the cliffs or steal any of the dirt or clay.