Monday, February 3, 2014

Point Reyes Lighthouse

The first lighthouse sign popped up around a turn. Those familiar brown signs that seem to be one of the only constants you can expect to see from one coast to another, read Point Reyes Lighthouse. So, naturally, we followed it.
The lighthouse sits at the end of the land, as lighthouses often do. On our map it seemed like it might be right around the bend. Less than 20 miles. The road broke off from Highway 1 and we quickly found ourselves fenced in by ranches on all sides. As I drove, Pang read signs to me:
"Historic Ranch M," she read. "What's that mean? What's the M for?"

As we ambled down Sir Francis Drake Blvd to our destination we passed Historic Ranch L and K and J and so a logical explantation for Historic Ranch M was discovered. 
Twenty minutes passed. No coast in sight, no lighthouse and no signs. 
The road had no intersections. As we passed each Historic Ranch towards barns and houses but otherwise Sir Drake marched alone.

At 40 minutes we began to worry. "Where is this damn lighthouse?" and "Why don't the Californian's put miles to destination on their signs?" The bobbing economy car that had puttered just half a mile in front of us for the last 3/4 of an hour stopped at the next historic ranch and rolled down their windows as we pulled up next to them and rolled down Pang's window.
"Where is this lighthouse? This is incredible. So long. Too long. And no signs!" the greyed petite woman fired at me in her German accent. 
Outrageous, we agreed. Unforgivable, this California.
"Follow us!" Pang yelled out the window as we pulled ahead of them.
"Uh, I don't know what I just said that," she sighed, shaking her head at her awkward outburst. 
We continued on into the setting sun. At this point the fog had started to roll in. The bright sunny cow fields of half an hour ago were replaced by sleepy pastures dotted with blurry shapes and blankets of fog. 
The Germans followed close, perhaps afraid they may get swallowed in the soup and never make it back to Highway 1. I too was worried "What if we get out there in the fog and lose the last light?" I asked. For the last hour we'd been driving on a road with no street lights and nothing in the way of civilization other than the Historic Ranches M through B. Through the fog I saw a sign for Historic Ranch A. End of the road has to be soon now, we've run out of letters, I mused.

Past the last ranch the land dropped off to either side of the road and we entered a dune. The fog was so thick that may eyes stayed glued to the yellow lines below us to assure our proper footing. 
We climbed now. Up an up, more sand, less road. Was the ocean right past my line of sight? How far down was it?

We pulled into the parking lot a little after 7. The change in atmosphere was so dramatic from Highway 1 to Point Reyes Lighthouse that I felt like we had traveled to another country. Or, actually, it felt like we had entered the smokey red rocked face of Mars. The gate past the parking lot was closed, a thick chain drawn across our path. Disappointment set in. 
The Germans pulled in close behind us and looked forlornly past the gate into the fog and then slowly turned the car around and slunk back into the fog.
"Let's walk if we can't drive in. We came all this way out here!" Pang suggested. My brain's worry center pulsed, nagging at me. No flashlights, no water, no service, minimal food, no weapons. Turn back dummy!
"Ok let's go," I agreed, shoving the worries down as I grabbed my camera. The sign said the lighthouse was a little more than a mile up the road so we hoofed. And hoofed. And it was so quiet and foggy and spooky that the only perceptions left to us were the sound of our feet and our protesting legs. 
The worried had crawled back out of their hole and were gnawing at me. "It's getting dark," they said, "No one know's you're here," they said. But we had chosen to go and so we went.

We came to 5 trees that looked unlike any trees I had previously encountered. They were wind swept to the point that they curved and bent over our path, creating a shaded walkway on a pleasant sunny day, or a dripping, whispering tunnel on a foggy day such as this. 
I walked under the first bowing sentinel and was hit full in the face. "It's raining!" I cried, "just under the tree, it's raining!"

The fog gathered thickly in the pine and showered down on us. I've never felt so out of this world as I did then under the raining trees. We ran through them and on the other side lay the stairs down to the lighthouse - stairs that were so completely fog wrapped that they stopped in mid air. 
We snapped portraits in the fog to the backdrop of the bellowing fog horn and poked around at some whale bone displays before hurrying back to the car before total darkness set in. 
Point Reyes is recorded to be both the windiest as well as the foggiest place in the United States. We can attest to that. 

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