I was driving north from Berkeley this morning hoping that the weather would be as nice as the day before so I could paddle around the west tip of Point Reyes. NOAA was reporting 6 foot swells, which was a little high, but probably OK. The day before had been unusually sunny and warm in San Francisco Bay where the fog burned off sooner than predicted. When I left Berkeley at 8:00 AM the fog had already burned completely off. But as I drove across Marin County to get to Point Reyes, I drove into the fog again. By the time I made it to the point, the fog was very thick and a strong wind was blowing from the north at over 20 miles an hour. But according to the AM news radio station, the air in the bay was still clear, warm, and so calm that they had declared a pollution control warning.
I decided the poor visibility and the strong wind made kayaking a bad idea today. If the sun had been out, I probably would have gone anyway. The purpose of this trip was supposed to be to take pictures of the east end of the point. The thick fog would have made the trip a waste of time. So instead I decided to hike the short trails on the top of the points.
First I walked out the short (less than 1 kilometer) Chimney Rock Trail to look off the east point of Point Reyes. From here I could look down at the waves breaking around the rocks and washing up on the beach where I had seen elephant seals from the kayak. The waves were quite reasonable, and made me wish I had decided to go by kayak. The beach was totally deserted, with no elephant seals -- not even one harbor seal. Since that trip, I have learned that large numbers of seals hauled out of the wate is a good indication of great white sharks patrolling the water off shore. So the empty beach meant that the water was safer for kayaking, but not as interesting to photograph.
Next I drove to the east point and walked out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. As I started up the trail from the parking lot, a low moaning singing sound seemed to come out of the air around me. It was the wind blowing through the power lines over the trail. The strong wind making the wires vibrate like this and threatening to blow away my hat convinced me I had made the correct decision to stay out of the water.
Along the edge of the cliff, there is a row of cypress trees leaning over the trail. There were puddles of water on the trail under the trees, and I saw drops splashing in these puddles as if it was raining. At first I couldn't imagine where this water was coming from, and then I realized that these cypress trees were condensing water out of the fog! This is a trick that coastal redwood trees have evolved, but I had never heard that cypress trees can also do it. On a high point with no source of ground water and typically no rain for 6 months out of the year, it should be impossible for big trees to grow. But every day, even in summer, tons of water drifts by in the early morning fog. These trees have evolved leaf shapes to condense the fog out of the air and drip fresh water on their roots. Each tree had a circle of green grass under it in the middle of the normal brown dry summer hills.
With the strong wind blowing the heavy fog through the branches, so much water was running off the leaves that standing under a tree felt like standing in a winter storm. The illusion was so complete I got the taste of winter in my mouth and the melancholy feeling of longing for the return of summer. However, if I really wanted summer back, all I had to do was drive home where we were having record temperatures at that very moment!
When the lighthouse was first built, they needed water for the keeper and for the steam boiler that ran the foghorn and generators. They built a huge concrete collection system that ran into a cistern. But I didn't notice any cypress trees planted at the edge of the concrete collection field. I think the designers of this cistern missed out on a great addition to their system. The water was collecting 10 centimeters deep in some places on the trail under the trees, and could have filled the cistern with a much smaller collection field.
To get to the lighthouse, you have to talk down 302 steps from the visitors center. I walked down and looked at the displays. The lens and the brass clockwork can just be glimpsed through the locked gates, and it looks well maintained. I talked to the rangers after I climbed back up to the visitors center. They take turns doing lighthouse maintenance tasks, like polishing brass. If you catch a ranger down at the light itself, they say you can ask for a tour into the lighthouse to see the clockwork and lens arrangement up close.