I've been very lucky with sunny weather during my week in San Francisco, but frequently (especially during late spring and summer) the city lies buried beneath a deep layer of fog. It rolls in from the ocean, settling on the hills and descending into the valleys. Sometimes the fog burns off late in the morning, but often the rest of the region basks in glorious sunshine while San Francisco bathes in fog. So all-enveloping was the swirling greyness when Sir Francis Drake came exploring in the 16th century that he never spotted the inlet to San Francisco Bay and sailed straight past along the coast. Modern tourists can often be spotted shivering in shirtsleeves, whereas locals always venture out each day well prepared in layers of warm clothing.
But the foggiest place in the region, indeed in the whole of the USA, is a headland some distance north of San Francisco - Point Reyes. This vast triangular wilderness sticks out 15 miles into the Pacific Ocean with a remote lighthouse at its tip. It was here (or hereabouts) that John Carpenter's set his cult 1980 horror film The Fog in the ficticious seaside town of Antonio Bay. All the action in the movie takes place on April 21st, the supposed anniversary of the sinking of the clipper ship the Elizabeth Dane. I left it a couple of days and went to visit the area yesterday instead, just to minimise the risk of zombie attack, stabbings and violent murder.
"At the bottom of the sea, lay the Elizabeth Dane, with her crew, their lungs filled with salt water, their eyes open, staring to the darkness. And above, as suddenly as it come, the fog lifted, receded back across the ocean and never came again. But it is told by the fishermen, and their fathers and grandfathers, that when the fog returns to Antonio Bay, the men at the bottom of the sea, out in the water by Spivey Point will rise up and search for the campfire that led them to their dark, icy death."
It's a good 45 minute drive from the small town of Inverness out along a winding switchback road to Point Reyes lighthouse. You pass several remote cattle ranches along the way but little other sign of human habitation. In places the road surface is potholed and cracked following two months of heavy rain and associated mudslides. Heathland stretches off to either side towards distant beaches and sandy bays. Right at the end is a small car park, from which a short path leads across the rocky headland to the ranger station and the top of a very long flight of stairs. From here precisely 302steps (they're numbered) lead down the cliff edge to the lighthouse below. It's a doddle walking down, but climbing back up is as breathtaking as the view.
The steps and lighthouse made for a most impressive film location - this being where Stevie Wayne's unlikely radio station KAB had its base. In reality there's barely a soul around worth broadcasting to, and the lighthouse itself turns out to be considerably smaller than was made out in the film. There's barely enough space inside the tower for the 19th century prismatic Fresnel lens, let alone for an ultra-smooth disc jockey and her collection of obscure easy listening classics. A few feet further down the cliff sits a more modern building, blaring out its new-fangled electronic foghorn to warn passing boats of the treacherous rocks. If visibility is good, as was the case yesterday, you can stare out across the ocean and try to spot migrating whales swimming and blowing their way round the headland or flocks of seabirds nesting on the rocks below. Yesterday the view was quite gorgeous. But for much of the year, when the thick sea mists roll in, this is undoubtedly a place of mystery, desolation and isolation.
"I don't know what happened to Antonio Bay tonight. Something came out of the fog and tried to destroy us. In one moment, it vanished. But if this has been anything but a nightmare, and if we don't wake up to find ourselves safe in our beds, it could come again. To the ships at sea who can hear my voice, look across the water, into the darkness. Look for the fog."