Sunday, January 15, 2006

I hate tule fog. It's pronounced "tooley" fog and according to this article, takes its name from tule reeds that grow in low creekbeds in Central and Northern California. Tule fog happens in the same sort of places one might find tule elk, which are considerably more entertaining than the fog. I have spent some very happy hours quietly admiring the herd of tule elk up in Point Reyes National Seashore north of San Francisco, one of my favorite spots on earth.

Back to tule fog. It's a thick soup of low-lying fog that rises during the night and then lingers, sometimes all day, in low-lying areas. It's a California thing -- it is different from Monteagle Mountain fog in Tennessee (another creepy species of fog) in that it is a low-altitude phenomenon, and in that it is so completely separate from whatever is going on around it. It can be a nice sunny day in California, but if you go to a tule-fog spot, and it was cool last night, there will be a wall of tule fog. Driving into it is like transporting into an episode of The Twilight Zone -- am I still on earth? Does that semi behind me remember that I was up here? How quickly dare I slow down? Do I recall exactly how far ahead was the ancient Pinto with the traditional explosive rear end? Questions like that prey on the mind in tule fog.

The drive up to Merced this past weekend was plagued with tule fog. Today, though, has been gorgeous, crisp and clear. I'm writing this from the LaVal Rd. exit just north of the Tejon Pass on I-5, tanking up on a bit of caffiene before I charge over the top. KVPR , my trusty NPR friend for the northern part of the drive will suddenly disappear from my radio -- in fact, pretty much everything will disappear from my radio for a while. The Tejon Pass area isn't real wilderness (for one thing, an interstate highway runs through it, for another, there are a bunch of little towns hidden up here) but it is rugged enough that it cuts one off from civilization quite thoroughly. There's a 25 mile stretch with no gas or services, just beautiful glimpses of chaparral and secret valleys with a glimmer of a lake or two.

At night it's just dark, lit up by headlights and taillights. Traffic is usually pretty heavy, and I think it must look pretty amazing from the sky, a ribbon of red and white light winding for miles through the pass.

I'll stop at one of the nowhere exits up there, the ones with no lights to mess things up, and check out the view of the night sky. It is clear and windy and cold tonight up here, perfect for stars, and no tule fog anywhere.