Mt. Hamilton and Lick Observatory are located in the middle of the Diablo Range overlooking San Jose and San Francisco. From this high peak the sunsets reveal a beautiful view of the rest of the range when rich light mixes with haze and smog from the city.
The view was pleasing sharp and crisp, revealing decent optics and steady air over the mountain. I could just make out the central star on M57, something I had only done before with and even larger telescope.
The instrument may date to the 1800’s but at that time it was powered by water and muscle as there was no electricity on the mountain. It was not until much later, in the middle of the twentieth century that the telescope was refitted with electrical controls and motors.
The visitor directions on the website had specifically cautioned that the summit road was curvy, something I found to be a drastic understatement. From the very bottom it is curve after curve all the way up, with almost no straight sections. S-curves followed sharp bends leading to hairpins. Nearer the observatory the curve intensity only increases as the road narrows. Local history indicates that the horse-drawn wagons that transported heavy equipment up this road could not negotiate steep grades, the only solution was to follow the contour of the mountain, resulting in an incredibly curvy road.
On a sunny Saturday afternoon there were other users, the road is apparently popular with local cyclists. With the density of the sharp curves there was often little choice but to follow at bicycle speeds at times. I would much rather drive up Mauna Kea than this road again. Next time up Saddle to the summit I will recall Mt. Hamilton road and consider myself lucky.
The reason I was climbing this winding road was simply to be a tourist. Unlike the previous seven days, this day was to be fun. For much of the previous week there had been full day sessions of lectures and labs covering the intricacies of adaptive optics systems. Spending a full week in Santa Cruz might be considered a vacation, aside from the fact there had been very little open time to explore the surrounding area. There was only one open day in my travel plans, and I had specific plans for that day, a visit to an observatory.
I arrived well ahead of my late afternoon tour appointment, no problem, just play tourist for a while. At the gift shop / information desk I met Lotus Baker, a longtime Mt. Hamilton resident. She was full of stories and information. We chatted for a while, until her turn to lead a tour of the classic 36″ Lick refractor. Lotus proved to be an excellent tour guide, providing an enjoyable tour of this beautiful telescope.