Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Sunday In California : From The Mountains To The Sea

I've loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.~Galileo Galilei
     John has always been a lover of astronomy so, Wherever we travel part of my research includes exploring the possibility of incorporating any astronomical sight, event or activity into our itinerary. We have been able to visit the Palomar telescope, attend the night sky convocation at Bryce canyon and explore planetariums in New York, New Mexico and LA. During our time in Los Angeles we have been living very close to the Mount Wilson observatory and John has been looking forward touring it. I think I know how Mrs.Galilei felt when her husband spoke of the heavens. I love to hear the excitement in John’s voice when he speaks about the galaxies, constellations and the nebulas. To witness the joy and enthusiasm he feels each time he sets up his telescope makes me very happy. I’m sure John and Galileo would have had lots to talk about.
     The road to Mount Wilson took us along the scenic, recently reopened Angeles Crest highway. The road was closed after the station fires of 2009 which destroyed approximately 250 square miles of land surrounding the observatory. We climbed through the mountains of the Angeles National Forest on our way to the observatory rising to an elevation of almost 6000 feet. We stopped often to photograph immense roadside granite outcroppings, century plants and vistas of the city below.
     The observatory is named for Benito Wilson who originally came to the area from Tennessee en route to China. He fell in love and married the daughter of a wealthy landowner. He built a life in California acquiring a great deal of land encompassing Pasadena Alhambra and Large portions of the San Gabriel Valley. He and his second wife had a daughter that married George Patton Sr. and their son was the famous world war II general George Patton.Wilson became the first white man to explore the area when  he led a party to the summit of what is now Mount Wilson to look for lumber to use in his other businesses.
     The observatory was founded in 1904 by George Ellery Hale. one of the most important astronomers of his day. I would say that Hale and his Mount Wilson Observatory have played a significant part in the evolution of astronomy as we know it today. We must also thank Andrew Carnegie for his generosity in funding the observatory. This particular location was chosen due to the excellent atmospheric conditions and still air which makes celestial observation, (referred to as seeing) optimal. A highlight of the afternoon was climbing to the viewing level of the 100 inch Hooker telescope where Hubble himself had once stood as he explored the universe. 
         After viewing the 60 inch telescope and the Chara telescopes (which provide some of the best high resolution images of the universe ) we were able to meet the operator of one of the two solar telescopes on the property..The one we observed is run by UCLA and monitors sunspots with the machine pictured below called a magnetogram The other solar telescope monitors seismic activity on the sun and is run by USC.
     We both enjoyed our visit to Mt Wilson but, it was time to head back down to the ocean to have our picnic and enjoy a sunset stroll. We decided to have dinner on Carbon Beach in Malibu and we headed across the Las Virgenes pass toward the ocean.
   Malibu is known for some of the most pricy real estate in California and Carbon Beach is one of the most expensive sections of Malibu. There are just a few access points open to the public like the one pictured below. 
          I'm sure the residents would prefer to have the beach to themselves but, California law requires the beach be public. I can understand the concerns of the homeowners as their property is in most cases literally right on the beach but, I'm awfully glad we were allowed to visit.
   It was a perfect night for our picnic and sunset walk along the shore.The setting sun turned everything around us a warm golden color and made the water appear to twinkle like diamonds. As the hazy marine layer began to roll in we waded in the surf trying not to get soaked and watched the birds fly by as they looked for a place to roost for the night. There is something so peaceful about time spent by the ocean.
     When  people speak about California they invariably mention that a person can spend the morning in the mountains and the afternoon by the ocean. The idea has always intrigued me and I'm glad John and I were able to have the experience.


  1. It is amazing to literally be able to wake up in the mtns and be at the beach by lunchtime! Strolling on the beach with the surf & the seagulls.. always special.
    Glad you got to enjoy!

  2. Thank you Kathy and Annie. California is a very special place for us and we feel so lucky to get the chance to experience it.

  3. What an awesome trip! I can't imagine seeing the both the mountains and the ocean all in a day! Just beautiful :-)