pahavit (pahavit) wrote,

Mt Hamilton-Lick Observatory & Grant Park

Saturday's field trip: Mt Hamilton-Lick Observatory & Grant Park

I was going to title this entry "Mt. Hamilton, the Unfriendliest Place on Earth" all because of an unpleasant tour guide and overzealous sheriff who threatened to arrest us, but fortunately the day ended on a happier note and I wish to focus on that instead.

On Saturday D. and I decided to go to Mt. Hamilton, in the hills to the east of San Jose. We wanted to see Lick Observatory at its summit and D. wanted to take some pics at sunset from there. We packed a picnic supper and headed on up the curvy (supposedly well over 300 curves), narrow (no guard rail, either!) mountain road, slowly and laboriously inching our way up there.

We didn't spend a lot of time admiring the view from the parking lot at the summit, because we arrived at 4:30, time of the final tour of the observatory. The moment we entered the building, the tour guide came up and practically barked at us, "The last tour begins now!!" She also barked at the other visitors wandering around as she led us into the 36" telescope.

Seeing the actual telescope was pretty cool; the coolest part is that James Lick, for whom it's named and who ponied up the dough for it, is buried underneath the pier of the telescope. He never saw the construction completed. All of it was built in the late 1800s, before electricity was invented, and was hauled piece by piece up to the mountaintop by horse or mule and wagon.

She gave her little talk in a canned recitation, with a huge amount of barely-suppressed resentment and bad attitude beneath a micron-thin veneer of artificial sweetness. I was afraid she was going to snap at us if we said anything or fidgeted or made the slightest demand whatsoever on her time or attention.

The worst part was she told us how to get to the 120" telescope up the road for a self-guided tour, twice assuring us it was "open now." So we went up the road to see it, only to be chased off by the sheriff, who told us "The telescope is now closed, and you have to leave the premises because there's a concert here tonight and we need all the parking spaces for the ticketholders."

So we left, disappointed, going down the mountain a ways to pull over at a nice view.

Looking back up the mountain, the observatory complex almost looks like a temple to astrophysics.

Looking southwest. The highest peak in the hazy distance is Loma Prieta (epicenter of the 1989 earthquake).

View looking northwest through haze from the side of Mt. Hamilton. (My pic.)

We wanted to hang out and have our dinner there and wait for sunset, but after about 45 minutes the same sheriff showed up again and lectured us we were trespassing and were subject to arrest if we didn't leave. He said there was no parking on Mt. Hamilton Rd., and the closest place to pull over and have a picnic was 11 miles back down the road at Joseph D. Grant County Park.

So rather than push our luck with Mr. Badge, we basically had no choice but to go all the way back down the twisty, curvy, narrow (no guard rail!) mountain road to Joseph D. Grant County Park.

Which turned out to be wonderfully nice! Especially in the last light of the evening. The perfect antidote to the covert hostility up on the mountaintop. After we had our picnic supper we both took some pics.

Looking into the hills at Grant Park.

Grant Lake at Grant Park. (My pic.)

A teasel getting ready to bloom at the edge of Grant Lake. Little white flowers come out from inside the spiky head. Once they went to seed and dried out, teasels were once used in the process of spinning yarn and weaving cloth to align the fibers and bring up the nap of the fabric. Machines do that now, but the teasels keep on growing. (My pic.)

Tiny seaside heliotropes are jewels right at the shore of the lake. (My pic.)

In the early evening sun all was peaceful as frogs croaked intermittently, gnats buzzed above the water, ducks and coots swam around the far shore, swallows and black phoebes fluttered and soared over the water eating insects, a green heron furtively fished for frogs, and a rabbit hopped cautiously amongst the reeds.

Part of the eastern shore is bathed in sunset light.

Tags: field trip, grant lake, lick observatory, mt. hamilton
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