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Historic Mt. Wilson Observatory a big draw in SoCal (with video) Comment on this post ↓
July 24th, 2013 by Warren Swil

5,700 feet up, ‘scope

towers over region –

and my back yard

The historic 60-inch telescope at Mt. Wilson Observatory. It is almost in my back yard. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

ALMOST EVERYONE KNOWS the name George Hale, a prolific writer of books and articles aimed at the educated public in whom he wanted to instill the thrill of modern astronomy.
About 6,000 feet up in the San Gabriel Mountains behind my Pasadena home stands the Mount Wilson Solar Observatory, founded by Hale in 1904.
With its historic 60-inch telescope superseded by a newer 100-inch scope, the observatory is a popular attraction for intelligentsia visiting Southern California and the hoi polloi alike who love to hike its marvelous trails.
However, not only is the observatory surrounded by the Angeles National Forest, there is also a forest of broadcast antennae on the peak adjacent to it since the location
commands the best vantage point to beam signals into about 20 million homes in direct line of sight.
Since it is literally in my back yard – the upslope begins about eight blocks away – I am a frequent visitor, as I was on Tuesday.

WATCH A VIDEO BELOW THE FOLD

IT WAS A GLORIOUS day to be on the motorcycle … and totally different from Sunday when I rode with about 20 other bikers through the area. The map from the Mt Wilson web site exactly depicts my route up Highway 2.

The map of my route by motorcycle from La Canada-Flintridge to Mt. Wilson. It’s an unmatched ride, of winding roads, tight corners and many challenges to anyone on two wheels. Click image to enlarge.

I pulled up under a shady tree right next to a foursome dining picnic style with a panoramic view of the Los Angeles Basin as their backdrop.
Graham and Kim Shipley are visiting from St. Neouts, U.K., coincidentally in County Cambridge, where in May I spent a delightful day meeting Martin Black across from Kings College.
“We are here for our son, Matthew’s, wedding,” Kim Shipley told me.
The other couple, Bill and Gwenn Neill, from North Hollywood, confirmed their daughter Nadia had just been betrothed at the fabulous Malibu Lakes in Agoura Hills, Calif.
Watch their full account of the story in the video.

A LITTILE HIKE up the mountain side, I climbed the steep staircase into the viewing platform for the 100-inch telescope.
It’s an awe inspiring structure, perhaps five stories tall. One gets a sore neck peering up at the dome covering it.

The family of Prof. Norman Herr is seen at the viewing platform for the 100-inch telescope on Tuesday. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

In the tiny space, big enough for about 20 people, I found Norman Herr and his five children: Neil and Debbie, both 18, Kailey, 11, Peggy 13, and Zachary, 15.
Dad was struggling to snap the large group’s picture in the dim light, and his Canon was not cooperating. I began shooting video, then introduced myself and finally offered to take a shot with ProCamera (regular readers of the blog need no introduction to this $2.99 app) that you see here. (I emailed it to the family last evening.)
Turns out, Herr is also an educator: he is professor of Methods of Teaching Science at California State University Northridge. Two profs, both on summer break! What a break!
Mount Wilson Observatory is operated by the Mount Wilson Institute under an agreement with the Carnegie Institution of Washington.
The Observatory occupies lands belonging to the USDA Forest Service set aside under a long-term leasehold agreement.
If you are lucky enough, you can spend an evening peering through the 60-inch scope for the princely sum of $900 (dusk through 1 a.m.).
I am luckier than that. Many an evening I sit on my front porch and gaze up at Mt. Wilson, the stars gleaming in the skies above the mountains. The view is just perfect, for me.

The view from my front porch around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, July 23, 2013. Click image to enlarge. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.

Check out the video of my visit below.

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One Response  
  • Bjorn in San Diego writes:
    July 25th, 2013

    Mount Wilson is a wonderful trip! Just to drive up there and breath the fresh air (at least fresher than down in the basin of LA!) The view on a clear day is stunning! In the old days you could even stay overnight in the charming and rustic Mount Wilson Hotel, or any of the cabins surrounding it! Unfortunately it was torn down in the early 1960’s as it had become less of a draw on the mountain.


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