I just returned from a trip to southern California and a visit to the Mt. Wilson observatory
. I heartily recommend a visit if you are in the area. The place is just dripping with history....you can almost picture George Ellery Hale and Edwin Hubble
walking along the trail to the 100" Hooker telescope.......after a slow journey up the narrow dirt road to the summit of the mountain.
The road up the mountain is a bit difficult due to recent rock slides and fires. A 19 mile drive is now a 36 miles drive due to various detours. But, it is picturesque and fairly smooth most of the way. There is a pavilion and parking lot below the summit. The pavilion is just a large covered but open-air structure with views of the valley below. They now have a food counter called the Cosmic Cafe, but it is only open on weekends. At 10:30am Tuesday 6/29/10, we were the only car in the parking lot.
There is a fairly steep hike about 1/8 mile up the old toll road to the summit (5,710 ft) and the observatory.....no cars allowed. But, nothing a fit bloke can't handle.....as Orion used to say about their 12" dob. LOL
The 60" scope dome was closed, but it is a beautiful structure, and looks well-maintained. The 100" dome is difficult to photograph through the trees, and there is a walkway-bridge to the visiters observation room......up 4 flights of steep stairs. I have to admit that the hair stood up on the back of my neck when I got my first glimpse of the 100" Hooker scope. So much history!!!! This scope literally changed our view of the universe! Edwin Hubble's wooden observing chair is on display at one side of the scope.
Unfortunately, the 100" is very dimly illuminated, and you must view it through rather dirty glass. Photos are extremely difficult.....almost impossible as you shall see.
The view of the valley below are breathtaking. The residential area (including the famous Monestary) are off-limits to the public, but otherwise you can wander around freely. There is a small museum with many photographs taken with the various scopes. You can see evidence that last year's big fires in the area got to within 100 yards of the big scopes.....a close call indeed.
Wouldn't you have loved to sit at the table and listen to the dinner conversation in the Monestary as the famous astronomers discussed their projects? The guest book there is filled with the signatures of the who's who of astronomy in the early 20th century. Quite a place!!!
Incidentally, Mt. Wilson was first explored in 1852, by Benjamin Davis Wilson, grandfather of general George S Patton. Although Wilson found line shacks built by the Spanish, which they used to hunt bear in the area.