High Altitude, Hot Dogs, and Mercury Bearings


Doing weekly meetings is a blessing and a curse, it’s a blessing in that it keeps you active and engaged, but it’s a curse when that activity becomes a baseline that most never cross again. It requires time, dedication, and lots of sweat to propose, research and plan trips. It also requires still more time, dedication and effort to document it.

However, on a fine Saturday, BigSAC met up for a little road-trip. The meeting location was REI’s store in Arcadia, CA. It is central ot the San Gabriel Valley, and located just down the street from our beloved Santa Anita Canyon. This location was mostly chosen out of convenience, they sell USFS Adventure Passes (needed to park in the ANF). This was the first time many of us had been to an REI in many years, for a long time they ceased selling climbing equipment, and stopped carrying camelbak. Either way, after showcasing a few items some of us were considering we bought our Passes and left.

Two cars and a motorbike made the next 31 miles of the trip uneventfully and met at the Redbox turn off parking lot where Hwy 2 was closed for a rock slide further up the road.

This didn’t matter, as we were headed towards Mt Wilson anyways (up Redbox Road). A few moments later we were greeted by the collection of large and impressive radio towers that provide much of the Broadcast FM Radio and TV signals for the Los Angeles Basin. Driving around the loop that surrounded the broadcast structures, we were greeted by the gate to Mt Wilson Observatory. We parked in the lot and walked up towards Cosmic Cafe. It was about then that the altitude hit us, and the slog up the stairs to the pavilion level was a bit labored, but we made it.

The Pavilion level offered a good view of the antenna structures on the western side of Mt Wilson.

Stunning views of the Los Angeles basin, the rest of Mt Wilson, and also seeing further into the Angeles National Forest were all offered from the pavilion. We had a quick bite of lunch from the Cosmic Cafe, which offers a limited, but very well executed menu. (Hot dogs, a few basic sandwiches, and chili) We purchased our tour tickets and spent about half an hour looking at things, talking and drinking iced tea.

The tour started rather promptly at 1pm, about 10 people were in the tour. The first several stops were all about the history of the location, rather than get into detail here, go read about it on their site. The first major stop was the “150 foot solar telescope”. It’s worth noting that the “150 foot” is the focal length not the dimension of the primary mirror or lens. This thing is quite large and impressive!

We were allowed inside to view some of the equipment and see the output of the telescope. Like most telescopes designed for serious science, this telescope was built on top of a large spectrometer that was as large as the above-ground section. Seen on the table near the hand control, there is a covered area, which an eyepiece fits on that allows direct observation of the spectrometer output.

Next up was the 60” Reflector, which was the largest telescope in the world while the 100” telescope was still under construction. The primary use of this telescope was for studying globular clusters, and was also one of the first attempts at establishing the size of the Milky Way Galaxy.

The final stop of the tour was the 100” Telescope. The historical significance of this scope cannot be understated. While the 60” was critical in establishing the groundwork that was later performed on the 100”, the 100” changed humanity’s understanding of the universe. Hubble, in establishing that “Nebulae” were actually distant galaxies played into the discoveries that were going on at the time after the publication of Einstein’s equations for Relativity and Special Relativity, and set the groundwork for observational and much of the theoretical cosmology that has come since. As a device that is now well over 100 years old, there is little about it that isn’t impressive. Even the scale is massive.

This is where the tour concluded. We chatted with the tour guide for a bit about some of the specifics of the facilities and the instruments. If you are planning a trip that takes you anywhere near this fascinating and historic site, it is worth checking out their Event Calendar to see if there is an event that meets your interest. Even the basic tour is highly recommended, if not for seeing the instruments, but also for the views.