After packing a small sensible picnic, we headed out to see what the area could show us that would be new to both of us. We had been told that the drive through the ‘hills’ north of San Jose were a must-do, so off we went. Glenn has always been a fan of astronomy, so a visit to the Lick Observatory was high on his list. Glenn can never resist taking a picture using the telephoto lens on his new camera, so it was fortunate that this blue bird was willing to pose! He kept us company during our roadside picnic, probably in hopes of our being wiling to share.
The elevation at the start was just 10 meters, but no signs indicated how high we were soon to go. It wasn’t long before the road began to narrow, and frequent signs popped up roadside, advising that large trucks or vehicles pulling trailers should turn back. Since we had neither, we continued on. The elevation began to increase, as evidenced by my ears starting to pop. Soon, we were clinging to the side of a slim road, with a precipitous drop yawning to one side! This was made even more tense by the obvious crumbling of the asphalt at these edges! I noted that Glenn was keeping two hands on the steering wheel, and was slowing more noticeably on the sharp curves. At one point, we encountered a large delivery van coming the other direction, and slowed to a crawl while we determined who would go first! As it turned out that we passed each other V E R Y S L O W L Y, with jaws clenched and breath held, at least on our part.
In the end, the trip up the mountain took about an hour. The twisting, turning switchbacks were similar to those we encountered in Arizona, but with the fear level of the ones on the Road to Hana. That road involved driving on the edge of a rocky precipice at a snail’s crawl, paying attention to the reminders to honk as you encountered any of the frequent one-lane sections!
We were treated to a look at the Lick Telescope by a tour guide who obviously had a great passion for the area. She pointed out the notable points on the telescope itself, and explained that it was actually in two sections. The weight of the telescope and the counterbalance is 7 tons EACH. The wooden floor of the room raises and lowers to allow the scientists to both adjust and view through the lens, as focussing the 20 meter viewer is difficult. Once the setting has located something important, even a tiny nudge could cause the loss of that particular view. Precision is everything in this particular science!
We also learned that the inventor, James Lick, died just prior to his creation actually being installed and put into use. As a result of his premature death, the unfinished nature of the observatory allowed for his tomb to actually be placed under his great invention, where he rests to this day.