Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lick Observatory

Since we’re well over the idea of big driving days, we let Kristy & Joel head off north towards Napa Valley. Our route towards Yosemite was much more direct. I’d spied a solitary road in the atlas that headed east from San Jose. It looked much better than sitting on the freeway so we headed up into the hills. Another great twisty road that just climbed & climbed, we eventually made it to Mt Hamilton & California University’s Lick Observatory. This was another one of those great discoveries on the side of the road we were traveling.

At the bequest of the man whose name the observatory bears (too rich, wanted something by which the world would remember him by), the best telescope in the world was built. He died before it was completed in 1888 – with a 36 inch lens, it was the largest refracting telescope in the world at the time & is still number three. It was handed over to California University upon completion & they have many more telescopes built up there.
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There is also a 120 inch reflecting telescope built in the sixties – the lens took four years to bring up to standard by grinding & polishing. Leaving the boffins behind (actually I don’t think there were many there – most of the viewing is done remotely now) it was another fifty miles of driving down the twisty roads through trees that slowly gave way to ranches & then to grass covered hills - all very scenic.
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As soon as we crossed under I-5 we were on the valley floor (a very wide one) & into intensive agriculture & horticulture land. It also got stinking hot – probably the first time this trip that the temperature for us has gone through 40ºC & 100ºF (we’ve been very fortunate). We had a couple of nights booked in Merced, as it far enough away from Yosemite to be well-priced & not booked out, but not too far away to prohibit a day trip there.

For the second half of the day’s driving I’d begun to feel the effects of a tank of nasty gas on the engine. Under-powered & stuttering, it was a little weird driving – but it turned even stranger the following day. Short of gas the previous day I’d somehow ended up at a gas station that only had 87-octane (yes, they sell such rubbish on this continent) – this must have been particularly bad, as I haven’t had a problem before. Back on my preferred 91 (the highest grade you can usually find), the car is back to normal. While I’m writing about boring car things: I’m not sure when it happened, but sometime before we reached San Diego I noticed that there are hardly any pick-ups or minivans on the roads here. Maybe it’s been a gradual decline since leaving Alberta, or maybe there was a step-change around Colorado or Arizona – but there’s many more cars & small SUVs around here. Gas is a little more expensive in California (particularly in the cities), but not exceptionally so.

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