Continuing with our late summer travels to California and Nevada, our next stop was the Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton. We had been to the Lick Observatory in 2012; traveling there from San Francisco is a day’s journey and given that we were staying with friends only for the weekend, we didn’t even think of going there this year. To our happy surprise, our friend wanted to go, had been wanting to go for a long time. Well, whatever would make her (and my husband) happy. We set off on a Sunday, after buying huge sandwiches from Gus’s Community Market so we could picnic at the observatory’s courtyard.
Mount Hamilton is 4,265 feet above sea level. Given that San Francisco is 52 feet above sea level, that’s some serious climbing by car. Mount Hamilton Road is a narrow, twisting 19 miles. I’d have taken pictures except my eyes were closed much of the time.
I did open them long enough to snap this photo, when we pulled over to change drivers. Needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, I was not driving. At. All.
The buildings you see are where the astronomers-in-residence stay. Since most of their work is done at night, visitors are urged to be quiet when walking around the grounds since they are likely to be sleeping.
This video is a panoramic from the parking lot once we got there safely.
It was a lovely day as you can see, just some smokey haze to the south of us.
I didn’t take many pictures while at the Lick Observatory so I’m going to cheat and show pictures from our 2012 trip. Before I do that, let me tell you a little bit about James Lick, the founder of the observatory. He was born in 1796 in Pennsylvania. He was a carpenter. He fell in love with the young daughter of the wealthiest man in his town, a flour mill owner. When she became pregnant, Lick assumed that his beloved’s father would grant him her hand in marriage. Sadly for Lick, his beloved’s father wanted nothing to do with a lowly carpenter who would never amount to anything and sent Lick packing all the way out of town. Lick became a piano maker, a craft he was so successful at that he eventually opened his own business in New York City. When he realized that many of his orders were coming from Argentina, he moved there and became even wealthier.
Wars in South America eventually drove Lick back to the United States, but rather than the East Coast, he went to the West Coast, to a little town called San Francisco. The year was 1848. He arrived with about $30,000 in gold and 600 pounds of chocolate. He founded the Ghiradelli Chocolate Company with a friend from Peru. He tried his hand at mining gold but quickly realized that he would be better off buying land.
He bought a lot of land in San Francisco and San Jose. He built the largest flour mill in the state, supposedly larger than the one owned and operated by the man who had rejected him as a potential son-in-law. According to the docent at the Lick Observatory, James Lick made sure that his beloved’s father knew just how successful he had become.
Casting about for things to build with his wealth, friends encouraged Lick to build an observatory. He had been interested in astronomy since about 1860 and so it seemed like a good idea. Lick wanted to leave a legacy, and he truly did with the Lick Observatory.
Lick died in 1876, several years before the Observatory was completed. In 1887, his body was moved and he now rests under the 36-inch Refracting Telescope.
Oh, and what about his son? Lick had kept in touch with his former paramour and their son. When his son was a young adult, Lick sent for him, I guess to see what he was made of. Apparently he wasn’t made of much. Lick was so disappointed in his son that he purposely kept him out of his will. While that was unfortunate for the young man, it was most fortunate for all the public good that Lick chose to invest instead.
Here are a few scenes from our 2012 visit to the Lick Observatory.