The first question our tour guide asked was: did you enjoy your ride up here?
Looks like the motorcyclist and bike riders I saw outside were not here, because everyone agreed that the hilly ride up was quite unpleasant. Build in 1876 for horses and carts the road to the Lick observatory winds up in approximately 365 turns (count if you like) until it reaches the 4,200 feet peak of Mount Hamilton. Now-a-days it takes a solid hour from San Jose. While the place is open Thursdays to Sundays from 12 pm – 5 pm, in the winter time this road might be closed due to snow and icy conditions.
If you want to experience the observatory in the dark you can try to snag a ticket for one of the popular summer events. There are two different events. A music series and lectures by astronomers. As part of the lectures you will be able to glance through the historic 36-inch Great Lick Refractor telescope.
From 1888 till 1897 the Great Lick was Earth’s largest refracting telescope. Currently it is the second largest. Again, think how it got on top of the hill and you would be impressed, too! On opening, they do a free tour of the telescope every hour starting at 12:30 and ending at 4:30.
I was the most impressed with the floor. Beautiful walnut panels laid out in a round pattern. When our tour guide revealed this to be a hydraulic propelled moveable floor, (built before they invented electricity!) I was stunned. It hasn’t be operated for the last five years now, but being in the presence of such inventive engineering left me in awe.
I was glad to have a nice picnic with me and enjoyed the back terrace. By the way, spring water is feeding the water fountain, so make sure to fill up your bottles for the hour long descend to San Jose.
Have you made the climb to the lick observatory?