Robert Arends

Stellar Finds at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego’s East County

Palomar Observatory
View from Mt. Palomar

Spectacular views from high atop Mt. Palomar.

Fall is here and there’s no better time to visit scenic East County where the trees are starting to change into a kaleidoscope of autumn colors – a real treat for leaf peepers! Over the weekend I trekked to East County’s legendary Palomar Observatory to do some exploring and I’ve got to say, it was out of this world! (pun intended)

Half The Fun is Getting to the Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory amongst the changing leaves.

The drive there was half the fun. Take Highway 78 east from Ramona – where you’ll pass some excellent local wineries offering tastings – then fuel up with a quick bite of scrumptious apple pie at Dudley’s Bakery in Santa Ysabel. Just past the bakery, head north on Highway 79, then west on Highway 76 toward Lake Henshaw. After La Jolla Indian Reservation, turn right on South Grade Rd./S6 which begins a wonderfully winding adventure up Mt. Palomar with panoramic overlooks at every turn. You can see as far as the Pacific!

Atop the mountain, continue straight on Canfield Rd. and follow the signs to Palomar Observatory. Forests and fern meadows abound; don’t be surprised if you spot flocks of wild turkeys on the roadside! (Mmm…Thanksgiving! 😉 )

What To Do Once You’re There

Andromeda Galaxy

Andromeda galaxy at the Palomar Observatory museum.

Seeing the observatory’s giant Art Deco-style white dome for the first time is jaw-dropping! Inside, a colossal 7-story Hale Telescope points toward the heavens. Tours are available Saturdays/Sundays at 11:00 AM and 1:30 PM at the low price of $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and children under 12 are free. Be sure to explore the free museum, spotlighting Palomar’s stellar discoveries, including the first brown dwarf and a planetoid called Sedna. My favorite cosmic find was a massive photo (above) of the twinkling Andromeda galaxy gracing the back wall.

Did You Know…

Palomar Observatory Dome

7-story dome at Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory houses the 8th largest telescope in the U.S. and weighing in at 14 ½ tons, the telescope’s main mirror is one of the heaviest pieces of glass in the world!

On The Way Back

Lake Henshaw Vista Point

Do a little birding at the Lake Henshaw Vista Point

Head down Mt. Palomar on East Grade Rd./S7.  At the 1.8 mile marker, stop at Henshaw Vista Point for breathtaking views of Lake Henshaw. Keep your eyes peeled for hawks and eagles soaring high above Santa Ysabel Valley. If you close your eyes, you can imagine you too have taken flight over San Diego’s East County…Will wonders never cease! 🙂

> Discover More of San Diego’s East County

Have you been to the Palomar Observatory? What was your favorite thing there? Let me and others know in the comments below.

Robert Arends

5 to Try – East County Desert Edition

Pre-historic Giant Sloth sculpture in Borrego Springs.

Fall is in the air – A perfect time to check out San Diego’s Anza-Borrego Desert and the quaint desert town of Borrego Springs. Following are five fun ways to explore and experience this captivating landscape:

1. Star gazing… Borrego Springs is an International Dark Sky Community – only the second in the world! No doubt because downtown is illuminated by only 25 or so streetlights. At night, gaze skyward to behold the most spectacular sparkling display of stars in the state. The quiet stillness and sheer vastness of this stellar tapestry will take your breath away!

2. Walk with dinosaurs… Borrego’s fossilized past comes to life at Galleta Meadows Estate, a literal “Land of the Lost” along Borrego Springs Rd. featuring artist Ricardo Breceda’s “Sky Art” Sculptures – realistic steel-welded dinosaurs, mammoths, saber-tooth tigers and sloths, as well as life-size animals of the non-prehistoric kind, including camels, tortoises and wild stallions. On the way, be sure to pick up some delicious fresh oranges and ruby online casino red grapefruit from roadside vendors by the citrus groves.

3. Trip to the moon(scape)…The Borrego Badlands, located east of town off of Highway S22, are an incredible sight with jagged eroded hills, cliffs and giant cracks in the earth. There are some great overlooks just off the road to park your car and peer down on this other-worldly landscape. Sunset, especially, really brings out the red, yellow and orange sandstone layers!

4. Desert delights… For an up-close look at the boundless beauty of San Diego’s desert, a must-see is the Visitor Center at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. Photo opps abound in their desert garden: cacti and towering ocotillo with spines of fiery crimson blossoms, plus postcard backdrops of clear blue skies, rugged mountains and the desert floor.  Be on the lookout and listen for rustling in the chaparral to spot lizards and roadrunners {beep beep!}. There’s even a palm-lined pond of tiny desert pupfish (yep! They’re native to the region.).   

5. Bird watching… for “snowbirds,” that is! A great way to end the day: dinner at Carlee’s Place (660 Palm Canyon Dr.) where you can spot snowbirds – RVers and other folks from colder climates who spend the fall/winter in the desert – and locals alike enjoying good ol’ American eats (mouthwatering steaks and seafood!).  For the bravest Borrego explorers, karaoke night is every Saturday.