“I Want to See Mt. Palomar in Snow!”

When I was a kid in school in Nebraska, I was always excited when the Weekly Reader showed up. It left a big impression on me that lasted a long time, like until now long time. One of the great things I read about was Palomar Mountain where the Hale Telescope sat. Once the Good X and were living in San Diego, and I realized WHERE that was exactly, I was excited to go see the telescope. I loved space. We went soon after we found our apartment. It was great.

When our first San Diego winter(1984/85) rolled around, and I read that there were 12 inches of snow up there, I wanted to ski the trail from the campground to the observatory. It was one of our first back-country ski trips in Southern California. I learned a lot from it.

First, Southern California plants thrive in winter and die down in summer. Second, most of the 2.2 mile trail to the observatory was lined in brush meaning we had to stick our poles in the manzanita and sage scrub. It was ludicrous, hilarious.

At that point, I didn’t even know what those plants were except an enormous pain in the ass. As we neared the observatory, the trail was cleaner.

Higher ground, finally a decent trail to ski.

The ferns that grow along the upper trail were dormant and the pasture was wide. In the fullness of time (years) I would see the mortreros in the rock along the trail where the Indians ground acorns and I would know that the trees around me were mostly Coastal Live Oak and Jeffry Pine but I wasn’t there yet.

It took a long time to get up there, and though it was an insane caper, it was fun and the sight of that beautiful dome rising from a snowy landscape took my breath away.

We decided not to go back down on the trail. Parts were steep and narrow with almost no means of controlling a downhill ride, no room to turn, no place to plant poles. We took the road — which, up near the top had not been plowed.

As we careened down the mountain, whooping in exhilaration, we passed a family who, having heard there was snow up there, had brought their equipment for a fun California day. This consisted of a cooler, a couple beach chairs, a beach umbrella and a couple of boogie boards. This wasn’t irony; this was serious. As we whizzed by, one of the kids yelled out, “Hey mom, THAT’S what we should be doing!”

That was my first experience with the Southern California phenomenon of “going to the snow.” Many, many years later, when I was teaching Critical Thinking through Nature Writing and my students had to go “out” into nature and write about it in their journals, I read many sweet and funny stories about my students’ first encounters with the glorious white stuff. Most were surprised that it wasn’t softer to land in. Others were surprised it was so cold. On days when I took a dog or two up to the Lagunas to run through snow drifts on the Garnet Peak Trail, the Sunrise Highway was always lined by cars filled with people who went into the “wilderness” only about 50 feet for the experience of winter. Lots of people filled the back of their pick-up truck with snow and put small snowmen on the hood.

Today I took Bear and Teddy out to the Refuge. I’m still a little friable physically. The knee isn’t quite right and the groin muscle is tight and achy, still, but better. I was worried Teddy would pull too hard in one direction and Bear in the other, but no. Bear walked with me so I didn’t even feel her on the leash. Teddy is starting to understand what a leash walk is. It was perfect. All day showers have been coming over the San Juans in waves of air-brushed clouds of snow that obscure everything and go on their way. The three of us walked most of our walk in just such a miraculous shower.

Skis are not the only way to love snow.

15 thoughts on ““I Want to See Mt. Palomar in Snow!”

  1. Mount Palomar is a fascinating place! And that’s an amazing photo of the white dome surrounded by snow! I’m so glad you had a great walk today with Bear and Teddy — it will continue to get better!

    • ❤ Thank you so much, Janet. I LOVE Mt. Palomar. I loved taking my stepsons up there. One of them is on the autism spectrum, didn't like to be touched and didn't respond well to affection. I just let him be. He spent a month every summer with me and the Good X. The evening after we took him to the observatory, and let him buy slides, and came home and watched them, he snuggled (for him) up to me on the sofa because he was so happy. It was completely magic for him and melted his scared little heart and brain. He's even now one of the most precious people in my life.

      • It is a magical place, and it’s wonderful that they have basically turned it into a museum. My friends who live in Borrego Springs are there because Jim had a job with Cornell University, one of the research partners at the Observatory! He later moved down the hill and worked at the Clark Lake Radio Observatory in the Anza-Borrego Desert.

        • Wonderful! During WW II my dad was a radio man for the Army down in the Salton Sea. I love that desert. I loved taking international students there on field trips. For most it was a completely new world but my Arab students said there were too many plants there to call it a desert.

  2. I love reading about your life. You have such a spirit of adventure that started so young I know. And I think all of these experiences just made you that more of a fantastic teacher. I’d love to see the dome (and not just because I love space and it’s my Birth name ~Hale ❣️). I can picture everything you write in my head as if I’m going along. I’m so glad you, Teddy, and Bear were in the Big Empty and I pray specifically for you and all your bones and other parts 🤗 I went to the lake trail this morning. It was a warm 42 degrees and damp. There was only one other car there. It’s paved so not my favorite kind of trail but a trail nonetheless. I was worried of falling in the woods with so much wetness. What would’ve made my hikes this week even more perfect would’ve been falling snow~my Narnia. I was 24 years old and taking learning disabled 3rd and 4th graders on nature walks and writing. It’s amazing how that is my life now. I loved the Weekly Reader and couldn’t wait for it to arrive. I loved having it with students too. I’m so glad you’re doing good. 🤗❤️❣️💚🐾♥️

    • ❤ Thank you Karla. Yeah, it's amazing how our lives have these threads of consistency in them that we're barely conscious of. A paved trail around a lake is nice. You don't have to worry about roots etc. you can just let your mind flow a little bit. I used to sometimes walk a paved trail around a lake in San Diego. For YEARS I thought I was too cool for it, but then I went and discovered it was nice not to have to worry about rattlesnakes (they were there, but the trail was open and nothing could hide on it). The lake and trail had an interesting culture of their own, including different birds. I went there when I didn't have time to head into the hills. ❤ Our love to you and Finn.

      • You’re welcome. Your points are well-taken and some of the reasons I walk this trail. May your trails this week be peaceful and safe. We’re experiencing too many cloudy and dreary days. I’m missing the sun ☀️, although I limit my exposure. I still need my daily dose though. ♥️❤️

  3. I once went up to Palomar with my son. I was expecting to view it from the outside as you need an appointment to get a tour but this day the tour had canceled and the guy tending the scope took us in for our own private tour. I think I was much more impressed than my son.

    • We didn’t have to make appointments back then, but we had to wait for a while for a tour. My younger stepson, my X and I were enchanted. I don’t think my older stepson was very impressed.

  4. You reminded me of a year when my summer Weekly Reader failed to arrive week after week. At the end of summer a battered bundle of Weekly Readers arrived all at once. They had gone to the wrong town – Manawa instead of Monona – so they were collected in the dead letter office until someone figured out where they belonged.
    I learned about “going to the snow” when I lived in the San Francisco Bay area. My neighbors came home with coolers full of snow for a snowball fight. One probably could have sold snow there – a pretty weird thought when I can walk out the door and have all I want. I’m going to introduce Bailey to cross country skiing on the lake today. He’s not a snow dog, so we’ll see how he likes it – might be a short outing.

  5. Going to the snow is just strange to this Indiana woman. We have snow and it comes to us – whether we want it or not! I’ve been to Palomar on a CA vacation many years ago. But that’s what happens when you are married to a space geek! I’ve been to places that most have not all because Sparky has to see all things space related.

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