Lick Observatory and Yosemite Valley

29 12 2011
Yosemite_Valley_as_seen_from_Mount_Hamilton, photograph, black and white

Yosemite Valley as seen from Mount Hamilton. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, UC Santa Cruz

I’m on the road (again) next week. The last time I was in central California, I took a day to visit Lick Observatory. I can’t really count on that option this trip, since the road to Mount Hamilton closes during winter weather. While I was casting around on the Internet for other day trip options, I somehow managed to type both “Lick Observatory” and “Yosemite” in the Google search box. And look what that combination returned to me: a view from Mount Hamilton toward Yosemite Valley with Half Dome clearly visible. Looking the map, it doesn’t seem possible, but in fact, yes, it is. I found two other photographs in the UC Santa Cruz collection showing the same view.

This discovery prompted me to look at my own photos from Lick Observatory, but it’s obvious that I would’ve had to stand on top of Copernicus Peak to see Half Dome. That’s not an option for the average observatory visitor. I wonder: could I use my status as a university faculty member and a historian of astronomy to garner special hiking privileges? I’ll let you know next summer. I’m not sure how the poor air quality in the Central Valley would affect the view. Mount Hamilton rises above the smog pushing against it from the east and the west. Since Half Dome is about 400 feet higher than Copernicus Peak, it should rise above the haze as well, right?

Rumor has it that I can see Half Dome from Modesto. I would doubt it, except I’ve seen this photo taken in Patterson, between Modesto and the I-5 corridor, and this stunning photo taken in Turlock, south of Modesto. I’ll do some exploring and report back, even though it’s not directly connected to astronomical observatories.