Secrets of Palomar Mountain, California
by Brad Bailey, Author of Images of America: Palomar Mountain
Palomar Mountain is one of the most striking natural environments in Southern California. Rising over a mile into the bright western sky, its steeply forested south face offers unparalleled vistas of the blue Pacific Ocean far below. It is a place of rich forests, dripping springs and the finest artesian waters on the planet.
Many have journeyed to Palomar Mountain seeking the heavens. For some the calling is highly personal and for others purely professional. By the mid 1920s the mountain was being eyed by men of science as the site for the greatest scientific endeavor of the twentieth century. The goal was to extract secrets from the universe using a machine of unprecedented scale and precision. Never before had anything so grand been attempted, and man’s understanding of the universe would be altered forever.
A host of others equally significant are linked to the Palomar project. There is the celestial pulsing orb, discovered by scientists and briefly codenamed LGM for “Little Green Men,” and the erstwhile cafe owner who became famous for his close encounters with the unknown.
The Big Eye
Palomar Observatory owes it existence to one man of extraordinary vision, George Ellery Hale. In his extraordinarily productive life he personally set in motion the great scientific achievements of the Yerkes 40 inch telescope, the Mount Wilson 60 and 100 inch telescopes, the re-founding of Caltech as premier research institution, and his crowing achievement, the 200 inch telescope on Palomar Mountain. Immensely significant in the popular imagination, the Palomar project was not to be surpassed in peacetime scale or scope until the Apollo program placed a man on the moon.
A study in contrasts Hale (1868 – 1938) was by any standard a giant of vision and personal energy. Born to wealth, he rejected business to study the heavens. Hale was plagued by nervous exhaustion and visions of taunting elves in the night, yet he was the galvanizing force behind the world’s four largest telescopes, culminating with the massive 200 inch project on Palomar Mountain.
The annals of the Palomar Observatory project contain a host of singular personalities without whom the glass giants would never have been realized. Working alone and in secret a one armed master optician named Schmidt would only reveal his technology in exchange for funding a huge machine of his design. And there was the cranky, practically deaf architect who inspired major elements of the telescope and dome, then created astonishing mechanical sketches based solely on blueprints. Remarkably, a former day laborer would obsessively grind and figure the 14 ton mirror for nearly a decade.
On the flip side of the cosmological coin, “Professor” George Adamski ran a small store and camp ground at the bottom of the mountain called Palomar Gardens, yet he found time to promote his close encounters with his new “friends from out of town.” His first book Flying Saucers Have Landed (1953) is lauded as a ground breaking work documenting the presence of highly technological beings that frequently visit the earth. At one point officials of the FBI and US Air Force debriefed Adamski at Palomar Gardens regarding his observations.
His experiences having predated the Soviet Sputnik satellite and international space race by a decade, in 1962 he announced he was scheduled to attend a conference on Saturn, which was found to be incredible by many of his then supporters.
A Place in Time
Palomar Mountain as been a haven to rustlers, ranchers and recluses, as well as practitioners of high science and promoters of extra-terrestrials. The mountain continues to be a special place with a magical attraction to many looking for inspiration and solitude. Today the mountain hosts a small, thriving community with an eclectic mix of about 300 citizens, some of whom are descendants from the original nineteenth-century pioneer families, and other, more recent pilgrims, attracted by life on the path less taken.