The best way to enjoy a visit to Fremont Peak Observatory is to give yourself (and your family) plenty of time to enjoy the park and all it has to offer.
Fremont Peak is one of the best places in the area to view sunsets. (On a rare afternoon when the fog line is gone and the horizon is razor sharp, you might even see the fabled "green flash." [also here, and here ] Ask an astronomer!)
It takes up to an hour and a half after sunset (see here, enter "Salinas") for twilight to fade and skies to be really dark. Now is a good time to get familiar with the lay of the land, and get some looks at other amateur telescopes as the astronomers do their final set-up and adjustments.
Weather on Fremont Peak is highly variable and often unpredictable. The weather on the peak is almost always very different from that in the valley just a few miles away.
Always bring many layers to Fremont Peak. Nighttime temperatures in spring and summer are sometimes only a few degrees above freezing, even when the daytime temperatures are quite warm. Stargazing is usually a low-energy activity, so you may find that your body does not stay warm very easily. Winds on the peak can add significantly to the chill.
In the spring it's not uncommon for skies to be clear but the valley fog to rise above the the peak, obscuring the sky and making everything quite damp.
In late summer, sometimes Fremont Peak rises into an inversion layer above the valley marine layer, and may be several degrees warmer than the valley floor, making for light-jacket astronomy all night long. But always be prepared with warm clothes.
There is no parking for visitors immediately next to the observatory or by the ranger residence. To visit the observatory, park in any of the designated parking areas within the park, pay your entrance fee, and walk up the marked road, past the ranger's house, to the observatory. The walk includes a slight climb -- for handicapped access, please contact FPOA.
Astronomers treasure their dark adaptation. Good dark adaptation comes only after avoiding lights for 20-60 minutes. That time is required for chemical changes to increase the eye's sensitivity to light. When dark adapted, bright lights can be painful, and your eyes will require some time to recover.
Red light is not as damaging to night vision, so you will find many dim red lights in use around the observatory and by individual astronomers.
If you've never experienced dark adaptation before, you may be surprised at how well you can see under a starry sky even with no moon. If you allow yourself to become fully dark adapted, you'll be able to see fainter objects with more detail in any telescope.
Nevertheless, for safety's sake, it is recommended that you carry a flashlight and use it when necessary while negotiating the pathways from parking areas to and from the observatory.
For a really professional astronomy experience, it's easy to turn an ordinary flashlight into a good dark adaptation light. Any auto parts store will sell red tape that is used to cover a broken tail light on your car. Often the astronomer host at the observatory will have some of this tape that you can use for your flashlight. Just strap a section of this red tape over an ordinary flashlight. Alternatively you can use your hand to cover your flashlight and allow only as much light as you need to see where you're going.
Besides the observing program in the observatory, many FPOA volunteers will have their telescopes set up just outside the observatory. These are part of the public program as well, and you are invited to take looks through all of the telescopes nearby. (There's no need to spend all of your time in line for the big telescope!) For many objects you'll find the view just as good in the fine amateur instruments belonging to our members.
As with most delicate and sensitive instruments, use only your eyes, not your hands, when observing. Besides being polite, you'll find that any touch of the telescope or mount will be transmitted and amplified in the eyepiece, making for a shaky view. And never peer into the "business end" of a telescope (the part facing the sky). Moisture and contamination from breath is not welcome.
You'll find that FPOA member volunteers are very knowledgable about the night sky, astronomy, and telescopes, and welcome your questions. Always ask before looking through any telescope.
© 2007 Fremont Peak Observatory Association
Last updated: 3/4/07
Web site by Doug Brown