If you are looking for a quick detour to break up the drive between Joshua Tree NP and the Pacific Ocean then I’d have to recommend the Mt. Palomar observatory. It’s run by the California Institute of Technology and is free to visit. Most notable thing to see here is the Hale Telescope.
The drive up and down the mountain is full of those fun twisting and turning mountain roads (unless you get carsick – then it’s just hell). Cell reception is pretty much non-existent, and you have to watch out for Rattlesnakes while on the path back to the observation dome. Once inside you can’t actually get to the telescope, but there is a viewing area where you can at least check it out. It’s pretty impressive. The main building also has a bunch of information on the observatory and space in general.
Just rereading the highlights of that last part – carsickness, no cell reception, rattlesnakes, and the inability to get to the actual telescope makes it sounds like a horrible place to visit. But it’s not, it’s really interesting – especially if you have any interest in astronomy.
Once we left Mt. Palomar we headed West for the Pacific Ocean, Laguna Beach, and Dana Point. I can hear the complaints now – ‘But those aren’t parks, those are beach towns!’
Yeah – no national parks for this next section, just some cool alternative outdoor activities.
There was really just one reason we stopped in this area – whale watching. One of the local sportfishing companies (who shall remain nameless) also runs whale watching tours and after since disappointment of having come up empty on the last whale watching trip I went on had faded some time ago I was excited to finally see some whales.
I was so excited that my wife and I got to the right when they opened and we were the first ones to board the boat. Gotta get those good seats! I spent the time we stood in line fiddling with my camera and preemptively changing lenses. We scored some seats right at the front of the boat and filled with excitement the boat headed out of the harbor and towards adventure!
Common Dolphins. Lots of common dolphins. So many common dolphins. Which is cool if you have not seen a dolphin in the wild before (which I had not) but is not really the only thing you want to see on a whale watching trip. Luckily we did not just see dolphins, we were able to catch a glimpse of a Hammerhead shark. That was pretty cool, our guide estimated it as being about 14 feet long.
Then more common dolphins.
Then some seasickness. Protip – standing on the bow of a boat moving up and down in waves that would have been considered on Michigan’s Great Lakes to be rough (but are really nothing for the ocean) while looking through a viewfinder and trying to track dolphins is a great way to get yourself sick. So after a quick self-guided tour of the railing at the back of the boat it was time to take more pictures of dolphins.
Then back to the harbor. Overall, disappointed once again to not see a whale but the Hammerhead shark made up for it (especially since Hammerheads, followed closely by Tigersharks, are the best kind of sharks).
Now some pictures!