Had a mixed run at Palomar last two nights. Lost much of the first night as it rained, and it even snowed a bit. But the second night was clear, less windy and very cold. After a good sleep I started down the mountain. It looked like another nice day. Only when I reached the turnout about 8 miles form the observatory that I realized how nice the day was. This is the point from where you can look towards the ocean, and far off the ocean looked stunningly beautiful. It was golden and rather harsh on the eyes. On most occasions you can barely see the ocean and generally you have to be told that it is there. On the few occasions it has been in clear view, it has still been hazy with the LA smog having its say. Today however it was exquisitely clear. No clouds in sight, no trace of smog. Very non-LA. Clearly the most clear I have ever seen the sky. Had I realized this while at the observatory, I would have made it a point to go to the catwalk of the 200-inch telescope and get a few snaps of the ranges seen from there.
As I drove down from 5000 ft, passing through big and small hills, the clarity was emphasizing itself all round. Much more detail was seen on the hills and one could see so much farther in general. Lake Elsinore looked out of the world with the sloped shores standing out. It was close to sunset by then and the range of colors as the sun vanished behind the mountains was wonderful. These were not the colors you see when clouds and particulate material is in excess in the atmosphere but just a gradation blue, red, yellow and intermediate hues. I wondered if I would witness a green flash if I chose a good spot. Its only the start of winter and there is not much snow around otherwise the distant mountains would have looked so much more pristine. As it is, it was a terrific sight
Twilight is that magical time of the day that rushes in feelings you will not believe exist the rest of the day. In mountain-country its even better with the modulating shadows of the peaks sliding across. The hills were seen in relief as never before. The serpentine freeways and the necklace formed by the beads that are cars merge well with the So Cal state of being by virtue of being nearly everywhere. But the big brightly lit signs outside malls and outlets (and casinos in the Indian country) stick out like a mismatched pendant, especially on such occasions. Many of the hillsides are now doted with small uniform houses, another blot on the landscape. Civil twilight turned into astronomical twilight. When there is no stuff in the atmosphere (or not as much) to reflect the 'man-made' light from the ground it seems so much darker. For the first time so many lights could be seen spread all-over. Even in the rear-view mirror one could feel the expanse and continuity of greater LA, something that is normally seen only while taking off or landing.
Once I turned on the section of I-15 north of 91, I realized the possible reason for the missing smog. It was still very windy here and at 70 MPH the car shook from side to side and tumbleweeds tumbled across the freeway. It was the winds that had driven the smog away, if temporarily. Once it got really dark, one could not help but notice the queues of airplanes slowly making their way towards one or the other airport in the vicinity. It was clear as clear can be all the way to Pasadena.
Overall it was a very enjoyable drive and one I am bound to remember for a long time.