Mining Our Way to Palomar

What began as a subtle, precognitive dream recently became a real adventure. After some careful research and delightful phone calls, a rough plan was in place to map our birthday celebration. Shadowy desert mountains rose up high to the East and West of the San Luis Rey River Valley beckoning our family to the lush 6000 foot elevation of Palomar Mountain. With cool breezes at our backs, beginning in Oceanside, CA, we followed the winding curves of CA-76 East into Pala, CA. Dark cutouts in the hillsides marked a variety of private mining claims and guided us toward the Stewart Gem Mine.

Shovels in hand, atop a seemingly lackluster heap of dirt, we filled our buckets with high hopes of uncovering even a tiny green crystal. Several hours later after careful sifting and rinsing, we each had about two tablespoons of tourmaline, lapidolite and quartz. Not a shabby haul for first-timers, making our 40 dollars a worthwhile investment. We left with smiles on our faces, sweat under our caps and the promise of refreshing icy drinks at the Pala Casino just down the road.

After a few rounds of toasting and some good luck at the roulette tables, we headed up SR6 to Fry Creek Campground, 2 miles from the top of Palomar Mountain. From the sagebrush covered desert floor to the groves of massive 600 year old pine trees, we again found ourselves marveling at the impressive contrast within the Southern California terrain. We landed in site 16 at the end of the campground road, pitched the tents, lit a fire and cooked up some grub.

Invited by National Forest Service rangers to a "star party" later that evening, we joined amateur and professional astronomers a few miles away at Observatory Campground. 9 high-powered telescopes were set-up to reveal globular clusters, Saturn and Jupiter, but the panoramic view of the skyline through our own eyes was far more impressive.

The last couple miles of SR6 led to the Palomar Mountain Observatory which houses the historic Hale 200-inch telescope. Here we enjoyed the final part of our journey as we walked the path amongst the fern fields to the telescope dome hidden within the old grove forest. It became clear to each of us that just when you think you’re in the middle of nowhere, you can round the bend and find stunning surprises created by the genius of mind and nature. Discovering fascinating places that withstand the test of time is definitely one of the best reasons to travel!

Written by Cari K

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