Celebrating the construction and 1948 opening of the Palomar Observatory and the route its mirror took through the northern San Diego County town, “Highway to the Stars” signs have returned to Valley Center.
Congratulations the folks in Valley Center dedicated to the town’s history: the members of the Valley Center Historical Society and Valley Center History Museum. They convinced the San Diego County Board of Supervisors to fund the installation of the signs along county Highway S-6, the route the 200-inch mirror took the mountain.
The San Diego Union-Tribunereports the signs are up. Union-Tribune columnist Logan Jenkins wrote about the effort in January 2017. The Palomar Skies blog talked about the inspiration for the sign effort, the Valley Center Historical Museum’s exhibit opening in 2008.
The Journey to the Stars chapter takes drivers up the historic, unpaved Nate Harrison Grade and back down on either of the two paved roads on Palomar Mountain. To get there, we go from I-15 over Pala Road. It’s a beautiful drive.
The history of the roads up Palomar Mountain and the improvements to get a heavy, thick 200-inch diameter piece of glass up a mountain are in the text. I talk a bit about the building of South Grade and East Grade and improvements made to Pala Road.
A November-December 1947 edition story that details the road improvements made for the telescope, and sure enough, it talks about the improvements to Valley Center Road, currently S-2. Read the story and you’ll know all about it. Visit the exhibit at the Valley Center History Museum and you’ll know even more.
I do work to verify the bits of history along all of my drives, and was told by several sources that the equipment and materials for the telescope came over Pala Road. I never found anything that said materials came through Valley Center, which is where the signs are going up.
When I wrote the chapter a couple of years ago, I hadn’t discovered my now-favorite California road source, California Highways and Public Works magazine, published from 1927-67 by the state agency that evolved into Caltrans.
It also mentions improvements that were made to what’s now Highway 76.
The photo showing the sign on the highway is from the Valley Center Historical Museum via the San Diego Union-Tribune. It looks to be Valley Center Road east of Lake Wohlford Road. The sign, an original, is also from the History Museum via the Palomar Skies blog.
The photo of the truck transporting the mirror is from the official Caltech Palomar website. At this point I’m not even going to guess where that truck was when the the photo was taken.
So, I’m adding this to the online info about Journey to the Stars for readers wanting a fuller picture of that great event. Can you imagine taking a piece of glass that size on a flatbed truck over the roads at the time from Pasadena to Palomar? Even today’s roads and improved equipment would make that a pretty tall order.