Besides being home to a California State Park, and an antenna farm, it is the home of the Fremont Peak Observatory Association. Operated by a dedicated band of volunteer amateur astronomers, this observatory offers regular public programs on a diverse range of topics related to astronomy. It also offers some of the darkest skies within 100 miles of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Astronomers have been coming to Fremont Peak State Park for decades, for its promise of dark skies away from city light pollution. Traditionally the park has always been friendly to astronomers, whose gatherings on new moon weekends attract interested members of the public from all over, seeking views through their huge variety of sophisticated telescopes.
In the early 1980’s, telescope maker Kevin Medlock was looking for a home for the 30″ f/4.8 newtonian telescope he was completing. Named the ‘Challenger’ this telescope offers excellent views of deep sky objects. California State Parks cooperated with the astronomer group to approve the building of an observatory at Fremont Peak State Park.
A building design was donated, $25,000 in seed money was raised (from sale of equipment donated by Celestron Corp.), and ground was broken for an observatory on an open hill behind the ranger residence.
Fremont Peak Observatory opened in 1986, and has been open every summer since, despite having battled the frequently brutal weather on the 3,000 foot peak. Devoted astronomers continue to maintain the observatory and telescope, contributing time, energy, and money, to keep Fremont Peak Observatory one of the finest amateur-operated astronomy centers in the United States.
Fremont Peak Observatory is open to the public for viewing and educational programs from April through October on Saturday evenings that don’t include a full moon (usually three Saturdays each month). When the summer fog rolls in from Monterey Bay and covers the lights of Hollister and Gilroy, the skies above Fremont Peak are as dark and star-filled as any place to be found within 100 miles of the San Francisco Bay area.
On September 17, 2006, my daughter became the youngest person ever trained and certified to operate the Challenger telescope. On September 23rd, Hannah and I participated in her first public program where she operated the telescope.
The image above will take you to the photo album linked above to see pictures from the peak, including some of the telescope, and some of Hannah and myself, and some of the views available at the peak.