Parque Nacional San Pedro Mártir, Baja California Norte – The giant telescope

The Observatorio Astrónomico Nacional lies in the end of the park’s road. Mexico’s largest observatory is said to be on of the best on our planet. Three telescopes with 84 cm, 1.5 m and 2.1 m in diameter stand on a 2830 m high mountain, with no light and air pollution. The Mexican government put up the telescopes in 1975 not only for stellar studies but measures of the sky’s brightness, the state of the atmosphere and a long list of meteorological data. We have to park our truck in front of the locked gate and walk the last 3 km / 2 mi of the road steeply uphill. But there is some wildlife on the way like a coyote that watches us for quite a while before we fall below its safe distance; then it disappears unhurriedly.

The opening hours for the observatory, for which no additional entrance fee is levied, are limited: For the moment, it’s 10 am to 1 pm. A scientist arrives at the biggest and uppermost telescope. When asked he is willing to show us the rooms; he even speaks fairly English. The telescope is none to look through, but a camera receives images of the sky via two mirrors and transfers the data to computers that look as old as the telescope is. The high-performance infrared camera can take photos even in daytime and has to be cooled with liquid nitrogen. The roof above the huge lens is opened and rotated electrically. From the gangway around the roof we have a fantastic view to the Pacific in the west and the Sea of Cortez in the east.

On our way back they turn up after all: the Condors. Single or in small groups they hover majestically in the sky, skilfully using the thermal lift. They are easy to identify on the basis of their widely spread wing feathers, and their wingspan of up to 2.7 metres / 9 ft. The beat of their wings, if they do one at all, is characteristic, since the tips of the wings nearly touch under the breast.

Our plan to go back to the east to MEX 3 via Mike’s Sky Ranch fails. The track was simply washed during the last rainfalls. The park rangers warned us, but we want to be convinced that the road isn’t passable. Mike’s Sky Ranch offers rooms, camping possibilities and a restaurant, and is especially favoured by dirt bikers. Since years the ranch is checkpoint at the Baja 500 and 1000 rallies, but is has a better feeder road from MEX 3. Since we don’t want to drive another time on yesterday’s bumpy dirt road, and since there are few east-west-connectors on the peninsula, we head back to Ensenada.

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