Saturday, September 22, 2012

Hike 2012.067A -- Mt. Hollywood and Endeavour Flybys

Only hiked up about 1/2 mile on this one, so it definitely doesn't count as a hike in itself. However, there's another hike (067) that I have not yet posted, also in the Griffith Park area. So my short hike on Friday would have been 067A for the year.

Great view of space shuttle Endeavour "victory lap." It made three passes over the Griffith Observatory area.

Headed up here with some friends who wanted to be a part of yet another "once in a lifetime" events. We all headed up towards Mt. Hollywood, and settled in our respective locations.

Suffice to say the view was great. Pictures posted here are nearly all full-frame shots, so you get an idea of how close we were to the shuttle. I used a 55-200mm zoom lens with my new Nikon D3200. I shot aperture priority because that's what my SLR used to do (it was a Canon AL1). Most are also unedited--just presented the way the camera recorded the sight.

We arrived early at Griffith Observatory, because we were expecting traffic to be crazy. Pulled into the parking area at 7am, by which time the regular parking spots were already all taken. Fortunately, I had a staff parking permit, so we did find a spot up near the top.

It was already sunny and warming up. And, unfortu-nately, once you leave the parking area, there wasn't any more water, no significant shade, and no restroom facilities (which discouraged the consumption of water or coffee if you had them!).

This trail is really pretty desolate. With the exception of a few rock outcroppings, and perhaps if you head up to Dante's View, you have essentially no shade. Meanwhile, the flyby was not scheduled until about 11:30am. So, with people arriving by 8am or earlier, that was a long time to spend in the sun.

The crowds at the Observa-tory were crazy, but the crowds even 1/2 mile up the trail were not bad, at all. At 8am, we had our choice of spots, and picked one that would allow us to frame the Observatory and the downtown skyline. If the flyover altitude was not too great, I anticipated getting some nice context shots.

The first flyover was (if my camera clock is to be believed) about 11:50am. We saw it in the distance, coming almost from due west. It headed apparently directly towards us, but was actually heading towards downtown. It looped around downtown, then backed to the left, eventually flying from left to right in front of us, though still probably a mile to our south. Out view was not bad, and I figured I did get at least a reasonable facsimile of the shot I wanted.

Yet, rumor was they would return. And indeed, after apparently visiting Santa Monica, it slowly made its way back towards us.

This time, it really was heading right for us. Or at least, right for the Observa-tory. From the Observatory grounds, the flight was directly above. From our perspective, perhaps 1/4 or 1/3 of a mile to the north, we got a nice profile view.

It then banked to the left, and swept to the north, towards JPL.

From our perspective, it disappeared behind Mt. Hollywood.

However, with the supposed itinerary saying that, in addition to JPL, a flyby of Universal Studios was on tap, I was confident the shuttle would soon reappear on the west side of the peak. I made my way across the wide dirt path that is Mt. Hollywood Road. And, sure enough, the shuttle soon emerged, flying probably right over the Ventura Freeway (CA 134).

It almost appeared to skim the top of Mt. Lee (though it was definitely well north of that peak), providing a chance to photograph the shuttle with the Hollywood Sign in the foreground.

Then it banked to the left, flying over Universal Studios, and just west of Burbank and Cahuenga Peaks. Earlier, I had pointed my telephoto lens at Burbank Peak, so I know at least a few people got an up-close, eye-level view of the shuttle as it made that flight segment.

After clearing Cahuenga Pass, the shuttle-topped 747 banked left, making another nearby pass, somewhat to our south, but over Hollywood, again. It continued to our east, eventually disappearing behind the ridge that runs up towards Mt. Hollywood. The time stamp on my last photo says this would be around 12:11pm.

From Griffith Observatory, the aerial show headed towards Disneyland, with a low flight over the Downey plant where the shuttle was built. A co-worker in Norwalk, who did not take the day off, reported it flew right over our work place there (near the Registrar-Recorder's building).

So we got one out-standing and two very nice nearby passes of the space shuttle on Friday. I took 174 photos, though probably half were before the shuttle arrived. Most were of the growing crowd on the lawn and terraces of Griffith Observatory, and atop Mt. Hollywood and the ridge leading up to Mt. Hollywood.

It was a long, dry, tiring day, but we all had a ball. We love events like this. It's sort of like the Venus Transit or Annular Eclipse, where all sorts of people with all sorts of backgrounds, who may have little in common with each other, can stop and share a common experience that transcends economics and culture.


  1. Great shots! A good camera makes all the difference! What an amazing event!

  2. Wow Skyhiker, incredible photos!

  3. The first (and only previous time) I saw a space shuttle, I was taking pictures with my Kodak Instamatic, using 126 film. This time, it was closer and I had a much better camera. I've only had the Nikon for about three weeks, now, but it certainly makes it easier to take better pictures. However, I'm also happy with my composition, considering the excitement of the moment and the moving target.

    At the same time, from all over the Internet, I have seen very few poor pictures. Even phone and i-Pad cameras and inexpensive point and shoot digital cameras are better than those old Instamatics.

    I especially enjoyed all the crowd reaction photos that you got, Dan.

  4. Cool shots, Skyhiker! I especially like the last one on your post of the shuttle over the observatory with LA skyline in the background. Wow! You could sell posters of that shot. Maybe at the Griffith Observatory gift shop???

  5. Hey, Bob!

    I was actually on the clock when I shot the pictures. They paid a number of museum guides their regular hourly wages to head off with our cameras and try to get some good shots. The only proviso is that if we get anything they want to use in an Observatory publication, they get to do it. Of course, I'd be thrilled if they'd use some of my shots.

    That's part of why I settled down to shoot where I did, where I anticipated being able to get an Observatory and L.A. skyline shot, rather than heading up to the top of Mt. Hollywood, where I would have had a 360 degree view of the shuttle as it cruised around the Observatory.

    A lot of other Observatory folks got some good shots, too. Turned out we had one of the best spots possible to view the shuttle and get some iconic vistas as a backdrop.