Winter Solstice is technically the exact moment in time the sun is precisely over the Tropic of Capricorn, however most people generally recognize the entire day on which this occurs as the Solstice. It is also the shortest day of the year, and the first day of winter. In many ancient cultures, the Winter Solstice was an important day that signified rebirth and the transition into winter, and was commonly celebrated with great festivals and feasts.
For us, Solstice, like most other holidays, is a great excuse to go for a hike! We woke up super early this morning to join the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Canyoneers who led a hike up Cowle’s Mountain to observe the Winter Solstice.
We congregated in the parking lot in the early morning darkness, then made the ascent by headlamp to a point about halfway up the mountain. Here we took a short side trail that led to a small clearing on the side of the mountain with a clear view of the mountains in the east. This was the site of a Kumeyaay Indian observatory where for generations, the Kumeyaay people would come together to watch the sunrise and celebrate solstice, just like we were doing now.
One of the Canyoneer volunteers showed us where we would be looking when the sun rose and the show began: Pointing east he guided us to the prominent form of Lyon’s Peak, just to the right was another minor protrusion, then a small depression, and finally a nipple-like point sticking up. This last formation would bisect the sun when it rose, momentarily creating the effect of a dual-sun if you were standing in the right spot.
We had arrived fairly early, so spent some time chatting with our fellow hikers and admiring the changing colors of the sky as dawn unfolded. To the southeast, Mt. Miguel was bathed in a pinkish glow, and to the northeast we could make out the purplish silhouette of Cuyamaca Peak.
More and more people arrived, milling about in anticipation. Some even brought breakfast to enjoy while they waited. This was clearly a popular event among our fellow San Diegans!
The eastern sky grew brighter and brighter, and the few wispy clouds that hung above the horizon were clearly illuminated from below.
Before long, the moment we’d all been waiting for came. The sun popped up from behind the mountain.
The first day of winter was upon us!
Many thanks to the volunteers of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s Canyoneers for sharing this fantastic experience with us! If you are interested in joining the Canyoneers on one of their many excellent guided hikes, you can check out their full schedule here.