I checked my watch — it was 6:13 a.m. I was part way up the Phantom Trail in Malibu Creek State Park, and had stopped to see if I could hear the launch of the Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Space Force Base.
I’d hoped to see the launch, but low clouds obscured the view skyward. Even so, there was a chance that a thin spot in the cloud deck might reveal the ship, as it propelled its classified payload into orbit.
All was quiet, except for the dawn songs of waking birds and the occasional car or motorcycle on Mulholland Highway. But then, just above the ambient sounds, I heard it — a constant dull roar somewhere to the west. I scanned the sky for any hint of an exhaust plume.
None was evident, but I suspect that if I had looked at the right spot at the right time, I might have glimpsed the rocket’s sun-bright flame. After searching and listening for a couple of minutes, I resumed working up the trail.
Ka-boom! Even though my attention had turned to the trail, the distinctive, two-syllable report of a sonic boom broke my reverie. It had to be the Falcon 9 booster returning to the launch site. The boom wasn’t very loud at my location, but some living closer to Vandenberg apparently mistook the launch and sonic boom as an earthquake.
The remainder of the run went well. I’d run the Ahmanson 12K the day before, and the Phantom Loop (clockwise) was a good follow-up to that run.
With the cloudy, cool start to the day, the poppies were mostly closed, but several other species of wildflowers added color along the trail. Among them were Elegant Clarkia, Owl’s Clover and Chinese Houses.
Note: A little higher in the Santa Monica Mountains and farther to the west, Jonathan Stewart captured this video of the NROL-85 launch from Boney Mountain.