We have similar terrestrial turbulence most of the time along the Sierra Nevada. It's compounded by what they call the Sierra Wave that rises and flows over the mountain tops. It's great for glider pilots, not so much for high mag viewing. Got to get up pretty early to get a clean daytime view here through 7 miles of air and it deteriorates quickly for the rest of the day as it warms. Even at night, through the thinner atmosphere, it's usually only around 2-3 AM on a lucky night when the atmosphere might get really steady. Good planetary or lunar viewing is a matter of luck mostly, but good planning helps the odds a bit.
Turbulent mountain air is a good reason to favor wider field, lower mag views that tend to be less frustrating. I do better with smaller apertures, too.
Rich, though we are in the mountains here, there is often an unexpected phenomenon on warm summer days. Late in the afternoon, if the wind is calm or very gentle, and probably within an hour or so of sunset on the ridge tops such as the one where I saw the deer, the atmosphere quickly stabilizes and seeing gets very good. It was on such an evening that I observed that deer.
There is another mountain South of us at about the same distance as the one to the East that has a fire lookout and a battery of communication towers at the top. I often set up while the sun is still shining on top of this mountain and look at it to judge the quality of "seeing". This has been a good indicator of seeing possibilities after dark. It does not always hold true, however, because some times the air seems about perfect while the sun is still hitting the mountain top, and turns rather turbulent again after dark.
I don't quite understand this, but theorize that it has to do with the air temperature still being warm enough to not be moved much by the warmer earth below, once the sun leaves the lower elevations. After dark the air cools more than the ground, and turbulence again ensues?
Where I grew up in the Oregon Coast Range, we had a mountain ridge running N & S just to our West. I recall one occasion when we were visiting my parents there and an approaching storm was causing strong winds before any precipitation arrived, so that the ground on that ridge was dry. I was outside after dark getting something out of our camper when the electricity went off and all house lights and outside lights went off. I didn't know this until turning off the lights in the camper and stepping outside. It was very dark and I noticed a reddish glow in the low overcast along a good stretch of the ridge top to our West. It was obvious enough that I thought there was a wildfire burning somewhere out of sight down on the other side, and reflecting in the clouds. After watching it for a while, there were a couple of miniature lightening bolts from the low clouds overhead down to the ridge top. After this the glow faded somewhat, so the static discharge must have eliminated some of the glowing, which I assume was caused by static electricity build-up. I later talked to a meteorologist about it and she knew just what it was. She even had a name for the phenomenon, but I don't recall what it was. Your mention of the Sierra Wave reminded me of this. I'll agree that those conditions would not be beneficial to optical seeing!
"Turbulent mountain air is a good reason to favor wider field, lower mag views that tend to be less frustrating. I do better with smaller apertures, too."
Smaller apertures and low magnification may reduce frustration when viewing in the mountains, but just think of what you are missing when everything comes together and you get stable, clear air with higher magnification and larger apertures!