So fellow travelers, when I realized the 2017 total solar eclipse would pass through Oregon I began to make plans to schedule our annual visit to Portland around the August 21st event.
Lunar map by National Geographic©
After all, I am that kid who wanted a telescope and a wall map of the Moon not the new model of Barbie’s Dream House for Christmas .
So, we booked our flights, marked our calendars and ordered two packs of NASA certified Neil deGrasse Tyson approved eclipse viewing glasses shipped direct to our Favorite Older Daughter and Favored Son-in-law’s home in Portland. Why risk forgetting to pack them?
A map from EarthSky.org, my go to source for comprehensible astronomy news and information, indicated Portland was just outside the path of totality. Additional research showed there was not a hotel, AirB&B or campground site available within the 100% zone during the weekend of and Monday evening after the eclipse. Everything had been booked over a year in advance. See? Some Americans do trust science.
If we were going to view the eclipse at totality we would have to find a site we could travel to and back that same day. Some diligent searching turned up the Solar Eclipse Viewing Party at the Oregon State Fair grounds in Salem. At just eight dollars a car for parking this free, family friendly event sounded perfect. I signed up to receive “Eclipse Event Updates” via email and within a week memos from the Oregon DOT and OEM (Department of Transportation and Office of Emergency Management) began to show up in my inbox.
Our original plan was rise early, drive to Salem and arrive at the fairgrounds before the gates opened at 6am. Under normal circumstances the trip would take just over an hour door to door, however according to the initial reports from ODOT traffic was expected to be heavy on the handful of roads leading to areas within the path of totality. This would be a major issue for Madras, a tiny town dead center in the path where totality would last over two minutes.
We drove through Madras last year on our way to Bend, where we spent three days exploring the wonders of Smith Rock and the Painted Desert .Thousands of people were expected to descend on this sleepy little place, with a handful of small businesses and one, maybe two gas stations. News reports of restaurtants stocking up and scheduling staff around the clock popped up. Wow! and as ominous reports of potential highway gridlock and gas shortages arrived in my eclipse feed, I began to second guess our original plan. Would we end up stuck on a highway, watching the eclipse from the road?
My detailed research indicated Portland was within the 99% range of totality. The kids’ home happens to be within walking distance of the trailheads at Powell Butte Nature Park. So that became our backup plan.
Powell Butte trail map
Once on the ground in Oregon, I began to follow various Twitter feeds to keep up to date on weather, traffic and wildfire reports. Summer is wildfire season in the PNW and unfortunately several fires had broken out in the totality zone. There were areas with mandatory evacutations and road closures.
Yet, as eclipse day approached many of the anticipated issues did not materialize. Aside from an early report of gas shortage, which officials realized resulted from thousands of cars going to Symbiosis a big festival near Prineville, it seemed so far people had heeded the directive to “Arrive early, stay put, leave late.”
It was tempting to consider making the trek to Salem. Powell Butte registered at 99.4% on an interactive eclipse tracking map. Would the potential headaches be worth the additional .6%?
In retrospect, I can answer yes ~ provided we wait out the departure traffic headed out of Salem. That 50 mile drive north to Portland took most people over four hours. Guess poeple were less inclined to follow through on the “leave late” instuctions.
The experience on top of Powell Butte was still pretty cool. I hiked up a few hours early to stake out a spot with a wide unobstructed view. A small, diverse crowd gathered. Kids and dogs played while we waited. A couple on horseback rode up and waited in the shade of the treeline. Coffee, snacks and water were shared. Photographers with special filters on their tripod mounted cameras offered people a closeup glinpse of the action.
The view from our spot
For a few hours we were simply one community joined in mutual awe of Nature.
It cooled down. Eerie crescent shadows snaked along the ground, then suddenly the light dimmed to a strange violet color, not totally dark, but something unlike any light most had ever seen. Silence, then cheers and applause. In the distance, snow capped Mt. Hood shone brighter for just an instant then dimmed.
And all too quickly, sunlight returned. It is amazing how much light just a sliver of the sun can radiate onto Planet Earth from so far away.
Our experience in no way matched what I saw later in images from the totality zone, yet it left me with a humbled sense of our humanity and after some thought, these simple words ~
Filtered eyes look up
Moonshadow eats the sun while
Open hearts reach out
Eclipse photo by Peter Rahalski
Now to start planning for 2024.
Walk gently on the path my friends and may adventure find you ready.