We traveled to Oregon to witness the total solar eclipse. It was the experience of a lifetime even if we got to have it for 2 minutes and 1 second.
The reason we didn’t plan to be in the Canadian Rockies in the late summer was because of the total solar eclipse on August 21. Oregon, our home state, was the first in the U.S. to see this rare event. Although I had seen a partial solar eclipse when I was living in Thailand, this would be the first time to witness a total eclipse.
Despite many travel planning and advanced reservation we usually do, our travel to see the eclipse had almost no prior planning. The only things we did were reserving a camp site at Mt Hood Village, outside of the totality path, for Stimpy to be and looking up potential BLM dispersed campgrounds in Central Oregon away from major towns like Bend or Madras.
We left our campground in Mt Hood Village on Friday afternoon. We drove across the Cascade Mountains into Central Oregon through Warm Springs and Madras, both places were in the path of totality. There were several places in Central Oregon where farming fields were turned into a temporary tent and RV camps for folks who came to view the eclipse. I think there was a moment where the thought of just settling for a spot in the field seemed appealing, but I wanted to hold out for a “nicer” spot away from a highway. So we continued on to Prineville. After a stop in Prineville to top off the gas tank, we headed toward the Painted Hills area, near Mitchell.
On Highway 26 about 15 miles outside of Mitchell, there is a National Forest campground at Ochoco Divide. We stayed there last summer when we did a road trip with Ren to Painted Hills. It was a very pretty campground in a Ponderosa pine forest, not ideal for eclipse viewing. Nevertheless, we were willing to settle here if there were available spots, but none was available. Continued on.
As soon as we left Hwy 26 and were on Burnt Ranch Road toward the Painted Hills, we could see several people already set up their tents on the side of the road wherever there were decent spots. When we were closer to BLM Recreation Area at Priest Hole, there were more vehicles on the small road. I wasn’t optimistic about finding a good spot.
When we arrived at Priest Hole BLM dispersed campground, there were already many campers and RVers set up their sites. We pulled into one of few available spots in the parking lot and set up our camp. It’s home for the next 3 days.
More and more people arrived at the site over the weekend, some with their RVs and some with their tents. The area turned into a mini town over the weekend. It put a lot of pressure to the availability of the only one toilet at the parking lot. At time, especially after breakfast, the line of campers at the toilet was over 20-people long. Imagine to have to wait for about an hour to use a toilet. We were glad to have our own portable toilet. We set it up in a toilet tent next to Ren. We dumped it once a day in the afternoon when only a few people or no one needed to use the toilet.
It’s the morning of the long awaiting eclipse. We got up at 7 am…well, David did to make coffee. There were lots of activities in the parking lot this morning. Several people had left the site or were leaving. It seemed like they were moving to find a spot even closer to the center of totality than here. Or maybe they were finding a place there they could beat the traffic after it’s over.
We had breakfast around 8:30 am. The eclipse was predicted to start at 9:07 am when the first contact happened, that’s the Moon started to “bite” the edge of the Sun. The totality was to begin at 10:20 am and end at 10:24 am. We would have 2 minutes and 1 second to experience the total solar eclipse. At the time, two minutes of totality seemed to be plenty of time. Little did I know.
As the beginning of totality approached, the intensity of the heat from the desert sun was decreasing. The air was getting cooler by the minute. The sky was still as bright but the sunlight was noticeably less intense. The less the Sun remained uncovered by the Moon, the cooler it got and the more eerie it felt. The anticipation was building up on the eclipse watchers at the site. Some let out a scream to relieve the built-up tension. Some laughed hysterically. Maybe it was the eclipse, maybe it was just how they are…I wasn’t sure.
One thing you will truly appreciate from witnessing the total eclipse is how bright the Sun really is. Even as the the Moon almost completely covered the Sun and only a tiniest sliver of the Sun was peeking out, there was a tremendous amount of light being let through, so much that we still needed eclipse glasses to look at the last bit of the Sun. We couldn’t look at the Sun directly until the Sun’s umbral cone was directly over us during totality.
Right about when the totality was about to happen, we started seeing shadow on clouds and a sun-facing side of the mountains in the western horizon. The shadow got darker and darker and started moving toward where we stood. People were crying out words and signaling friends and family to get ready for the impending event.
A few seconds later the shadow engulfed the area we were. Crowds immediately erupted with excitement. I looked up to see the Sun with my bare eyes and there it was…no, actually it was gone. The Sun that I am familiar with was gone. It was fully covered by a black disk. Up in the sky was this magical-looking fires and flares around the black disk. The corona of the Sun was putting on the best light show I have seen. I wasn’t expected or prepared for what I just saw. I have seen pictures of the corona during total solar eclipse many times. What the pictures didn’t or couldn’t show was the corona wasn’t static. It was the flare that the corona sent out that made it look so lively. I was in awe. All I could utter was wow. David and I looked at each other and it appeared he was in a similar state.
Watch the moment when the totality arrived here.
I wasn’t sure how long the time had passed. Next I looked at our surroundings. Being in totality was different from what I had thought. It was dark but not like night time. The sky above me wasn’t pitch-black. It was bluish gray in color with some brightness on the horizon. The air was really cool. David pointed for me to look up in the sky around the eclipsed Sun where we earlier located we might see Venus, Mars, or Mercury. All we could see with our bare eyes was the bright Venus off to the right and above the Sun. I turned around and took a few pictures of my surroundings to help me remember what I saw, then back to look at the corona.
By this time, the Moon started to move away. The Sun began to display the diamond ring effect and became too bright to look at with my eyes. I snapped a couple of pictures of the landscape in front of me as the sunlight returned. We were transported back to reality. The experience during the totality was surreal. It came and gone so quickly that there was no time to process what I just witnessed. It’s like a dream…a once-in-a-lifetime kind of dream.
What was your experience with a solar eclipse like?