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What They Experienced at the Total Eclipse!
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What They Experienced at the Total Eclipse!

I live in San Francisco which was scheduled to have an eclipse on August 21st with about 76% coverage of the sun. But on the actual day, it was too foggy to see anything, at least where I live. It never occurred to my husband or me to drive or fly anywhere to see the total eclipse. However, after talking to four people I know who did just that, I may be following their lead the next time it comes back to the US in 2024 or I may fly to another country sometime sooner. Here are their stories in their own words, slightly edited.

I asked them several questions: How did you get there? When did you leave? Where did you arrive? What was it like when you arrived?Describe the people who came. What was the experience like of seeing the total eclipse? How easy or hard was it to access amenities like places to buy food or bathrooms? Will you do it again?

My Brother-in-law, Bob

Despite being only 60 miles from the center of totality, I decided to drag the family 360 miles to Eastern Oregon on the Idaho border for the best viewing. Clouds are common on the coast, the forecast for the Willamette Valley was sunny with haziness; the high plains of Central Oregon were forecast to be blue sky but the many fires put that at risk, so off to the high desert in Eastern Oregon we went. We drove there and when we arrived the Milky Way was out in its full glory.

We left at 9:30 PM. We got there at 3:30 AM.

Our destination was Farewell Bend State Recreation Area. It is on the Snake River. The opposite shore was Idaho. It has a lot of campsites which were booked a long time ago. We were headed to the large day use area they had. I was told it would open at 6 AM, but when we got there they had opened it a short while before our arrival. There were probably a dozen vehicles in the parking lot when we arrived. We laid the seats back and caught a few hours of sleep. When we woke up there were a thousand people in the day use area. When we left, it became clear that there were thousands of vehicles stretched out for miles all along the highway that bordered the park.

In just our immediate area, I saw license plates from Oregon, Idaho, Washington, British Columbia, Montana, South Dakota, Ohio, California, and Arizona.

We were directly in the path of maximum totality. It lasted over 2 minutes. The skies were a bright blue. As we approached totality, the skies became dark and you could see a few stars and the planet Venus. Shadows from the nearby trees completely disappeared. While we wore glasses during the eclipse, we took them off for the duration of the totality. The experience was phenomenal.

The park had plenty of restrooms/port-a-potties. It was all we needed. When we departed, we passed through the small town of Huntington, population of 440. There was a pot dispensary in the town which had a sign announcing that they were giving away free barbecue.

Definitely would do again.

(The photo at the top of this post was taken by Bob)

My Adventurous Friend, Sally

It was stunning, amazing, fantastic, indescribable!

We flew very late Sunday night via United from SFO to Redmond, OR arriving at 12:30 in the morning on Mon, the 21st — eclipse day!

It was very quiet, very little traffic in the dead of the night. We had done some research and knew there was a 24-hour truck stop with a cafe and restroom facilities in Madras, one of the most popular places to view the eclipse. It’s a town of 6,600 people, which apparently swelled to 100,000 for the viewing. Other people had the same idea as us — lots of cars in the parking lot at the truck stop and a long queue for the restroom throughout the night and early morning. An interesting cohort of people out and about at the mini-mart at the truck stop at 2:00AM. If meth and opioid use are part of rural America, this could be the 2:00 AM crowd.

Lots of people from California were in Madras. We heard multiple languages being spoken amongst the eclipse viewers (we were in a large field near the county fairgrounds). People were very friendly, lots of sharing of food, eclipse glasses, advice and stories. The diversity seemed to all be from the visitors. Generally, this is a very non-diverse part of the country.

The eclipse is indescribable. The air temperature does drop; it got chilly when there was the smallest sliver of the sun remaining. When that sliver disappeared and the eclipse was in totality, people shouted “Take off the glasses!” and it was amazing! The photos don’t do it justice. The “diamond ring” phenomenon was the best part — the sun and moon’s parting gift at the end of totality. It was brilliant and breathtaking in its brevity and finality.

Food was easy to access; there were long lines for bathrooms everywhere.

I would do this again in:
a). a nanosecond
b). a heartbeat
c). a New York minute
d). all of the above

My Other Adventurous Friend, Bill

Sunday afternoon we drove to Madras in central Oregon from Portland where we had been for the weekend. It took about 2.5 hours to drive there.

We rented a “campsite” in a farmer’s field. It was basically a field that had been mowed and divided up into 30′ x 20′ spaces. It was huge. Acres. And not full. Lots of space. Very comfortable. Of course we are not campers. We had no tent. We slept in the car. (Surprisingly comfortable, especially compared to sleeping on the ground.)

We spent most of our time with a friend and his kids. We “camped” in the spot next to them (they had tents and actually camped). From what I saw of the other attendees, there were a bunch of astronomy enthusiasts with telescopes and cameras, many of whom appeared to be experienced campers (we were amazed by some of the elaborate setups) and just curious families.

It was mind blowing. I own a couple telescopes. I have a solar filter. I have looked at the sun many many times. I’ve seen partial eclipses. I’ve seen Venus transit in front of the sun (so tiny by comparison). But it is kind of like looking at an amoeba under a microscope. You take your eye away from the eyepiece and it’s gone. You can’t perceive it without a visual instrument.

Totality was a completely different experience. You take off your eclipse glasses and perceive it with your bare eyes. It is part of your environment. You are actually there with it. It is exponentially more “real” than anything you could ever see through a telescope or eclipse glasses.

At totality, the blue sky dissolves as if it were a one way mirror that somehow gets turned off. Instead, the sky goes black and the planets and brighter stars appear. The sun, instead of blinding you, is suddenly like a flashlight shining before you into the universe. I have never been so aware that I am standing on a planet in vast, infinite space.

I spent most of the two minutes of totality looking up and repeating, “Wow… wow…wow…”

The campsite had food vendors on site selling things at reasonable prices, not jacked up prices. They also had family entertainment items like a volleyball net, horseshoes, cornhole game, footballs to toss, a fake “steer” and lassoes to rope it with. Many people brought kites. There were showers with propane-heated water, but they were very rustic.There were porta potties but not enough as far as we were concerned.

We bought food before leaving Portland. The media was broadcasting an eclipse-armageddon scenario. There would be no food in Madras. Supermarket shelves would be bare. Gas stations would run out of gas. None of it was true. We stopped and bought gas in Madras and bought some food at the local market on the way to the campground. It was crowded but no worse than a typical Saturday afternoon at our local Safeway.

I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Can’t wait for the next one. Can’t recommend the experience enough.

My 17 Year Old Nephew, Chris, Bob and Diana’s Son

Kind of cool, really dark and really light, overall really cool, people were screaming. The hardest thing was driving 10 hours (according to his dad, it was 6) to get there and then it lasted 2 minutes.

Perhaps it is a matter of age and perspective. If I get the opportunity, I’m going to do it!

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