Ted's Fun & Games Experiencing an Eclipse

August 20-21, 2017

When my photographer friend Gary originally suggested that the two of us venture north to take in the Total Solar Eclipse, I had not even considered the matter.  Subsequent research revealed that the only remaining motel rooms were renting for up to $1,500 per night and that the pertinent state park campsites had been sold out for a year.

Knowing that Gary probably would not go it alone, I agreed to accompany him, planning to do some dispersed camping as necessary — with the proviso that should he get another offer he should take it, which he did.

Gary arranged to tag along with another photographer friend and his wife, to Eastern Idaho where the total eclipse could be experienced right at a friend's home.  Subsequently, when my own wife suggested that I surely would regret having missed the spectacle and that she might never hear the end of it, I opted for a whirlwind tour of my own.


Getting There

Not wanting to rush into this venture, I have attempted to prepare for the potential worst-case scenarios.  I have enough cash for any expenditures in case the credit-card system breaks down, food and water enough to last a couple of days should the restaurants be overcrowded, and a nice four-inch mattress for sleeping in the car.  On top of that, I have read everything I could find online about solar photography, and an astro­photographer acquaintance has offered a couple of pointers as well; so I should be all set.

The obvious best choice is to head up to Eastern Oregon, where the skies rate to be clear and traffic rates to be relatively light.  The alternative of Western Oregon is being touted as a likely logistical nightmare, and the weather there is unpredictable.

From Sacramento, two reasonable routes are available.  I could drive up Interstate-5 to Redding, then east on US-299 to Alturas, and north from there.  As is my wont however, I will head east to Reno, then north the rest of the way on US-395, thereby spending more time at higher elevations, which always is preferred.  The drive will be 600+ miles either way.

Heading out at 5 a.m., I stop only to visit an old potter friend at his digs about an hour north of Reno to pay him the ten dollars that I have owed for several years.  Paul is planning to make himself a pinhole camera; but I donate my extra pair of Eclipse Glasses to the cause instead.  I hardly need two of them.  One hundred and forty miles later, I gas up in Alturas.  That should suffice, because my new Outback can go more than 500 miles without a refill.

As I enter Oregon, everything seems normal so far.  It isn't until I actually pass through the city of Burns that the auto traffic seems heavier than expected on US-395.  Already I am in the Zone of Totality; but the plan is to get north of the community of John Day, which could be quite a bottleneck, up near the Line of Maximum Totality, where there will be the most time for taking pictures.

Negotiating John Day itself proves but a minor slowdown.  Some people are shopping for food, while others are buying gas with credit cards.  I am stopped short at a local cafe, though, when I am presented with an "Eclipse Only Menu", the cheapest item on which is about eleven dollars.  Because I really only wanted a cup of coffee and perhaps an English muffin, I move on.

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Traffic is not a problem at this time

It is only about three o'clock, and my drive is nearly finished.  Gee, I could have gotten three hours' more sleep before leaving home.  So much for potential slow-downs.  Some time is passed by reading a magazine awhile at a wayside park in Mount Vernon, the last community I will visit today.

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Little tent communities have sprung up in various places

Continuing north on Highway-395 for perhaps fifteen miles, I pull off at a spot that is being shared by half a dozen other groups.

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I grab the most convenient open space; for it hardly matters

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All the comforts
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Another loner has just arrived

An older couple from Oakland, seeing the word "Sacramento" on my licence-plate holder, inquire as to my route.  After telling them what I did, they say that they googled the matter, and Google told them that it would be little farther to continue east from Reno all the way to Winnemucca (a crummy drive) before heading north.

So they did that, claiming to want to "avoid the curves", which makes no sense at all.  Curves are what make roads interesting; and in any case, there aren't any on US-395.  Glancing at a road map apparently was not one of the options; and Google Maps doesn't address the esthetics of route-selection.

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A steak is on the grill over there

After a three-hour wait including a stroll up a forest road, it finally gets dark enough to climb into bed.  My Pee-Bottle is handy, so that I need not get up in the middle of the night.


The Big Day

I awaken to a beautiful cloudless morning.  This is good!  Some of the campers clearly intend to remain here; but most already have departed.  Although the eclipse could be viewed from this open space, there is plenty of time yet; so I head out up the highway.  Within just a few minutes I reach Beech Creek Summit, where a party already is in progress.  That comes as no surprise, of course, because this location is exactly on the Line of Max Totality, as per the master plan.

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Those campers must have spent the night in the turnouts

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US-395 has become a pedestrian walkway

There is room for me to park most anywhere; but a nearby forest road looks as if it would provide a more friendly shooting location.  Others seem to agree.

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This is as good a setup as any

The eclipse won't begin for another hour yet; so there is time to stroll up and down the road and chat with other visitors.

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This family is ready
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Will the toddler even remember this event?

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Stargazers on the hillside

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The place is filling up rapidly

On my big tripod is a Panasonic G1 — a Micro-4/3 model with a 400mm lens.  A 1.7× telephoto extender is available; but I opt for some reason not to use it.  I also set up a little tripod and a little Sony HX80 on the car hood.  This unit cannot match the other one for image quality; but it does have a 30× zoom, which might come in handy. 

To combat the sun's brightness, I have a 5-inch square of mylar taped to a piece of cardboard for rigidity.  This is essentially the same stuff that is used for the Eclipse Glasses.  Having not bothered to attach a piece of the film to a lens cap as so many others clearly have done, my plan is simply to hold the card in front of the lens while shooting.  I hope that this primitive arrangement works out.

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Let the photo session begin!

I was supposed to have practiced for this event at home and used masking tape to lock in lens-focusing rings and whatnot.  Having not done those things, I might as well take a test photo now before the main event begins.  I also have only a vague idea regarding the best shutter speed; so I must try a variety of those as well.  The mylar filter adds an orange tint to the scene; but that is to be expected.

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Surface detail is plainly visible.  This is good!

It is becoming a bit darker now; so the eclipse must already have begun.  When a check with my Eclipse Glasses confirms the fact, it is time to get busy.

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This is rather exciting

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A bit too bright

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Getting close to the big moment

Suddenly the landscape darkens dramatically as the moon covers the sun completely.  For the next two minutes, no camera filter will be needed, because the spectacle of the sun's corona can be viewed with the naked eye.  Oh, my!

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This is why I came here

I shoot frantically at various exposures; but it hardly seems to matter, and it is over all too soon.  I have been too busy composing photographs to do anything else such as gazing at stars.  The local animals did not become quiet as predicted, either; in fact, they all are yelling and cheering this once-in-a-lifetime happening.

As soon as the sun peeks out again, nearly everyone begins to pack up for departure, including myself.  Perhaps I could improve on an exposure or two as the eclipse wanes; but I will make do with what I have.  I'll find out how successful I was when I download the files this evening in a motel room.

Not wanting to be the last vehicle to leave here, off I go.  At the next highway junction, Long Creek, the inevitable traffic jam materializes.

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The line is long; but the delay is only about ten minutes

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A big tent city is over there
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Everyone's trash must go somewhere

There is a lot of driving yet to do.  As soon as possible, I get off the main highway, hoping to find less traffic on the back roads.  That doesn't work out as well as was hoped, however; for not only do many other motorists have the same idea, but it takes only one Winnebago to hold up a couple dozen cars for quite a while.

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Guardians of the granary near Bucks Corners

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This guy is worthy of another portrait

Finally, as I approach the Columbia River, a real traffic jam ensues.  The big bridge is being renovated; and a one-lane closure is sufficient to cause me to spend a full hour inching forward about six miles.  From there, it is smooth sailing up to Yakima, where I finally can relax a bit and finish out this remarkable day.

I already have made plans for three days' worth of hiking during my trip homeward, starting at Mount Rainier National Park tomorrow.

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ADDENDUM

Here is a composite of my eclipse experience:

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Although there had been little time to fuss with the little camera, it did produce one useful result:

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The sun's surface at 30× zoom    ⇔

A couple of unexpected side-effects ensued from this photo session.  I don't know whether this qualifies as art; but I do find the images interesting.

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There's no way I could have planned this

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The sun is changing shape

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Now there are two of them

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