Totality in Oregon
Columnist visits Pacific Northwest to view rare astronomical event
As I have alluded to in past articles, I have wanted to see and photograph the eclipse of 2017 in person and I wanted to do this with my brother, Mike, a physician in Tustin, Calif. He and I began to plan a trip to see the eclipse about two years ago.
My brother and I live about 2,200 miles apart. Thus one of us would have to travel to the other in order to see the eclipse together. Our first consideration was weather. It would have been easy to drive about 200 miles north of Siloam Springs to see the eclipse in the mid-west, but there was a greater than 50 percent chance of rain or clouds for August.
My brother carefully examined weather data and he found that eastern Oregon had only a 15 percent chance of obscuring weather at the time of the eclipse. I flew to Orange County, Calif., met up with him and the great eclipse chase began. My brother’s wife, Rosie, decided to accompany us and that was absolutely wonderful! She was fundamental in helping us stay organized and her cooking helped Mike and I avoid eating beef stew from a can for 10 solid days — yuck!
When Mike and I go on a trip together, it is always a laugher! We are very good at making jokes and the additional humor contributed by Rosie was a special delight. She is a natural expert on the zinger and the one-liner. We laughed all the way to Oregon and back!
Our chosen site to see the eclipse was the tiny town of Huntington, Ore. It is located very close to the border between Oregon and Idaho. My brother and I had time for a short trip to view the Snake River while we were there and it was a wonderful, calming sight.
We had seen Huntington from Google Earth and my brother selected an RV camp very near the line of totality. He contacted the owner more than a year ago and they had been in communication several times over that year. We both knew we had found a very good site, both because of the location of the site and also because the owners, Larry and Diane Marshall, were some of the kindest and most helpful people either of us have ever met. They are the owners of Snake River RV Park. We recommend this camp wholeheartedly to anyone who wants to visit this region of Oregon.
Huntington, Ore., is set in a natural bowl of low, rounded, hills. It has a population of about 300. It was founded in the late 19th Century and was a shipping point for the many varieties of fruit that were grown in the area at that time. The town then had a population of about 10,000. However … Huntington has seen better days. The rail lines are still quite busy at the north end of town and we heard freight trains passing at all hours of the day and night. There are only a few streets, many homes are literally falling down and many backyards and front yards as well are piled with junk and the remnants of past dreams that will never come true. It is also extremely dry — the surrounding hills are brown, with few trees. At this time of year, the danger of wild fire is on everybody’s mind. Mule deer are rampant and wander unmolested all through the town. We must have seen 30 or 40 of them even during our short stay. The area is still a very rich hunting and fishing area.
The town’s citizens were in the midst of a late summer festival when we arrived, complete with several bands and vendors of such things as petrified wood and hand-crafted leather goods. We also discovered that Huntington is a main sales point for marijuana in Oregon so the smell of ‘grass’ wafted its way through the festival, riding on the considerable breeze present throughout our stay. At times there were gusts ranging to 30 miles per hour or so.
There was some expectation that thousands of people would converge on Huntington. This did not happen. At most, I estimate only a few hundred saw the eclipse from the town and from our site, there were perhaps 25 people. We really had no sense of crowding, and we did not have to navigate through endless lines of traffic. It had been more than 50 years since I had been to Oregon and Idaho. The lack of traffic allowed us to pay attention to rolling ranches and farms where hops, fruit, cattle, and soy beans are still main crops. It is very peaceful in this part of America — reminding me of the area around Siloam Springs!
My brother and I brought our sophisticated imaging equipment to the eclipse site we had chosen. We both used 18 megapixel digital cameras and we both had photographic telescopes of 600 mm focal length. We both took several hundred images, all in the two minutes of totality. We were both very busy behind our telescopes, clicking our shutters as fast as we could, hoping each to get at least one good picture. We did a lot better than that and I have included some of my best images in this article.
The night before the eclipse, the very cordial people near our site gave a potluck. Barbecued ribs, deep fried chicken, corn on the cob and too many deserts to remember were brought to the potluck, many by members of the site owner’s extended family and their friends. I was asked to deliver a short presentation about the eclipse and I had fun doing this, being a teacher at heart.
Whenever I have had an open presentation of anything astronomical, I know I can expect some unusual, even strange questions. I got several informed questions which I think all contributed to our understanding of the event, but one odd question stands out.
A rather large and ponderous member of the audience, whom I knew to have imbibed heavily of a variety of alcoholic beverages available at the potluck, asked, “If I threw a rock up in the air during the eclipse, what would happen?” (Several people at the gathering suggested, under their breaths, that the rock would come down and land on his face…). This was one of those moments where I had to pause and think carefully about how I would answer this. I didn’t want to offend anyone; they had all been very kind to me. The only thing I could think of saying was, “The laws of physics will not be changed just because of an eclipse.” No one tried to run me out of town …
Moving on to the eclipse itself, we had a lot of tension about the weather. It had clouded over the evening before but several reports said the weather would clear about 1 a.m. We were sleeping on cots in the open air and we could see the night sky clearly. True to weather reports, the sky cleared and by the time of the eclipse at about 10:25 a.m. PDT, we had a wonderful clear blue sky — our dream of good weather had materialized! We were all convinced we had chosen the ideal spot to view and photograph the eclipse.
As the eclipse approached, a feeling of very high expectation filled the viewers. All were dutifully wearing their eclipse glasses. Most had come to view the eclipse without the aid of equipment, a few brought photographic equipment and one person videotaped the whole eclipse through his telescope. Mike and I had set out an area for our telescopes by placing overlapping canvases on the ground, stakes at the corners, yellow warning tape between the stakes. I had constructed focusing shrouds for both of us because it would be difficult to read our ‘live-view’ screens without some way to block light that would creep into the sides of the screens. Both of us were now huddled behind our cameras, ready to click our shutters with remote devices so we wouldn’t shake our ‘scopes. We had both rehearsed what we would do but I whispered to myself, “This is it, don’t blow it, don’t blow it!”
Totality arrived with a great shout from everyone. Many clapped; children jumped up and down. One man cried.
Rosie made an audio-visual recording of the crowd and while I don’t remember making a sound, there is a distinct record of me shouting, “Totality!” about as loud as I can yell!
Mike and I had planned to collect images for one minute of totality itself and to spend one minute visually viewing totality for the remaining time. I came pretty close to this but probably photographed too long into the second minute. When I did see totality visually, tears came to my eyes, too. There are many accounts of what the corona looks like. Most agree that the corona is a subtle pearly white. When I saw it, it was intensely shiny white with very high contrast with the surrounding sky. The Moon covering the sun was as black as black can be and the whole visual picture was stunning. I could also see a small, red, flame-like prominence on the edge of the Sun. This prominence appears in some of the photographs I have included with this article.
Totality only lasted a bit over two minutes. However, there is an image in my mind of the fully eclipsed Sun, with extended corona, that I will never forget. The photographs I have included do not look exactly like the visual images in my memory — however, they are close. I hope you enjoy them!
We left our site as quickly as we could, fearing dense traffic — which did not materialize. The remainder of our trip was spent as tourists, moving through Nevada cities Winnemucca and Reno and traveling on to Bishop, Calif. I had been to Bishop and surrounding areas many times before moving to Siloam Springs and it was quite special for me to see places all along the High Sierras that my father, brother and I had fished or camped at from my earlier life. I certainly hope to return to the Sierras and fish again for trout with my brother.
All in all, it was a magic trip I will always remember. I want to give special thanks to my wife, Janet. She had to stay behind and care for one of our daughters who had just had abdominal surgery. Blessings upon you, Janet!
— Dr. David Cater is a former faculty member of JBU. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
This shot was taken as the corona reached its maximum at totality in Huntington, Ore., on Aug. 21.
In this shot of the eclipse, taken in Huntington, Ore.. on Aug. 21 an early corona with prominence is visible.
As the eclipse neared totality on Aug. 21, effect was visible. a diamond ring