Great American Eclipse

I’m a big believer in Murphy’s Law: if anything can wrong, it will. But sometimes the gods take pity on us mere mortals, and let things work out for the best :). That happened for me with the Great American Eclipse.

I’ve wanted to see a total solar eclipse ever since I saw my first partial solar eclipse as a child. One of the very first things I did, once there was an internet and websites, was to check out the calendar of upcoming total eclipses. Years ago I zoned in on the 2024 eclipse that will go up the Mississippi River Valley…and completely ignored the August, 2017 one that spanned the continental United States.

So I was quite surprised to read, just last December, about this August’s eclipse. And, as a result of procrastination, I didn’t even start to look for a place to watch it until a few months ago. By which time all the easily accessible hotel sites were booked.

Only…we spend a week at the Angora Lake Resort, near Lake Tahoe, every August. This year, our week just happened to end the day before the eclipse. And it turns out — if you’re willing to drive almost ten hours north of Tahoe — there was a section of the path of totality that didn’t have any significant cities nearby, and wasn’t a logical destination for anyone coming from any major metropolitan area. Plus, August there is generally pretty dry.

So on Sunday Barbara, Arthur & I — sadly, Caroline had to go back to work — drove five hours north of Tahoe to Alturas, California.

After a great meal in a packed local Mexican restaurant we went to bed and got up at 4:00 AM to drive for another four and a half hours to get to the path of totality in time. Hoping that we wouldn’t run into so much traffic that the two lane US 395 would get tied up. Fortunately, while there were a number of people going the same way, the traffic never got too bad.

We checked out a number of viewing sites once we got into the zone of totality, but none really grabbed us. But about two miles south of John Day — the Oregon town we were targeting on the eclipse’s center line — Barbara shouted “Wait, look! There’s an empty parking lot right next to a small public park! And it’s next to a cafe!” 

Which is how we came to watch the eclipse in Canyon City, Oregon. After a nice breakfast and a couple of cups of badly-needed coffee.

I’ve seen a number of partial solar eclipses, so I thought I knew what to expect from a total eclipse.

Boy, was I wrong!

First off, it gets cold. Not so much that you’re shivering, but definitely enough that I kept thinking about going back to the car for my sweatshirt.

Then, as coverage passes 80 percent, it feels like someone is sneakily turning down the lights. Because your eyes keep adjusting, you keep doing double-takes every 30 seconds or so (1st picture was taken at 10:04 AM, 2nd picture at 10:20 AM).

At some point you notice the street lights have turned on. In mid-morning. On a perfectly clear day.

Finally, as the last tiny fragment of the solar disk vanishes, the sky plunges to a very dark gray, the stars come back out, and the solar corona leaps into view.

The change is so sudden, and so complete, that I sat there, dumbfounded, staring at what looked like a black hole in the sky where the sun used to be. You can easily appreciate how eclipses used to freak out our ignorant ancestors!

Definitely worth seeing, at least once in your life.

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