Let the Ecliptic Show Begin

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Desert Review correspondent, Janet Cowne, and her husband Larry, left Imperial to travel to the northern path of the total solar eclipse to view the event first hand. Here is her account of their celestrial experience.

Alignment of sun and moon last Monday morning put on a total solar eclipse display at approximately 10:20 for the few of us camped at Unity, Oregon. What a show!

Much was made by the media of towns in the ecliptical path such as Madras, Fossil, and John Day to the west of us, where tens of thousands were expected. Indeed, news reported traffic backed up days before the show in these areas, but no mention was made of little Unity, OR.

Where neighboring towns had smoke from the recent fires in British Columbia, we had none. Where the clouds obscured the skies a bit, it was clear here on Bureau of Land Management land two miles east of Unity on Highway 26. We were right in the line of totality than ran diagonally from  the northwest coast of Oregon to South Carolina’s eastern shores.

Reserving a campsite south in Wilder, Idaho on August 19 and 20, Larry and I thought we would leave Monday, August 21, at 2 a.m. to beat the crowds, and drive either to Weiser, Idaho in the north, or westward to Unity. As the eclipse date neared we felt the excitement and total impulse to set out at 4 p.m. Idaho time on Sunday the 20 to drive west and camp wherever we could, hoping the authorities wouldn’t shoo us away, or locals charge us an arm and a leg to stay to view the totality the next morning.

Instead, we saw virtually no traffic driving west. Turns out the masses were far less than the media predicted, and thankfully, not in our tiny area in eastern Oregon.

Unity, all four blocks of it, had their medical, fire, feed tents and ranger station busy with only a few cars and visitors. BLM ranger, Brian Woolf, told us they had expected 15,000, but instead estimated 1500 had come. At Denny Flats where we camped for no charge, only 150 people, or less, were counted, and only 20 or so within our sight.

Campers, Glenn, wife and his daughter, came from the Bay area. In 1970, as a second grader in Texas, his teacher turned him on to astronomy. He remembered her teaching about the total future solar eclipse of 2017. All these years later, with family in tow, he meticulously set up his telescope and equipment for their safe viewing and memory making trip.

Dave and wife Carol came from Issaquah, Washington. They arrived with their double-wide bed in their van, and a coffee can. Dave had been inspired by an article written eloquently by a man who at age eight had seen a partial eclipse writing, “the dark cloak rolling across, enveloping the landscape.”

The light under a clear sky did become dim as if there was a cloud of dust, or smoke above us. Shadows on the ground became sharper and sharper in the hour prior as totality neared. At 80 percent coverage, we were amazed at how bright everything was. By 90 percent, the remaining orange sliver of sun still lit up the ground, but quickly faded as it was covered by the moon. The hills around us became pitch black. There remained a lovely orange glow along the horizons all around. The temperature dropped from high 70 degrees to 60.

Doug, from nowhere in particular, managed not a single good photo with his little camera, but was not discouraged in the least. The software technician who worked on encrypted systems for the military and others when he chose to work, had settled in days earlier, with the excitement of a kid, to view this event with the naked eye.

In 1991, he had traveled to Hawaii to view a total eclipse, but clouds prohibited seeing the astronomical phenomena. This time he followed news’ reports using his high-tech satellite dishes and equipment, arriving outside Unity to stand under the sky and view the show, first with a welder’s glass, then the naked eye. “Incredible. Spectacular!” were his singular words at the sight.

We concurred.

The trip and time was well spent. Look to Texas for the next total solar eclipse in 2024.

 

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