Here's mine, originally an email I sent out to friends and family several days ago. It's more readable at this spot (scroll down just a bit), I think, and that linked post includes a bunch of photos, many referenced in the text, which are larger than can be posted here on CN.
I do tend to go on....
August 28, 2017
We were gone for more than three weeks, so this will hardly be a complete description of our adventure, even though this has turned into a very long email, but Bjorn (my sixteen-year-old son, for anyone who might not know him) and I had a fantastic eclipse trip.
We left on August 3rd, and headed west, stopping at many places along the way out to Oregon, including these National Parks: Badlands, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, and Glacier. Smoke was very bad in some places, especially the Grand Tetons. I had hoped to do some large format (5x7) film photography, but that didn’t work out before the eclipse. Still, we saw lots of wildlife, went to some great museums and visitor centers, stayed in some beautiful campgrounds – sleeping in either our tent or on the platform bed we built in the back of our minivan – and had an overall great time.
In Oregon, several days ahead of time, we scouted out a place to view the eclipse from. I could write pages about everything I’d read ahead of time, and all we went through. There were ‘gloom and doom’ predictions of overcrowding, price gouging, traffic jams, and other dire stuff. And we did experience some negatives, but nothing very terrible.
We arrived for scouting in central Oregon (where the climatic conditions predicted the best chance of clear skies along the eclipse path in late August) on Wednesday, the 16th, and stopped at the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) office. We had decided that staying on land somewhere off the highway would be the best thing for us to do, and there is a huge amount of BLM land out there. We wanted to know the rules (how far from the road, trails, waterways, should we be; waste disposal; etc.), but also wanted some local advice on good prospects with wide views.
It turned out that they were waiting for us. They had set up tables outside their offices, and were joined by US Forest Service Rangers, whose offices are right next door. They were all very helpful, and gave us very detailed directions to several spots – and free maps! (We both love maps. If you do, too, you can look at the map below to see the red dot [where we stayed for the eclipse], and the blue dot [where I had thought we might, but keep reading to find out why we didn’t]. For scale, Madras is about 20 miles from Prineville.)
So Bjorn and I got back in our minivan, and headed east along US Highway 26, to check out the spots that I had researched weeks ago online. Or we tried to.
On our way through Prineville, we had seen one of those roadside digital signs, flashing the message ‘EVENT AHEAD...16 MILES...EVENT AHEAD...16 MILES...’ I had asked the rangers about this, and they had told me there was a festival of some kind, taking place in the mountains. They had not seemed very concerned, so neither were we. But six or seven miles out of town – far before we’d gone 16 miles – traffic came to a standstill. We moved one car length in fifteen minutes. I started to freak out a bit (okay, more than a bit). How could this be happening five days before eclipse day?!? I finally turned off the car, got out, and went to talk to the driver of the car behind me. He said, ‘Yes, this is the line for early arrivals to the festival.’ (He was about 23, and sounded French). ‘We were told to expect to wait in line for from two to six hours to get in.’ I told him that I just wanted to use the main east-west highway across this part of Oregon to look for a place to camp in the desert. He said, ‘Oh my, that would be difficult for you. I think it would be best for you to turn around and find another way.’ He was very polite, so I didn’t tell him, there is no other way!
I did turn around, and went back to the rangers to tell them what was happening. They had no idea, and were grateful for the information (they looked very unhappy, and a couple of them walked away, as though they were going to do something about it, or at least tell others who needed to know). Another showed me on a map just where the festival was taking place. 16 miles was just the distance to the turnoff from the highway. The festival itself was still several more miles along another, not very good, road. She also told us that people had paid $400 to attend the five-day event, and that the $400 did not include food or drink. The organizers had a permit to allow, and were expecting (so they said) 34,000 people! In all my research ahead of time, I had not heard about this. I knew there were lots of folks expected in Madras, the nearest town of any size to the centerline of the eclipse in this part of the state (they were renting out 20x20 foot spaces in a park for $40 a day). We found out later that there was more than one festival in the area, and that the one that blocked us actually had 110,000 people show up!! I hope this was not actually true; we just heard from a man working at a gas station miles away, days afterwards.
Bjorn and I decided that our original spot was right out. We talked to a Forest Service ranger about the Crooked River National Grassland as an option The Forest Service oversees National Grasslands). He gave us several spots to look over, and we did. Some of the gravel roads and dirt 'two-tracks' were really bad, and I feared for our trusty minivan. We saw that there was lots of space, and figured we’d find one easily, if we came back on Saturday. So we headed toward a few days along the Oregon coast.
It turns out we could have come back on Sunday. We found a great spot without even looking very hard, and had no close neighbors. A few people stopped by after we had set up, and said they might be back to join us, but no one did. We could see several mountains to the west: Mounts Hood (60 miles away) and Jefferson (30 miles), and the Sisters (40?) It was beautiful (see the attached photos).
I’m glad we did come back on Saturday, though, because it gave us all of Saturday afternoon and evening to get our camp set up: tent, cots, ‘outhouse’ (an old milk crate with part of its bottom cut out, turned upside down behind a small juniper tree), table, chairs, and all the astro-stuff (For anyone who cares: my Losmandy G-11 mount; the 4-inch f/6.3 William Optics apochromatic refractor; the 3-inch f/15 Edmunds achromatic refractor, both with filters on them to block most of the sun’s light during the partial parts of the eclipse; the Canon T1i DSLR, and our laptop, with the eclipse-image capture scripting program SETnC [Solar Eclipse Timer and Camera controller] installed. We also had two different ‘finders’, one a small, low-powered telescope, with a filter on it, and the other one made by me out of a Pringle’s can, with a pinhole in the bottom. And we also had filters on one of our pairs of binoculars.) We then had all of Sunday to check and test that everything was set up and working properly.
I had only found out about SETnC and other, similar programs, a few weeks before leaving on the trip. The name is a good one, since it allows you to get everything set up ahead of time, so that you don’t need to even look at your camera while the eclipse is going on, and can just enjoy seeing it. I had bought Canon’s latest model consumer DSLR for the trip, but, unfortunately, it is so new, that SETnC would not work with it, even though I was in touch with its creator in Switzerland. He was very kind, and generous with his time, but without a T7i (my camera) in his hands, he could not solve the issues it had running with SETnC. Still, my old camera, a T1i that I have given to Bjorn just before the trip, worked just great with it.
Both Saturday and Sunday were perfect days at our campsite, with almost no clouds, and only very thin smoke. But when I stuck my head out of the tent on Monday morning, just as the sun was rising, I saw it through a brown haze. Rats! And as it came up, we could barely see Mount Hood in the distance, and the top of Mount Jefferson was invisible through a white, impenetrable layer. I had read that the top of the mountain would go black seconds before totality reached us near Madras (Bjorn thought that was wrong; and figured that it would be close to exactly a minute [he turned out to be spot on]). Then, we would be able to watch the moon’s shadow race toward us at over 2,000 miles per hour. Now, it looked like we’d miss at least part of that. But we could still see the snow-covered flanks of the mountain below the smoke, and as the sun rose higher, we could also see that there was a hole in the smoke around it, and that it looked as though the sun would be right in the center of that hole at eclipse time. And it was!
SETnC was running on the laptop, and just before the partial phase of the eclipse started – when the moon first bites into the edge of the sun – it made the camera, attached to the 4-inch telescope, snap a couple of images at different settings. In order for the program to work, it needed to have our exact location on the earth – latitude, longitude, and elevation above sea level – entered into it. This is easy enough to do if you have a smart phone with a signal, but we had neither (a smart phone nor a signal). Instead, Bjorn used one of the very detailed maps given to us by the rangers, a ruler, and geometry, to measure all these things. He needed the ruler because the map did not have longitude nor latitude marked in very fine detail, so he had to figure out how many seconds of arc there were per millimeter, and then plot our location. He used our knowledge of the elevation of Madras (also on the map), visible some exact number of miles away and below us, to determine our elevation, using simple geometry and his eyes. Our resulting images show that he was very close to exact in his measurements.
SETnC took photos nine minutes apart during the partial phases (that was the longest it allows between them; we weren't really interested in taking lots of these, and wanted to save storage space on the camera's card), and then bunches during totality. It took 48 altogether, before, during, and after totality. It was especially active around the beginning (contact point 2, or C2) and end (C3) of totality, since this is when special things happen. It snapped as many as it could. The limiting factor – again, for those who care – is the time it takes for the camera and laptop to communicate. I’ve attached some quickly processed, low-resolution samples that I thought folks might like. Another image shows Bjorn looking into the box which contained our laptop. It’s a free way to be able to see the screen in full sunlight. In the same photo, you can see Mount Hood in the distance, and all of our astro gear set up for imaging the eclipse. But this was taken on Sunday.
On Monday, we had our eyes on the sky, not our cameras or laptop. As the partial eclipse approached totality, we both noticed a definite change in the light, especially after about the 85% phase. We talked about it at the time; how it seemed dim, like at dusk; but unlike at dusk, colors were not different (Bjorn later said it felt like he was on a sound stage, where a Western was being filmed). The temperature went down by, we figure, at least ten to fifteen degrees. We saw the predicted shadow climb down the mountain, and I noticed the huge circle of darkness come towards us, visible from the horizon to the zenith, and then saw that the circle grew around us, so that, once totality arrived, the circle nearly filled the sky, except for the horizon all around. During totality, I made sure to remember to look around, and to say out loud what I was seeing. (I had read that it’s easy to just look at the hole where the sun used to be.) We saw Venus bright in the sky. We saw stars, and Bjorn even noticed what constellations they were in. We saw that Mount Hood, outside the path of totality, looked like it was at sunset. When totality reached us, we learned that we did have neighbors, because we heard them cheer, several hundred yards away. And we heard a coyote howl! I was disappointed to notice that the view of the edge of the blackened sun was not clear through my left eye, so I closed it and used my right eye, which saw things much better. My left eye is very dominant, so I’m glad I thought to do this. Neither of us thought to pick up the binoculars to look through them at totality. But that’s okay. I had thought of taking a few images with my camera handheld, but didn’t think of that, either. Who cares? I did seem to notice a bit of red on the right side of the sun, and images taken with SETnC told me later that I was not imagining it. Though we both spent time looking all around, we were both looking at the sun just as totality ended, and saw the ‘diamond ring’ effect (where the first point of light from the sun shines through a gap on the surface of the moon) before looking away. It was all so cool. And too short.
As the partial phase ended about an hour later, Bjorn had a good idea. He was looking at the sun through our 3-inch refractor, and said he’d say ‘Done!’ when it looked to his eye like the eclipse had ended. He wanted me to watch the countdown on the laptop, which was ticking away to the tenth of a second on the SETnC window. He did not know how close it was to being finished and didn’t want me to say, but he said ‘Done!’ less than a second before the computer showed zero. That says something about the quality of our scope (which is high), Bjorn’s eye, and his calculating of our position.
We’d been away from civilization for a couple of days now, and were in need – or, at least, want – of ice and a few other things. So a few hours after the eclipse ended, I made a trip into Madras. But it was useless. The main highway north to Portland and south to anywhere in California is the town’s main street, and it was locked up. I parked nearby, and found a gas station, but they were out of ice (though not of gas, as some others were). I went back to camp, where we decided to stay another night.
We left late the next morning, hoping to get to Crater Lake National Park that day, and to Redwoods NP the next. But we decided to give up on that plan. First, there were fires near both parks, and the smoke was bad. But, more important, people don’t know how to drive (in my not-so-humble opinion)! The two-lane road was still very packed, but moving, until you came to a section with a passing lane. Where the passing lanes ended, requiring people to merge together again, some would not allow others in, and traffic just stopped. We took hours to go less than twenty miles, and finally turned around, covered the same ground in minutes, and headed east across an empty part of Oregon. We spent the night in Winnemucca, Nevada, and headed toward Colorado the next day. The skies, for the last few days of our trip, were finally smoke-free, or close, and in Rocky Mountain NP, I was able to take some large format photos. We got back late on Sunday night.
This was a great trip! I’ve been waiting for this since I was a little kid, and today I turned 57. Happy birthday to me!