Witnessing a Total Solar Eclipse

By the time this is posted, by the time you read this, the eclipse will be long over. You will have been flooded by images and descriptions of this event from thousands of sources. However, this blog is a personal diary, I will put down my thoughts and memories before they grow dim, post my photos, and preserve the experience for myself.

Solar Corona
An HDR view of the solar corona from the 21Aug2017 solar eclipse

Our plan was simple, camp out well ahead of time in a site that had been carefully selected and scouted. Jody and Larry camped along side this little pretty meadow earlier in the summer, noting that it would serve quite well. They also arrived first, five days before the eclipse, and minutes ahead of others that sought this same place.

The plan worked, and worked well. In the days leading up to the eclipse dozens of vehicles came past, each looking with envy at those who had arrived early to claim the best spots. The stream of vehicles continued late into Sunday eve, no matter, this forest offers room for all.

Eclipse Encampment
Our eclipse encampment along the edge of Grant’s Spring meadow

While I arrived early with my family, I had another plan. I would drive the hour over to Oregon Star Party for two nights. Spending those nights visiting friends and observing from the ridge at Indian Springs. Friday night and Saturday night were spent there, returning to Grant’s Spring and my family on Sunday before the eclipse.

Grant’s Spring offered a location closer to the center line than OSP. This added an additional thirty seconds to totality for a length of 1m57s. I wanted that thirty seconds, the eclipse was short enough already.

While the morning dawned with a hazy sky, the worst of the haze drifted off in the hours leading up to totality. While not pristine, the skies were clear enough to allow the eclipse to be seen unimpeded.

Crescent Sunbeams
Our group checking out the crescent patterns in the eclipse shaped sunbeams underneath a fir tree

Even before totality the sky grew dark enough to clearly see Venus to the west of the Sun and Moon. The light grew dim and red in those last moments. The sunbeam speckled shadows under the fir trees were filled with little crescents.

My personal plan ensured I would sit and simply watch the start of totality and watch I did. The sight is simply surreal, unexpected despite the innumerable photographs I have seen across the decades. The impact is hard to describe, one of amazement, of wonder, of witnessing one of the most incredible spectacles our world produces.

One of the effects we could not from our vantage point on the ridge was sunset in all directions. Sunset like lighting to the north, sunset to the south, a surreal effect seen only in a total solar eclipse. A dark sky, the bright solar corona, the odd light from all horizons, I simply sat and looked for a single long moment.

Photographing the Eclipse
My setup for eclipse photography

After watching the first part of totality I turned to making a few photos of the solar corona. I shot a wide range of exposures, hoping the focus was still good, hoping everything worked. I would not know until the partial phase was over when I could dismount the camera and review the frames.

The reappearance of the Sun caught me completely unprepared, still shooting photos of the corona. The next exposure was completely overexposed by that first sliver of sunlight. And with that, totality was ended, time to put the solar filter back on the telescope and set the intervalometer for a slower cadence to capture the remainder of the eclipse.

One of the defining parts of this experience has been an isolation from the world. Atop this ridge in the Ochocos there is no cell signal, no data, no internet. We have been cut off from the flood of news that has accompanied the eclipse. What news we get comes in snippets, often from passers-by who stop to talk, or a patrolling sherrif’s deputy. Tales of miles long traffic jams, forest fires, and eclipse crowds elsewhere.

Our planning, patience, and practice at camping has allowed us to evade the troubles of most. Primarily the patience, waiting for the eclipse traffic to dissipate, timing our travels to avoid the rush. We wait for the right moment, traveling back roads and alternative routes we know from family camping trips past.

The planning worked, the weather and fires relented, we had a perfect sky for totality. Reviewing the photos I have at least a few good frames, enough to keep me very happy in coming years. In the future when I post about a solar eclipse I can use my own photos instead of borrowed frames.

I write this still sitting in the meadow, waiting for dark and another night of bright stars beside the telescope. Without network I know it will be days before this is published. I will record my memories before the corrosion of time sets to work. We will leave in the dawn, hopefully ahead of any possible traffic on the second day.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

4 thoughts on “Witnessing a Total Solar Eclipse”

  1. I traveled with family to stay in Madras, OR. Whenever thinking or reading about it, I relive the “chills and thrills” of totality!

  2. What a wonderful description of your eclipse trip, Andrew. I really enjoyed reading it. The images are great too. Glad your trip was successful. Thanks for sharing.

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