Anyone who knows me, knows I like unusual stuff. The rarer, the better. The 2017 Great American Eclipse had been on my radar for over a year, but after visiting the NASA Center in Huntsville, Alabama in May, I knew I had to see the eclipse. There other travel bloggers and I met with a female astrophysicist who told us about the eclipse and gave us a cool swag bag including a couple pairs of eclipse glasses. I was 5 when the 1979 eclipse went through my hometown with just over 90% totality but I have no recollection of that day. Through hell or high water, in 2017 it would be 100%…I would see Great American Total Eclipse 2017.
The Hype of the Total Eclipse 2017
The hype leading up to the 2017 eclipse was like no other. The internet has completely changed the way these events are communicated, thus increasing interest and education on solar eclipses. Redditors must have come up with every possible eclipse map known to man – my favorite was the map of every Waffle House in the path of Totality. A day before our departure day, we read about 30 mile back-ups on Oregon highways, starting to give us fear about how busy the state of Oregon would be.
The Travel To
If you read my blog post on planning, you’ll see we selected the city of Spray, Oregon as it was well within the path of totality. After reading about the bad traffic, we decided to get an early start to make the normally 5.5 hour drive. It didn’t take long to figure out the traffic fears were all hype, so we took our time getting to the campsite by visiting some small towns and a state park on the way. Not once did we meet any heavy traffic.
The Campground (The Old Mill Campground – Spray, OR)
I have to admit I had fears when we paid $500 up front for up to 4 nights of camping in a non-existent campground…did the place even exist? Not only did it exist, it was better than I imagined. A couple hundred people were set up in a ring around a big field on the edge of town, right next to a bend in the John Day River. There were a dozen porta-potties that were kept very clean and stocked with toilet paper and to our surprise there were two sinks and two cold water showers with running water. But the best amenity was the “pool” – a swimming hole in the John Day River with a stone beach just steps away from our campsite. With a slow current, you could lazily float down the river and walk a short distance back to camp.
The small town of Spray is super cute. With a population of 150, the town has two shops, a small motel, a museum, small park, a school, and several churches, but not much else. The people were so friendly. In fact my friend was able to borrow, not buy, a bed from a garage sale for an 80 year old that was in our camping group, and it was even delivered!
Sadly, I don’t think the town got the number of visitors and economic benefit they anticipated. There were multiple porta-potties stationed around town that got nearly 0 usage. It looks like they anticipated 1000’s of visitors but ended up with only 100’s.
The Motley Crew
We had a crew of 13 people – friends, strangers, family, and co-workers, and 5 cars to pack into 2 RV spaces. It was definitely a tent city. There were some cringeworthy moments that involved brothers fighting, way too political talk, and a blow out about snoring. But all in all it was a good time and ultimately when the eclipse began, we were all there for the same, amazing thing.
The Anticipation & Waiting
With temperatures in the low 90’s, just sitting around the campsite all day so a few of us decided to road trip! We piled into the air-conditioned Explorer and stopped at the Thomas Orchard in Kimberly to walk in the orchard and enjoy perfectly ripe peaches. We also got to see some of the amazing rock formations of the Sheep Rock Unit of John Day Fossil beds and go to the visitor center there to see the fossils and watch the video. It was a great way to get out of the camp for a few hours and see some great sights. Back at camp we had a nice swim and then a relaxed night at the campsite.
The Partial Eclipse
Honestly, the first part of the eclipse was pretty slow. One of my friends equated it to “watching paint dry”. But soon it got better… the sky got darker, the air was cooler. At 90% totality, we went over to the trees to see the crescent shaped sun dapples shining through the natural apertures between tree leaves. At 95% totality a strange dark yellow-ish hue fell over us. As it approached 99%, we saw shadow bands waving on the top of a white car and then it began…
The Total Eclipse
The sky immediately changed when the total eclipse began. We took off our eclipse glasses. People started to hoot. I felt emotional in a strange way. Looking up, the sky was black with the white corona glowing at us. But looking at ground level, it was like dusk in 360 degrees around us. It was actually more light out than I had imagined. After a very fast 1 minute and 50 seconds, the sun started to shine through in a diamond ring shape and we put our glasses back on.
The Travel Fro
We watched some of the same phases of partial eclipse leading up to totality for the next 30 minutes and said goodbye to our old and new friends before getting in the Explorer to try to beat some of the traffic. The travel time back was about 7.5 hours of driving time – about 2 hours more than normal. Traffic lights and stop signs were the culprits of the slowed traffic. It seems like a few strategically placed cops would have alleviated most of the slow downs.
One thing I will do for the next eclipse is buy a proper filter for my camera and possibly a tripod. All photos in this blog are taken by me by hand held camera. The filtered pictures were taken by holding one eye of a pair of eclipse glasses in front of the lens.
It was A*M*A*Z*I*N*G!!! This experience has made a new “Eclipse Chaser”. Who wants to join me for 2024?
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