Monday, May 29, 2017

Advice to an Eclipse Chaser

Saturday, I received an email from a stranger who reads this blog, and occasionally reads my tweets, asking for advice on where to watch the eclipse in Oregon. As I explain below, the issue at this point is not so much where to watch, but where to stay. I'm posting my response in hopes this might help others with their planning.

Dear -----,

Glad to hear you've been enjoying my geology stuff, and I think you'll find Oregon does not disappoint in that regard. However, my immediate reaction to your letter is that if you haven't got accommodations locked down, you're going to have a very difficult time finding an allowed camping spot (without spending a fortune) at this point. There have been stories since last fall about reservations already being full. I can't really make a recommendation, as I have no idea where there might be openings. Probably your best bet is to hunt around outside the path of totality, wake up early, and drive to a decent viewing site.

Other things to be aware of:
  • This will be peak fire season, and many areas will likely be closed due to extreme fire risk. [addendum: Keep an eye on fire reports, and avoid those areas. Keep in mind that downwind smoke will not enhance the experience. Also, keep an eye on weather forecasts.]
  • Eastern and most of Central Oregon is sparsely populated, and smaller towns are going to have a very difficult time meeting the needs of the thousands of people expected to descend on them- so carry as much of whatever supplies you may want/need as you can. My suspicion is that lines will be horrendous, especially the morning and afternoon of the event.
  • Marys Peak would be ideal, which is why I never entertained it as a viewing location. I was relieved to learn, a few weeks ago, that access would be heavily restricted, and all permits for driving there are long gone. (Imagine a health emergency when 10 miles of road is gridlocked. Imagine the road rage from people furious they can't see, and the inevitable legal issues that would follow. These are just a few of the reasons I eliminated the site from my choices when I first learned of the eclipse 9 years ago.)
  • I expect much if not all of the path in OR will be blistering hot, with clear skies and intense sunshine. Plan water and sunscreen accordingly. On the other hand, nights can be surprisingly chilly, so bring some warm clothes as well.
  • Expect traffic to be a nightmare.
  • In case you don't know, it's safe to look at the disk during totality, but NOT during any portion of the partial, unless you have optics that are explicitly sun-rated.
My bottom line is this: I expect that if you're doggedly persistent, and plan your travel times to be longer than you'd expect otherwise, you'll be able to get in on the fun. You should check in with the BLM and Forest Service offices to ask for advice, but I'm gonna guess they'll tell you much the same. On the other hand, I know that John Day NPS will offer free camping to volunteers, if that possibility is still open. It might not offer the very best location for viewing, but it might save a lot of work and disappointment. I feel pretty confident in saying that everything will come to a halt as the time approaches, so any volunteer duties will basically end for at least a few minutes.

Also, I have found this site, hosted on Google Maps, to be very helpful.

Other than the eclipse, though, I can certainly give you scads of pointers of what to see and do around and near OR, and specifically in the Steens/Malheur area and nearby areas in northern Nevada. Please let me know how you're coming into SE OR, and I'll bet we can work out a sweet itinerary.
Wishing you the best of luck in your travels!

Lockwood DeWitt