My old friend Polly and I spent many happy hours studying maps and trying to find maximum eclipse enjoyment with minimum traffic, and I think we hit the jackpot! Our destination for the August 21 total eclipse was Long Creek, OR, population 197. Polly called the “eclipse coordinator” listed on the town’s website, who offered us campsites for rent…amazing, since everyplace else in the state seemed to have run out of campsites months ago! She said we only needed parking for the day, and he replied that the mayor was coordinating the day parking, and gave her the mayor’s phone number. Gotta love small towns.
Most of the big festivals and eclipse watching events were located on the Oregon coast, in Central Oregon, and in the Baker City/Ontario area of eastern Oregon. Our plan for avoiding the crowds was to meet in Walla Walla WA Sunday night and drive down to Long Creek early Monday morning, Aug. 21.
Expecting traffic on the normal I-84 route from Portland, I drove the quieter way along Washington SR 14, a slow, winding road along the north side of the Columbia River Gorge. Despite the warning signs and flashing lights near all the bridges, I didn’t see much traffic on either side of the river. Near Goldendale, WA the highway passes a unique sight, the Stonehenge WW I Memorial.The memorial was built by Samuel Hill, a railroad tycoon and early advocate of good roads in the Pacific Northwest. He is credited for persuading Oregon to build the Scenic Columbia River Highway. The life-size Stonehenge replica is a few miles east of Maryhill, the mansion Sam Hill built and named after his wife. Even the beautiful home wasn’t enough to persuade her to move to remote Washington state in the early 20th century. The house is now operated by the state as an art museum with a fascinating collection, much of which was donated by Hill’s friend, Queen Marie of Romania.
Hill chose to honor the sacrifices of the Klickitat county soldiers who died in WW I by building a replica of the more famous Stonehenge in England, which he erroneously thought was a site of human sacrifice. The local stone proved unsuitable for the project so it was done in concrete instead. The views down the river are beautiful, but it’s sad to see the plaques honoring these men who died so young.
At the end of SR 14 I crossed back across the Columbia into Oregon for the short drive to Walla Walla, WA. US 730 skirts the river here, passing the scenic McNary Dam. For lunch I stopped briefly at Hat Rock, one of my favorite Oregon State Parks. The picnic area was ruled by a huge flock of Canada geese, so you have to watch your step. There was also a rare sighting of a white pelican–rare for Oregon, anyway.
Continuing along the river to US 12 I headed for Walla Walla to meet Polly, her husband Jim and daughter Jennifer. Walla Walla has gone from a quiet college town famous for its sweet onions to a mecca for wine tourists, as suggested by these t-shirts in a downtown shop window. There is also no shortage of good restaurants.
Around 5 the next morning we set out for Long Creek, OR, about halfway between Pendleton and John Day on US 395. The drive took an hour or so longer than usual because of the (relatively) heavy traffic on this winding route over two mountain passes and along the edge of the Umatilla National Forest. We noticed plenty of cars and RVs already parked on the east-facing viewpoints. Coming out of the mountains we saw our destination, the day parking area just north of Long Creek, with a 360-degree view. We arrived in plenty of time to meet our neighbors and get ready for the main attraction. A Long Creek firefighter greeted us at the entrance and said “park in the short grass. If you want to park in the tall grass, let me know where, so I can bring the fire truck over there!” Good advice here in bone-dry, fire-prone Eastern Oregon.
The mayor came by to welcome everyone, announcing: “We’re giving away free beer, so if you have any extra beer bring it over here so we can give it away!” All the proceeds from the $25 parking fee (as well as lunch served by volunteers in town) went to the fundraiser for their school. One of our favorite neighbors a few cars down was a retired astronomy professor from Wellesley College. She brought her 6-inch telescope with a projection device for safely viewing the progress of the eclipse. The small black dots you see on the sun are sunspots…each one the size of the earth! She was very excited to see her 4th total eclipse here, as the others had all had cloudy skies to deal with, and Long Creek was promising a cloud free day. Another neighbor was a professional astronomer from the National Observatory at Kitt Peak near Tucson, AZ. Pretty good company!
There were no trees around, so the only drawback of our chosen viewing site was that we didn’t get to see the unusual crescent-shaped shadows cast by trees during an eclipse. Thanks to all my friends who watched in Portland and posted their tree-shadow photos on Facebook! And although I fooled around with it at home before the trip, I was not successful in getting my point-and-shoot camera to give me a good, focused photo of the moon shadow advancing across the face of the sun. The most interesting effect I noticed before totality was the unusual quality of the light. It looked and felt sort of like twilight, yet different in a way that’s hard to describe. The sky was a shade of dark blue you don’t often see, and that might have been emphasized by the dry air. Around 9:30 we all grabbed our jackets as the temperature suddenly dropped, about a half hour before the eclipse was total.
Fortunately, we had excellent eclipse glasses from Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, and we were pretty close to the middle of the band of totality so we had two whole minutes to ooh and aah at the corona and the “diamond ring effect” that happens just before and after, when only a tiny glint of sunlight peeks out from behind the shadow of the moon. I must admit I was a little bit happy that the camera wouldn’t cooperate, as it forced me to just be there and enjoy the moment instead of worrying about how the photos would turn out. It was a great feeling of community, all these strangers who drove to the middle of nowhere to enjoy an amazing experience together. I thank the people of Long Creek for sharing their beautiful home with all of us, and I hope you’ll stop in and say hello and spend some money there next time you’re in Eastern Oregon!
The good fortune continued as we headed back north. The traffic was a bit slower this time, as people had all arrived at different times but everyone wanted to leave at once. We heard from friends who spent 16 hours driving back from the big festival near Prineville, in Central OR. Amazingly, we were never really stuck in traffic and I never saw or heard of any accidents along the way. By late afternoon we reached Polly and Jim’s new house in Asotin, WA. They chose this beautiful spot along the Snake River to be close to their son and daughter-in-law who live in nearby Clarkston, WA (that’s the view from their deck, looking across the river toward Lewiston, ID). The new place has now been officially christened “The Cute Little House.” The other photos are from the next day’s lunch expedition to Lucy’s Taco Truck in downtown Asotin.
I spent a couple lazy days enjoying the hospitality in Asotin and Clarkston, including dinner at Rooster’s restaurant in the port area near where the Clearwater River joins the Snake. The breakfast entertainment included spectacular sunrises, and watching the deer running up the road in front of the house.
For the last leg of the trip I had Polly’s company on the way back to Portland. By Wednesday the traffic was mostly gone. We made a rest stop at LePage Park, a lovely spot next to the John Day Dam, run by the Army Corps of Engineers. My other favorite I-84 stop was for lunch at Riverside Restaurant in Hood River. If you have to take a freeway, there are few prettier than I-84 along the Columbia River.
4 thoughts on “Eclipse 2017: The Road Trip”
What a great experience to witness the eclipse, avoid the crowds, and discover out-of the way sites!
Love all the pictures! Your view of the big event looks amazing! Not too many people here in Sacramento were excited about the eclipse, but when I showed up for breakfast at a local restaurant with my special glasses to watch the eclipse action at an outside table, every server and patron asked to borrow them! I made a lot of new, instant friends that day 🙂
What a incredible experience it must had been.
This is GREAT, Andrea – thank you for sharing!