Monthly Archives: July 2017

Beautifull An Eclipsophile’s Tale

This summer I’m heading to eastern Oregon for the total eclipse of the sun on Aug. 21. My husband and I will share a cabin with four friends we met in 1998 at a total solar eclipse on the Caribbean island of Curaçao. Yes, we’re true “eclipsophiles” who’ve followed the phenomenon around the world.

We didn’t realize we would get hooked before our first total solar eclipse in 1991 on Hawaii. At the last minute I’d convinced my husband, Michael, to go, and though we were able to buy airline tickets, we couldn’t find lodging. We finally did: The woman I called for help at the Big Island Visitors’ Bureau told me she knew a guy who was renting out rooms in his home. When we called him we found out that he was her son, Kerry, a high school science teacher and a wonderful host.

The morning of the eclipse, we scrambled to the summit of a small volcanic cinder cone called Nohona a Hae — “The Place of Wild Things.” We could see the grasslands below and the firmament above. Michael whined about getting up at 4 a.m. for the 7 a.m. display, but when totality hit — when the moon completely covered the sun and the sun’s halo suddenly appeared — he cheered.

He wasn’t alone. Everyone screamed: The sky had gone crazy. Planets and stars appeared, and the heavens glowed in shades of lapis lazuli with a thin line of sunset shades of orange and pink for 360 degrees along the horizon. The darkness of the moon’s shadow confused animals and plants. Cows headed back to the barn. Day-blooming flowers closed their petals. We felt as though the world had turned upside down — and we could relate to ancient peoples who thought the black dot of the sun meant the end of the world.

Now unabashed total-solar-eclipse junkies, in 1994 we traveled to Chile’s Atacama Desert, where rainfall has never been recorded. After totality we joined a hundred enthusiastic new eclipsophiles spontaneously forming a circle, holding hands, cheering and dancing on the hillside.

Our third eclipse took us to Curaçao in 1998. On our scouting mission the day before, we discovered that our planned viewing site, Christoffel National Park, would be closed the next day to protect the delicate desert from single-minded eclipse gazers. We found a public beach instead, but that morning it rained. To our relief, the sky cleared 20 minutes before totality, and we again experienced the euphoric otherworldliness of an eclipse.

Whether or not the weather cooperates and we can see it this summer, we’ll have fun with our eclipsophile friends. It’ll be a great chance to plan our upcoming total-eclipse trips: 2019 in Chile and 2020 in Argentina.

Best Destination to See the Total Eclipse

Daylight will darken eerily. Temperatures will drop. And the moment the sun, moon and Earth line up, the sun will instantly become a black disk in the sky, encircled by the mystical solar corona. The last one visible in the continental U.S. was in 1979, and we won’t see another until April 8, 2024.

This is the magic of “totality” — a total eclipse of the sun by the moon. It’s well worth a trip to see this rare event, and millions are expected to travel to communities along its path. This year that path begins in Salem and Corvallis, Ore., then curves across the country, visible in towns such as Casper, Wyo.; Kansas City, Mo.; Nashville, Tenn., and finally Charleston, S.C., on the East Coast. Oregon and South Carolina each expect a million eclipse-chasers. Wyoming is “preparing for a massive influx” of visitors. The population of Nashville may double.

Those in the know have already made their plans, so accommodations may be a little tricky to find, but it’s certainly not too late. Be persistent: Call or email hotels and campgrounds directly to check for cancellations, investigate rentals through sites like Airbnb.com and HomeAway.com, and be flexible about location. You’ll find that your options expand the farther you stay from your chosen viewing site. Wyoming’s tourism office says “plenty of lodging” is available outside the path of totality.

Some viewers may become lifelong eclipsophiles (as I am and documented in a separate article). “Watching a total solar eclipse is a way to connect with the cosmos,” says solar physics researcher Michael Kirk of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland. “You can’t explain the beauty to people.”

But there can be far more to the experience than the actual eclipse, which takes less than three minutes. A celebratory energy is already pulsing through towns and cities in the 14 states along the eclipse’s narrow path. Many plan to celebrate with all kinds of activities. For example:

Madras, Ore. (eclipse: 10:19 a.m. Pacific Time) This tiny town, about 120 miles southeast of Portland, is hosting a massive SolarFest Aug. 17-22, with three days of music — lots of country and tribute rock bands — and entertainment at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds. You can reserve a spot for RV and tent camping (or shell out $1,449 for a large “glamping” tent with cots) at the Solartown campground, which will be set up nearby on the centerline of totality.

Casper, Wyo. (eclipse: 11:42 a.m. Mountain Time) With clear air and an altitude of 5,000 feet, Casper swears it’s a prime viewing spot. The town is celebrating with theWyoming Eclipse Festival (tagline: “Totality — Feel the Shadow”) beginning on the 16th. There are lots of spots set aside for public viewing, such as the outdoor Casper Events Center, which sits on a bluff overlooking the city, and the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds, offering a week’s worth of festivities. The gorgeous Grand Teton National Park to the west is in the eclipse path as well, though the park is anticipating that Aug. 21 will be its busiest day ever.

Homestead National Monument, Neb. (eclipse: 1:02 Central Time) Bill Nye the Science Guy leads the cheers on eclipse day at Homestead, which is about 50 miles south of Lincoln. Visitors can make pinhole viewers to safely watch the partial phases of the eclipse. NASA scientists will talk about subjects like space exploration and astronaut training, and another expert will cover “Native American Starlore.” There will be lots of kid-friendly activities, too.

Jefferson City, Mo. (eclipse: 1:15 p.m. CT) The total eclipse is a huge deal for this capital city, which hasn’t seen one in 148 years. And, unlike other Midwestern cities such as St. Louis (about a two-hour drive west) and Kansas City, which are on the edge of the viewing range, Jefferson’s in the sweet spot for maximum totality. Among the festivities is the Capitol Eclipse Celebration, with corn mazes, sci-fi movie screenings and a Dark Side of the Moon concert performed by a Pink Floyd tribute band, Interstellar Overdrive.

St. Clair, Mo.: (eclipse: 1:15 p.m. CT) They’re calling it “Get Your Eclipse on Route 66,” an eclipse fest from Aug. 18 to 21 that will include the Route 66 Bluegrass Festival, Route 66 Car Show, a craft fair and parade. Viewing stations will be set up around the town, which is about an hour’s drive southwest from St. Louis.

Carterville, Ill. (eclipse: 1:20 p.m. CT) About two hours southeast of St. Louis, you’ll find Moonstock, a rocking eclipse-themed music festival featuring four days of headbanging bands like Saliva and Pop Evil — climaxing with headliner Ozzy Osbourne kicking off his concert during the eclipse with “Bark at the Moon.” It’s being held at a vineyard, which is releasing a special wine for the event called Solar Red.

Nashville, Tenn. (eclipse: 1:27 p.m. CT) Nashville’s pumped to be the largest U.S. city on the eclipse path, and it’s sure to draw huge crowds of music-loving eclipse watchers. The Music City Solar Eclipse Festival at the Adventure Science Center will be a hot spot, offering more than 175 science exhibits, plus eclipse shows in the Sudekum Planetarium, and free outdoor astronomy exhibits and a viewing party. Among many other celebrations, The Grand Ole Opry’s hosting a special concert on the 20th featuring Darius Rucker, Little Big Town and other faves, in the eclipse’s honor.

Clayton, Ga. (eclipse: 2:35 p.m. ET) Rabun County’s going ga-ga over the eclipse, celebrating with the Outasight festival and all kinds of fun, such as outdoor bluegrass performances in Tallulah Falls (bring your fiddle or guitar and join in), eclipse viewing events at Tallulah Gorge State Park, parties at local vineyards and more.

Columbia, S.C. (eclipse: 2:41 p.m. ET). The tourist board here is giddy to be considered the best spot on the East Coast for eclipse viewing. The city is offering special historic and food tours, and there are local viewing parties and festivals galore, including  the Grape Eclipse, a four-day wine lovers festival at Mercer House Estate Winery in nearby Lexington. Charleston, two hours away on the coast, is also a hot spot, though it’s at the edge of the eclipse path, so totality won’t last as long (about 1 minute 33 seconds, compared with 2 minutes 30 seconds in Columbia).

The Caribbean (eclipse: approx. 3:30 ET)  Royal Caribbean’s massive Oasis of the Seas will take passengers on a seven-night Caribbean cruise departing Orlando (Port Canaveral), Fla., on Aug. 20, heading for the path of totality around 400 nautical miles off the Florida coast. The cruise (from $975 per person) will include eclipse- and space-themed trivia contests, midnight dance parties and science activities for kids.

If you go, some tips:

1. Find a panoramic viewpoint in advance. Consider checking out the location of the sun at the time of the eclipse a day ahead to make sure nothing will block your view.

2. Don’t take pictures. Put the smartphone down! Spend your minute or two of totality enjoying and absorbing this spectacular event. Photos can never capture the feeling. And Facebook will already be packed with pics.

3. Don’t look at the sun. This is the tip everyone hears about, but here’s why: You can cause serious damage or blindness in a matter of seconds. During totality, when the moon completely covers the sun, you can safely look at the black moon-dot and the ethereal solar corona. But if you want to see the crescent-shaped partial phases of the eclipse, buy No. 14 welder’s glass or special eclipse glasses from observatories, science museums and reputable dealers such as Rainbow Symphony or Eclipse2017.

Amazing Pacific Northwest

Thirty years ago, my husband Greg and I spent the first few years of our marriage living in Seattle, but after we left, we never went back. The expression “You can’t go home again,” taken from the title of the famous Thomas Wolfe novel, has always resonated with me. I’ve moved around a lot in my life, and I’ve avoided returning to the places I’ve left because doing so leaves me with a sense of melancholy.

Yet here I am on the first evening of a fall cruise of the Puget Sound, standing on the prow of the 93-passenger American Spirit with the wind whipping through my hair and memories returning as if through a Seattle mist.

In the mid-1980s, Greg and I often took weekend trips to ports that we will visit on this cruise. Back then, the pristine beauty and scope of all that was around us nearly overwhelmed me, and the sheer beauty of the Pacific Northwest still brings me to my knees. Now, however, it also fills me with a sense of peace. My surroundings feel familiar, and going back evokes not a sense of loss, but a new perspective.

We are sailing on one of American Cruise Lines’ (ACL’s) small-ship itineraries. There are more than 35, including this eight-day Puget Sound cruise, the Alaska Inside Passage and an assortment of Mississippi River, New England and Southeast cruises. The company’s ships, some of them riverboats, are all small, with 185 guests maximum. ACL caters to cruisers whose age averages 70 — a dozen years north of my own, though Greg and I easily strike up conversations with our accomplished, well-traveled shipmates. The line touts a nightly top-shelf happy hour and includes Wi-Fi, regional cuisine in an open-seating dining room, and knowledgeable, compelling local historians. The American Spirit has a small library space on board; a sprawling upper deck for sunning, with a few pieces of exercise equipment; and a larger lounge, casually furnished. But if a casino, spa or super-gym is among your desires, ACL’s fleet isn’t for you.

The American Spirit circles the upper section of the Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Its southern meandering tentacles reach such Washington port cities as Olympia and Tacoma. But 100 miles to the north, where the sound is fed by the Strait of Juan de Fuca and traversed by the international border of Canada, its waterways widen and are dotted with islands big and small. The first night, we make it to Anacortes, the location of the dock for the Washington State Ferries, which transport people and their vehicles to the San Juan Islands. We sleep soundly in our comfortable stateroom, generous in size at more than 250 square feet.

The following evening, we sail a little more than 20 miles west, to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, and in the morning we wander the main street of the charming town, settled in the 1850s. After being briefed by Amy Traxler, a natural storyteller and our cruise’s marine-mammal specialist, we board a San Juan Excursions boat for an afternoon whale-watching trip, on which we spot three different pods of local orcas. It’s addictive, scanning the horizon for those telltale dorsal fins, and we return, glowing, to the American Spirit just in time for a postcard-perfect sunset.