I had been planning this trip for years, but nothing could prepare me for the magnificent celestial sight I would soon witness.
I’ve read many stories from people who were fortunate to view a Total Solar Eclipse, and with this one coming just a state away, I thought it was time to make the journey. I packed my bags, making sure I had all of my cameras, batteries, and special solar eclipse lenses. I loaded my car and off to Oregon I went. I decided to make Albany, Oregon, my destination since that would put me in line for the Total Solar Eclipse. The time for totality in Albany would be short – just under 2 minutes – so I wanted to make sure I was ready.
It was a long drive to Oregon – about 9 hours to Albany – so I broke it up. The first night I stopped in Medford, after 6 hours on the road. It’s a beautiful drive, especially through Shasta, where a still snow-covered Mount Shasta stands watch above Northern California. The next day I took a side trip to Crater Lake. A forgotten volcano that blew its top 8,000 years ago, leaving a deep trench that over time would fill with water to make Crater Lake. It’s the deepest fresh water lake in North America at almost 2,000 feet deep! Smoke-filled air from numerous wildfires made it tricky to get a good view of Crater Lake. I checked the weather patterns and decided to head there in the morning.
The road to Crater Lake is a gorgeous path with towering pines lining almost the entire way and forming almost a tunnel of trees with only a sliver of sky peeking through.
As you approach the volcano, trees give way to volcanic rock and boulders with patches of colorful summer flowers. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a mountain shoots skyward with only a small winding road to get to the top. After ascending to about 7,000 feet I reached the top. It was busy but I found a place to park and jumped out and headed for the crater’s rim. Looking down over the rim is a wondrous view. Sharp cliffs surround the lake, falling about a thousand or so feet down before reaching the water’s edge. The water itself is almost a fluorescent deep blue that seems to glow across the 5-mile lake. In the middle is “Wizard Island,” and another island called “Phantom Ship” that only adds to the magical scenery. It was well worth the side trip but that could not compare to the Total Solar Eclipse.
The next day I pushed on for another 3 hours or so to Albany. It was a very scenic ride, and the traffic was as bad as some expected. Arriving at my hotel in Albany a little early, I decided to look for a place to view the eclipse. I found an open, unobstructed field just a few blocks away. I did a quick site survey and live streamed it on WeatherScope to make sure the signal would be good for the following day. It all worked great! Now would come the hard part. Making sure all of my gear was ready and even worse, trying to sleep.
After charging my batteries and taping solar eclipse lenses onto my phone and camera, it was time to sleep. The eclipse would begin just after 9AM, but I wanted to get set up early so I set the alarm for 6:30 and off to bed I went. I didn’t really sleep that much as I rolled back and forth in anticipation. While it looked like the skies would be clear of clouds, smoke threatened to obscure the view.
I jumped up before the alarm the next day, ran to the window, and looked out. It was one of those rare, glorious mornings with a perfectly clear blue sky. I knew now that I was in for something special. I grabbed a cup of coffee and some breakfast to go, and dashed out of the hotel passing others who were also getting ready to watch the eclipse.
When I arrived at the field at about 7AM, people were already setting up blankets and chairs. Most seemed to have cameras and tripods, and some had 6 and 8-inch telescopes. People from all around the world were pouring in to see the event. It wasn’t long before much of the field was filled with chatty people. They talked about the eclipse, others they had seen, or how they planned to best photograph this one.
What I’m about to describe to you is something very difficult to put into words. Pictures and videos can never capture the complete beauty and experience of actually witnessing such an event in person. I’ve traveled to many places. I’ve seen lightning cascading over the Alps at Lake Geneva, Switzerland, soaring islands that seem to scrape the sky in Thailand, and even watched sunrise bloom over the horizon at the top of the world in Mauna Kea, Hawaii. But nothing was as amazing the Total Solar Eclipse.
I put on my cool eclipse glasses and just after 9AM, I noticed a very small piece of the sun missing at about the 1 o’clock position. In fact, it was so small I was wondering if it was just my eyes playing tricks. But after a few minutes, it became obvious that the eclipse had started, and you could hear the cheers of excitement all around. Things moved quickly now, but it wasn’t until it had covered about 75% of the sun that I could see a difference. At that point, the skies began to darken a little around me. I soon noticed the temperature began to drop, and the winds started to pick up, too. At about 85% totality, the sky around you began to turn a bluish-gray. It got darker, but it didn’t exactly look like sunset either. At 95%, only a small sliver of the sun remained, but it was still so bright you couldn’t look at it with the naked eye. The temperature was getting cool, maybe 5 to 6 degrees cooler than before the eclipse started, and the winds were getting stronger. It was at this time that I started livestreaming on WeatherScope so everyone could experience this unique event with me too.
At this point the crowd had grown eerily silent. Before the sun slipped behind the moon, a bright burst of light appeared in the 7 o’clock position. Still watching with my eclipse glasses, this was the “ring” effect. And then all of a sudden, it was gone.
The total solar eclipse exploded from the heavens above.
I took off my eclipse glasses and watched in awe. The sun’s rays and solar flares shot out like light gray tentacles dancing around the moon. The sky turned a deeper bluish-gray but never entirely dark.
I understand some stars and planets became visible, but I was so caught up in the beauty of the eclipse that I never noticed them.
The winds that had been blowing became calm and I heard someone mention all of the bugs went away. You could hear people cheer, and even some fireworks went off. Now I was surrounded in every direction. I tried to imagine what it must have been like for people who witnessed this event hundreds and even thousands of years ago. My mind was having trouble making sense of all that was happening. It seemed too incredible to be real! But there it was, the Total Solar Eclipse in all of it majesty and glory. It was a humbling, almost religious, moment.
And just like that, the sun’s radiance began to splash through the mountains and craters on the moon’s surface, and then the diamond ring effect would appear again, but this time on the opposite side. At that point, I looked around to see people cheering and hugging. Now I understand why Total Solar eclipses capture such wonder and imagination. There really is nothing that compares and no way I can fully describe the experience. But now I understand why people travel around the world to see something that lasts less than 2 minutes. It’s the coalescence and collision of unimaginable beauty and glory in the heavens above that fills your mind with memories and wonder to last a lifetime.