The light is not like a sunset, but more, as Barry said, like lighting from a stadium. It isn’t a warm glow, but cooler, eerie light. The temperature also grows significantly cooler and both of us reach for jackets. We look through our solar eclipse viewing glasses to see the moon slowing take an ever larger bite out of the sun. We are standing across the dirt road, where we have parked in a line of cars, just outside of Baker City, Oregon. This is within the Path of Totality. (TA-TA-TA!) We are in a very dry, sagebrush covered landscape, with craggy hills and a clear blue sky.
Shadows are elongated and the moon nearly covers the sun to make a crescent, then a small sliver. Next a shout comes up from our group of strangers-viewers! The eclipse! Barry takes a short video of the hills surrounding us, it is a 360° sunset and the sky has changed to a dark, dark blue. We are able to take off our glasses to view the sun without them. There is a very bright red section of the ring around the moon and I try to pull my eyes away from the eclipse to look at the stars in the sky, here at 10:20AM. I study the bright silver ring of the eclipse and the realization that this is real, not a film, makes me smile. Quickly, Barry and I take a selfie and hope that something turns out from photos.
So, so quickly, the sun returns. Just a sliver opens up and the whole world is illuminated again. Too short, too quick, it can’t be over!
Later that day, Heather texts us: “Good eclipse? Worth the trek?” I respond: “Yes – No”. Now that I have time to reflect upon the experience, I am very glad that we went to see it. It was really a trek, though.
I started planning this a couple on months ago when I looked into flights all along the Path of Totality (TA-TA-TA!) and also at hotel rooms. Many hotels were already full and there were few flights. Some hotels that still had vacancies were gouging people outrageously for the eclipse viewing date. We really weren’t up for a long drive, and had read that lots of traffic jams were expected, so we gave up on the idea. Then, I saw an article just a couple of weeks ago that listed college dorms that were renting rooms.
My first choice, Western Oregon University was filled, but I completed in an interest form for Easter Oregon University and heard back from them a few days later. They had a package available. For three nights we could rent a dorm suite for $500. I rechecked flights and drive times and we decided to do the 10.5 hour drive to La Grande, Oregon. We planned to stop at 8.5 hours in Boise, Idaho for the night, check out Boise, then drive up to the dorm.
We set off as planned, but got off on the wrong highway. This added two hours to our first day’s drive. It was about 10PM for us, 9PM Boise time, when we looked for a place for dinner. Boise’s population is 223,000, to compare Sacramento has 495,000 and San Diego has 1.4 million residents. Boise is, by far, the largest city for miles around in this area of the county, but it isn’t a large city. I was very curious to see what we would find in Boise. I had never been there.
After that long drive, I was cheered by $4.50 glass of Lagunitas IPA, a Northern California, lovely beer, at a Mexican place near the hotel. (We were at the Lagunitas Brewery just a couple of weeks ago and the beer there was $8, I think. FUNNY!) However, when my “salad” arrived it was only shredded lettuce, that was it, shredded lettuce was a salad. This was not the house speciality, I suppose.
Revived the next morning, we strolled through a unexpectedly large craft and farmer’s market in downtown. The vibe was sort of hipster meets cowboy. Truly, everyone we have met here is very friendly and it’s a nice people place to be. Lots of fun to see local crafts and foods. The downtown is mostly well maintained and handsome, with some old buildings and some monumental, modern ones around them. It reminds me of Salt Lake City.
The Idaho Botanical Gardens are supposed to be interesting, so we made a stop. It is advertised as a local feature. It was “Bug Day” and they had lots of fun activities and exhibits for kids. Happy kids run around the gardens with small butterfly nets, capture insects and line up to show them to an entomologist. Craft tables are everywhere as kids wield scissors and glue sticks in the celebration of insects. There are native gardens, which to my untrained eye look lots like the desert that we’ve been driving through for hours and hours. It’s not a major destination, such as the gardens in British Columbia (Butchart), Portland, Denver, or even Phoenix, but a pleasant diversion.
Barry and I listen to NPR as an optometrist/ umbraphile (one who loves eclipses) is interviewed. He says that seeing an eclipse is like falling in love, and that everyone should have the chance to, at least once in their lives, fall in love and to see a total solar eclipse. Since, I am still gloriously in love with my sweetie, 42 years now, the bar is pretty damned high for this eclipse.
On the road North, I see a sign: “45 PARALLEL, HALF WAY BETWEEN EQUATOR AND NORTH POLE”. The teacher part of me smiles – very, very cool.
We stopped in Baker City. This is the town where we will view the eclipse, it is within the Path of Totality (TA-TA-TA!). It’s a cute little town, we stopped in all the shops that we could find, had lunch and sampled at a vodka distillery. We thought that this was a good indicator that, perhaps, La Grande was even nicer. We thought that a university town might me more artsy or something?
A couple of hours later, we checked into our dorm suite. Nice and clean, the suite had 3 bedrooms that each had a single bed on stilts, a living room, a kitchenette, bathroom and storage room. They supplied sheets, toilet paper and two paper cups. Well, not the Four Seasons. Barry moved the mattresses into the living room, so that we could be together. We reminisced about the times when Barry visited me in my dorm at UCSB, moving mattresses and ..ah good times. We hung up the towels that we brought from home, unpacked our cooler…. So, what’s there to do in La Grande, Oregon? Well, NOTHING!
The University did have the dining commons opened for visitors, but we weren’t invited to use any other facilities such as the fitness center or tennis courts. I had read about hiking in the area, but we nixed the idea of desert hiking.
Went to see a movie, read, walked on campus.
Tick off the box next to “View Solar Eclipse” on our bucket lists, and we just couldn’t face another day in the dorms, though it was paid for and the dining commons might have meatloaf tonight. We decided to cut our trip short a day and book a hotel in Reno. We will take our chances on what some said would be apocalyptic traffic.
What we hoped would be a straight 8.5 hour shot to Reno turned into hours more. There was traffic, but not eclipse traffic so much as a bridge out that wasn’t on google maps, and we were rerouted all over, then repaving in Nevada. Ahwg!
We stayed in Mount Whitney Hotel, a fun non-smoking, quirky place. It has a climbing wall built onto the outside of its multilevel building! The interiors are fun and unusual. (If you have to go to Reno, I would recommend this place. But, I wouldn’t recommend going to Reno to begin with.) No one was climbing on the wall when we were there, but it looks really, really cool and frightening too.
Interestingly, we were across the street from Harrah’s, which looks pretty dumpy. Barry wants to see the Harrah’s car museum and we go into Harrah’s to find it. The museum is actually a couple of blocks away, but I have time to take in the cigarette smoke and loud gambling machines and lots of incredibly sad looking people.
Barry loves the car museum, and I am NOT bored out of my mind, so a win/win. He wishes he had Jon with him so that they could have car talk.
Today, finally home, I’m really glad that we went. It really was a quite a trek, but it could have been worse. I read that Trump is going to speak in Reno this morning. If we had stayed in the dorms and not come a day early to Reno, ugh, we would have been in the same city with him.
Thank you, Universe for the eclipse, it was stunning!