“Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia to see the total eclipse of the sun.”
Those are lyrics from Carly Simon’s iconic song, You’re So Vain, written in 1971. Apparently she was referring to a 1970 solar eclipse visible from eastern Canada. (The vanity part was all about Warren Beatty.)
On Aug. 21, just 11 days from now, folks in the Portland area won’t need a Learjet to see a similar celestial event. But, unless you’ve planned ahead – WAY ahead – you will need a dollop (or a bucket load) of luck to see the whole show.
And what would the complete show entail? The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) describes Aug. 21’s total eclipse this way: “For about two and half hours, daytime will gradually yield to dusk – and to darkness for about two minutes – as the moon passes in front of the sun.”
Because this is FrugalPortland.com, I want to add here that this is the big FRUGAL event of the summer (actually of the decade, and beyond)! Gazing at the sky and its heavenly bodies – the sun and the moon, in this instance – is absolutely FREE (at least currently :).
Are you ready for the Great American Eclipse of 2017? Here’s what you need to know.
# 1. This is a BIG DEAL
I fully realized this when my sister told me that a friend of her husband’s was flying in from Japan, staying with them in Portland, and then renting a car and driving to Salem on Aug. 20 so he can witness a pristine and pure TOTAL solar eclipse the next morning (he made his Salem hotel reservations almost a year ago).
Again, holy cow.
Being witness to a total solar eclipse is, almost literally, a once-in-a-lifetime event. The last total eclipse visible from Oregon was in February 1979 (Portland was at the epicenter of that one; alas, it was cloudy). The next eclipse that rivals this one – cutting across the state – will be July 25, 2169.
I don’t think I’ll get to see that one.
So, yes, this is, indeed, a once in a lifetime opportunity.
# 2. A (Very Brief) Primer on Eclipse Basics
According to NASA, “Anyone within the path of totality can see one of nature’s most awe inspiring sights – a total solar eclipse. This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere – the corona – can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.”
So what is the “path of totality?”
It is the path (in the neighborhood of 100 miles wide) that the moon’s shadow follows across the earth during a total solar eclipse. This is what it will look like for this eclipse:
Now you know the BAD news: Portland is NOT in the “path of totality.” It is, however, not far from it and you will certainly (given a cloud free day) have a front row seat on a magical partial solar eclipse. And not just partial as in halfsies or quartersies – Portland’s eclipse could be up to 99 percent, according to NASA.
# 3. Obstacles to a 100 Percent View
Let’s say you would prefer to have the complete eclipse experience. You’re probably thinking, “No prob. I’ll hop in the car at 6 or 7 a.m. and zip down to Salem.”
Er, no, you won’t. ODOT’s estimate is that over one million visitors are coming to Oregon to view this celestial spectacle. Added to that is the possibility that much of Portland (and even Seattle!) may try to head south on I-5 – and myriad other roads and highways – and you have a logistical nightmare. According to ODOT, Aug. 21’s eclipse fallout will be “the biggest traffic event in Oregon history.”
ODOT’s advice? “Arrive early, stay put during the eclipse and leave late afterwards.” They also urge travelers to “Plan ahead for your basic needs such as food, water, gas for the car and bathroom breaks in case you’re stuck in traffic.” (So, um, bring a porta-potty?)
Finally, they suggest using TripCheck.com or calling 511 before you travel.
It’s hard to predict how bad the traffic will be – but prepare for the worst (as noted above).
# 4. Safety First
Along with safety on the roads, you will want to protect your eyes.
NASA has a ton of information on this topic: You do NOT want to gaze at our sun for several minutes to an hour or more without protection. This is true whether you have a front row seat in Madras – or you’re just hanging out in your backyard in PDX. (The ONLY time that you should look at the eclipse without protection is during that fleeting minute or so of the total eclipse, IF you’re lucky enough to be in the path of totality.)
The easiest approach is to snag a pair of eclipse glasses or other solar viewers that NASA has deemed “compliant with the ISO 12312-2 international safety standard.” Call around to see if any of your usual (or unusual) shopping spots have them (Fred’s had plenty as of Aug. 8).
You can try to order some online – but, again, you could have waited too long for delivery.
If you’re arriving to this party a tad late – and no eclipse glasses are to be had – NASA has provided DIY pinhole projector instructions (also deemed appropriate for safe viewing).
# 5. Eleventh Hour Ideas
If your heart is set on the viewing the total eclipse and money is no object, you can see if rooms are still available within the path of totality (highly unlikely). You WILL pay handsomely for your tardiness: Simple rooms at Lincoln City’s Comfort Inn (hardly the Taj Mahal) were going for $1,089 last week.
Hipcamp.com is a clearinghouse of privately held property that opens up for camping – they might still have spots within the prime viewing area:
Remember that you still have to travel to these locales. Traffic could be crazy in the days leading up to the event.
If you opt to stay in Portland, your backyard – or outside, anywhere – may be your best bet. And, if the clouds roll in, you can always connect to NASA’s live streaming event.
# 6. Remember, First and Foremost, This is One of Nature’s Most Awesome Displays
Wherever you are (and however you end up there) when the eclipse occurs, allow yourself to be in the awe-filled moment. It won’t happen again anytime soon.
You may be inspired by what you see to learn more. Take this opportunity to broaden your knowledge of the sun, the moon, and our place in the heavens. NASA has accumulated an abundance of great info at this link.
Marie Sherlock is an award-winning, Portland-based travel writer. Follow her on twitter @SherlockTravels.