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A cool place to photograph the total solar eclipse

My journey to Oregon was to nail down a great location for my workshop to photograph the total solar eclipse in August. I did a ton of online research and my brother-in-law Bill knows the area and gave me some great suggestions. I spent the day exploring Oregon’s high desert and even though I spent about 10 hours in the car and covered a lot of area, I only saw a small part of the desert. Most people don’t think of Oregon having desert but just like California to the south and Washington to the north, the eastern 2/3 of the state gets very little rain, especially in the summer. Which makes it a great place to view a solar eclipse!

Since the whole astronomy world is coming, I am hoping to find us a great place where there won’t be a huge crowd. Bill pointed out that the Portland area has a million people, they love the outdoors, the eclipse is on a Monday morning and they are less than two hours from where we will be. He thinks that might be a recipe for traffic like at the Woodstock concert.

There isn’t much out here, I saw some birds and a couple of black tail deer and not many towns. One road sign said 94 miles to the next gas station. I thought I was ready for that but my side trip to the painted hills put more miles on the car than I expected and it wasn’t long before I was in fairly desperate need of a refill. I went through a couple of towns that showed up on my GPS but they didn’t have any gas stations. I finally made it to the town of Fossil, a quiet village with a gas station.

Oregon and New Jersey are the only two states where you can’t pump your own gas. Every little town where I filled up had the old analog gas pumps with the numbers that roll over. No need to update the pumps. I talked with Ken as he pumped my gas, he was ready to chat, things are pretty quiet in the middle of the afternoon. Ken pumped gas when he was a teen, went off to college, came home and did some odd jobs for a few years and now he is pumping gas again. “Any job is a good job in this town,” Ken said as he put my gas cap back on. We went inside the station for me to pay and talked a lot more. The town is right in the center of the eclipse’s path and he said many people have rented out a spare bedroom for the weekend. With a sheepish grin, Ken said he was hoping for a couple of young college ladies to be in need of a room.

I love talking with locals because they know the best places to go. Ken told me to go to the top of the mountain and look for a gravel pit just off the highway about 10 miles from where I was hoping our site would be. He told me the view from the gravel pit is his favorite in the whole area and not many people know about it. Cool, this is just what I was looking for. He also said there is a small dirt road down in the valley along the river that is easy to access.

It was about a 30 minute drive to the gravel pit and I had to pass my main spot, so I stopped there first. It is part of national refuge so there are toilets and a few picnic tables right next to towering cliffs they call the Palisades. It is very cool and it will make a great place for us to shoot but I wanted to check out the gravel pit. I crossed the river and drove down the little road along it but it wasn’t anything special so I headed up the mountain looking for the gravel pit. When I started down the other side I realized I missed so I turned around. When I came up over the top again the view was amazing. Ken was right, this is a special view. Since I hadn’t seen another car since I left the gas station, I slowed way down and crawled down the mountain and quickly saw a pile of gravel near the road. There were tire tracks worn into the dirt and right away was a fence and closed gate with a couple of No Trespassing signs. Damn. If I was shooting the eclipse by myself, I’d jump the fence but I can’t take a group of 10 people onto posted property. I looked around for a phone number but couldn’t find anything. The gravel pit wasn’t going to work.

Back to Plan A. I drove back to my main site and it will be a great location. We will get there plenty early in the morning, photograph the rising sun shining on the Palisades, I’ll cook everyone some of my famous pancakes and of course I’ll have a big bottle of Vermont maple syrup.

August can’t come too fast, this will be a great adventure.

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