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This photo was taken on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. That’s me, watching as the moon moved in front of the sun to create a total solar eclipse.

It’s taken me awhile to write about my experience because I had to process it for awhile to try be able to convey it adequately. By that I mean my experience viewing a total eclipse was so weird that I’ve had difficulty coming up with proper descriptive language.

But let me start by sharing my appreciation for central Oregon, and in particular, the town of Bend, Oregon, where I stayed in the days leading up to the big event. For those who have never visited Bend, I highly recommend it as a tourist destination. It is a bit out of the way, in the sense that it is not accessible via a major highway like Interstate 5, or Highway 101. For those traveling north-south, you get there via Highway 97, which for the most part is one lane in each direction. If you’re coming from the south, you’ll go by Crater Lake, which is also worth a visit. I recommend visitors to Bend add a day onto their travel plans to visit Crater Lake.

Bend is located on the Deschutes River and was previously a mill town for lumber harvested from Oregon’s forests. The mill has since been converted into a riverside tourist attraction that houses shops, restaurants, and breweries. There are also vendors that rent a variety of watercraft such as canoes, tubes, and paddle boards to those who want to get out on the river and float down into the center of town, where the river backs up into what is known as the Mirror Pond. It is a beautiful, bucolic setting just steps from the main commercial area. You can stroll through the downtown area and around the Mirror Pond. It’s very charming.

For those who like beer, there are more than a dozen breweries in this small town, perhaps most notably the Deschutes Brewery, although locals I spoke with like the one called Boneyard Beer. I tried their IPA and it is fantastic. You can go on a tour of the breweries if that’s your thing. Other activities include river rafting, golf, fishing, and snow skiing in the winter. Mount Bachelor is right next to Bend and you can see it from town. I really can’t say enough about Bend. It is one of my favorite places to visit, which is why I stayed there for my eclipse visit. But Bend was not in the “path of totality.” In other words, you couldn’t see the total eclipse of the sun from Bend, which necessitated a short drive north to the town of Madras.

In the days leading up to the eclipse I was following news reports and intel from friends in Oregon regarding the expected traffic around Madras. Some of the reports were quite breathless and predicted a traffic nightmare on the big day. The guy at the registration desk at my hotel said there was a group from Arizona that planned to leave Bend for Madras at 1:00 a.m. to ensure they were in the proper location at 10:00 a.m., when the total eclipse would occur. I decided to leave Bend at 6:00 a.m., assuming that four hours should be sufficient to travel the roughly 50 miles between Bend and Madras.

As it turned out the traffic situation had been over-hyped. That’s because most of the people viewing the eclipse in Madras had arrived there a couple days early and were camping in areas set up by enterprising locals. One such area had tents and RV’s stretching out to the horizon. Another over-hyped story was that the police and the Oregon National Guard would not allow people who were traveling in their cars when the total eclipse occurred to simply pull over to the side of the road to view it. You were supposed to have a pre-determined location for viewing that was other than the road shoulder. I had worked this part out in advance with my Oregon friends and our pre-determined viewing location was on someone’s property just off Highway 97. We arrived at our viewing spot at around 7:00 a.m. and then just waited there for the eclipse. Oh well. Better safe than sorry.

As for the total eclipse experience? It was the most amazing natural phenomenon I’ve ever witnessed. You have to wear the glasses as the moon is passing in front of the sun and all you can see is the moon, which shows up as black, slowly moving over the sun, which shows up as a red crescent. The crescent slowly diminishes to a sliver of a crescent as the moon moves in front of the sun. Then, the sliver disappears and all you can see through the glasses is black.

In the news reports leading up to the eclipse there was a lot of conflicting information about the appropriate eye wear to use so as to avoid permanent damage to the retina. Some reports said “never look directly at the sun without the glasses.” Others said it was OK to look at the eclipse once it had reached totality. I’m not an optometrist, but I can say from my personal experience that you can definitely look at the eclipse once it reaches totality, though I should say that was my personal experience. I looked right at it and suffered no discernible damage to my eyes.

So, I was in a field with about 100 other people from all over the world. There was a couple from Scotland; some people from Australia; a party from Mexico, etc. There were also quite a few locals and cars with California and Washington plates. We were all looking at the event through our glasses until all we could see was black, which meant the event had reached totality. Then, we all took our glasses off at the same time.

Everyone had a verbal reaction to the totality. There was a lot of “oh my God,” along with several “that’s incredible.” Also, “that’s awesome!” There were also quite a few people who uttered a wordless, guttural sound like “gah!” Then, there was what I’ve come to call the “paleo” response. Namely, there were about five people who looked at the totality and screamed. And folks, it wasn’t a scream of excitement, like you might get when a rollercoaster drops from it’s apex. It was a scream of fear: a high pitched shriek of shock and disbelief. I’ve thought quite a bit about this fear response. I can’t believe the people who reacted that way didn’t know, on a scientific level, what was occurring. It’s just that the experience is so…weird, that it bypasses your intellect and hits you on a primal level; something deep and elemental that goes back to caveman days. It made me think about what the reaction was back in the days when people didn’t know, on a scientific level, what was occurring.

When I took off the glasses and looked at the totality I saw a black hole in the sky, with globular light pulsating around the edge. It was a frightening visage, indeed. Also, the ambient light was eerie; not quite like nighttime and not quite like dusk. The effect was similar to what you might see on a cloudless night with a full moon, but it wasn’t quite like that either. As you can see, I’m still struggling with proper descriptive language. I’ve concluded that the problem is that the experience is beyond written description. Photos don’t cover it either. For example, a photo would’t convey the fact that the temperature dropped about 25 degrees (F). It was about 78 degrees just prior to the eclipse, but as the moon moved in front of the sun the temperature dropped quickly, which is why in the photo I’m wearing my Pendleton shirt.

I was so impressed with the total eclipse that I am seriously considering taking a trip to Argentina for the next one, which occurs on July 2, 2019. If you don’t want to travel that far, the next one in the United States is on April 28, 2024. The path of totality goes from Mazatlan Mexico through Maine. The trick will be finding a location where there is the least likelihood of cloud cover, which would ruin the experience. I’m thinking southwest Texas, near the Mexican border, might be a good spot for that one.

 

Road Trip, Part 4

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I’m getting close to a wrap on this series of posts about my trip to Canada last summer. This photo is of a monumental cowboy sculpture at the Calgary Stampede, which is probably the best known rodeo, or what is otherwise billed by the promoters as “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth.” It’s sort of a combination of a rodeo show, a massive county fair and a Canada-centric display of regional pride.

The rodeo itself is a daily competition with the usual events, such as roping and riding, but with one addition that sets it apart from many other such events. The Calgary Stampede includes wagon races, which harken back to the wild west. The wagon races begin with the team, which includes two on the wagon and outriders on horseback, putting away a kettle in the back of the wagon to represent cowboys breaking camp. The wagons then weave around barrels before racing around the perimeter of the rodeo grounds. It’s a charming evocation of rural western culture.

For most people the highlight is the bull riding, which is brutal, impressive and dangerous. I’m quite sure that we saw one young rider suffer a serious shoulder separation getting thrown from a bull. An interesting cultural twist is that some of the best bull riders are from South America, which has a cowboy culture all it’s own.

In the evening there is a stage show with music, dancing and singing. I don’t know if the theme changes each year, but the show we saw was focused entirely on all things Canadian. I actually learned some things about Canada that I didn’t know. For example, which of the four major professional sports was invented by a Canadian? Nope, not hockey. It’s basketball. Ironically, there is only one NBA team in Canada, which is the Toronto Raptors. On the other hand, Canadians represent the second most non-American NBA players in the league. A highlight of the show was the inclusion of aboriginal tribal leaders dressed in traditional costumes. So, cowboys and “indians” all around.

Aside from the rodeo itself, the grounds include lots of other activities you might find at a county fair, and a lot of barbecue. There are several stages with musical acts to keep things lively. It’s definitely worth seeing if you plan on visiting Alberta. A lot of good, clean fun, and a noticeable lack of over-celebration when it comes to alcohol. Oh, and while you’re in Alberta, be sure to go to one of the steak houses. The Alberta beef is fantastic, if you enjoy a good steak.

 

 

The Road Trip, 2

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I took this photo in Glacier National Park, Montana. This is Lake Josephine, in the area of the park called Many Glacier. We were in the park July 9 & 10. The timing was fortuitous because a fire required closure of some areas shortly after we left, including part of Going to the Sun Road. As is so often the case, this photo doesn’t really capture the beauty. My daughter and I agreed that Glacier National Park was a highlight of the trip.

We didn’t have reservations for lodging in the park itself, so instead we stayed nearby in an old school hotel called the Glacier Park Lodge, which opened in 1913. The lodge was constructed by the Great Northern Railroad as part of an effort to bring tourists to the park by train. The rail line still runs right by the hotel. Here’s a photo I took of the lobby.

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Those giant columns that look like tree trunks…are tree trunks. Most of the structural supports are timbers of varying sizes. When we checked into the hotel there were a few details that went unmentioned. For example, there are no televisions in the rooms. Also, no phones. There is wi-fi, but the signal is weak, so if you want to use it you need to go to the public areas. This lack of technology creates a time warp effect and the guests resort to Victorian entertainments like board games, cards, and jigsaw puzzles that are scattered throughout the public areas. Also, many of the guests sit in the public areas and read, or admire the view from the back veranda. For the typical guest who has never been deprived of tech it is jarring at first, but I was surprised at how quickly I adapted to this slower paced environment. It was relaxing and eventually quite charming.

Oh, did I mention that it was Native American week? There was a large pow-wow scheduled in a nearby town, and since the park and the hotel are located on the Blackfoot reservation, no alcohol was served at the hotels and restaurants. So, if you were thinking, well, there’s no TV or internet so I’ll just belly up to the bar and soothe my ┬átech withdrawal, think again. The old-timey environment and lack of booze combined to make it seem like you might be staying at the Overlook Hotel from The Shining. You’ll recall that Jack Nicholson’s character fell off the wagon chatting it up with the ghost bartender in the hotel lounge. We only stayed at the lodge one night. Then it was on to Canada.

By the way, my apologies for the long absence of posts. I had some things going on that required my full attention for awhile.

The Road Trip

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This photo was taken a couple of weeks ago on Interstate 395 in eastern Oregon. As you can see, you won’t have many fellow travelers on this particular road. It’s a good route if you like to drive fast and you’re driving from California to Alberta in Canada.

It’s also a good route if you’re driving with your kid(s) and you want to use the drive time to talk with them, because there’s no cell phone coverage at all. ┬áNo irritating data to distract them. It’s amazing how much you can catch up when their electronics are out of the way. As a single parent I recommend road trips as a way to reconnect.

It rained just as the sun was setting, so we stopped the car and caught some good moments, like this one, which I took with the panorama functionality on my IPhone. If you look carefully at the extreme right of the photo you can see the front end of my car, which faithfully executed a 5K (that’s five thousand miles) without any problems. It’s an Inifiniti FX50S, which is somewhat rare. I’ve only seen two others since I bought it in 2012.

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The main destination of the trip was Calgary, but there were many stops along the way. Why Calgary? Because there’s a very large rodeo there called The Stampede. I have a fond memory of attending the Calgary Stampede on a road trip with my dad when I was about my daughter’s age and I wanted to pass that memory along.

I’ll be blogging about the road trip for the next few weeks, along with some other cool stuff. I’ve been on radio silence for the past few months, for reasons I won’t go into. The good news is that now I have a lot of things to write about. Thanks for reading.