One of the most visually stunning astronomical events — a total eclipse of the sun — is going to put on a spectacular show Aug. 21.
With a little bit of planning — and a healthy amount of precaution — eclipse chasers from the Mid-Columbia can find a perfect spot to get the total effect.
When the moon passes directly in front of the sun, a 62-mile-wide path of totality will cut across Oregon just south of the Tri-Cities, then trace a narrow path across the country to South Carolina. The peak of the eclipse locally will be at 10:23 a.m., and it will last for all of two minutes, eight seconds.
The Tri-Cities will see about 95 percent coverage, which means it will get dark but it won’t be total. To avoid serious damage to your eyes, do not look directly at the sun unless you are wearing certified eclipse glasses.
If you head down into Oregon to get into the path of totality, the sun will go completely dark and you will be able to see the corona of the sun streaming hot gasses over a million degrees out into the universe from the total darkness of the moon.
You don’t have to go all the way to the center line of the zone of totality. If you are ten miles north or south of the center line, the total eclipse will still last two full minutes; 20 miles away will be one minute.
Be prepared, plan ahead
The event is drawing people to Oregon from all over the world. The state is planning for an influx of about 1 million visitors for several days on either side of the eclipse, with the National Guard set to provide assistance.
With August a prime vacation season in many areas of the state, officials expect nearly everything to be at and above capacity the entire week. Campgrounds, hotels, motels, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, transportation services and retail establishments: All are expecting a jump in business.
The huge influx of people could tax cell phone reception, so think about old fashioned forms of communications: Tell friends and family where you are going and when you will be in certain locations; print out maps and other documents, and place them in plastic bags for protection.
Plan ahead. Leave on Saturday or Sunday, and figure on spending the night outside as likely everything that takes reservations has been booked for months.
Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere in the Malheur National Forest or on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management. You can drive up a road, find a flat spot and hang out. There is very little water, very little shade, and it is going to be very hot during the day, so come prepared. You will need to be fully stocked with gas, food, snacks and water and be totally self-sufficient.
Getting in the zone from Tri-Cities
Visitation estimates for eastern Oregon indicate that the roads heading south from the Tri-Cities into the path of totality will see some of the lowest eclipse-related traffic in the nation. What this means is that Tri-Citians stand the best chance of getting into the zone with the least difficulty.
Still, leave early and plan on taking your time going and coming back. Drive to your target viewing location carefully. Have a backup location in case it’s crowded. Be flexible once you get there.
Depending on which route you choose, the drive time to get in the zone of totality from Tri-Cities is three to four hours without traffic.
Here are several options with numerous target locations:
Highway 207, Fossil to Mitchell, via Highway 19 south of Arlington.
Visitation estimates: Low (71-283).
Sites: Painted Hills Unit of the John Day National Monument, Sutton Mountain Backcountry Byway, Richmond Road and Parish Creek Road.
Highway 19 at Spray, Kimberley or Monument, via Highway 207 south of Hermiston and Heppner.
Visitation estimates: Low.
Sites: Parish Creek Road, Sheep Rock Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument along Highway 19 south of Kimberley.
Malheur National Forest north of John Day via Highway 395 south from Pendleton.
Visitation estimates: High (3,290-13,162).
Sites: Malheur National Forest lands west of Highway 395 (County Road 28, National Forest 3950 and 3955) and east of 395 (NF 131, NF 3940).
Highway 395 south of Fox via Interstate 84 to La Grande, then Highway 244 south to Ukiah.
Visitation estimates: Medium (618-4,757).
Sites: Malheur National Forest north of Highway 26; National Forest roads northwest of Prairie City.
Highway 26 east and west of Austin Junction via I-84 to La Grande, Highway 244 west, Highway 7 south.
Visitation estimates: Medium.
Sites: Malheur National Forest, Prairie City to Unity
Highway 245 near Bridgeport via I-84 south to Baker City, Highway 7 south, Highway 245 south.
Sites: Highway 245 between Unity and Bridgeport.
Rural roads adjacent to I-84 around Lime and Huntington.
Visitation estimates: Medium.
Sites: The Mormon Basin Highway along Dixie Creek southwest of Weatherby and northwest of Lime; I-84 from Durkee to Huntington.
Viewing the eclipse safely
Use eclipse glasses.
“Do not look at the sun directly,” said Jim Todd, Director of Science Education at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. “To see the event safely, you must use certified eclipse glasses.”
To avoid the risk of permanent damage to your retinas, wear the glasses for the two hours preceding the total eclipse. Make sure you supervise children properly.
“You can only take off your glasses only during totality, when the moon completely covers the sun,” Todd says.
The totality lasts around two minutes, but it's a two- to three-hour event before and after. To view the sun directly during the partial eclipse is dangerous.
Certified eclipse glasses can be purchased online.
One of the most widely available filters for safe solar viewing is a number 14 welder's glass, which will probably be available at any of the welding supply or hardware store.