Traveling to Totality: A Solar Eclipse Adventure

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TRAVELING TO TOTALITY: A SOLAR ECLIPSE ADVENTURE
By Julie Cohn

Confucius once said that roads were made for journeys, not destinations, but on our summer road trip from Arizona to Oregon for the solar eclipse, the journey and the destination were equally incredible.  Our route through California and Oregon led us from the heart of the desert to some of the most beautiful coastline and mountains in the United States. Our travels took us to iconic landmarks and national parks and eventually led us to a small botanical garden in Silverton, Oregon to camp and experience a once-in-a-life time celestial event.

For my astronomy-loving family, a trip to Oregon for the solar eclipse made perfect sense.  We’ve made similar trips to Joshua Tree National Park to see meteor showers, and Moab to see the Milky Way.  Still, a 1600-mile drive (each way) to rough it in the Oregon countryside was a whole new adventure for us.  I’m more of a five-star resort kind of gal, but with every hotel, motel, Airbnb, and RV booked in Oregon at least six-months in advance, camping was our only choice.  We found a camping spot for rent at Oregon Garden, bulk shopped camping gear on Amazon, and never looked back. 

My son and I started our trip a week before the eclipse, driving from Phoenix to Los Angeles the first day, with an overnight stay in Pasadena.  Determined to relish indoor plumbing and a comfy bed for as long as possible, we “camped” out at the Westin Pasadena, enjoying dinner and a stroll through historic downtown Pasadena with a family friend.  Did you know cheeseburgers were invented in Pasadena?  Our dining choice for the evening, Russell’s, boasted the best burgers and pie in town, and our mouths were too full to argue this claim.

The second day of travel was longer, an eight-hour drive from southern California to north of San Francisco.  A destination for the night was the Auto Camp Russian River in Guerneville, California.  Nestled in gigantic redwood trees, near wineries and white-water rafting, the Auto Camp is a unique lodging experience in airstream campers and canvas tents. As inexperienced campers, I thought a night glamping in the redwoods would the perfect way to get used to camping for the eclipse, but with amenities such as electricity, lighting, and plush king size beds in the tents, and fluffy towels, luxury toiletries, and gourmet coffee in the group clubhouse, we weren’t exactly “roughing it”.   After a quick campfire of s’mores, we settled into cozy beds (with electric blankets) to sleep under a canopy of a million twinkling stars.

Our journey the next day took us through Northern California and the Southern Cascade Mountains, past Mt. Shasta.  An active volcano, Mt. Shasta towers at 14,149 feet above the pines in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  Temperatures hovered around 95 degrees at ground level, but Mt. Shasta, the second highest peak in the Cascades, was still snow-capped. Another five hours in the car and we finally arrived in Portland, where we spent two days getting ready for our big campout.  It was in Portland that we met my husband at the airport. 

While in Portland, we made sure to visit some of our favorite spots. Powell’s Books, one of the largest independent book stores in the country was top of our list.  We also made stops to Stumptown Coffee, Mother’s Bistro, and Blue Star donuts for a special edition Eclipse donut – strawberry custard filled with dark chocolate icing and edible gold. 

Oregon news warned of long traffic delays and gas shortages on the days leading up to the solar eclipse, so the morning of our camp check-in we woke early, filled the gas tank, and took back roads from Portland to Silverton.  Fortunately, we avoided most of the traffic and made it to our campsite at Oregon Garden in 45 minutes.

Oregon Garden, an 80-acre botanical garden northwest of Salem (and in the line of totality for the solar eclipse) boasts one of the largest collections of dwarf conifers in the United States, as well as rose, serenity, sensory, and children’s gardens.  With access to all the gardens during our stay, we could not ask for a more beautiful place to witness the solar eclipse.  We set up our campsite, then explored the gardens, including The Gordon House, the only Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house in Oregon. 

The morning of the solar eclipse was sunny and warm, with a light breeze.  A bumblebee flitted from clover blossom to blossom, unaware of the day’s festivities.  An anxious excitement buzzed through the campground, as campers set up their telescopes and camera equipment to capture the main event.  At about 9:05 a.m., the moon began its journey across the sun, and everyone put on their solar eclipse glasses. 

Being in the center of totality was a unique experience and it is difficult to put into words what we experienced that morning.  The sky began to turn reddish-orange, and just before the moment of totality, the red blossomed into a dark hazy purple.  Shadows got longer, the air grew noticeably colder, and the birds grew quiet. At the first moment of totality, a hush fell over the entire campground, everyone stood in awe of the sight above them.  The stars started to twinkle in the purple sky and we could see Mercury and Jupiter.  Think about that a moment…. we could see stars during the day!  As the moment of totality ended, beams of light peeked around the edges of the moon.  This phenomenon, known as the “baily’s beads” was the proverbial icing on the cake. A cheer arose from the crowd as I wiped tears from my eyes.  This was truly one of the most unique and incredible experiences of our life! 

After the solar eclipse, we packed up our campsite and worked our way along the coast of Oregon, stopping in Cannon Beach to see the famed Haystack Rock, Tillamook to sample cheese, Yachats to walk among the craggy tidepools, and Heceta Head to see an authentic lighthouse.  It was time to head back to Arizona, but we made one last side trip to Crater Lake National Park.  Summer wildfires made the air hazy, but we still enjoyed gorgeous views of the dark blue lake. A caldera lake formed in the remains of a volcano, Crater Lake, at 1,949 feet deep is considered the deepest lake in the United States. 

Three days later, we pulled into our driveway, exhausted from traveling.  Twelve days, 3,499 miles, 2200 photos, and countless memories to last a life time.  The road trip was a journey to witness the splendor of nature’s wonders, on earth and in the sky, to marvel at the gifts of the universe. What an incredible adventure it was!

A member of the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association, Julie has over 20 years of travel experience as a former travel agent and meeting planner, writer, photographer, and as publisher of www.ACorkForkandPassport.com.

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