Location

Map showing path of totality across the Earth

Cridit: F. Espenak, NASA's GSFC (eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov - 2014 Feb 22)

 
NASA map showing path of totality across Oregon
 

 

Map showing limits of totality in Eastern Oregon and our chosen site

We viewed the eclipse from an open meadow site at 44°41’13.9”N/118°33’15.5”W and 6220 feet (1896 m) elevation in a forested part of eastern Oregon south of a prominent peak named Vinegar Hill and about 25 air miles NNE of John Day, Oregon.  At that longitude we were 11.4 miles N of the centerline of totality with the shadow path width extended 102 km or approximately 30.6 miles either side of the centerline.  The duration of totality was 1m58s at our location compared to 2m07s at the centerline of totality for our longitude, a 9 second compromise we felt far outweighed being in a more heavily populated location closer to the centerline with little freedom to move locations on eclipse day had the weather dictated it. Following is a table from the NASA Eclipse website showing the eclipse parameters for our site.

Calendar Date

Eclipse Type

Partial Eclipse Begins

Sun Alt

A or T Eclipse Begins

Maximum Eclipse

Sun Alt

Sun Azi

A or T Eclipse Ends

Partial Eclipse Ends

Sun Alt

Eclipse Mag.

Eclipse Obs.

A or T Eclipse Duration

2017-Aug-21

T

09:09:02

32

10:23:10

10:24:09

44

123

10:25:08

11:45:34

54

1.027

1.000

1m58s

 

 

 

 


Mean Fractional Cloud Cover Graph

Another important consideration in selecting our site was review of statistical meteorological data regarding mean fractional cloud cover amounts along the eclipse
centerline traversing the country.  Our site lies a small amount to the right of Mitchell, Oregon at about a 20 percent cloud cover amount, making it one of the most
favorable sites from which to view the eclipse in the USA. (Credit: Jay Anderson at http://eclipsophile.com/)

 
Photo Credit: Aaron Jurasevich

The night sky at our eclipse viewing site ranked high on the list of darkest sites in the United States with a Bortle sky rating of 2.  Quantitatively that translates into a sky
brightness of 21.89 to 21.93 mags per sq. arc-sec.  Qualitatively that means “faint shadows cast by Milky Way are visible on white objects. Clouds are black holes in the sky.
No light domes. The Milky Way has faint extensions making it 50 degrees thick. Limiting magnitude is 7.1 to 7.5”.  The above image, taken two nights before eclipse day,
shows the extent of the southern Milky Way.  Visually the galactic center was quite bright, well-defined and wide in size, with constellations somewhat difficult
to pick out because of the incredible number of stars visible.

 

The Vinegar Hill viewing site was located at the lower end of this forest clearing at 6220 feet elevation, a 10 minute walk from our campsite in the trees. 
From here we had an unobstructed view of the eclipse from start to finish.

 

View looking WSW from the summit of Vinegar Hill, highpoint of
the Greenhorn Mountains. Grand vistas of Eastern Oregon!

A lush meadow filled with wildflowers on the flanks of Vinegar Hill
 

A herd of Rocky Mountain goats inhabit the high country around Vinegar Hill.  This alpha-male billy allowed me to get within camera range of him for the photo op. 
Because mountain goats have been known to occasionally become aggressive towards humans, care must be taken near these formidable creatures,
particularly during the breeding season and around females with young. The horns are razor-sharp and they can use them to gore potential threats.

 
Approximately one month before the eclipse I made a scouting trip to Oregon and far western Idaho to inspect possible viewing sites selected strictly on the basis of their favorable meteorological data and proximity to the centerline of totality.  Following is the trip report summarizing my findings.  I’ve included here as a matter of interest to
the reader and to show the degree of effort and time expended in selecting a suitable location that offered the best combination of factors to ensure the greatest
chance of success.  Site #6 – Vinegar Hill was ultimately chosen, a site which on eclipse day provided our group with clear skies and very steady seeing
conditions for viewing and photo-documenting the total solar eclipse from start to finish.

 

OREGON/IDAHO ECLIPSE SITES TRIP REPORT

INTRODUCTION

Over the course of four days, from July 19 through July 22, I spent time visiting potential sites in Oregon and Idaho for the upcoming total solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017.  Prior to leaving on the trip I took the latest AAA Oregon and Idaho maps and superimposed the centerline of totality path as well as the extreme northern and southern limits of totality onto the maps, path information taken from NASA’s eclipse site (https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2017Aug21Tgoogle.html) with calculations by Fred Espenak.  This information was used to select several locations to visit for determining viewing potential based on an average azimuth of 121° and altitude of 42.5° at centerline of totality for that region of Oregon and Idaho I’d be visiting.  A total of 10 sites were selected and visited, both above and below the centerline of totality, listed below in order of descending longitude from W to E. The difference in time of totality along the centerline for the area investigated is about 5 seconds with points further E having a longer time duration.

I spent about three hours in total with the rangers at the Malheur National Forest HQ in John Day, OR over a two day period discussing potential sites with them and gathering what information I could on their predictions for eclipse visitation in the area.  They said the current projection is for 20,000 to 25,000 visitors in the John Day area, with arrivals starting to peak around the 16th or 17th of August, which is 4 to 5 days before the eclipse.  Camping at organized sites is on a first come-first served basis and is limited to 14 days, while dispersed camping is allowed for up to 30 days at a given location.

John Day, OR is a small town at the very busy intersection of two US Highways, 26 running E-W and 395 coming up from the south.  There will be a LOT of traffic through here starting some days before the eclipse and probably lasting a few days after it as people disperse.  The town itself has only 3 gas stations, one grocery store, a limited number of small restaurants, a Dairy Queen (but no McDonald’s), a handful of booked-up motels (the Best Western is charging customers $1-1.5K per night during the eclipse week!), and a meager police force.  Nearby Mt. Vernon (9 miles W) and Prairie City (13 miles E), OR have even less to offer visitors.  The infrastructure of these small towns will be taxed to the breaking point in the days leading up to the eclipse.  The Forest Service is bringing in a gasoline tanker to supply their needs during this time so as not to overburden the local gas stations, which hopefully will have enough petrol to meet the needs of visitors.

East of John Day, OR on US Highway 26 one travels through private ranch land before once again entering public land in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, finally emerging back into private ranch holdings E of Unity, OR to the Oregon/Idaho border.  There are essentially no viewing possibilities in the ranch lands area unless one is to simply pull off the road or contract with a local rancher for “renting” space on his or her land on which to camp.  Some ranchers are doing just this, renting out a small patch of ground for around $100 per day.

 

SITES INVESTIGATED

Site #1 – Black Butte OR (44°23’58.9”N/121°38’7.8”W) – Deschutes National Forest

Black Butte is a 6,436 foot peak with a manned fire lookout on the summit located in far W Jefferson County about 9 air miles NW of Sisters, OR.  A standard 2WD vehicle should be able to negotiate the dirt road to the trailhead, although high clearance is recommended.  The trailhead is located at a locked gate at 4900 feet elevation with very limited parking and the round trip hike is about 4 miles with 1600 feet of elevation gain on the continuation of the dirt road.  Limited eclipse viewing because of tall trees.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  7 miles N
PROS:  In the “hotspot” for eclipse viewing according to climate data.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20%
CONS: Limited eclipse viewing because of tall trees.  Because of its proximity to Bend and Madras, OR, the latter being the expected “hotspot” for eclipse viewing based on climate data, the road system in this area will be taxed to support an estimated 250,000 visitors and offer little recourse on eclipse day if one has to travel E for more favorable conditions.  Going W is not much of an option as one quickly runs into the Cascade Range where mean cloud cover predictions go up dramatically.  The artsy-fartsy town of Sister, OR to the S on two lane US Highway 20 is a traffic bottleneck with ongoing road construction and a pedestrian walkway across the highway that has the potential to significantly back up traffic.  During my visit the southbound traffic was backed up about 1 mile from town.   Finally, this site does involve a hike with very limited parking at the trailhead.

 

Site #2 – Grizzly Mountain OR (44°26’16.1”N/120°57’16.6”W) – Just W of Ochoco National Forest boundary

Grizzly Mountain is  a 5,635 foot drive-up peak located in far NW Crook County about 11 air miles NW of Prineville, OR.  A standard 2WD vehicle can drive the road from pavement off US Highway 26 to the summit, although the road is somewhat washboard and is a bit rocky in places.  There is a potential campsite 1.15 miles down the road from the summit but it is marginal at best. Although the summit is populated by many Comm sites with tall antennas, viewing the entire eclipse sequence is quite easy by carefully selecting a proper site.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  14 miles N
PROS:  In the “hotspot for eclipse viewing according to climate data.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20%
CONS:  This site lies just S of Madras, OR off two-lane US Highway 26.  Because of its proximity to Madras, the expected “hotspot” for eclipse viewing based on climate data, the road system in this area will be taxed to support an estimated 250,000 visitors and offer little recourse on eclipse day if one has to travel E for more favorable conditions.  Going W is not much of an option as one quickly runs into the Cascade Range where mean cloud cover predictions go up dramatically.  Too far from the centerline of totality.

 

Site #3 – Black Butte OR (44°32’”N/119°09’33.1”W) – Malheur National Forest

Black Butte is a 6,235 foot peak with a boarded up fire lookout on the summit located in E Grant County about 9.5 air miles N of Mt. Vernon, OR.  At minimum a high-clearance 2WD vehicle is recommended for the 6 miles of dirt road driving to the summit.  The road starts out as excellent dirt and deteriorated to being rocky and rutted for the last 2+ miles, narrowing to the width of one vehicle only for the last 0.35 miles to the lookout.   Good dispersed camping opportunities are available 2.25 miles down from the summit at a place identified on the topo map as Belshaw Meadows at 5,600 feet elevation.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  <3 miles S
PROS:  Very close to centerline of totality.  Unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence from the summit.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%.  Good dispersed camping potential if one arrives early enough to get a spot. 
CONS:  Necessary to drive to the summit for viewing, requiring a suitable vehicle.  Potential for traffic issues on mountain if others plan on viewing from this site.  The Malheur National Forest currently is planning to close the dirt road to Black Butte for the eclipse 0.2 miles before the lookout.  Not much recourse to move E if clouds move in since one would have to travel the two-lane US Highway 26 through the small, one stop light town of John Day, which is expecting a crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 for the event.

 

Site #4 – Strawberry Mountain OR (44°17’25.1”N/118°43’1.90”W) - Malheur National Forest

Strawberry Mountain, the highpoint of Grant County and predominant peak in the entire area around John Day, OR is a 9,060 foot summit with a trail to the top.  The round trip trail stats are 7.4 miles and nearly 1600 feet of elevation gain of which 390 feet are double gain due to the nature of the trail layout.  Located in S Central Grant County about 11 air miles SE of John Day, OR, its trailhead is accessed via a long 36 mile drive from John Day on paved and excellent dirt roads (26 miles paved and 10 miles dirt) on which any standard 2WD vehicle can be safely driven.  The trailhead, signed Roads End, lies at 7,868 feet elevation and is located 0.4 miles before the end of the road.   Dispersed camping opportunities are few and far between to the trailhead but there are a few established campgrounds along the way. Viewing the eclipse from the trailhead is not possible but hiking 1.25 miles of the nearly flat first portion of the trail to a right bend at 7,900 foot elevation brings one to a large flat area perfect for observing the entire eclipse sequence.  An 8,200 foot elevation saddle on the NE shoulder of the mountain 3.3 miles from the trailhead is also an excellent spot.  Finally, the summit offers a commanding view of the John Day area and provides full coverage of the Sun from rising to setting, being an excellent location from which to view the entire eclipse sequence.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  <17 miles S
PROS:  Excellent eclipse viewing site.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%.  The further from the trailhead one get the greater the chances of filtering out the casual eclipse viewers looking for a convenient spot that just means stepping out of their vehicle.  Wide road with adequate room for parking along edge on both sides without impeding traffic.  In the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness area, a scenic region of E Oregon.
CONS:  A little far from centerline of totality.  According to locals this is a popular “south side of the mountain” destination and could be busy on eclipse day although the Forest Service believes the north side trailhead will get most of the visitors because of a nearby lake.  Does require a hike of 1.25 miles on-way at a minimum.  Will the Forest Service keep the excellent dirt road open for the eclipse?  Don’t know and will need to monitor their website and call my contact at HQ in John Day as the event nears.

 

Site #5 – Dixie Butte OR (44°34’56.6”N/118°37’39.0”W) - Malheur National Forest

Dixie Butte is a 7,592 foot peak with a manned (or more correctly a womaned) fire lookout on the summit located in central Grant County about 18 air miles NE of John Day, OR.  A 4WD high-clearance vehicle is recommended to safely drive the 5.25 miles of dirt road to the summit.  The road starts out as good dirt but deteriorates into a rocky and rutted mess that gets progressively narrower as one climbs the mountain.  In a few spots the road is canted somewhat towards the downhill side where a roll-over would likely be fatal.  For the last 1.5 to 2 miles the road becomes truly one vehicle width in size and encountering vehicles coming from the other direction would necessitate someone either backing up or down the road; a scary thought.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  <2 miles N
PROS:  Closest to Centerline of Totality of any site investigated.  Unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence from the summit.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%. 
CONS:  The Malheur National Forest currently is planning to close the dirt road to Dixie Butte for the eclipse 1.6 miles from the lookout.  I heard talk at Forest Service HQ that they may increase the length of this closure after further consideration.  If closed at pavement that would mean a 5.25 mile and 2200 foot elevation gain hike one way to the summit, assuming they allow parking alongside the paved road.  Not much recourse to move E if clouds move in since one would have to travel the two-lane US Highway 26 through the small, one stop light town of John Day, which is expecting a crowd of 20,000 to 25,000 for the event.

 

Site #6 – Vinegar Hill OR (44°41’18.2”N/118°33’19.4”W) - Malheur National Forest

Vinegar Hill, the highpoint of Oregon’s Greenhorn Mountains, is an 8,131 foot peak located in NE Grant County about 27 air miles NE of John Day, OR.  A 13.35 mile dirt road is followed to the summit, the last 5.65 miles of which require a 4WD high-clearance vehicle to safely negotiate.  No need to drive to the summit however since a large forest opening 5.1 miles down from the summit at 6,400 feet elevation has an unobstructed view of the entire eclipse sequence, thus only requiring about 0.55 miles of driving on rocky and rutted road. If carefully taken, this last stretch of road can be done in a 2WD high-clearance vehicle.  Dispersed camping opportunities off spur roads in this area are available as is an excellent hunting camp 0.1 miles past the large forest opening. Side note:  Vinegar Hill has a population of Rocky Mountain goats living on its slopes.  I spotted 6 adults and 1 juvenile resting just below the summit.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  <12 miles N
PROS:  Unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence.  Plenty of dispersed camping opportunities in the area close to the viewing site in the large forest opening.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%.  Being E of John Day there is a greater chance to move E should the weather require it.  Based on my observations of the road system in the area I strongly believe that John Day will be the bottleneck for travel in eastern Oregon.
CONS:  A bit far from the centerline of totality.

 

Site #7 – Bald Mountain OR (44°34’09.8”N/117°50’31.6”W) – Whitman National Forest

Bald Mountain is a 6,668 foot peak located in SW Baker County about 13 air miles NE of Unity, OR.  A 4.8 mile dirt road (signed Skyline Road) from paved State Highway 245 at Dooley Summit is followed W to a 6,200 foot elevation saddle 0.6 miles W of the summit.  The road becomes narrower with more side hill exposure as one drives toward Bald Mountain.  Meeting a vehicle coming along this road from the opposite direction would be problematic in places.  There is however no need to drive to Bald Mountain as there is an expansive flat area 0.25 miles W of Dooley Summit along Skyline Road where the entire eclipse sequence is nicely visible.  Any standard 2WD vehicle could easily make it to this location.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  6 miles N
PROS:  Unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%.  Easy to get to (maybe that’s a CON too).   Huge area that can accommodate a lot of people.  Don’t have to worry about being trapped by a forest fire; there is no forest left to burn.
CONS:  A huge fire burned through this area 2 years ago and decimated the forest.  The viewing site 0.25 miles W of Dooley Summit is not aesthetically very pleasing terrain, particularly if you plan to do photography and include terrestrial features.  No good dispersed camping whatsoever in the area however one can camp in the burned out forest if not particular.  State Highway 245 over Dooley Summit both N and S is a good but steep paved road.

 

Site #8 – Bald Ridge OR (44°35’07.4”N/117°46’36.5”W) – Whitman National Forest

Bald Ridge is a 6,400 foot peak located in SW Baker County about 18 air miles NE of Unity, OR.  Signed dirt road FR 11 (directly across the highway from Skyline Road – See Site #7 Bald Mountain) from paved State Highway 245 at Dooley Summit is followed E for 4.1 miles to a 6,200 foot elevation saddle.  This is an excellent, wide dirt road navigable by any standard 2WD vehicle.  Perfect viewing of the full eclipse sequence is had from this saddle.  As an alternative, drive 2.4 miles E on FR 11 from Dooley Summit to signed FR 051.  Park and walk up the road to Peak 6164, a short hike of 250 feet elevation gain and 0.3 miles one way.  Looks like unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence from this small peak.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  6 miles N
PROS:  Unobstructed viewing of the entire eclipse sequence.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 20-25%. Less burned than the area W of Dooley Summit toward Bald Mountain (Site #7).  Wide, excellent dirt road into the viewing sites.
CONS:  No good dispersed camping whatsoever in the area.  .  State Highway 245 over Dooley Summit both N and S is a good but steep paved road.

 

Site #9 – Big Lookout Mountain OR (44°36’31.3”N/117°16’41.9”W) – Outside of National Forest Land

Big Lookout Mountain is a 7,100 foot peak located in far E Baker County about 27 air miles SE of Baker City, OR.  A 15 mile dirt road leading E from Exit 338 on Interstate 84 south of Baker City, OR is the most bone-jarring, dental-filling loosening, washboard road from hell that you can find in Oregon.  It must have been designed by the Marquis de Sade himself.  Cutting to the quick, the summit area and the road leading to it do not provide views of the eclipse, rendering this area unacceptable for the big event.  Thank God, as nobody should be subjected to the torture of driving that road.

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  11 miles N
PROS:  No redeeming qualities.
CONS:  The road from Hell, no eclipse viewing locations, no dispersed camping potential.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 25-30%, which is tied for worst among the sites I investigated.



Site #10 – Sturgill Peak ID (44°37’11.6”N/116°56’36.6”W) – Payette National Forest

Big Lookout Mountain is a 7,589 foot peak located in far W Washington County, Idaho about 12 air miles N of Weiser, ID.  A 19 mile dirt road heading W from US Highway 95 along Upper Mann Canyon leads to a manned fire lookout on the summit of Sturgill Mountain.  Standard 2WD vehicles could probably get to within 0.5 to 1.0 miles of the summit.  The last 0.4 miles to the top is a serious 4 WD high-clearance adventure with very limited parking at the summit.  Eclipse viewing at the lookout would be OK but trees could certainly block the view just down from the lookout.  Although there is an abundance of dispersed and established camp sites in Upper Mann Canyon, the nature of the terrain in this deep cleft precludes any possibility of eclipse viewing. 

APPROXIMATE LOCATION FROM CENTERLINE OF TOTALITY:  <3 miles N
PROS:  No redeeming qualities except that it’s close to the centerline of totality.
CONS:  Upper Mann Canyon fully packed with Idahoan campers when I was there on Saturday, July 22.  One can only imagine what it might be like during eclipse week.  No eclipse viewing locations.  Mean Fractional Cloud Amount is about 25-30%, which is tied for worst among the sites I investigated.

 

THOUGHTS/RECOMMENDATIONS


Based on what I’ve gleaned from the Forest Service, locals, and my own “boots on the ground” observations, I expect the following conditions along much of the eclipse path and am preparing myself both mentally and with the necessary supplies to cope with the reality of this event.
  1. Big crowds and traffic jams, increasing as the event day approaches.
  2. Limited infrastructure support (groceries, restaurants, gasoline, etc.) as the event day approaches.  My plan is to top off the gas tank in John Day and take a 5 gallon can of gas with me to the viewing site we select in the event it is needed.
  3. More and more limited dispersed camping potential as the event day approaches.  I’m considering going up early to stake out a site for the group.  This will mean being self-contained (food, water, etc.) for a number of days leading up to the event and at least one day after it.  It also means checking backup sites should our first choice prove unavailable and relaying that information to you so you know where we’ll meet.
  4. Depending on the site we choose and get (if lucky), don’t plan on cell phone coverage.  It’s spotty in this part of Oregon, even with my carrier, Verizon.
  5. Check the weather forecast often and being prepared to move if needed.  That, I believe, means being somewhere E of John Day, OR.
  6. I have a favorite site in mind but am not going to divulge it so as not to bias your thinking.  We should all ultimately agree on a location and have a contingency plan with at least two other sites chosen should our first choice prove unavailable.
  7. August is the height of fire season in Oregon.  A wildfire can really put a crimp in our viewing.

 

ATTACHMENTS
  1. Eclipse Path Map courtesy of Malheur National Forest at https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd547122.pdf
  1. Climate Graph courtesy of Eclipsophile at http://eclipsophile.com/overview/
  1. Malheur National Forest Eclipse 2017 Checklist