1979 Solar Eclipse

The good news about the 1979 solar eclipse was that the path was just a couple of hours drive by car north of where I lived. The bad news was that it was in February and I live in the Pacific Northwest where winter viewing prospects are dismal.

None the less, Lynn Carroll volunteered to trek over to northeastern Oregon and find us a site. After several trips, he found a secluded hilltop just out of Biggs, Oregon. Perfect! The traffic jam of all traffic jams was coming – there are not many west-east roads across the state so we wanted to be situation somewhere other than the road, stuck in a miles long traffic jam, wondering where the next side road led.

The night before the eclipse we drove over, sleeping in our cars to the accompaniment of heavy rain on the car roof. Could we catch a break in the clouds? Somewhere north of midnight, a line of cars and RVs, bumper to bumper approached our hill. Where did they come from? How did they find “our” location?

We listened through the raindrops to the druid wannabes beating on their drums at the Stonehenge replica war memorial across the Columbia River from us in Maryhill, Washington.

At sunrise (the eclipse was to occur at about 8am local time) we asked. Come to find out that someone had bribed some regulars at the local tavern, said locals coughing up the location of this little known hill that would be just perfect. Once a car or two started, other cars that were driving around in the early morning hours decided to follow. This led to more cars following until a long chain of cars formed. Talk about opportunistic eclipse site hunting!

The rain stopped, we got out our gear and clouds parted just before the eclipse began. This was wonderful for us, not so much for others. We could see across the way to Goldendale Washington where the observatory was broadcasting on NBC news and where a huge crowd had gathered as a huge cloud condensed out of the cooling air and settled in right over the observatory. We could see I-84 along the Columbia River fill up with cars stopped bumper to bumper, fog forming over them.

I had an Astroscan with eyepiece projection setup for astrophotos with my trusty Minolta SRT101. I also pulled the projection tube and viewed the eclipse through the scope. So beautiful beyond words: the redness of the prominences coupled with the beautiful corona stretching out into space.

But not on our hill! We got a great look, all of two minutes and 15 seconds (you see, I was the official timer for our group and we had practiced days before getting through all of our exposures in the time allowed in darkened rooms to simulate the eclipse). Not so for the people up from California who stayed in their RV, watching the NBC news feed that showed a fogged over view of the eclipse. Go figure!

On the way back driving through rain we stopped in The Dalles for lunch where we met some of the Druids dressed in their Playboy Bunny outfits. It was truly an eclipse for all.

Mel Bartels