Thursday, September 14, 2017

Burning Man For Nerds: Totality and Solartown (part 1)

Create thousands of campsites, invite tens of thousands of campers with a multitude of cars, add enough gear to fit out a small nation, fly in 400 small planes and executive jets, trek a collective millions of miles, line up hundreds of porta-potties, blend the air with smoke from local forest fires, drive in a fleet of food trucks, throw in scores of bicycles and a couple of imposing NASA satellite trucks.  Stir all together for an extended weekend, then toss that batter out into the desert around Madras Oregon to bake.  Voila!  You have Solartown USA!

11 of our family enjoyed the experience of living in the miracle of Solartown for three days and two nights, for the sole purpose of viewing our first total eclipse.  Our six months of planning paid off as we lacked for nothing.  We even bought a canopy to shield us from the August sun, and it was worth every cent.  We transported all of our food and water, pillows, sleeping bags, tents, chairs, camp-stove, etc.  No outrageously expensive hotels for us!  And no standing in line for meals either, although a few times the porta-potty lines grew long.

 our campsite: 3 tents, 2 cars, 1 canopy
We camped among thousands but it did not feel like we were in a crowd. With one exception that I witnessed, every soul behaved, most kept to themselves on their 20’x20’ campsite, and we were all united in one nerdy purpose: that two minutes of totality on Monday morning, August 21.  I expressed to our camp neighbor that I hadn't known if this event would resemble "Burning Man" or what.  She said, "It's 'Burning Man' for nerds!!"  And she was right-on.

Solartown was birthed on a Kentucky blue grass seed farm, so we were not camping in hot dust, yay.  The grass was killed in 15-foot swathes to create roads between the rows of campsites.  Each campsite was divided from its neighbor by a one-foot strip of killed grass, to create a vast green checkerboard of 20’x20’ spaces.  The sites were tight, but we got lucky by discovering a row of sites that were (mistakenly, we presume) half again as large.  That made for a more luxurious area for our group, which brought three tents, two cars, and a 13’x13’ canopy.

 photo from our drone shows the layout of Solartown; we had 2 adjacent sites for our group

Our local media relentlessly gushed with gloom and doom predictions of 12-hour traffic jams, gas supplies sucked dry, empty grocery stores, etc.  Yet we breezed down to Madras, leaving at 5:30 a.m. Saturday, and made it there in the normal 2.5 hour driving time.  We filled up with gas at Warm Springs, no problem.  What a pleasant surprise.  Contrast that to heading home on Monday afternoon.  Though our traffic-y trip stretched to nearly 4.5 hours on that leg, we relaxed and felt it was a small price to pay for the marvelous experience of viewing a total eclipse.  Madras, population 6,000, certainly knew how to roll out the red carpet for its nearly 100,000 geeky visitors!

Here's a remarkable thing about those who inhabited Solartown: they did not trash the place.  Is that the Oregonian in them?  Well, tons of them sported license plates from CA, WA & BC. On Monday late afternoon after about half the campers had cleared out, I exclaimed that there was not a single piece of garbage left in the campsites. Everyone put their trash in a sack, then either took it with them, or set the sacks in a central spot for collection.

We're looking ahead to totality in New England in 2024😃

 another view of Solartown

 before departing for home

the local fairgrounds featured push-pins and a map to show where visitors originated

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Burning Man For Nerds: Totality and Solartown (part 2)


What can I say about viewing the totality of solar eclipse, except to use every superlative there is?  Magnificent, humbling, breathtaking, spectacular, striking, spiritual, sublime, impressive, awe-some, exquisite. All of these words fall short of describing the experience. I marvel at God's creations each and every day. This aspect of the Creation will always be tops for me.

I have been in several other partial solar eclipses, first when I was about seven or eight years old. There were no eclipse glasses back in the day, so our neighbor cut a hole in a shoebox so that we could watch the progress of the moon covering the sun. 

In February 1979 there was a total eclipse in NW Oregon where we live now, only we didn't live here then. We got close to 99% totality at our home in SW Idaho. It became quite dim outside, streetlights came on, and the air had an eeriness about it. Until this August 21st, I thought our 1979 experience was pretty amazing.

But there's an enormous difference between totality of a solar eclipse, and a 99% experience. They are actually two different things. Knowing what I know now, I would journey far to participate in totality. It's worth whatever effort or cost is involved.

To note the growing darkness, feel the evening breeze kick up, reach for jacket, gape at the sun's flaming corona, behold planets and stars in all their shimmering glory, in the middle of an August morning.

 our granddaughter with her custom made eclipse glasses, easy for a 3-year old to manipulate

 eclipse has begun!

One bonus about our experience that made me supremely happy, is that everyone in our family participated in viewing the phenomenon.  Three of our children and four of our grandchildren were with us in Madras, Oregon. One of our daughters lives in SE Idaho in the totality zone, and her family watched it with a gathering of friends and relatives.  Our daughter's family in Finland watched NASA's online broadcast that originated from the campground where we were staying, so in a sense, they were with us. I'm elated that everyone felt as strong as I did about embracing this (possibly) once-in-a-lifetime event.

Watch our eclipse experience here

[see part 1 to hear all about Solartown in Madras Oregon]