Three-quarters of the way through an hour-long conversation about chasing total solar eclipses, Bend umbraphile Rhonda Coleman pulls a set of welding safety goggles out of her bag.
She bought them in 1991, as she was preparing to travel to Baja California from San Diego to see her first total solar eclipse. She became hooked on the experience, and since then she’s traveled to Bolivia, Aruba, Madagascar, Egypt and Papua New Guinea to see the same phenomenon.
Coleman plans to camp near Madras for five nights before Aug. 21, when the first total solar eclipse to be visible from the U.S. since 1979 will darken skies for a little more than two minutes. As the date draws nearer, Central Oregon residents are starting to realize that hotel rooms are booked, and roads will be clogged with traffic from tens of thousands of visitors. The eclipse is a rare event, but Coleman said that’s not the only reason people go to great expense to see one from a place like the High Desert, where skies are likely to be cloudless.
“It draws people together,” Coleman said. “Plus it’s beautiful. It’s a very shocking event to see it for the first time.”
As a veteran eclipse viewer, Coleman said anyone who isn’t lucky enough to live in the path of totality should have their viewing spots secured by now. And be prepared for an emotional experience.
When it’s over, Coleman said, someone is bound to cry, like she did after viewing an eclipse from the Bolivian Altiplano. “The journey to get there can leave you a little bit vulnerable and drained.”
Coleman owns a big telescope, but said she’s not that into astronomy. She’s more intrigued by the effect that eclipses have on people.
“It is sort of a scary feeling,” she said. “We depend on our sun for everything. You can’t help but feel a little dread when it starts to lose strength, when it starts to lose power, when it starts to dim in the middle of the day — when it’s not supposed to.”
The totality phase has a much larger effect than photos of the blacked-out sun imply, Coleman said.
“Totality seems to fill the sky,” she said. “You see the coronal streamers, which are so much wider and bigger than the disc of the sun. You can see the prominences — the flames — with the naked eye. It’s magic.”
Coleman, who is a travel writer and Airstream trailer enthusiast, said she also enjoys the sense of purpose that an eclipse lends to what might otherwise be a standard vacation.
“For just the short period of time, everybody’s just looking up at once. It’s this beautiful connection to the family of man,” she said.
Coleman and the Oregon Airstream Club began planning an eclipse rally about five years ago. First she called Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa on the Warm Springs reservation and tried to reserve the entire campground. Around that time the resort staff realized why hotel rooms were being booked for a few days in August 2017, Coleman said, and the entire campground was soon no longer available. So the Airstreamers will be camped at Lake Simtustus Resort.
Coleman hopes Aug. 21 creates more umbraphiles. If that happens, she recommends looking up the next eclipse dates on the NASA website and starting to save money now. Another total solar eclipse will cross North America in April 2024, and Coleman said she plans to travel for a better viewing experience. The last one she hopes to view from the U. S. is set to occur Aug. 12, 2045. Coleman will be 87.
She may have been predisposed to the habit. Reading about the 1991 eclipse in a copy of Discover Magazine, she said, “I knew then and there, it was something I was going to do for the rest of my life. I can’t explain it, but it has an addictive quality.”
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