MADRAS — How does a mass of people prepare for a two-minute phenomenon that no one can quite describe? At Solartown, on the northern edge of Madras, the answer involves relaxation, intense bursts of preparation, and more than a little booze.
Solartown, located 5 miles north of Oregon Solarfest past the Madras airport, is a loosely connected collection of tents and RVs spanning miles, all in attendance ahead of Monday’s total solar eclipse.
Shuttles serving Madras were cut off from Solartown on Sunday afternoon, leaving some attendees waiting in the sun for hours. But during the morning, campers from all over the world played lawn games, took turns riding a red-and-yellow hot air balloon in the center of the campsite and counted down the final 24 hours until the celestial event.
Some visitors made the easy day trip from Portland or Seattle to Madras with relative ease. Some, such as Stephen King, 64, made far longer trips to find what astronomers have called one of the best places to see the total solar eclipse.
“There is an emotional feeling of awe for me when that actual thing rolls across, that last few percent (of sunlight),” King said of the eclipse. “It’s like, just a glimpse into the inner works of the universe, being revealed and laid bare to you in a fairly explicit way.”
King, a retired engineer, traveled from Watford, England, to Madras to see his eighth eclipse and to reunite with his childhood friend Stephen Pedvin and Pedvin’s wife, Margaret.
King has seen total solar eclipses all over the world, and said his favorite occurred atop a mountain in Mongolia. Still, he said Madras stood out to him as a particularly good site along the eclipse’s path of totality, thanks in part to the nearby mountain peaks, which will still be in sun while Solartown is shrouded in darkness.
“It’ll look like dawn,” King said.
The atmosphere around the large camp was casual, but at about 10:15 a.m. — when the sun began to approach the position it will be in for the eclipse Monday morning — amateur astronomers and photographers snapped into action. For many, including Marc Milrod and Don Ehlen, who traveled together from Seattle, this meant getting telescopes and mounted cameras in the proper position so they don’t have to scramble the following morning.
During the eclipse, Milrod’s DSLR camera will take photos every 30 seconds, which he will eventually turn into a single composite image of the phenomenon.
Milrod, who had never seen a full solar eclipse, said he was limiting his expectations to “hopefully not going blind.”
While the mood at Solartown was relaxed compared to the county fairlike environment at Solarfest, and the manic energy of Symbiosis to the east of Prineville, the booze was flowing on Saturday and Sunday. Some of the campground’s energy was concentrated at the Leopard Lounge, a collection of around 50 campers who set up a do-it-yourself lounge amid the campsites, complete with a bar top, several inflatable couches, and a dining table for 12 people.
Founder Tré Taylor, a jazz singer living in San Francisco, said the group, which Taylor described as “a bunch of old Burning Man types,” has attended about 20 events together, including the Strawberry Music Festival, in Grass County, California.
When Taylor’s friend Mark Yee, who has been planning for the eclipse since 1991, wanted to go to Solarfest, the Leopard Lounge pulled a group together.
“It’s like two camps that have merged,” Yee said.
The lounge contains a collection of singers and musicians, who were planning a jam session for Sunday night, complete with eclipse-themed vodka mixed drinks.
“We’re not going to party too late, because we want to get up and be ready,” Taylor said.
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