PAINTED HILLS — As the moon passed over the sun Monday, darkness flooded the valley around Carroll Rim, overlooking the Painted Hills near Mitchell in Eastern Oregon.
“It was like the light got sucked out of the landscape,” said Alan Miller, 56, of Davis, California.
Gasps from the viewers in the valley below echoed off the hills as for a little more than two minutes, the many hundreds of people at the Painted Hills were fixated on a singular thing: what astronomers consider the most spectacular celestial event viewable from Earth.
Some couples embraced; others got chills. One man even stripped fully naked to take it all in.
About 500 people made the three-quarter-mile hike to the top of Carroll Rim, which sits above the red and ocher striations of the Painted Hills, part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. The rim provides a panoramic view into the valley floor below. It was also dead center in the eclipse’s path of totality.
Andy Medina, 21, brought his family here from Hillsboro after researching the location. They got up to Carroll Rim before anyone else at, about 4:30 a.m.
“(I wanted) this exact spot,” he said.
Park ranger Jennifer Cavin said a busy summer day generally brings in a total of 200 people. Monday was the busiest day in the history of the Painted Hills, and it wasn’t even close, she said.
Cavin said cars started lining up outside the gate at around 7 p.m. Sunday night. By 5 a.m. Monday, the line of cars down the road toward U.S. Highway 26 stretched over a mile. Hundreds ditched their cars on the side of the road and walked in.
Jim Steele, 60, came in from Toronto. It was his second total eclipse.
“It sort of gives you deeper connection to the planet,” he said. “I don’t like to sound too Californian, but it really does. You sort of get a sense of space and dimensions.”
Julie Perri, 28, traveled from San Francisco with a group of 37 people that set up on the far end of the rim. They hung out on blankets topless, thumbing a guitar and burning incense and marijuana.
“I’ve been waiting to see one for all my life,” Miller said. “My dad always wanted to see one, and he never saw one, so I am kind of doing it for him. He’s the one who got me into the stars.”
When the top right corner of the sun started to disappear at 9:07 a.m., the crowd all reached for their eclipse glasses, shouting, “There it is! There it is!”
Seventy-three minutes later, the sky went dark. Stars and planets came out, and a group of flying birds suddenly changed direction. The 360-degree horizon glowed.
After the sun returned to the sky, Medina stuttered and stammered, trying to voice a reaction.
“There are no words for it,” he finally got out.
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