7 Perspectives of the Eclipse from the Atlas Obscura Eclipse Festival

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My car companion for the last two hours, and B&H Social Media Manager, Michael Hollender handles our SUV deftly around a bend in the dry dirt road. As we clear the hill, we see the recently vacated cow pasture below us. Nestled in the desert valley is a colony of dedicated workers frantically erecting stages, scaffolds, and tents of all sizes. The gentle whir of a generator can be heard across the field.

Above photograph © Michael Hollender

LandscapeChristopher Witt

These are the very early stages of what would become the Atlas Obscura Eastern Oregon Total Eclipse Festival—or “Nerdstock,” as I like to call it. All day and most of the night on Friday, August 18, and Saturday, the field is transformed into a festival that would culminate in experiencing, for many there, a once-in-a-lifetime event: a total solar eclipse.

       

Matt Hill, National Parks at Night

As an avid amateur astronomer for more than 20 years, the fact that we’d essentially be camping in a field filled with cow patties and swarms of ravenous mosquitoes, without running water or cell and Internet access, felt like a small sacrifice to be a part of such a momentous event. Now that we’re all back home and showered, I spoke to the B&H road crew members who went with me to that field in Durkee, Oregon (plus a couple of Atlas Obscura people who helped put the whole thing together), to get their perspectives on the event.

Michael Hollender

On the location, Josh Foer, co-founder of Atlas Obscura, had this to say: “We believed we’d picked a location that would give us the best chance of having clear skies for viewing the eclipse during the day. I, for one, didn't realize what an amazing spot we'd picked for star-gazing at night. I don't think I've ever seen so many stars so clearly. Of course, it helped that we had some pretty great telescopes and guides from B&H.”

Matt Hill, National Parks at Night
Matt Hill, National Parks at Night

John Faison (Senior Pro-User Outdoor Marketing Manager here at B&H, and our intrepid leader on this trip), a pro photographer and avid outdoor enthusiast, took the lack of technology and amenities in stride while he worked the crowds like a Kennedy on the campaign trail. John remembers the people most: “I found the culture of the attendees to be my greatest memory. I made many great connections and felt very relaxed, inspired, and deeply connected to almost everyone I was able to speak with. The stunning views and epic depth of the star gazing did, in fact, help solidify the experience, as well!”

Michael Hollender

Atlas Obscura’s Director of Events, Megan Roberts, who organized the festival, had similar thoughts to share: “For me, the highlight of the weekend (aside from actually viewing the eclipse) was having such an intimate and inspiring shared experience with attendees, presenters, and performers representing a variety of backgrounds and interests. Watching prominent scientists and musicians engage in in-depth conversations about astrophysics and the possibility of parallel universes, and witnessing how we all came together to create a community built around the awe and wonder of space, the cosmos, and the natural world we live in—that was really special, and something I'll remember for the rest of my life.”

Matt Hill, National Parks at Night

For Christian Domecq, Senior Pro-User Marketing Representative at B&H, it was his first looks at the sun that struck him deeply: “Leading up to the Eclipse, we had a couple of iOptron solar telescopes set up for people to look at the sun safely. For many, myself included, this was the first time looking directly at the sun with any magnification. We could clearly see sun spots on the surface, which was interesting enough. However, my favorite moments came as people learned those spots were each about the size of the Earth. Watching as people wrapped their heads around the massive scale of it all, and being humbled by this myself, definitely left me with a deeper sense of awe than I had anticipated.”

Michael Hollender
Michael Hollender

Joel Lowy, one of the principal people involved in B&H’s educational efforts for the eclipse, summed up the stages leading to Totality this way: “In terms of time, experiencing a total eclipse was pretty surprising—it takes a while, but then it’s over in a flash. A few minutes before ‘contact,’ a friend showed me how the moon was hovering just above the sun. There are the shouts welcoming the very powerful ‘first bite.’ I found it very exciting. It's when the moon seems to take a very firm foothold on the sun.

Michael Hollender

“Then there is kind of a lull as we go partial.

Michael Hollender

“Towards the second half, there is tremendous anticipation. Then, as we go to 80-90%, the little thin part of exposed sun looks like a hot, fiery metal shaving. It's just beautiful.

Michael Hollender
Michael Hollender

“Then it gets cold and dark, and [then,] Totality. Glorious, glowing, luminous Totality. 2 minutes. It's a whirlwind. It's so busy and exciting. You don't know what to do with yourself.

Michael Hollender

“Then there is the very powerful diamond ring. I felt it like a force, like a powerful kick of light, a pure glint. It was the highlight.

Michael Hollender

“And then, for the rest of second partiality, nobody even looks up. Its gets warm and bright again, and the day is regular again. It's shocking how quickly we fall back into place. There just is no aftermath. There is a definite finality to this experience which has to be part of it.”

Matt Hill, National Parks at Night

For Michael Hollender, B&H’s Social Media Maven, being off the grid with the lack of Internet access was a blessing in disguise. “Taking the Internet away from someone who lives on social media was difficult at first, but it allowed me to disconnect, relax, and make real connections with the amazing Atlas Obscura attendees from around the country. When I finally got cell service after the event, I had over 100 text messages! Instead of diving right into them, I decided to wait an extra hour or two and enjoy the drive through the Eastern Oregon high desert.”

Michael Hollender

Hollender adds: “The anticipation to photograph the solar eclipse was off the chains! I was quite stressed with no experience photographing an event like this. After Totality and a quick image review and confirming my images were in focus, a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. That adrenaline rush of relief and a surprise second set from Sun Ra Akrestra turned into a big celebration. Some attendees rushed off to beat the traffic but most were dancing and enjoying a final few minutes of the sun and moon and the many new friends we all made.”

Matt Hill, from National Parks at Night, did what turned out to be one of the stand-out activities of the festival: Light Painting. Here’s a time-lapse he put together from it.

As a life-long nerd, I found that the hundreds of people who spent the weekend in anticipation of the eclipse to be my favorite part of the trip. Whether I was talking to two older women (those awesome cousins, Alex and Abby) or a young man and his sister’s boyfriend, they all had a passion for science and astronomy. Being someone who often watches the eyes of their audience glaze over when I’m talking about astronomy, it was amazing to see eager faces with glittering eyes as they enthusiastically took up the thread of the conversation we were having. I got the feeling that in that group of 450+ people, many of them felt—maybe for the first time in their lives—that they belonged… that they weren’t weirdos or geeks. They were finally the normal ones. Speaking from experience as someone who absolutely felt that way, it was glorious in its unabashed nerdiness.

The moment that I’ll most treasure, again besides the eclipse itself, was on Saturday night when I got back to our gear from dinner. The solar telescopes had been left on and tracking the sun. Someone happened to look through the eyepiece as the sun was setting behind the mountains and, through the solar filter, the trees were back-lit. I hastily took the eyepiece out of the drawtube, grabbed my Canon EOS and threw my telescope adapter onto it, then jammed it onto the telescope—I quickly focused as best as I could in the fading light and caught the following picture:

Christopher Witt

All of us in that field in Oregon were touched on some level—call it spiritual, existential, emotional, personal, whatever—and having spent days with those people, both the Atlas Obscura staff and festival attendees, we are now bonded in friendship and the shared experience of witnessing a truly wondrous event: a total solar eclipse. The actual eclipse was an amazing sight to behold and I plan on being somewhere in the path of Totality in 2024, with my wife and (as of this writing) soon-to-be-born daughter—and so should you!

Michael Hollender

What was your stand-out experience from witnessing the most viewed, the most photographed, the most studied, and the most shared astronomical event in human history? Comment below and let us know—we’d love to nerd-out with you here.

31 Comments

Christopher,

It's been two months now sine the eclipse and I am still in awe of what my wife, friends, and I experienced that day.  We made plans about a year ago for our friends, who own a large RV, to travel up to Madras, OR, and camp out overnight in one of the fields set aside for the purpose.  We were north of the town, across the highway from the airport (I was amazed at the last minute air traffic landing for the event that morning), with about a hundred thousand of our new best friends!  We were also concerned about smoke from the nearby fires and had made contingency plans to go to my niece and nephew's home in Gates, but fortunately, it wasn't necessary.  We were on the south edge of the field full of other RVs, busses, cars, tents, and open campsites so we (looking southeast) didn't see much of the activities around us leading up to the event, but we could here the excited yelling when first bite happened and the momentary, awed, hush at totality, followed by cheers and huzzahs!  Thanks to B&H and a last minute order for a 95mm solar lens with an adapter ring down to my 82mm lens I got some great shots!

I think the most amazing aspect of the eclipse for me was, again, facing southeast, watching the earth darken until, just at totality I observed the racing shadow come from behind me and sweep across the landscape for the split second it took, at 2000 miles an hour, to cover the ground in front of me as far as I could see!  And then the corona!  What an incredible experience!  I am already making plans for a reunion for my wife's family in Texas for 2024 to share the eclipse with them as well as see my second one.

Rob

AMAZING experience...made all the better because you were with family and friends. Thanks for sharing

I had great luck getting photos near Carbondale, Illinois. No clouds during the entire full eclipse. An event that was well worth the trip from Minnesota to southern Illinois.

Dale.

Hi all,

We were in Casper and were horrified when clouds started to move in just before the eclipse.  They were cirrus clouds, though, and just put up a thin veil in front of the sun and moon.  The view was breathtaking, but photography was less than ideal.  All of the spectral highlights had halos around them.  I got some interesting, but strange shots. I only spent 30 seconds photographing, but I wish I had spent that precious time just looking.

Scott 

Scott,

I’m sorry you had clouds - that is apparently one of the dangers experienced by many eclipse chasers - eclipses can cause clouds to form from clear skies (the rapid cooling of the air can cause water vapor to condense) or blow clouds away (the cooling can cause the ground to release stored heat and create convection currents in the area of totality that push the clouds out of the way)...it's a weird phenomenon that is difficult to predict with any accuracy. But at least it wasn’t a complete bust, right?

We had our cameras on tracking mounts (iOptron SkyGuider Pros) that were set up and tracking before the First Bite…that way we were able to just hit the remote shutter releases. We only lost the time it took to remove our solar filters at the start of totality, so that gave us a lot of time to sit back and experience the eclipse.

Here’s to hoping for better weather during the next one on April 8th 2024!

I had no plans to photograph the eclipse, knowing it would fall during my two-week visual artist-in-residency at Mineral School in Mineral, Washington, near Mount Rainier, and that I would not be in the path of totality. About three weeks before I left my home in Olympia, it dawned on me that it was still a great opportunity to photograph 96% totality, so I ordered a 95mm solar filter for my AF-S Nikkor 200-500mm lens. It was back-ordered, but luckily B&H expedited my shipment and it arrived two days before. Kudos, B&H!

I was one of four artists in residence, the other three writers from the Seattle area. A local photographer, who was my guide for lesser-known shooting locations around the area, knew a good spot for observing the eclipse. Seven of us decided to camp out Sunday evening at this "Eclipse Heights" campsite off Forest Road 2150 in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Our shooting position atop a rocky outcrop above our campsite gave us unobstructed views of the southeastern sky, with a grand vista of Goats Rocks to the east and Mount Adams to the south.

That night we shot the sunset on Mount Adams, then star trails, and tried light painting large trees that framed the Big Dipper and Polaris. Rising early the next morning, I made a few shots of the rising sun as it cleared a forested ridge with tall Douglas Fir trees silhouetted clearly against its golden disk. Then we sat back to enjoy the solar eclipse with mimosas and snacks.

I made about 170 images over the course of two-and-a-half hours, and while we didn't see totality, it was spectacular. It got noticably cooler at near-totality, and while it did not get completely dark, the light faded enough that night hawks stirred and flew from their roosts.

I'm now making some sequential composite images of the eclipse. I'm really pleased with the results so far, despite not having seen 100% totality. Had it not been for my residency in Mineral, I might have braved the crowds in Oregon, but as it turned out, I had a truly memorable first solar eclipse experience in a beautiful part of my state with six great people - Anthony, Chris, Michele, Putsata, April, and Dana. Maybe we'll plan a solar eclipse reunion for 2024!

Thank you for sharing - what an amazing story! That scenery sounds truly awe-inspiring and if your pics are anything like your descriptions of them, we'd LOVE to see them!

Follow the link below and post them in the comments, please!

https://www.facebook.com/bhphoto/posts/10155190464117982

we were about 200 yards from center line outside of Madras OR - had planned for 2 years to try this was not disappointed what a spectacular sight - I was surprised that the whole area tried to evacuate all at once once the totality had passed - I had 3 cameras set up and shot from beginning to end and am really grateful for some of the instructional info that B&H put out in advance of the event - helped with the camera setup - great experience and now we are thinking of future events 

Marcy - on behalf of the B&H team that helped put together the eclipse articles and product page, Thank You for your kind words. If we helped you experience and capture the eclipse, then we accomplished what we set out to do.

Please feel free to comment on the thread below and post your pictures of the eclipse and the gear you used - we'd love to see them!

https://www.facebook.com/bhphoto/posts/10155190464117982

Thanks for reading and commenting!

Words and pictures cannot capture the experience of being in the umbra of a total eclipse.  
Amateur astronomer for 60 years, I saw my first eclipse from Makanda, IL.  
However, the photos do revive the feeling of being there.  

I agree...there really aren't sufficient words to really express the sight and the emotions. I find myself scrolling through my phone and looking at the pics and just letting the memories and feeling wash over me time and again. It's something I'll never forget.

Thanks for commenting!

Vey nice phots. I have been an amateur astronomer for 40 years. We had anticipated photographing the eclipse from the South Carolina coast north of Charleston. However, the weather forecast was poor on the morning of the 21st. So we headed 150 miles Northwest to Newberry, SC. The town was having an eclipse festival, and the weather was very promising. We were very well equipped with a Questar telescope with Sony Ar ii coupled to the scope. Focal length was 1380 mm at F16. Our photos are equally spectacular. All in all a fabulously sucessful trip.

We've heard a lot of stories from people who had to adjsut their plans based on the weather - we were fortunate because most of the day and night on Sunday we had heavy cloud-cover (we didn't bother setting up our nighttime scopes it was so bad)...but at around 4am the clouds blew away and we were left with blue skies and virtually zero humidity!

Please post your pics in the comment on this facebook thread - we'd love to the eclipse shots and maybe some of your gear!

https://www.facebook.com/bhphoto/posts/10155190464117982

I had planned ahead and had decided to fly from Dallas to Kansas City and view the event from the area. I had found a nice location in a small town in the path called Lathrop, MO. Sunday was our flight at 10am, and after checking the weather day after day, I was nervous that Sunday because chances of cloudy skies in that area were very high. I had like 4 weather apps! 

Before heading to the airport I called my friend and asked him, if he minded we drove towards Nashville, TN instead. Luckily, we both like road trips, so we changed plans at the last minute. 

Without any hotel reservations, or a definite viewing site, we hit the road and drove about 8 hours and stayed on Jackson, just 2 hours away from Nashville.

By rhe morning of the eclipse, I had decided to drive to Clarksville to avoid traffic into Nashville, and this town was directly on the path. Once we got there, we stopped at a gas station for supplies and found out there was a park nearby with a viewing event. It had a lake and nice trees, and the weather couldn't have been better! Complete clear skies!

We decided to park there and set up there. It worked out perfectly! I got some great pictures with my Sony A7ii and the Opteka 650-1300mm telephoto mounted on an equatorial mount. I also used my a6500 with the 10-18mm for some wide angle landscape shots. And finally, setup an old iPhone to get a timelapse of the event. 

The experience was amazing. Researching, practicing, the uncertain adventure, the eclipse in person! 20+ hours driving and jet lag feeling the days after, were well worth it. And I'd do it again. 

Except the next eclipse will be in Dallas. :cool:

Ben

What an amazing road trip! I know people who spent years planning for the eclipse and didn't have as good an experience as you and your friend did! Luck certainly shone on you two!

We'd LOVE to see your pics both of the eclipse and of your gear (if you have).

Post them in the comments on this FaceBook thread and we'll check them out!

https://www.facebook.com/bhphoto/posts/10155190464117982

What a great story you two have! So memorable on so many levels!

I was 20 miles north of Madras, Oregon.  The terrain looked very much like your area, dry, brown desert.

We were bedeviled by smoke from the Sisters fire, but the thin layer of smoke did nothing to dim the eclipse.  It was spectacular!  I love that it got cool and dark a couple of minutes before, then...Totality!

The drive back to Sacramento took two days.  The traffic was monumental!

Oh, man! Two-days!?!? We heard traffic was terrible going south! One of the attendees had a thermometer and she was calling out the temperature every 15-20 min. Between the start of the partial and peak Totality, the temp dropped almost 20-degrees! It was very strange - especially after four days in the high desert.

Thanks for reading!

A wonderful explanation of the experience -- especially the startle we all felt as the sun burst through at the end of Totality,  and then how we barely bothered with the rest of the eclipse except for the ritual dozen photos.  We were in Paducah, KY at a friend's house surrounded by open fields. 

I would love to show you the incredible photos I tood with my new Sony HX 80 that I just bought from you (along with most of the other equipment I used that day from glasses to binoculars to tripods, etc.). Superior equipement and within my budget.  Everyone is amazed that these photos were made with the little point and shoot. In fact they look very similar to the photos in this article! Quite amazing considering that we were at an altitude of 400' with a lot of humidity and 98 degree temperature.

Let me know how to send you some of them!

How great was it to be in private setting with open field around??? That sounds like an amazing and intimate experience.

We'd LOVE to see your pics...we're really intrigued by what you used and what you got..and also, thanks for shopping with us :) !

Follow the link below and post them in a comment...be sure to include what you used!

I look forward to seeing them!

I stayed in the Washington, DC area and we got an 85% Partial Eclipse.  It got a little darker, definitely cooler and a constant breeze when we had our Total Partial.  I used the Mylar filter my twin brother Donald purchased from B&H a few days before the event while he drove down to Nashville to get the Total Eclipse.  Only thing was, he forgot to remove the filter for the 2 minutes of totality and screwed up getting the outter glow and the diamond effect.  I just laughed at him when he returned.  Thanks for sharing all of the great images.

He forgot the filter? OH NO!!!! Well, hopefully he'll remember in 2024! I spoke to a pro eclipse chaser and a number of years ago she had travelled to Antartica for an eclipse - and neglected to turn her camera on! My colleage Todd Vorenkamp was in Nashville, too. Here's his recap article from his trip:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/explora/photography/tips-and-solutions/8-lessons-learned-when-i-photographed-total-solar-eclipse

Thanks for commenting!

I viewed the the event from the Crane Trust, a nature preserve just outside of Hastings, Nebraska. The City of Hastings organized the event and about 150 people participated. A wonderful gathering of people from all over the U.S. and beyond. A beautiful and fantastic moment - plus we weren't beset with traffic jams and other indignities. Central Nebraska was a great place to witness the event. I did take nice picture -- Fujichrome in a Canon AE-1 fitted with a 24mm Canon lens, wide open at about 1/30th. 

John - 150 people is a nice size gathering...not too big yet still with a nice sense of community. The fact that you weren't clogged with traffic is a huge benefit! Glad you had a great experience and great weather!

If you want, post the pic on social media on tag us #bhphoto! We'd love to see it...

Thanks for stopping by!

I spoke to our Social Media manager, and he said to go to this thread and post your pic in the comments :)

https://www.facebook.com/bhphoto/posts/10155190464117982

With a few thousand (hundred thousand?) campers in Madras, Oregon. My second total eclipse. Like you, the comraderie among those around me made the whole thing extra special. Lots of cheering leading up to the first diamond ring. Then whoops and hollars settled into relatively quiet awe as the majesty of it engulfed us. More yelling and disapointed sighs when totality ended. You could tell the truly devoted by those who yelled out when the moon released it's last bite of the sun an hour later. Our camping neighbors basked in the glory of it for a while longer before facing 7 hours of stop and go traffic leaving town. I was silently cursing my cousin in nearby Eugene who said she wouldn't go the few miles north into totality. Later I discovered that perhaps my shaming convinced her to make the journey. Why won't the hotels let me make reservations now for 2024?

Great recap, Bill. While I'm not generally a proponent of shaming - I'm glad you were able to persuade her to make the trip to Totality! Luckily the roads between Durkee, Oregon and  Boise, Idaho (where we flew out of) were pretty clear by the time we headed out. We had to pack up all our personal gear, photo gear, and telescopes and pack the vehicles so I think we missed most of the madness. And I agree...it was odd how many people just ignored the second partial - like there was this huge release of energy with the second diamond ring, then they were done. I spent some time looking through my solar scope for the second partial, mostly bcs I had the time to myself that I didn't have during the first.

Thanks for reading and commenting. See you in 2024!

excellent piece. wish I had b een there - we got about 88% eclipse from my deck - maybe next time. 
 

You have another chance in 2024! Start planning early and get to Totality if you can! Thanks for the comment!

We didn't have crowds on the drive to Nebraska or at the location where we watched. Our shared experience was with only a few other eclipse viewers nearby, but it was so cool to share the incredible moment when totality began with strangers who were all expressing the same emotions and awe. Even my hard-to-impress, stoic teen was nerding out with me! I'm so glad we decided the day before the eclipse to make the drive into totality instead of staying at home with only about 90%. http://www.hpj.com/rumbaugh/blog/standing-in-the-moon-s-shadow/article_7...

Thanks for reading and commenting, Shauna! Smart choice to make the trip - think what you would've missed! I find it amazing to think about all the millions of us who witnessed the eclipse - yet you were still able to keep it quiet and intimate. There's a poetic dichotomy in that experience!

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