They say adventure is out there. Well, the 2017 Eclipse weekend was one adventure I knew I had to go after.
After attending a Tom Petty concert Saturday night at Safeco Field in Seattle (little did I know it would be one of his last); I drove with my wife Lindsey across to eastern Washington and down into Oregon towards the Painted Hills, arriving Sunday evening to what was no longer an isolated locale – hundreds of other eclipse seekers had already made a similar trek to this remote area of our state.
It was early evening when we turned off of HWY 26 and began to see huge clusters of people with camps set up along the side of the road heading into the hills. Passing literally five miles of tents and people, we finally arrived at the parking area only to learn that park rangers were closing down the park for the night. We too needed to set up camp and that’s when we realized why everyone else had pitched tents alongside the road!
Having already passed a long line of campers with no spare room for yet another anywhere near the park entrance, I decided to go the opposite direction. As luck would have it, we managed to claim a spot quite near the entrance to the park and settled in for the night. And a short night it was!
Knowing it was going to be a rush by everyone to get into the park, we were up before dawn, completely packed and back to the park gates by 4 am, where the line of cars was waiting to enter the park. The line was packed in either direction leading into the park and at first, we thought we’d missed our opportunity to get a good position. Again, luck was on our side and we spotted an opening near the entrance; a spot that had been blocked off by the police but was now clear. I claimed the spot and there we sat until the rangers let us in at 6 am.
We were the third car to enter the park! It was amazing how everything was working out – almost too good to be true. Once inside the park, though, we had had to ditch the vehicle and hike the rest of the way in. Generally, you can drive all throughout the park, but not for the eclipse. There were simply too many people, so everyone had to hike in to find their viewing and photography spots.
Under normal circumstances, I don’t mind hiking, but this hike was different as I was schlepping two pelican cases full of camera gear and weighing at least forty pounds each! Lindsey, along with her mom and cousin who were making the trek with us, were also each carrying tripods. Thank God I had their help!
While I had done my homework, spending many hours researching the exact location I should set up and was prepared with the right equipment, this was my first total solar event and I had no clue if I was correct or not! It’s a bit of an understatement to say this was anything like a relaxing hike in nature. I had invested so much time and energy into shooting this one moment in time and the pressure I had put on myself was starting to get to me. Once I was finally set up, the stress lifted, and I was ready to roll.
I must have looked like I knew what I was doing with all that gear, as just about everyone passing us asked where I thought they should go for the best viewing. I have to admit, I got a kick out of all the people taking photos of my gear and of me taking photos. Everyone was there for a monumental event and here they were taking pictures of me! I just thought this was hilarious.
I really did enjoy all the people around us though. Having the opportunity of meeting so many people from around the world, listening to different languages, talking about the experience and sharing my viewfinder with strangers to allow them to see what I was witnessing just added to the experience. Anyone who was looking through the paper glasses or a camera viewfinder with a standard lens just didn’t have the full experience of what I was seeing. I was 400 times closer than anyone else out there except for one other photographer.
Hearing the reactions to my eclipse photos was another unique experience. People kept asking me how long it took me to learn how to do what I did and how long it took me to prepare for this event. In all honesty, I only spent maybe a month at most on researching and learning what to do and how to do it. I was just as much a novice at eclipse photography as anyone out there, making my own solar filters and hoping for the best shot I could get. I know others had been learning and planning for this one event for years, but I went with my instincts and limited experience and I was lucky enough that it all worked out. I got the shots I was after.
A final note. Just being in the Painted Hills for the eclipse added to this whole out-of-this-world experience, but this next part made it that much better. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was no cell signal. No one was face timing, live streaming or on their phones. Everyone was there in the moment and looking up. It was one thing that we all did at the same time. The cheering, the crying the unity that everyone had from experiencing the moment together – it was incredible. There were no political divisions, no hate… we were just human and everyone was a friend enjoying a once in a lifetime experience. I don’t think a single person left the Painted Hills without a smile on their face, grinning from ear to ear that day.
That weekend is proof enough that adventure is out there and it’s up to you to make it an experience worth wanting to do. I encourage anyone to go grab a camera and go grab an adventure. Or just go, the experiences are waiting for you.