I spent several weeks trying to find the perfect eclipse site. I wanted to avoid the I-5 and US-97 corridors as I figured they would be the busiest. I figured the Oregon coast might have a chance of summer fog and did not want to go through that again. We got “fogged out” on the Mexican coast in 1991 during totality so I did not want to be anywhere near a marine environment. I wanted to stay in Oregon and not go further east so the drive times would be manageable. I thought US-395 would be our best bet and I noted that the centerline was just north of the little burg of Prairie City which was just a few miles along OR-26 from the 395 junction at Riley. The Malheur National Forest had many excellent roads and opportunities for dispersed camping, some within a few miles of the centerline. We found such at spot only five miles south of highway 26. It was a large primitive hunters’ camp with many flat areas and access to Clear Creek. We decided that was the place. I organized material for my friends who said they wanted to join us for the event and I made sure they knew exactly where to go as we would be out of cell range. Then I fretted for the remaining weeks, worrying that my secret spot would not be so secret and that hordes of campers would be jockeying for it and for my fallback spots as well.
We got there on Thursday the 17th. The eclipse was Monday morning the 21st. We encountered very little traffic on our drives and saw almost no one once we left Prairie City and headed into the Southern Blue Mountains. Shaking with anticipation, we pulled our camper off the highway and on to Clear Creek Road (FR 2635). We encountered no vehicles or people. At the sign for Looney Springs we saw our turnout and entered the camp area. For the first few seconds all seemed perfect. Too perfect. Sure enough, at the very end of the site, a big blue Sprinter van was parked. Someone else had found “my” spot!
I wasn’t upset. Really. I was too anxious and too excited to fret about “losing out” and I knew the campsite was large enough for us and them. They turned out to be very nice people from Seattle (a couple and their young daughter) and they had been there for five days. Five days! That’s planning. I had to tip my cap to them. Sure enough they had worked out that this place would be perfect for the eclipse using a similar logic to my own. How could I be upset about that? Not to mention that their drive (about 420 miles) was identical to mine. They were also expecting another party, or perhaps two, to join them.
The campsite was large enough, as I said, for several vehicles and had sufficient spacing and tree cover that more than one party could inhabit it comfortably. We grabbed the big flat area right the entrance on the opposite end from our neighbors. I pitched a tent that we didn’t intend to use in order to make the site look more full to discourage other campers. It worked—the few folks that pulled in to check it out (three other vehicles that day) saw us at one end and them at the other and decided to drive on to somewhere else.
The next day my buddy Otto arrived in his camper and we placed it strategically to block off some flat camping spots. Only a handful of others came by to check out the site, I talked with some and gave them suggestions about other places to go. No one was frantic or bothered, there was still time to get settled for the weekend and the crowds predicted had not yet materialized. After darkness fell and we were ready to hit the sack a vehicle came by and I had to bullshit a bit to discourage them from coming down the road any further. There were places to camp that would not have been too disruptive to us or our neighbors, but I was trying to save spots for at least three more vehicles that I expected the next day. Part of my line was to whine about “those people from Washington who came last week and took the spot I had scouted” and that generated some sympathy. The poor guy even said “sorry you lost your spot” as he reluctantly backed out and went exploring down the road. I did not feel guilty, there were plenty of places to camp all over the forest, denying him one place would not deny him a chance to experience the eclipse. The early bird gets the worm, man.
Saturday came and we had some early morning traffic on Road 2635 but our little ruse held out long enough for the rest of our group to arrive. We “circled the wagons” at our end of the camp and all was good. Our neighbor’s second party arrived as well (I saw Washington plates and just pointed when they pulled in) and by the evening all were settled and happy. There were ten of us in six vehicles, and one of my pals used the tent we had pitched. Our neighbors at the other end had two vehicles and six people. Several dozen yards separated our sites so we all felt good about the space. Over the weekend we visited with them and got to be quite friendly and we wound up sharing the same viewing space for the eclipse on Monday morning.
But that’s the next post. My first reaction? Shock. I still can’t believe I picked a perfect spot out of the the many possibilities. I did my homework and it paid off. And my friends all came and we had a great time together. We had no complications. We even had perfect weather for the event. But like I said that’s the next post. I’m still in shock, really. Things worked out so well it almost doesn’t seem real. I expect it will take a while for the shock to wear off. Then I can re-live the awe of the eclipse itself.