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Friday, August 25, 2017


(Formerly, Used Home-made Solar Filter for Sale: Only Used Once!)

In the Pacific Northwest, I’ve become accustomed to spending many a meteor shower shivering in the dark beneath opaque cloud covers.

So there are clouds.

Then, as the media began hyping a once in a lifetime opportunity, the prospect of a million or so extra commuters on the road to Salem made a 99% solar eclipse sound pretty good.

So there’s traffic.

But Mr. and Mrs. P began helping me chip away at these objections until all that was left was the question of equipment.

I had access to two possible camera choices. A Panasonic point-and-shoot with a lens boasting a 600mm focal length (35mm equivalent) or a Canon digital DSLR /Sigma 70-300mm zoom lens combo. Because the Canon’s APS-C sensor has a crop factor of 1.6 the 35mm equivalent is approximately 480mm.  Neither of these  choices has enough ‘reach’ to create images in which the sun fills the frame, so I started giving extra credence to articles that encouraged NOT taking photos in favor of enjoying the experience unencumbered.

But Mr. and Mrs. P kept chipping away at my objections — “The corona may stretch out 5 or 6 sun-lengths, so you may not want to fill the whole frame with the sun.” — until I finally came down off the fence and committed to capturing images of the eclipse.

My decision made, I went to the internet to find a suitable filter, and discovered that millions of people had already ransacked the world’s stock of such things. In the end, Woodland Hills Camera & Telescopes was able to provide me with a single 5.5 inch square sheet of Baader AstroSolar ECO-size Safety Film (Telescope Quality) and instructions on how to make your own filter holder (out of cardboard).

Fortunately another friend, Mr. T, was also constructing a D-I-Y filter and he and his wife acted as host and hostess for Arts and Crafts night. Owing to the shrimp and bacon tacos that Mrs. T served, I’ve begun looking for an excuse — any excuse — for another Arts and Crafts night.

The resulting cardboard assembly easily slips on and off the lens, an essential specification for the arrival of totality.  While it would have been easy to stretch the filter material tight, the directions explicitly forbade doing so.

Mr. T’s solar-filter-film was a different brand, so we were able to compare.

Baader AstroSolar ECO-size Safety Film (Telescope Quality)
Helios Solar Film (pay no attention to the leaf encroaching at right)
The results were similar, both filter-films resolving sun-spots, but one of them obviously rendering the color orange.

While Mr. T was headed up toward Mt. Hood with hopes to use the iconic peak for unmistakable geographical context, I bet that an area in central Oregon (where Mr. and Mrs. P have a place) would provide an equally fitting viewpoint with perhaps more insurance from rain-clouds. The weather report for the area looked promising, but the Milli Wildfire in the Three Sister’s Wilderness was threatening the small town of Sisters, just 13 miles away.

The idea of a rampaging wildfire seemed fictional to me Thursday night as Mr. and Mrs. P and I stood beneath the enveloping arm of our galaxy — the one we call the Milky Way. It arched over Camp Sherman with a brightness and clarity that startles city-folks like us.

But by morning, gray smoke from the approaching fire was settling over Sisters (when we arrived there early Friday morning to top-off the gas-tank and purchase ice).

The Milli Wildfire as seen from Indian Ford Rd.
Mr. and Mrs. P were expecting what seemed to be an unrealistic number of guests. It seems their son significantly overbooked, not expecting everyone to accept his invitation. Mr. P simply smiled and commented in the characteristic fashion of long suffering parents who have (and love) multiple children, “The more, the merrier!”

In the afternoon, I bicycled downriver to the Wizard Falls fish hatchery in search of Wizard Falls. It was easy to find the hatchery, but not so easy to find the falls since they are said to be dry ever since the fish hatchery stole all their water. An informational sign at the hatchery claims the falls are a quarter mile upriver, presumably from the sign, but it doesn’t say what river, which is maybe why I couldn’t find it after hiking a half-mile up the edge of the Metolius. As I pedaled back to Camp Sherman in the heat of the day, I was effectively reminded that the converse of downriver is upriver — and the ‘up’ part of upriver isn’t just a rhetorical flourish. I wish I could say I bicycled all the way back to Camp Sherman, but I did, perhaps, invent the pastime of hikeling, which is the practice of finding a comfortable way to push a bicycle up-hill while walking.

As new guests arrived, it became customary to take them to preview the planned eclipse-viewing-site which was a prominent cinder-cone poking out of the ponderosa pine forest. Friday evening you could see all three of the Three Sisters …

…but you could also see a smoke plume from the Milli Wildfire crouching behind the shoulder of Black Butte.

From the very top of the cinder-cone, Mt. Jefferson could be seen in the West.

Mt. Jefferson

Mr. P used an app to determine where the sun would appear at 10:00am. He has another app that helps him balance his camper before affixing it to the ground. It encourages me to see people my age and older successfully using smartphones.

The next day I tried a more ambitious bicycle trail to Suttle Lake. To be honest, it wasn’t supposed to be more ambitious, but it turns out that I’m terrible at following trail-signs and only just barely managed to find the lake through a fairly comprehensive process of elimination and hard won experience. As I spent time finding new ways to push my bicycle (Courtesy of the Luv2Kayak evangelism dept.) uphill, I was thankful that Mrs. P had forced an orange into my hand and reminded me to take plenty of water before I left.

Eventually, I reached Suttle Lake and committed to circumnavigating it via the around-the-lake trail. The trees delighted in poking their great splayed roots up through the ground to herd me toward the abruptly edged banks.

Link Creek flowing into the West End of Suttle Lake

Sallie Ford was doing her set for Funk’s Solar Obscuration Celebration behind the Suttle Lake Lodge.

The nascent star’s plaintive cries of “Hold me, Just hold me…” rolled across the water in an eerily, evocative fashion — or maybe I just imagined it…

I pretended to be a photographer briefly…

But my view was briefly eclipsed by, if not a full moon, at least something that reminded me of swimming at the reservoir with Jennifer.

On my way back to Camp Sherman, I couldn’t help notice that the smoke was getting thicker.

River the dog demonstrates the first steps mammals must take to return to the ocean like whales did.

Mr. and Mrs. P’s son (who I will hereafter refer to as Rupric) who invited so many friends…well, it turns out his associates are an amazing collection of eclectic, creative and energetic individuals. Some were intent on sharing favorite recipes or snacks or in some cases, even meals.
Guests found novel ways to set up their tents in close quarters on the limited available patios, and some later engineered a stealth-tent campaign, deploying a mini city under cover of darkness and disappearing before dawn. Spirits were high and we ate like royalty.

Rupric unwinding at the end of the day.

The morning of August 20th, just another typical breakfast.

When more guests arrived, another preview of the cinder-cone seemed appropriate.

But this time, to our horror, smoke from the wildfires had settled in the low ground between the ridges and we were unable even to see Black Butte. For the first time it occurred to me that I might not see the eclipse.

Rupric sprang into action utilizing an acronym P.L.A.N. (as best as I can remember) that helped him organize his thinking. First, we needed a Plan. Then we needed an alternate plan (or Last chance). After that we would identify an Auxiliary plan, and then as if that wasn’t enough, we would formulate the Nuclear option.

Rupric sent one team of scouts to the North and one to the East, to identify the components to our P.L.A.N.

A view of Gray Butte (the Nuclear option) from a vantage point on the Auxiliary plan
(Smith Rocks is the closest ridge just right of center).
I rode in Rupric’s car to the East and we ultimately ended up North of Terrebonne on the highest peak in the area — something called Gray Butte — which held a commanding view of the region. Far below, to the Southwest, crowds of people were milling around Smith Rocks. Save for high wispy clouds, the haze from smoke was minimal. As far as contingency plans go, it qualified, but the peak was high and the road to the top was blocked by a gate that added an hour of hiking to an hour and a half drive. Not everybody would be able to make that hike.

On Solar Eclipse Eve, Rupric unwittingly adds to the smoke problem.

Clicking on images should make them display at a larger size ( at least it used to)
Rupric woke in the early hours of August 21st and reconnoitered the cinder-cone around 4:15am.  He reported that the view was mostly clear. Smoke lay low in thin streaks, but it was still possible to make out two of the Sisters and the sky overhead was clear.

Black Butte. The clearing in front of the butte is a staging area for fire-fighters. Several trucks and a chinook helicopter are visible…with binoculars.

In the distance… one of the Sisters shrouded in smoke.

Mt. Washington to the South.

Well, this is a surprise! If I'm not mistaken, that appears to be Teresa Dalsager striking a pose on the summit of Three Fingered Jack.
Three fingered Jack

Rupric staked out a sizeable area for us with blue tarps.

Cars kept filtering in as the time for the eclipse approached (Our blue tarps still visible at right)

My camera set-up with solar filter.

…and so it begins.

Rupric hamming it up for the camera.

Photo credit Rupric © 2017
The crowd spontaneously initiated a countdown to totality, but in their excitement started counting too fast, so that as the discrepancy became obvious, they hilariously began stretching out their numbers — six, five, four, 
twoooooooooooooooooo, wonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnne…

Photo credit Rupric © 2017
Photo credit Rupric © 2017

Rupric found this fascinating clip of the moon's shadow passing over our cinder-cone. 

Did I mention Rupric is also a graphics application wizard? I complained that it was hard to get my orientation from the spinning balloon video and he instantly sent me the following images that locate our observation point (OP 1) in the path of the moon's shadow.Rupric used footage from the video embedded above, created by Craig Butz and David Friedlander-Holm, and used data from Google Earth to determine our position — a fairly impressive synthesis.

First, Rupric identified major landmarks from the video

Then he used graphics software to enhance the image

Next he was able to use GPS coordinates within Google Earth to locate our observation point (OP 1), make a transparent overlay, and matched it up to the video-still using the major landmarks.

Finally, I feel obligated to report that he used apple hardware

At commencement of totality, the solar filter has to come off the camera. When it did, it took me a moment to adjust my shutter speed. This exposure reveals blue in the sky and a visible star or planet.

Incidentally, this is how big the sun appears in the frame at full magnification. My low ISO setting results in images with low noise and allows me to significantly crop and enlarge the images to see details (at least I think it does).

While I continued to refine my exposures (in part by utilizing my camera’s bracketing feature) I noticed the red coloration in places showing past the edge of the moon.

These turned out to be solar flares… or prominences…or whatever…

Fastest minute ever!


  1. Well done Scott! I have been acquainted with the P's for well over a decade and am very familiar with what was your base camp. I greatly appreciate you work and perspective on both the area and of the event. Be well. ~ Michael

  2. Brillian post, amazing images


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