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Adventuring in Death Valley: Part I   6 comments

Easy walking in Death Valley: a recent flash-flood has left a smooth deposit of mud.

If you have followed this blog for awhile you know that this chunk of southeastern California desert is one of my favorite places to explore and photograph.  I’ve had a thing for it since my first visit in the early 1980s, and its more recent popularity hasn’t dimmed my enthusiasm.  It seems that no matter how well I get to know the place there is always someplace new to hike and explore.

I’ve written of Death Valley before, posting a lot of photos along the way.  Most of what I’ve written of the place in this blog has been geared toward those planning a trip there, with recommendations on places to visit, hike and shoot.  For this short series of posts I’m sharing a few of the adventures I’ve had in this stunning part of the Mojave Desert.  I hope the stories will encourage you to take off and explore on your own.

The simple beauty of Death Valley’s sand dunes beckons for a morning walk.

If you do plan to get off the pavement, if you strap a backpack on and take off into a canyon, up a ridge-line or across an alluvial fan, keep a few things in mind:

  • There are few trails here.  They aren’t really needed, as the landscape lends itself to following natural features like canyons and washes.  This fact brings with it the responsibility to take full charge of navigation.  Bring a good detailed map, and I’m not speaking of the one you get when you pay the entrance fee.  See below for more on this.

 

  • Death Valley is very very dry.  Depending on temperature this means you need to carry much more water than almost any other place you’ll ever hike.  If you visit spring through early fall you need about a quart/liter of water per person for every hour you plan to be walking.  In wintertime you can get by with less.

 

  • Cell service is close to nonexistent.  You are on your own, so be self-contained.

 

  • If you plan on driving off-road be prepared.    Think of driving off-road here just the same as if you’re hiking off-trail.  That is, with respect for the fact that help is nearly impossible to reach.  And even if you do will take a long time to arrive.  It’s also quite expensive.  See below for more on driving off-road in Death Valley.

 

  • Snakes are common.  While you’ll probably be fine as long as you’re alert while walking and don’t put your feet or hands anywhere you can’t see, be aware that the side-winder rattlesnake is not the most mellow venomous snake.  If you’re in a remote area and get bit by one, you may end up losing an appendage.

 

  • Last but not least, if you visit May to September limit your ambitions.  A general tourist itinerary on mostly paved roads is the way to go in the hot summer months.  It’s a good time for a first visit.  If you want to explore a lot on foot and/or four-wheel into the backcountry, go in the cooler months.  One exception:  summer’s a great time to hike in the high Panamints, climbing Telescope Peak or one of the other mountains in the park.

The classic view of Telescope Peak from Badwater.

 

Navigation in Death Valley

A topographic map, along with the ability to read it, is probably the most important of the “ten essentials”.  And this applies whether you carry a GPS, or are like me and still carry a compass, old-school-style.  Before going, practice crossing terrain you’re already familiar with, using a map to locate yourself in relation to landmarks.  Try navigating without the GPS, starting with out and back routes and progressing to off-trail loop hikes.  Whatever your approach, avoid following the GPS blindly like so many do.  Use it as a general guide instead, always being ready to alter your course from the straight-line GPS route to take into account features of the terrain, or interesting tangents!

Canyon hiking is superb at Death Valley, and your options are near limitless.  From a short jaunt up Mosaic Canyon to a trek up lonely Bighorn Gorge, there’s a canyon hike that’s just the right length and remoteness for you.  Just remember that dry falls are nearly as common here as they are in southern Utah’s canyon country.  Take a rope or be prepared to turn around.

Distance and terrain can be very deceiving here.  It’s tempting to park off the side of the paved road and strike out for a canyon mouth.  But walking up an alluvial fan is much tougher than it looks.  Allow plenty of time even when rambling around the “flat” valley floor.  That said, some of my best adventures have started out by crossing the valley or ascending an alluvial fan.

Climbing the big peaks such as Telescope is well worthwhile.  Elevation can pose a problem, especially since you’re spending much of your time at or below sea level.  Snow can fall during much of the year too.  So you’ll need to be prepared for mountain weather in the higher reaches of the Panamints.

Hiking in the area south of Furnace Creek puts you in the badlands of the Furnace Creek Formation.  The clayey hills are quite unstable and crumbly, so use caution.  Most of all, do not attempt to traverse steep hillsides in the Golden Canyon/Zabriskie Point area.  It’s not only hazardous, it mars the delicate formations that people come to see and photograph.  For this area it’s best to use established trails.

When hiking Death Valley’s canyons geology is always front and center: Red Wall Canyon.

Off-Pavement in Death Valley

There are many unpaved routes in Death Valley, but not all are open to vehicles.  While driving in washes is allowed for some areas, off-roading is not allowed in the National Park.  Obtain up-to-date road conditions and restrictions from the rangers upon arrival.  Buy a good detailed map for the area you plan to explore.  As mentioned above, navigate with map and GPS just as you do if you’re walking.

Make sure your vehicle has excellent tires and at least one spare (two minimum for some roads, like the one to Racetrack Playa).  Most of the unpaved roads require high-clearance, and many of them are 4WD only.  Bring a shovel and portable air compressor (for re-inflating tires after softening them for sandy areas).  Lastly, don’t forget about the threat of flash floods.  Don’t park overnight in washes if there is any chance of rain in the region, and camp up on benches away from where water runs.

Evening is near in far south Death Valley, where the Ibex Dunes are known for the spring bloom of sand verbena.

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Single-image Sunday: Beach-Time   5 comments

Well hello there strangers!  Actually I’ve been the stranger.  A good long blogging break that corresponded with a good long break from photography.  Hope everyone had a warm and happy Thanksgiving.  This is just a little quiet time at the beach with a new camera and lens.  A few surfers, a cruise ship heading out, and not much going on.  Perfect!

First Light for a Canon 7D Mk II, plus a new Tokina 11-20 mm. f/2.8. 12 mm., 1/30 sec. @ f/8, ISO 320, hand-held.

Posted November 26, 2017 by MJF Images in Florida

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Single-image Sunday: Departure   2 comments

It’s been a long time since I’ve done a single-image Sunday post, and also a long time since I’ve gotten a new lens.  This is the first light for my new Sigma 150-600 mm.  At just over 200 mm. it isn’t an image that really shows off the reason I got the lens, which is wildlife.  I’m happy with it so far.  Sure it’s heavy, but that comes with the territory.  I still haven’t decided whether I’m using it during the eclipse.

This is just an average storm moving in over the Atlantic coast of Florida.  The view is north toward Cape Canaveral as two cruise ships depart for the Caribbean.  They typically set sail in late afternoon, but will try to go a little earlier if the storms are kicking up.  This is the same direction, by the way, that you’d look for Space X’s rocket launches, which take off from the Cape.

Tomorrow is eclipse day, and the weather forecast here in Tennessee is for mostly clear weather.  Yippee!  For everyone in the path, here’s hoping your skies are clear and you have a wonderful day.  Enjoy!

Canon 5D Mark III w/Sigma 150-600 mm. lens: 221 mm. hand-held: 1/1600 sec. @ f/8, ISO 400.

Eclipse Mania: Weather Worries   9 comments

A spectacular composite eclipse image from 1999, by Fred Espenak.

Can you believe the eclipse is only a few weeks away?  I can’t wait!  I’m concluding my series on planning for this eclipse by tackling perhaps the most difficult thing to plan for: weather.  But it really isn’t just about weather.  It actually has more to do with psychology.  I’m doing what is unusual for me, including images from other photogs.  Click on the image to go to the source web pages.

Weather: What, me Worry?

As you talk to other eclipse enthusiasts, the subject of clouds and weather is sure to come up.  It is probably the most over-thought aspect of chasing solar eclipses.  But I can’t really blame people for worrying.  Who wants to travel and spend a lot of money getting to a spot to watch an eclipse, only to be clouded out at totality.  Weather on eclipse day is something that all of us must prepare to accept.   But even though there is no changing the weather, a bit of thought and planning beforehand might help save the day.

Monitoring weather forecasts in the days leading up to the eclipse will help you plan, but only if you have solid backup plans.  This previous post discussed backup plans in some detail.  Satellite imagery in the 24 hours leading up to totality might lead you to choose one viewing spot over another.  If a large front is moving in, you will be faced with a dilemma.  You could wake in the wee hours of the 21st and drive to escape it.  But I only recommend such drastic action if there is little doubt that the sky will be covered by clouds and only if you know you can escape the front in plenty of time.

Most of all, don’t obsess about weather before the eclipse.  I am a landscape photographer but I don’t scan weather apps. prior to a shoot, preferring to scan the sky.  I never complain about weather because photography for me is about making the most of what you’re given.  Of course eclipses are different.  Clouds can completely negate the experience.  But you still can’t change the weather.

Let’s say the forecast is for mostly cloudy skies on eclipse day.  Before you go running off trying to out-run weather, realize you’ll be spending the hours leading up to the eclipse in a less-than-ideal manner.  Will you make it somewhere in time?  Or will you be forced to pull off the road just before totality?  Will you end up driving into cloudy conditions while the place you left opens up just in time?  The best plan may be to have faith and patience in equal measure.

Will the clouds clear out in time or will they block the view? Partial phase about a half hour before the 2016 Indonesian eclipse.

Yes, the clouds cleared! Indonesia eclipse of March, 2016.

A Lesson in Patience

The 1999 total eclipse in Turkey taught me a lot about clouds and over-thinking.  We were in a perfect spot on a mountain-top in the north-central part of the country.  That eclipse happened to also be in August, and that area is similar both geographically and climatically to parts of the inter-mountain west where the upcoming eclipse will happen.  In late summer Anatolia is typically dry and hot, with afternoons that commonly see isolated clouds and thundershowers.

Clouds started appearing just before the start of the partial phase and, predictably, our group’s anxiety rose.  There ensued an argument over whether to abandon the mountain and go out onto a wide plain that lay before us to the west.  The reasoning was simple: no orographic lifting on the plain and so less chance of clouds.  Air masses get pushed up a mountainside, cooling and condensing to form clouds.

After much hand-wringing debate it was decided to split the group, with one contingent heading out onto the plain and one remaining on the mountain.  I decided to stay up on the mountain.  That was partly because my girlfriend and I were comfortable picnicking and sipping some Efes pilsen I had smuggled in.  But it was also because the most experienced eclipse-chaser in the group (an author who was about to see his 14th eclipse!) had decided to stay put.

Those lucky enough to be on the Oregon Coast will be first to see the eclipse. Enjoy!

Clouds increased as the partial phase wore on.  I was having too much fun to care, playing with kids from a nearby village and joking around with the soldiers (they let me drive an armored vehicle!).  The government had insisted on our group being protected in the remote area.  As totality approached the air suddenly cooled.   Minutes before it happened most of the clouds dissipated.  I saw for the first time how during a solar eclipse the atmosphere can change in interesting ways.  It’s more noticeable when you’re elevated, such as on a mountain.  It was a spectacular eclipse!

The moral of the story is this: don’t stress a few clouds on eclipse day.  It can only negatively influence your experience.  Yes, a storm front will do a great job of hiding the eclipse.  But as far as partly cloudy skies go, keep the faith and stay positive.  The cooling of the atmosphere just before totality could stabilize the air enough to decrease the big puffies just in time.  By the way, the group that went out onto the plain also got a clear view of the Turkey eclipse.  But it was still satisfying to be one of those who had chosen to chill out on the mountain.

Thanks for reading.  Good luck and have a wonderful eclipse experience!

The sun sets over Pacific near the island of Iwo Jima after being eclipsed at noon: July, 2009.

Eclipse Mania: What’s your Excuse?   3 comments

Total solar eclipse sequence, Zambia 2001 by Fred Espenak.

I’ve noticed quite a few (facebook) friends are skipping this eclipse, even though all are within a day’s drive and a few live only an hour or so from the path of totality.  The reason?  They are afraid of the media’s predictions of apocalyptic disaster: traffic, crowds, food/water shortages, and assorted catastrophe.  Many of them are skipping the path of totality in favour of staying home to see a dramatically inferior partial eclipse.  I’m amazed that anyone still takes media hype and exaggeration seriously.

Of course I realize this will be a popular event, and if you don’t have a good plan (the reason I’m doing this series) you will have to endure hassles in order to get into position to see it.  But those people who do go to the trouble will be, years later, certainly not regretting doing so.  They won’t be talking about how epic the crowds and traffic were.  They’ll be talking about how incredibly epic the total eclipse of the sun was.

At first I assumed that these friends have simply seen enough eclipses and don’t want the (perceived) hassles involved in seeing yet another one.  I was giving them the benefit of the doubt.  But something about that didn’t make sense, so I asked why.  Some of them answered, saying yes, they have already seen eclipses and are not interested in this one.  One even said they weren’t that special.  That last is a sentiment I can respect if it’s based on actually seeing one (but certainly not several).

The strange fact is that these people are from the U.S.  That means that, to see a number of eclipses, they flew overseas, booked tours, or otherwise planned to be in the paths of totality.  The last total solar eclipse in North America was in 1979, and that was only visible from the Pacific Northwest.  The next one is in 2024 and does not boast the coast to coast path that this one does.

I don’t know of anyone who would fly halfway across the globe to see enough solar eclipses to be satiated, and then avoid driving a few hours to see one on his own turf.  That’s not how eclipses work.  You either love them and are motivated to travel long distances to see one, or you’re not impressed and don’t bother to see them at all unless they happen to pass over your house.  Put another way, for U.S. residents, there is no good excuse for missing this eclipse other than a disinterest in natural wonders.

Ozette Lake, a large and relatively unknown lake on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, is only a few miles from the rugged coast, but it has an exceptionally pristine night sky.

I must conclude that people not seeing this eclipse just do not know what they’re missing.  I think some must be confusing (very common) total lunar and (quite rare) total solar eclipses.  Or, since they seem to be looking forward to the partial eclipse, are unaware of the vast difference between a total and partial solar eclipse.  Some may be genuinely afraid of traffic and crowds, but as I’ve said earlier in this series, a little planning plus a willingness to share an “eclipse party” kind of atmosphere easily mitigates that concern and reveals it to be what it really is, a lame excuse.

So let me put it as strongly as I can.  The only good excuse for missing this eclipse (again, aside from disinterest in nature) is that you live on another continent and have upcoming opportunities to see one nearer to you.  Also, a partial solar eclipse is forgettable and barely worth your time, while a total solar eclipse is something you will remember your whole life, especially if you’ve never seen one before.  My first one was one of the best days of my life and I had a smile plastered onto my face until I went to sleep that night.  My fellow Americans: do not miss this eclipse!

The Africa eclipse of 2001 was one I wanted to travel to but couldn’t.  It took a full decade for me to finally visit this part of the world.  Zambia eclipse of 2001, image by Fred Espenak.

Posted July 22, 2017 by MJF Images in Nature Photography, Travel photography

Eclipse Mania: Beating the Crowds   2 comments

I’ve decided to see this eclipse in Tennessee!

Eclipse day is drawing nearer, and I’m almost finished with my series on trip-planning for the big event.  Of course I’m assuming you are in fact going to see it.  You are, aren’t you?  Note that a partial is not even close to the same experience as a total eclipse.  You simply must be under the path of totality.  If you’ve never seen one before, you’re in for a real treat!

An unfortunate corollary to the very convenient path of this eclipse is that nearly everywhere along the relatively narrow path of totality will be busy and crowded.  Rooms have been booked for in many cases years.  Campsites are at a premium, and even the good spots to watch (such as Jackson Hole) will be very crowded.  Traffic is certain to be a headache.

You may wonder if it is worthwhile at all.  Why not just look at the videos and pictures that will be all over the web afterwards?  Don’t think that way!  Pictures cannot even begin to do justice to a total solar eclipse.  Read on for tips on handling the crowds and getting a good spot.

Where are you watching the eclipse?

Tips: Planning for Eclipse Day

  • Bottom line is, while you want to see it in an inspiring place, it cannot be so crowded that it negatively impacts your experience.  Your choice of viewing spot boils down to a subjective balancing act.  Where you strike that balance depends on your personal make-up.  Do you want as much peace and quiet as you can get?  Or do you see the crowds as a great opportunity for an eclipse party?

 

  • There is only one real sure way to avoid crowds, and that is to get out on the open ocean to see this eclipse.  The path crosses a good part of the eastern Pacific and even more of the Atlantic.  But if you’re not doing that, read on…

 

  • You have probably already reserved a place to stay, but what about a spot to watch the eclipse?  Do you have a backup (or two)?  Arrive in the area with plenty of time to scout one out.  In a previous post I detailed all the qualities of a good place to watch a solar eclipse.  But look for elevated places with good views of the sky and toward the horizon to the west (and east if possible).

 

  • Find at least one backup spot, just in case something (like weather) happens with your top choice.  Then for each of your spots, create at least one backup plan for parking and for how to get there.  I recommend bringing a bicycle in case traffic and parking turn out to be worse than expected.

 

  • Your backup spots should be in different areas weather-wise.  In other words get some local knowledge on the area’s microclimates and diversify on that basis.  Generally speaking this won’t work if a large front comes in, rather it’s for limited cloudiness, such as for thunderstorms.  A friend of mine has two sets of reservations, one in Idaho and one in Charleston.  Now that is a backup plan!

 

  • Get your top spot scouted out and commit to it.  Definitely monitor forecasts and satellite imagery in the day or two leading up to the event, but remember that weather is quite unpredictable more than 48 hours out.  In other words, don’t get caught over-thinking it and end up faking yourself out.  See next post for more on last-minute weather considerations.
  • For any total solar eclipse you should get to your spot as early as possible.  And for this particular eclipse that advice is especially important to follow.  If you possibly can, camp right where you’ll be watching.

 

  • Avoid driving on eclipse day.  If you’re not sleeping within walking (or biking) distance I recommend driving in the pre-dawn hours, shooting sunrise, and getting to your viewing spot in the very early morning.

Because by definition a total solar eclipse happens at new moon, nights around the event are starry. Jackson Lake is inside the path:

Tips:  Camping without Reservations

Hotel rooms may all be booked, but what about camping?  Is it also too late if you have no campsite reserved?  It depends on where you’d like to camp.  Don’t expect to score a spot at Jenny Lake in the Tetons or at a state park on the Oregon Coast.  But if you’re flexible you may not be completely out of luck.  All it takes is some creativity and persistence.

  • If you’re self-contained, with plenty of water, food, etc., you should be able to find a spot to stay overnight in one of the national forests along the path.  This is what the USFS calls “dispersed camping”, and the best part is it’s free!  There are limits and rules, so check the websites for the districts you’re interested in.

 

  • In addition most national forests, have 1st-come, 1st-serve campsites.  These normally have at least fire-rings, picnic tables, an outhouse, plus (usually) water.

 

  • The Bureau of Land Mgt. (BLM) also has dispersed and 1st-come camping available.  BLM units in the path of totality are located in Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming.

 

  • If you live close enough to the area under the path where you’ll be watching, and you don’t have accommodation yet, take a weekend (soon!) and drive around the area.  If you don’t live close, arrive as many days ahead as possible, combining your search for a viewing spot with one for a campsite.

 

  • You’ll be checking national forest and/or BLM land for dispersed camping.  Stop by the national forest district offices for info. and recommendations.  Find out about limits on lengths of stay, fire restrictions and leave-no-trace camping advice.

 

  • Pick up maps either ahead of time or when you visit the district offices.  In some cases you can download and print detailed maps, but never rely on Google Maps for this kind of thing.  They have nowhere near the detail you need for scouting and planning.  Draw the path of totality and confine your search for camping inside that path.  The goal is to camp within walking distance of a great spot to watch the eclipse.

 

  • Now it’s time to scout!  There’s no substitute for taking the time to drive the back roads.  Explore and get the lay of the land.

 

  • The kind of places that should interest you depend on how you’re set up for camping.  Obviously it’s best if you don’t have a large RV.  A small camper van or a pickup that you can sleep in the back of is ideal for dispersed camping.  You can also car-camp with a tent.  The Forest Service allows you to disperse camp up to a few hundred feet off the road.  Whether you camp in a vehicle or in tents, you need space to park so you’re not blocking the road.

 

  • Finally, remember that there will be many people camping anywhere they can fit.  The sooner you can claim a spot the better.

Extra Tip: The Private Option

Don’t limit yourself to public lands.  People with property along the path of totality will no doubt be out to make a little money.  Check Craigslist, but it may be better in this case to go low-tech.  Call the local chambers of commerce in the area to find out if they know of specific landowners who are renting out space.

Then drive around the area talking to locals with property for camping (or who are renting out rooms).  Make sure to stress the fact you are self contained and will only be sleeping there, not spending a lot of daylight hours.  Negotiate!

That’s all for now.  I hope you can use the advice I and others are offering to help make your eclipse experience a memorable one.  But mostly, I really hope you have decided there is no way you’re missing this eclipse.  Have a wonderful weekend!

Large swaths of prairie lie under the path of this eclipse.

 

 

Wordless Wednesday: Intracoastal Waterway, FL:   8 comments

Bridges for People   17 comments

A big Douglas fir fell across Panther Creek, Washington, living on as a bridge.

This themed post is for the WPC challenge – Bridges.  Even though the images here are of bridges made for our feet or the bicycles we ride to pass over them, I was inspired to post this because of one simple, obvious fact of life today.  We are too separate as a people.  Perhaps technology is partly to blame.  Perhaps it is the nature of our modern society or simply our huge numbers.  Whatever the underlying cause, something has made us distrust each other.  We are in desperate need of reconnection.

Being estranged from each other, as so many of us seem to be, is like being estranged from our families.  It is self-destructive.  It prevents us from creating solutions to the problems we face.  It creates an unhappiness that comes from isolation.  We need bridges to bring us back together, back into the family of humanity.

A bridge for strollers in one of Portland, Oregon’s many parks.

The so-called leaders we choose (and who are chosen for us) are too self-serving to avoid the temptation to stoke the separateness that creates distrust, tribalism and fear.  They are somehow misled into believing that the ends justifies the means, that appealing in vanity to dark emotions in order to gain or retain positions of power, is somehow worthwhile.

Of course the ends, however positively they’re imagined, are never justified by such means.  There is nothing positive that such men (they’re mostly men) can do with that power.  They cannot be true leaders or create a legacy that will be admired by future generations.  They can only make things worse.

A trail in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge crosses a footbridge in a verdant canyon.

A covered bridge originally built for horse-drawn wagons: historic Bollinger Mill, Missouri.

But there are many people out there, young and old, who want to rebuild the bridges that have been dismantled.  And many more who are not aware that helping in this effort is really what they want to do.  It would make their lives worthwhile.  If we want to make not just America but the world great again we must not only rebuild the bridges, we must leave the “us vs. them” mentality in the past.  We must invite “them” to walk over the bridge we build and meet “us” in the middle.

Will you join in and begin to build bridges?  Enjoy the images and have a great week!

A huge downed redwood tree acts as a bridge, allowing easy passage above the tangled undergrowth of Redwood National Park, California.

A spiral bike bridge along Portland’s Willamette River.

Eclipse Mania: 10 Best Places to Watch, Part II   7 comments

An amazing close-up of a diamond ring and prominences. Photo by Aris Messinis of a 2006 eclipse in Greece.

I’ve been doing a series on the upcoming total solar eclipse on August 21st.  The last post listed 5 of my favorite places in the west that lie in the path of totality.  Now let’s move east across America’s heartland and into the south, following the path of the shadow as it races coast to coast.  Make sure to comment below with where you plan to be on eclipse day, or where you’d like to be if the boss would just give you more time off!

Whether or not you’ve decided where to watch this eclipse, this list of events breaks it down by state.  You may find something of interest for the time period leading up to the main event.  The images here show some of the landscapes of the regions covered by the list.  My collection of solar eclipse photos is very slim because up until now I’ve focused on visual observation.

The rising sun lights up the Grand Tetons along the shore of Jenny Lake on a peaceful morning. It will not be so quiet on the morning of August 21st.

The Rest of the List

6.  Big Sky Country, Wyoming

The big sky country of Wyoming is an excellent alternative to the busy Tetons of western Wyoming.  The path crosses the Wind River Range, passing over the state’s highest summit, Gannet Peak.  A pack trip into the Winds, even a climb of Gannet, would be amazing.  If you’re able to organize a trip like this at the last minute my hat is off to you!

You could see the eclipse on the largest expanse of American Indian land along the path, the Wind River Shoshoni Reservation.  One option here is to drive Hwy. 20 along the east side of Boysen Reservoir, looking for a spot there at Boysen State Park, or north along the Bighorn River toward Thermopolis (which is barely within the path of totality).  Here is one source for events and activities on the reservation.

Despite being a relatively short 3-hour drive from Denver, because of its size the sprawling prairie along the North Platte River east of Casper, Wyoming is a good option.  Get there ahead of time and scout the big-sky country.  You’ll be exploring an area that pioneers crossed on their way west on the Oregon Trail.  Try the national forest south of Glenrock and you’re sure to find a suitable spot on public land to watch the eclipse.  There are a couple campgrounds sure to be full, but you could get there days ahead and stake out a spot on a gravel road somewhere.

Slide Lake, not far east of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is in the path of totality.

7.  Kansas City or St. Louis Area

These two midwestern cities are within the path, but just barely.  The south edge of the path passes over K.C.s city center, while the north edge passes through St. Louis.  So for K.C. you need to be on the north end of town and for St. Louis the south side.  The Gateway Arch is not in the path of totality.

So you could see it in an urban or a suburban setting.  The town of St. Joseph, MO, north of K.C., sits on the banks of the Missouri River.  It is squarely on the center line, so is an excellent choice in the K.C. area.  I can imagine a very fun party atmosphere at riverside there.  The center line passes over I-70 halfway between the two cities, very near the college town of Columbia, then crosses the great Mississippi River near the small town of St. Mary.  Here’s a list of events.

Historic Bollinger Mill, Missouri is just inside the path of totality.

8.  Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky

This stretch of lovely open forest interspersed with grassy meadows and wetlands straddles the border between Kentucky and Tennessee.  Many small towns are nearby so unlike many areas of the west this spot offers better chance to snag a room at this late date.  It’s covered by a National Recreation Area, and their website lists planned events plus camping, parking and other details.   One big advantage to LBTL:  it’s the point of maximum duration (2 min. 40 sec.).

This area would be especially good for a shorter trip.  One as short as a few days would suffice to see Mammoth Cave or (for country music fans),Nashville, both destinations within striking distance.  In fact, if you’re into seeing it from a city, Nashville is just inside the path of totality.

Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky is where the maximum duration of this eclipse will occur.

9.  Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina & Tennesee

The center line actually misses Great Smoky Mtn. National Park, crossing the Appalachians just south of it.  However, the path of totality covers much of the park.  In other words, seeing the eclipse somewhere in this area would be a great excuse to see this (very) popular and beautiful park.  The challenge, as everywhere, is to find lodging.  Clouds are a risk in this area, with its late summer thunderstorm activity.   As my sister lives nearby, it is where I’ll be if camping turns out to be too chancy for the other places I’m considering.

Clingman’s Dome, at 6643 feet the 3rd highest peak east of the Mississippi, offers the highest viewpoint for the eclipse in the park.  The mountain straddles the Tennessee-North Carolina border and lies just inside the path of totality.  It’s a winding road then a half-mile (paved) trail to the top.  That is far too short a hike to cut the crowds significantly, so arrive very early.  Another great option is to park somewhere along Foothills Parkway, which runs along the western side of the park.  It has several great viewpoints where you can watch the shadow bands play across the rolling Smokies.

The Foothills Parkway runs along the west side of Great Smoky Mtns. National Park. And this is not the weather anyone wants on eclipse day!

10.  Charleston, South Carolina

This is where we’ll say so long to the great American eclipse of 2017, at 2:49 p.m. local time.  Just north of Charleston the center line leaves the continent and heads out into the Atlantic Ocean at a place called Bull’s Bay.  The area north and south of here is a boater’s paradise, so being either on the water or next to it on one of the barrier islands is the thing to do.

Right on the center line is Cape Romain.  This maze of barrier island channels, marsh and beach is mostly covered by a wildlife refuge.  The only access is by boat.  If interested in this, contact the people at Bull’s Island Ferry.  Another possibility very close to the center line is Buck Hall Recreation site, which has a campground, trails and boat ramp.  It’s closed for camping but otherwise open for the eclipse.  If I don’t go west I might launch my kayak there, using my bike as a shuttle (forget about parking).

You can kayak if you have a boat or find one to rent.  Just paddle out from one of the boat ramps in the area and see the eclipse on the water.  Or land somewhere to set up a tripod.  If you’re up for a longer paddle, it’s a an hour and a half one-way to Bull’s Island, a natural environment of beaches and trails.  Get hold of a good map and talk to a local for advice on route-finding.  You don’t want to get lost.  Getting on a guided paddle trip is a possibility, even at this late date.  Check out Coastal Expeditions or Sea Kayak Carolina.

That’s it for now.  I don’t know about you, but I’m getting pumped up for this!  Have a great weekend.

The sun goes down on the Intracoastal Waterway.

Eclipse Mania: 10 Best Places to Watch, Part I   3 comments

Rural central Oregon along the John Day River will see a total eclipse of the sun.

This post, which is a continuation of my mini-series on the upcoming total solar eclipse, is a departure from my normally gimmick-free approach.  It’s a top-ten list of all things, places to travel for the Great American Eclipse.  I chose these places for their attractiveness as destinations in their own right as much as for their suitability as places from which to see this eclipse.  That’s partly why the images are of the places not eclipses.  Also I have not yet gotten that serious about photographing solar eclipses, preferring to give them my full visual attention.

In thinking about where to be on August 21st, I’ve come to a conclusion.  There are just too many great places to choose from.  These are my favorites, but I’d love to hear where you all are going (or with more time would like to go).  Add to the list in the comments below.  Places are listed as general destinations, west to east.  I’m not ranking them 1st to 10th best.  In the descriptions for each you’ll find suggestions for specific places to be on eclipse day.

You can see from the list that I’m biased toward areas of natural beauty, fully aware that these will attract a lot of crowds.  I’ve spent time in all of these areas and know some of them very well.  When it comes to specific spots to watch from, I’m partial to elevated positions.  And with this eclipse we’re in luck.  Because the path is generally oriented east-west, and North America’s mountain ranges run mostly north-south, it passes over many of America’s high places.  If you’re watching from a city the roof of a building is worth going for.

This house near Oregon’s Painted Hills will have a glorious view to the west as a total solar eclipse comes its way.

As mentioned in the last post, if possible choose a spot with a good view toward the west, the direction from which the shadow comes rushing at you.  That way you can anticipate totality better, have a better chance of seeing effects like shadow bands, and generally have a more complete experience.

This eclipse will feature a fairly high sun position, hitting land in mid-morning and leaving the east coast in mid-afternoon.  That will present some challenges composing wider-angle landscape photographs.  On the other hand, less atmosphere along the viewing path means better resolution for zoomed-in, frame-filling detail shots of the eclipse.  If you’re shooting this eclipse, good luck!

High up in a part of the Tetons only accessible by hiking, and on the center line!

The List

1.  Oregon Coast

The center line of the path of totality hits the coast at a spectacular little state park called Fogarty Creek.  This state park will of course be far more crowded this August 21st than the many times I’ve stopped and roamed along it’s rocky shore.  But that is where it all starts, on land at least, at 10:15 in the morning local time.

Just to the south of the center line is Government Point, a headland with an expansive view out over the ocean to the west.  Boiler Bay directly north of the point is a very interesting place to explore at low tide.  Little Depoe Bay is a scenic little town not far to the south.

But a long stretch of coast will be under the moon’s shadow that morning.  The path of totality stretches from the towns of Pacific City in the north to Waldport in the south, and there are many little coves, parks and harbors from which to choose.  Two of the coast’s largest towns – Newport and Lincoln City – are in the path of totality.  Newport, with its bridge and scenic old harbor, is the more interesting of the two.

A bright morning on the Oregon Coast Trail, which on August 21st will turn dark for a brief time.

2.  Cascade Mountains, Oregon

The center line of the eclipse path crosses the high Cascades just north of Mount Jefferson, and the nearest highway is U.S. 20 over Santiam Pass, also in the path of totality.  There is a Forest Service road (4220) coming in from the north that takes you to Ollalie and Breitenbush Lakes, plus a trailhead for the Pacific Crest Trail.

Taking the trail from the Breitenbush Lake Trailhead will take you south toward the center line.  But don’t expect to find parking anywhere nearby.  I’m not sure what the Forest Service’s plan is, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they close the area to traffic completely, forcing you to bike in.

If you can access the area, hike from the trailhead about 4 miles to spectacular Park Ridge, with views of Mt. Jefferson and plenty of wildflowers (and other hikers) for company.  Jefferson Park, a paradise of lakes and meadows, is a couple miles further on, but campsites there won’t be available.

One other option, if you can talk your way into taking over someone else’s reservation, is Breitenbush Hot Springs, accessible by turning off Hwy. 20 at Detroit.  It’s a hippy dippy backwoods retreat along a beautiful stream in the forest, and is almost smack dab on the center line.  The hot spring is channeled into several beautiful pools overlooking the river.  It should be a wonderful party at Breitenbush, with plenty of new age spiritual flavour.

The center line for this eclipse passes directly over the right (northern) shoulder of Mount Jefferson in the Oregon Cascades.

3.  Painted Hills, Oregon

This would be an incredible place to see the eclipse.  But like state parks near the center line on the Coast it will be mobbed by people.  Also, the meager lodging is booked in this area, so you’d need to drive in from a distance or convince a rancher to take some money to park and camp on their land.  But if you can find a place to stay, this expansive area offers many options other than the Painted Hills for great watch spots.  One could visit the Painted Hills during a visit, just not on eclipse day.

There is a hike called Blue Basin just north of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument Headquarters.  The 3-mile loop hike takes you up high with a view to the west over the fossil-rich badlands.  Perfect for this eclipse!  Also there’s an overlook off Hwy. 26 just west of tiny Dayville.  It looks west on Picture Gorge and the John Day River.  Parking is slim but you might be able to park down along the road and walk up.  This is not a well known spot.

Grassy prairie along Bridge Creek near Mitchell, Oregon, a tiny town that will see plenty of visitors come August.

4.  Stanley & the Sawtooths, Idaho

Another popular place but with amazing natural beauty and many options other than Stanley and Redfish Lakes, which will no doubt be as busy as they’ve ever been.  You could hike out to Sawtooth Lake and choose to see the eclipse from there or from the ridgeline east of the lake.  It’s 4.5 miles one-way to Sawtooth Lake with 1800 feet of elevation gain.  If you can do this, you will experience a truly spectacular setting for the solar eclipse.

For those with a lot of energy, there is another spectacular option just to the east of Stanley.  Climbing Borah Peak, highest mountain in Idaho and just north of the center line, would be beyond rewarding.  Your challenge for Stanley is to find a place to camp or stay.  But this eclipse with the Sawtooth Mountains as backdrop would be an absolutely incredible sight.

The Grand Tetons from near Driggs, Idaho: yet another mountainous area covered by this solar eclipse.

5.  Grand Tetons, Wyoming

You couldn’t ask for a better place for an eclipse trip, that is if you can handle the mob scene around eclipse day itself.  If you can find lodging or camping near enough and an out-of-the-way spot for eclipse day; and if you can plan for a lengthier stay, you can explore two of America’s grandest national parks (Grand Tetons and Yellowstone).  It would arguably be the premier trip for this eclipse.

The western side of the Tetons will be less crowded than the Jackson Hole area.  The charming town of Driggs, Idaho lies at the base of the mountains.  There are trails into the high country from near Driggs, routes that will take you to high viewpoints with expansive views to the west.  The Table Mountain trail, while difficult at 12 miles round-trip, would take you to one of the most spectacular places to see the eclipse.  If you’re a climber, you might be able to score a spot on a guided climb of the Grand Teton for the event, that is if someone cancels.

Tune in next time for the rest of the list.  Have a wonderful weekend!

The Oregon Coast!

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