No eclipse plans yet? Sonoma County holds lots of choices for Monday viewing
Laura Sparks has been waiting for Aug. 21, 2017 for more than 10 years.
When she switched majors from physics to astronomy in 2006 and started learning about eclipses, Sparks marked her mental calendar for 11 years in the future, to what has been dubbed, “The Great American Eclipse.”
Now the time has finally arrived. For about a brief time on Monday morning, along a large swath of the United States stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, the sun will appear to go out, completely hidden behind the moon. Encompassing parts of 14 states, this key zone has been dubbed “The Path of Totality.” Anyone within this 70-mile wide path will experience a total eclipse of the sun. The rare celestial event means that people are hitting the road in huge numbers this week to find their place not in the sun, but in the vast shadow. Sonoma County residents can expect about 80 percent of the sun to be obscured just before 10:15 a.m. Monday morning.
Sparks, who teaches astronomy at Santa Rosa Junior College, will be among those making the trek to be in the path of totality.
“Lunar eclipses are more common. When a lunar eclipse happens, you can see it from anywhere on earth, that is, at night,” she said. “The whole half of the planet gets to see a lunar eclipse. But with a solar eclipse, you have to be in the right place.”
Sparks has pinpointed Madras, Oregon, a tiny dot on the map east of the Cascades that has been identified as one of the top viewing spots in the path. Set in the high desert of central Oregon, the small town, population 6,200, will be cast in 2.02 minutes of darkness, An estimated 100,000 people are expected to flow into the town, which is freeing up parks, parking lots and farms for the hordes of eclipse-seekers.
“I've never seen a total solar eclipse in my whole life,” said the 36-year-old Sparks, who has booked a tiny wedge of camping space in a Little League field. “We humans take a lot of things for granted subconsciously, and one of those things is the constancy of the moon and the sun. When the sun goes completely dark in the daytime, you can describe it to people. But it affects people in a way they maybe wouldn't expect.”
What makes this solar eclipse even more unique is that it can be viewed by such a massive area of the United States.
Lunar eclipses are fairly common and are widely experienced by an entire hemisphere at nighttime. But a complete solar eclipse is more rare. And this particular eclipse is rendered even more rare because it will be visible to such a large area of the United States, cutting diagonally across the continent, coast to coast. The last total eclipse in the U.S. was 26 years ago and was visible in Hawaii only. The last total eclipse to pass through the Continental United States was in 1979.
If you haven't already booked your accommodations in The Path of Totality - all state park campgrounds in Oregon are full and campsites in hot spots like Madras are going for $300 and up on eBay - you're not necessarily out of luck. Private landowners and farmers, whether good Samaritans or seeing a good financial opportunity, are freeing up space for temporary campsites on their properties or in their parking lots.
Hipcamp, an Airbnb-like website for camping and other low cost and alternative accommodations, from cabins and Airstream trailers to treehouses, has several places within the Path of Totality in Oregon, that still have availability.
“There are plenty of spaces. We added over 1,000 new sites in the Path of Totality in Oregon last week,” said Alyssa Ravasio, founder and CEO of Hipcamp.
The Novato native and avid camper who was prompted to create the site after realizing there was no central listing for camping, said she believes the best place to view the eclipse is somewhere in the great outdoors. She recommends going a day or two early and getting in touch with nature before the big crowds assemble.
“The power of the eclipse is an awe-inspiring experience in nature. And if you've been outside for a couple of days you're going to be that much more in tune,” she said. “You don't want to be just coming off the road after two hours in traffic.”
If you can't break away this weekend, or can't bear the thought of getting stuck in a traffic jam, you can still see a partial solar eclipse from The Bay Area. It will be about 80 percent in the North Bay, where people are making plans to hit the water or hike to higher elevations in hopes of snagging the perfect spot.
Laurie Manarik of Point Reyes Outdoors, is organizing kayak adventures into Tomales Bay to view the eclipse from a south-facing beach.