Here is something you might need to know if you plan to come to Grant county for the total solar eclipse next year.
I hope you have already heard that next year on Aug 21st a total solar eclipse will make its way across the entire width of the United States. Out of this expanse, Grant County may be one of the best places to view the eclipse for a couple of reasons.
The major one is that the odds of a cloudless morning that day are about the best you will find anywhere. Another reason is that this will be one of the best places to see the milky way that same night. However, if you do decide to come here, there are a few special features of our region that you should know about when you make your plans.
One of the things that makes Grant County different from most of the rest of the US is that while most regions of the USA have a transportation network, here, we have a handful of threads. As far as I know, there are 7 paved roads in Grant County to serve an area of 4,529 square miles (11,730 square km). My concern is how well that sparse network will accommodate the surge of traffic on that morning. Since local lodging is already pretty well booked up for Aug. 21, many people may find lodging outside the zone of totality with the idea of driving in on that morning.
If you are planning to come to Grant County that would probably mean staying in Pendleton to the north or Burns to the south and then driving on highway 395 into the zone. Note: the map shown is approximate. Go online for one of the many detailed maps if accuracy is needed.
In normal circumstances, it takes about 1 hour and 44 minutes to go from Pendleton to Long Creek which is close to the centerline of the path of totality. From Burns to John Day, it is about 1 hour and 18 minutes. But these are not going to be normal circumstances.
The fact is we have no idea how many people will come here on that day but it could be much more that our infrastructure was designed to handle. If you are heading north or south on highway 395 and something happens to create a blockage, there are no alternate routes. There are some county roads, but these are built to serve local ranchers and when the road reaches the last ranch, it stops. You will be driving through federal lands for most of the route and there are numerous roads on these lands but again, they were never meant for through traffic either.
My greatest fear is that large numbers of people will set out for a spot within the zone in what would ordinarily be plenty of time: leave Pendleton at 8 a.m. and be close to the center of the zone by 9:45, and about the same going north from Burns. But this may not be a normal morning and some kind of major traffic blockage is very possible. If you don't make it into the zone for the two minutes and some-odd seconds of the eclipse will last, the whole trip is a bust.
I worry that this time pressure will cause visitors to take to the dirt roads leading off into the forest in hopes that they can find a way around the blockage. I am a native of this region, I know the geography and I have been in these woods with Forest Service maps and a good GPS and still been lost. If you try this, you will become lost, stuck or both. Nobody will know where you are and most places will have no cell service. And you probably still won't get into the zone for the eclipse. You have been warned.
If you can't get lodging in the zone, staying as close as you can and driving in is a good plan but you should plan to start out very early. The whole point of eclipse viewing is seeing the sun's corona which is only visible inside the zone. If you arrive in the zone three minutes after the start of the eclipse your trip is wasted. If you arrive several hours before the event, we will have things for you to see and do and you will have a chance to pick a good spot. Afterwards you can take all the time you need to do whatever. I recommend that you plan on staying overnight to take advantage of of some of the darkest skies in the US to see the milky way in all its mystery and majesty. But in any case, you can't arrive too early and if you arrive three minutes late, you miss everything. If it was me, I'd think midnight would be a good time to set out.
Grant County Solar Eclipse Tip 1
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