The first total solar eclipse in the United States to stretch from coast to coast in nearly a century occurred on Aug. 21. Junior Gabi Alvarado and her family (including her mother, Spanish teacher Patricia Portillo) traveled to Oregon, the first of 14 states the eclipse passed over, to see and photograph this rare phenomenon.
Q: Where did you go to see the eclipse?
A: Prairie City, Oregon. (I went) with my parents, my dad’s co-worker, her husband and their friend, and a couple we know from Quaker conferences in the summer.
We first went to Ashland and got there Thursday. We spent Friday there and watched “Julius Caesar” in the evening. Saturday we left Ashland and got to Prairie City at 4 p.m.
Q: When did you plan the trip?
A: About three months ago.
My parents heard about the eclipse a few years ago because it happens to be on their wedding anniversary. I know – I literally just found out!
This eclipse (was) special because it (was) very, very close to Sacramento, it (was) a full eclipse, and (it was) on my parents’ 24th anniversary.
Q: Did you stay at a campsite?
A: We didn’t book a campsite. We just met up with our friends, and we drove up to the place where we wanted to stay and hoped for the best.
We actually (weren’t) staying at a campsite – we (were) staying on private property by accident.
But the owner came and talked to us while we were chilling near our tents and told us it was fine that we were staying there as long as we didn’t smoke or start any fires.
We (saw) police patrols and parks-and-rec guys coming through all day to make sure no one was smoking or lighting any fires.
In Ashland it was hard to walk around outside because it was so smoky.
Q: Where did you go to wait for the start of the eclipse?
A: We were camped at the bottom of this hill, and at the top was this really cool vista point. Some of our friends were staying up there.
(However,) our car couldn’t make it up the road because you (needed) a four-wheel drive, and it (was) a five-mile hike.
Q: What was it like when it started?
A: When the partial eclipse first started, everyone shouted around us. Then, when it was at the corona, everything went silent, and you could see the stars.
We were in the shadow (of the eclipse). You could see that there was sunlight to the right and the left of us because we were on a hill, and you could see in the valley where the sunlight (was).
It kind of looked like the sun was setting on either side of us.
Q: How long did the total darkness last?
A: A little over two minutes. It’s really exciting, so it seemed like it was only 30 seconds. We were scrambling to take pictures and change the different (settings) on the camera and look around.
Q: Did the spell break after the eclipse ended?
A: As soon as the total eclipse was done, people started leaving. It was crazy. We stayed for a good bit because I wanted to get a few pictures as it went down.
Q: How did you photograph the eclipse?
A: I worked a bit this summer, and I actually bought a 35 millimeter film camera: the Canon AE-1 Program.
I was shooting still. There are certain things you can change on the camera; one of them is fixed-on film, and the other one you can change according to how much light there is, making (the photo) overexposed or underexposed.
There’s no learning curve. You can’t see what you’re taking a picture of since it’s not digital. You change one (setting) and (then) see how it comes out.
Q: Was it crowded where you stayed? What about nearby towns?
A: (On Saturday) we got to the place where (we stayed for the eclipse) and there were already a lot of people camped out.
These small towns here along the line where it’s a total eclipse (got) an unprecedented amount of tourists and business. It’s really astounding. Stores were open on days when they normally aren’t, like Sundays.
People (rented) out space on their ranches for trailers and campers, and the motels and hotels had all been completely booked for years.
Q: Did the huge amount of foot traffic cause raised prices at stores?
A: I’m sure things (were) more expensive. Our friends brought extra gallons of gas because we could be so overcharged there.
But, to be honest, the townspeople seemed pretty honest, and they sure did like the business. They hadn’t really been overcharging much. I feel bad for the shopkeepers; they have to put up with all these people.
Street vendors (also) had come from all over the place, and the crowds bought things up.
Q: You brought eye protection?
A: (We had a whole pack of) the flimsy, weird, retro-looking glasses, plus a filter for the cameras. My dad ordered that online and cut (it) up and made (it) into four filters.
Q: Did you talk to anyone who came for the eclipse?
A: We talked mostly to campers around us. When you camp, everyone is nice to each other because you’re in the wilderness, and everyone needs something or other.
Most people have never seen a total eclipse before, I think. My mom has, but I think she is an exception. (Portillo attended the University of California, Riverside and participated in an exchange program between Riverside and the state of Sonora during the early 1990s. The eclipse occurred in Mexico in 1991.)
There were a ton of photographers – I think those were most of the people who came up. I, for one, (was) super excited to take pictures and (will) see how they turn out.
—By Mohini Rye