As told by Micah Whaley
August 21 was a Central Oregon photographer’s dream— the total solar eclipse would pass over our area of the state, and this was my chance to join friends and get some amazing shots.
I had originally planned to meet up with friends at a campsite out near Suttle Lake. But thanks to the smoke from nearby forest fires and the expected bumper-to-bumper eclipse traffic, pretty much everyone bailed on the plan. I’d driven from Bend all the way out there to find nobody was there.
At the last minute, I found myself trying to figure out what to do—should I go back to Bend? I really wanted to get a good spot to watch the eclipse within totality, so I ended up driving up a Forest Service road from Suttle Lake. I went quite a ways, until I found myself at the top of Cache Mountain. Once I reached the top I decided it would be a really good place to view the eclipse, so I hunkered down and spent the next two days there. Pretty much the whole time I was there it was socked in with smoke—I could barely see the mountains. But at night it would clear up so that I could see the stars—I had a great view of the Milky Way.
I was taking pictures of the sunset on my second night up there. The sun went down and then on the other side, toward the east, there were some very strange sunset colors that were baffling to me. The sun was too low to be creating colors in that area of the sky in that spot, so I was confused for a second. Then I realized it was probably the Milli Fire wrapping around the mountains. I was looking toward Black Crater. I gathered some of my camera gear to shoot the fire as it was coming over the ridge in my direction. At night I was socked in with smoke, and it was dark so I had very little frame of reference for how far away the fire was. But I could visibly see the flames and trees bursting into flames—so I took a bunch of pictures and then I put the camera away to save battery for the eclipse the next day.
I went to sleep and set my alarm for every forty-five minutes so I could get up and look at where the fire was and make sure it wasn’t coming toward me. Later I looked at a map and determined it was about 5 miles away from me, but in order to reach me it would have had to jump a lava flow and through an existing burn area. I was a little bit nervous, but I wasn’t in any real danger.
The smoke cleared out and it was the first time I could see the mountains. I hadn’t realized I was so close to Three Fingered Jack.
The next morning I got up, made breakfast and started to watch the eclipse like everybody else. I was pretty blown away by it, and there were lots of things I wasn’t expecting. You expect it to get dark, and you see pictures of the light ring. But there were so many other little things—and you only have a minute to take it all in. I was struck by the white color of the light that is behind the moon—I was expecting more of a yellow, or fiery, color. But it was the most pure, brilliant white I’ve ever seen, almost a silvery white.
Seeing the sunset colors from the mountains was an amazing experience, I had a 360-degree view of the entire mountain range. I wasn’t expecting to see that. You never get a 360-degree sunset.
Everything was so silent. Then, in the distance, as it hit totality, I could hear a massive crowd cheering—I am guessing it was coming from Suttle Lake, and it sounded like someone had scored the winning touchdown in the Super Bowl.
The eclipse stole the show, but being that close to the fire and seeing those colors—that’s not something you can plan on seeing more than once.