Total Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017

The eclipse will take less than 15 minutes to cross the state, with each region in the path of totality experiencing total darkness for only a minute or two. While those few minutes will be worth the journey, this also leaves lots of time to enjoy all the beautiful places and exceptional activities of Oregon. Eclipse festivities provide a starting place to visit these unique, small communities and beyond.

Blue sky over the Painted Hills

Photo credit: Christian Heeb

MITCHELL, 10:21 A.M.

JOHN DAY, 10:22 A.M.

The tiny town of Mitchell has only a handful of eateries and accommodations, but it sits on the path of totality 12 miles from one of Eastern Oregon’s most spectacular sights: the Painted Hills. The sandy mounds’ deep red to ochre striations turn even deeper at sunrise and sunset, so they’re sure to make one of the most scenic backdrops for the eclipse. It’s a popular spot to explore by bike on the Painted Hills Scenic Bikeway. However you go, practice “Leave No Trace” ethics and stay on designated trails.

The slightly larger but still small town of John Day, 69 miles east of Mitchell, is also firmly in the totality zone and offers more places to stay and eat. While in town, be sure to visit the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site, a 19th-century building that once served the Chinese mine workers here as an apothecary, temple, general store and opium den. Thirteen miles from John Day, Prairie City has a charming, historic downtown and more options for sleeping and eating. Two big events will be held in this area. Symbiosis is a large art, music and sustainable living festival that will be held on a 55,000-acre ranch in the Ochoco National Forest, about an hour-anda-half drive from Mitchell. The Oregon Star Party is an annual astronomy-oriented gathering set a little farther east, also in the Ochoco National Forest.

Sheep Rock Unit, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Photo credit: Christian Heeb

EXPLORE NEARBY

JOHN DAY FOSSIL BEDS NATIONAL MONUMENT

The Painted Hills are just one section of the larger John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. Head first to the excellent Thomas Condon Paleontology Center to learn about the history of the area, the fossils you might spot and the geologic specifics of this unusual area. Just up the road, the Sheep Rock Unit is the best place to take a walk through the majestic formations to look for fossils (look but don’t touch). The Clarno Unit is about 65 miles from both the Sheep Rock and Painted Hills units, and it consists of dramatic palisades and rocky spires. Fossil hunters should head to the aptly named town of Fossil (in the path of totality), where there’s a public digging site behind Wheeler High School.

Sunset at Crystal Crane Hot Springs

Playa cracks on the Alvord Desert

BURNS

For real Wild West cattle country, head to Burns. Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants, a local brewery, museums and the rustic Crystal Crane Hot Springs resort, 25 miles out of town. The town is an excellent base for exploring the surrounding natural wonders, including the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and Malheur National Forest.

MALHEUR NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE

During the summer months, you can expect to see mostly waterbirds, including ducklings and goslings, on the lakes and playas. Coyotes frequent the area, and expect bats after sundown. It’s not just wildlife, however. Adjacent to the reserve is Diamond Craters, which holds a series of bizarre-looking volcanic formations.

STEENS MOUNTAIN

If you’ve got a sense of adventure and a reliable vehicle with good clearance, Steens Mountain is off the beaten path, even for rural Oregon. Steens Mountain Loop road runs 52 miles and is the highest road in the state. It’s gravel, so expect to go slow as you come to a series of spectacular viewpoints over a variety of landscapes. Look out for herds of wild mustangs.

ALVORD DESERT

Here’s another very remote region of the state that requires a good vehicle and preparation (bring food and water) but is well worth it if you crave adventure or a dip in the Alvord Hot Springs. The desert is a series of dry lake playas and ranches, all set off by Steens Mountain in the distance.

OREGON OUTBACK

This little-visited region surrounds the seasonal, alkali Summer Lake. It’s usually completely dry in August, so you can walk out onto the dry, mud-cracked playa to enjoy the stark palette of gray flats and blond-grass hills meeting the blue sky. A few small towns dot this vastly uninhabited area, and there are rustic camping and cabins at Summer Lake Hot Springs. The surrounding area holds many geologic landmarks, like the rocky cliffs towering out of the plains at Fort Rock.

 

Pioneer wagon encampment display at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center in Baker City

Photo credit: Sumio Koizumi

Fly fishermen at Lake Owyhee

BAKER CITY, 10:24 A.M.

ONTARIO, 11:25 A.M.

As the eclipse moves east, the duration of totality increases, making back-in-time-feeling Baker City and bucolic Ontario great viewing destinations. At Ontario, you’ll also cross into the Mountain Time Zone, hence the hour bump.

Baker City is an excellent place to base yourself for jaunts to the Wallowa Mountains, Anthony Lakes and beyond. It also has a lot going on in town, from an old-time movie theater to the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the state’s biggest monument to the pioneer trail that early settlers used to move west. Take a walking tour in the Historic District, where more than 100 buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places.

Another great reason to see the eclipse from out here is that Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort, about 35 miles outside of Baker City, has chairlift transport to 8,000 feet up the mountain for viewing the event.

Ontario is Oregon’s most easterly city and shares its time zone with Idaho, so be sure to set your clocks forward one hour. It’s a low-key town with a rich multicultural heritage, where you’ll find authentic Mexican and Japanese food, a coffee roaster and the Four Rivers Cultural Center.

Dock at Wallowa Lake

Photo credit: Holly Macfee

EXPLORE NEARBY

LA GRANDE

Only 45 miles from Baker City, La Grande has an old-time American feel, lots of places to stay and eat, and surrounding wilderness galore.

ANTHONY LAKES

You may get out this way to use the chairlift of Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort for viewing the eclipse, but there is much more here to hold your attention. A few of the many lakes have surrounding campsites in wooded bliss, the fishing is great, and hiking trails abound from short forest strolls to challenging treks into the surrounding wilderness.

JOSEPH AND ENTERPRISE

Artsy yet rural, trendy yet down home, these two charming towns are the perfect launching pad for trips to the Wallowa Mountains, Eagle Cap Wilderness, Hells Canyon National Recreation Area and more. Joseph is the more developed and hip of the two, but Enterprise can be more economical. Catch the Eagle Cap train between Elgin and Joseph for a scenic trip with special surprises that range from expert talks to staged train robberies. In Joseph, don’t miss the Bronze Artwalk, which features large bronze statues throughout downtown. Much of the bronze work in the area comes from foundries in Enterprise.

WALLOWA MOUNTAINS

Blink and you may believe you’re in the Alps. Granite hillsides, clear troutfilled lakes and lush fields of wildflowers lead to peaks that look over high desert and even into the deep gorge of Hells Canyon. Enjoy the mountains on foot or horseback via myriad trails, or take the gondola 3,700 feet up from Wallowa Lake for a family-friendly trip to extraordinary views.

Lake Wallowa holds a big campground and will be very busy during the eclipse, but there’s always room to jump in and cool off in the fresh water.

HELLS CANYON

America’s deepest river canyon (8,000 feet) is carved by the Snake River, marking the border of Oregon and Idaho. Some of the best scenery is found along Oregon Route 454 around Hells Canyon Dam. The canyon walls are the steepest here, and you can pick up information about hiking trails at Hells Canyon Visitors Center just past the dam. For more adrenaline, book a popular jet-boating tour that takes in the canyon at high speed.

Native Americans and cowboy at Pendleton Round-Up

Hood River hiking

COLUMBIA PLATEAU

Forgot your cowboy boots? Not to worry, you can pick up an authentic pair in Pendleton, where they’re as common as flip-flops in Hawaii. And, yes, this is the town where the famous wool clothing comes from; you can visit Pendleton Woolen Mills to see how it’s all done. There’s also a trendier side to this town as well, best experienced at the local breweries and steak houses.

Learn about the town’s original residents at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, which brings the traditions of the local Cayuse, Umatilla and Walla Walla peoples to life. More recent history can be discovered on a Pendleton Underground Tour, which explores Pendleton’s dubious past of booze, gambling and brothels.

Next, head west on Highway 84 into the Columbia River Gorge. Great food, craft beer and some of the best kite and windsurfing sites on the planet make Hood River a hot spot for everyone from young adrenaline junkies to outdoororiented families. The town tends to crowd in the summer, so explore nearby towns like The Dalles and Mosier. August is also prime time for visiting the surrounding U-pick peach and pear farms.

About the Author: Celeste Brash

After 15 years in French Polynesia, Celeste Brash now lives in Portland. She’s contributed to over 60 Lonely Planet books and countless articles in outlets such as Islands Magazine, National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel and BBC Travel.

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