The Other Oregon: Eclipse on 26

The Total Solar Eclipse Is Coming to Oregon. Hope You Made Plans.

The John Day Fossil Beds and the Strawberry Mountains get some serious shade August 21.

By Margaret Seiler April 17, 2017 Published in the May 2017 issue of Portland Monthly

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Sutton Mountain, near the Painted Hills

On the morning of August 21, a swath of the state will find itself in darkness for about two minutes, a moving band of temporary night that will start near Depoe Bay on the coast, pass near the Enchanted Forest south of Salem, cross the Cascades, and leave nearly all of Grant County—from the John Day Fossil Beds to the Strawberry Mountains—in shadow. “I ordered 10,000 pairs of the eclipse glasses,” says Tammy Bremner, manager of the chamber of commerce for Grant County, population about 7,500. From coordinating private lodging to encouraging grocery store and gas station owners to stock up, the chamber has been getting ready for the rare total solar eclipse. Haven’t planned your trip yet? It’s probably too late, but there may be hope.


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Where the Lucky Ones are Staying

“The first call I got for it, I thought they were joking,” says Historic Hotel Prairie manager Jenny Shaw, who took her first eclipse reservation way back in 2011—for a gent from Monterey (yes, a Californian). The Prairie City hotel’s been sold out for eclipse weekend for three years, with a 39-name waiting list for its nine well-appointed, high-ceilinged rooms. From $108

The chamber of commerce has been playing matchmaker for residents with a spare room or tipi, or any patch of land to put up a tent or park an RV, with plans for an updated list online and in a special visitors guide (541-575-0547). In the spring the chamber was getting at least four calls a day from potential eclipse visitors. Bremner says it took a while for locals to believe the influx would be that big, “but then they hear someone’s renting out their pasture, and they sign up, too.”

Fill Up

John Day and Canyon City ballooned in population in the 1860s with the discovery of gold in them thar hills. At John Day’s 1188 Brewing Company, founded in 2014 and named for some familial snowmobile racing numbers, the bartender-brewer serving your dark and dry Wild Horse IPA or maple Mazelnut Brown might be an actual ex-gold miner. This year, 1188 upgrades from a two- to a 15-barrel system to help meet demand (and stockpile for the eclipse visitors). At the home-style Dayville Café, diners might be too distracted by the Dayvilly Filly roast beef sandwich and huge selection of homemade pies to care what’s about to happen in the sky.

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The Grant County Chamber of Commerce in John Day.

Cool Whether the Moon is Totally Blocking the Sun or Not

Taking in the cliffs of the Clarno Unit, the river canyons in the Sheep Rock Unit, and the Dr. Seussian stripes of the Painted Hills, every inch of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is a stunner any time of year. New this August: crowds. Monument superintendent Shelley Hall says she’s expecting 50,000 for the eclipse, roughly one quarter of the number of people who visited the fossil beds in all of 2016. As a park administrator, Hall is “proactively planning,” with hopes for an incident response team and a small army of volunteers helping direct traffic, orchestrate viewing areas, and clean up afterward—in exchange for tent or RV housing. As a human being, though, she’s excited: “I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse, but I’ve been told it will change your life.”

Distance from Portland: 5–5½ hours to John Day and Prairie City

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