It began … well, it began when whomever created all of these celestial marvels did so … but today it began at 5 a.m. in rural South Salem, where the stars were out in force. Clear morning. About 60 degrees. Stars forever. We look up in the sky way too often without really appreciating how special they are. Today was a day to atone for that.

The traffic?

The freeway ride on my way to Corvallis was a breeze. So was Highway 20. Hundreds of eclipse watchers who did not want to pay camping fees were lodged in their cars on the shoulder in the parking lots and in the off-ramps to the Interstate 5 rest area along the Santiam River. The usual long-haul trucks, but also buses and dozens of cars. But nobody was pulling over. Everyone was already in place.

Saw a few cars in the lots at Waverly Lake, Takelna Landing and Hyak Park, but the lots weren’t full.

The Willamette River bridges were a breeze. It was so quiet in Corvallis that the Ninth Street McDonald’s was not open yet. Or maybe McDonald’s was smart enough to know that some of the projections for the Benton County influx … were just plain wrong.

Aside: I heard estimates for Benton County of as many as 250,000 to 400,000 people. Let’s look at this logically. If you fill 1,000 hotel rooms with 10 people each that’s 10,000 people. If you fill 1,000 campsites with 10 people apiece that’s another 10,000 people. That makes 20,000 people. Where are the rest of the people going to be? Also, there are not 1,000 hotel rooms and there are not 1,000 campsites in the county. S-o-o-o-o-o-o. Where did the bad info come from? End aside.

Eclipse conundrum No. 97: Because it takes the sun’s rays eight minutes to get here … does that mean the eclipse really is old news by the time we see it?

I find a place to park on Northwest Seventh near the library, grab my trusty walking stick and head out to experience the eclipse, Corvallis style. This is the dawning of the Eclipse Patrol!

Central Park

Thomas Kies of Los Angeles spent his time getting to Corvallis for the big one. He left a month ago, spent a few days here, a few days here, and wound up in Breitenbush for three days. He was working on some eclipse-related artwork for the paths in the park at 7:45 a.m. as folks began to stake out spots on the lawn with good sightlines above the trees.

Marty Adams of Florence came to Corvallis for the eclipse “because I decided not to fight the fog” on the coast. He said he saw Central Park “as soon as I pulled into town and thought this was the place to be.”

Ralph Hoelver of San Jose, along with 9-year-old son Owen, were setting up what proved to be the largest telescope in the park (more on the Hoelver experience below).

The riverfront

By 8:15 a.m. the early risers at Riverfront Commemorative Park began to set up shop as well. Tim Lavelle, another eclipse watcher from San Jose, was on a nine-day road trip. He saw Mount Shasta and stopped in Klamath Falls on his way up, spent time with his brother in Eugene for his 60th birthday and planned to visit Hood River and Bend on the homeward curve.

A Pac-12 Conference fan from the Bay Area, Lavelle said he chose Corvallis instead of Albany or Lebanon, two other totality towns, because the city has experience handling big crowds at Oregon State University football games.

Chuck Scott of Auburn, California, said he looked at weather issues for eclipse towns and chose Corvallis because he thought “the fact that it is a college town would make it a nice atmosphere for viewing.”

Scott and his wife were able to book a room in town just a month ago, calling into question how far in advance the hotels and motels really were booked.

Law enforcement

I mosey to the Law Enforcement Building on Northwest Fifth Street, where Lt. Dan Duncan of the Corvallis Police Department tells me that “things have been going real good … seems more like a typical weekend for us. I will be curious to see what happens after the eclipse.”

I also checked in via text with Kevin Higgins, the county’s emergency preparedness supervisor, who noted that the Corvallis Municipal Airport was experiencing a crush of landings. Patrick Rollens, the public information officer for the city, was at the airport. He reported via text that planes were landing at the rate of one a minute.

Traffic was so heavy, Rollens said, that airport officials opened a third runway — for the planes to park.

Lower campus

At about 9:10 a.m. I was back at Central Park, talking with Rick Treinen, his wife Anja and their 5-year-old French bulldog, Steve. Rick went to graduate school at OSU, graduating in 2013. He works in radiation health physics, while Anja is a phlebotomist. The couple had on their safety glasses and wore eclipse-rated T-shirts.

They drove up from Paso Robles, California, and are staying with friends. They chose Corvallis for their eclipse watching because of Steve’s familiarity with the area.

On a nearby bench sat Lilo, Stich and a marmot, all in eclipse safety glasses. The stuffed animals were traveling with Bob and Lily Enright of Sacramento, who were celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary. Lily, the astronomy buff in the family, made hotel reservations a year in advance.

A good crowd also had gathered at the Lower Campus of OSU, including Ned Patton and his wife, Patti. When asked if they were locals, Ned said “yes and no.”

Ned grew up in Eugene and received his bachelor’s and master’s from OSU, where he attended from 1976-80. The family now lives in Torrance.

It was just after 10 a.m., the sun had been reduced to a crescent sun the shape of a fingernail and I headed back to Central Park for …

Totality!

The strangest sensation for me was how quickly it got dark. A contrail circled just below the sun. A star could be seen to the right of the sun. The noise level rose along with the light change. And it was the voices of children that were the most compelling:

“Oh, it’s so close, it’s so close … it’s like night!”

“Look at how dark it’s getting!”

Fireworks went off. Some people just laughed. And over and over and over again people said: WOW!!!!

When daylight returned I checked in with Ralph Hoelver.

“It was awesome,” he said, amid explanations to passersby about what he and his family were able to see using the telescope. “I’m absolutely glad we came up for this.”

Any surprises?

“How cold it got … and how quickly it got cold.”

Families began packing up their blankets and lawn chairs. Michael Perotta of Santa Cruz, California, however, lingered a bit. He and his family drove all night to get here and they picked Corvallis because … it looked “pretty” when they stopped in town for coffee.

“It was really great to share the experience with all the people here at Central Park,” Perotta said. “It was kind of a coming together. That’s really neat, particularly in this day and age. There was a lot of emotion and feeling to it.”

Law enforcement felt the vibe as well.

When I connected again at 11:25 a.m. with Lt. Duncan he was still buzzing from the eclipse, which he witnessed from the roof of the building. And he was still reporting few challenges or issues for public safety officials, although traffic was starting to build on the run-up to the Van Buren Bridge.

“Hopefully we will get a fair enough number of people who will stay awhile and enjoy the city rather than sit in their cars in the roadway,” Duncan said. “There’s plenty to do.”

Crystal Lake

The city opened up camping on the sports fields, and 350 sites were gobbled up with more than 1,500 people spending the weekend. By 12:30 p.m. on eclipse day a steady stream of cars and RVs were heading out of the park.

Corvallis Parks and Recreation Department parks operation specialist John Hinkle was directing traffic, along with Ivery Jackson, who works in urban forestry.

“Everybody is so nice,” Jackson said.

Hinkle noted that “everybody just stopped for a few minutes” during the totality and that “this was bigger than I thought it would be.”

Hinkle, who had been on the job since 6 a.m., said that “everybody thanked us and said they had a really good time. We couldn’t have asked for a better situation.”

Any suggestions from the campers?

“Showers. I heard people say they would have paid $5 or $10 for a shower," Hinkle said.

By 2:30 p.m. both Higgins and Duncan were reporting minimal issues on the roads. And minimal issues period.

“Nothing,” said Duncan when asked what was going on. “It’s been good. Seems like there was a little bit of an aftermath with traffic, but things have been going smoothly. So that’s good. Clearly we didn’t get the mass amount of people we were expecting.

“It all went off without a hitch.”

Contact reporter James Day at jim.day@gazettetimes.com or 541-758-9542. Follow at Twitter.com/jameshday or gazettetimes.com/blogs/jim-day.

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