The atmosphere was festive on Marys Peak on Monday morning as close to 1,000 people traveled to the high point of the Oregon Coast Range to see a total eclipse of the sun.
The upper parking lot looked like a tailgate party with people cooking breakfast on portable stoves and buying food from vendors hawking gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches and gluten-free doughnuts.
On the summit, expectant eclipse-watchers clustered in small constellations, talking excitedly and spreading blankets or setting up lawn chairs in prime viewing locations.
One group even worked through a set of yoga poses as they limbered up for the big event.
But the party mood turned reverent as the moon covered up the last sliver of the solar disk, bathing the peak in an eerie half-light as the temperature took a nosedive.
At the moment of totality, the crowd erupted in cheers and applause, pulling off their viewing glasses to take in the full splendor of the sun’s corona, blazing like molten silver against the jet-black orb of the moon.
“Amazing!” one man cried. “I want to see it again!”
The celestial totality show didn’t last long — less than a minute and a half — but it made a powerful impression on those lucky enough to see it.
On a clear day, 4,097-foot Marys Peak offers views of a dozen snowcapped Cascade summits, but on Monday a distant band of wildfire smoke obscured all except Mount Hood, standing tall to the northeast.
When the sun disappeared behind the moon at about 10:15 a.m., however, a band of light encircled the horizon like a second sunrise, spotlighting Hood and temporarily bringing Mount St. Helens, Mount Adams and Mount Rainier into view.
Eclipse-watchers exclaimed in wonder as a handful of glowing planets appeared in the darkening sky, and they called out to each other to watch closely as the moment of totality approached.
Afterward, people chattered excitedly or spoke in hushed voices about what they had just witnessed.
“Perfect,” pronounced John Zhang, who traveled from Sonoma County, California, with his wife and son for the event. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Peter Wendel of Corvallis took in the sky show with childhood friend Andy Sass, who drove up from Fremont, California. Wendel was on hand for Oregon’s last total solar eclipse in 1979, but he said watching this one from the vantage point of Marys Peak was better.
“To see the light glowing around the edges and to see Mount Hood glowing in the distance — spectacular,” he said.
Sass was equally impressed.
“I didn’t expect the 360-degree sunrise,” he said. “Amazing. Well worth the 20 hours of driving.”
In an effort to avert traffic snarls and protect the summit’s sensitive vegetation, the Siuslaw National Forest decided to limit access to the peak. Permits were required for private vehicles on the day of the event, and fewer than 90 were issued to avoid overtaxing the mountain’s parking areas.
Under a permit from the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Trail Runs and Cascadia Expeditions used chartered school buses to shuttle 450 visitors between Corvallis and the summit. Tickets cost $85 a pop, or $65 for riders under 18, and came with free eclipse glasses and a commemorative T-shirt.
“The big thing was how to have an event so we could manage the parking, manage the traffic and manage public access,” said Mike Ripley of Oregon Trail Runs.
The two Corvallis-area companies also managed permits for overnight tent camping at the Conners Camp picnic area and put together a deluxe camping package on the summit for a select few. The high-end overnight experience included a winery tour, farm-to-table dinner, private concert and stargazing, with an informal yoga session just prior to the eclipse.
“Bend like the eclipsing sun,” urged Jennah Stillman of Cascadia Expeditions, who led the pre-totality workout. “Let’s do some shoulder rolls. We slept on the ground last night — work it out!”
Suzanne Eager of Redondo Beach, California, one of 13 people who paid $750 apiece to take part in the luxury campout, called the astronomer-led star-viewing session a highlight of the trip.
“He brought up a telescope,” she said. “We got to see Saturn and its rings and Jupiter and its moons — it was awesome!”
Siuslaw National Forest spokeswoman Lisa Romano estimated the total number of people on the mountain Monday — including shuttle bus passengers, campers, vehicle permit-holders, vendors, Forest Service employees, emergency responders and volunteers — at around 1,000.
They came from all over the country and all over the world. About half the shuttle bus riders came from outside Oregon, with a hefty chunk from California and Washington and others from as far away as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Hawaii. Some traveled even greater distances, including visitors from Canada and Norway.
Michelle Baumgartner and Clyde Charlton drove up from San Rafael, California, with their 12-year-old son, Dylan Charlton, camping along the way and riding the shuttle to Marys Peak.
“We had taken his time off anyway … and then we realized it was the time of the eclipse,” Clyde Charlton said. “We decided it was worth the adventure.”
“It’s so beautiful up here,” Baumgartner said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Not all came by bus or car. A number of people arrived by bicycle, pedaling up the steep, winding road to the summit.
Eighteen-year-old Coby Boeder set out by bike from Corvallis about 7:30 p.m. Sunday evening, then continued on foot after his chain broke on Highway 34 just below the turnoff to Marys Peak Road.
“I pushed it all the way up,” he said.
After camping out overnight, he left his disabled bicycle at Conners Camp and hiked the 2½-mile East Ridge Trail to the summit, planning to return for his bike after the eclipse.
“I figure I’ll just coast down, phone home and get a ride back to town,” he said.
A couple of people even motored to the summit on Segways.
Mary and Jennifer Simpson hitchhiked to the top. The sisters drove down from Seattle for an Oregon vacation, hoping to view the eclipse from a backcountry campsite near Mount Jefferson, but a wildfire forced them to change their plans.
After camping near the coast on Sunday night, the two drove inland toward Coast Range. Lacking a vehicle permit, they stuck out their thumbs at the foot of Marys Peak Road and quickly flagged a ride to the summit.
It probably helped that they were wearing party hats and toting a helium-filled balloon to celebrate Jennifer Simpson’s 36th birthday. They even brought cake.
“We always wanted to come down here and do some hiking and see the beaches,” the birthday girl explained. “But knowing the eclipse was coming really made it special.”
A crew from Portland-based Sparkloft Media was on hand, shooting photos for use by Travel Oregon. Other teams were stationed at the coast and in Oregon wine country to capture images of people viewing the eclipse, which the state tourism agency plans to use on its website and social media platforms.
“We really want to capture the Oregon experience,” photographer Benjamin Day said.
The brief moment of totality was sandwiched between two periods of partial eclipse, each about an hour long.
Most of the people on Marys Peak started heading home shortly after the sun began making its return appearance, but Marian Porterie and Bob Motzer of Eugene stayed for the full meal deal, watching from lawn chairs just below the summit and packing up to catch the last bus down the hill as the final bit of moonshadow slipped away.
Motzer seemed to think he got more than his money’s worth.
“You know, some things in life don’t live up to the billing,” he said. “That was perfect.”