Yes, there is excitement. But there is also considerable angst in Oregon’s zone of totality, despite months and in some instances years of preparation. Price hikes, possible gas shortages, traffic jams — and will there be enough toilets?

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MADRAS, Ore. — Two years ago, Misty and Aaron Cox got what they thought was a firm bid for the 500 portable toilets their sewage-disposal company would need as visitors poured in to their central Oregon hometown for the total eclipse of the sun.

Then last February, the vendor told them demand was soaring. The mid-August rate would quadruple.

“We were definitely naive and too trusting,” said Misty Cox, co-owner of Middleton Septic & Portable Toilets. “We’re honest, hardworking people from a small town.”


The eclipse starts at 9:08 a.m. Monday in the Seattle area, with maximum coverage at 10:21 a.m. and ending by 11:39 a.m. Here, the moon will block about 92 percent of the sun.

The porta-potty profiteering is one of the crasser examples of Earthbound capitalism inspired by the prospect of 1 million people coming to Oregon for Monday’s display of soul-stirring celestial science.

Oregon is the leadoff state in the first solar eclipse since 1918 to sweep across the entire continent. It will unfold, as the day progresses, in a corridor roughly 70 miles wide that reaches east to Charleston, South Carolina, where day will turn briefly to night as the moon passes in front of the sun, and will be watched, studied and feted far more than any of its U.S. predecessors.

“It’s going to be this huge social event for the United States, and I think it gives us something we can all enjoy … as one of the nation’s amazing spectacles,” said Dean Pesnell, a NASA astrophysicist based in Madras this week.

But the eclipse — despite months and in some instances years of preparation — also has stirred up ample amounts of angst.

Motorists fret over the traffic they must endure to reach the zone of totality, and possible gas shortages could make congestion on the way out even worse.

[Check out Oregon DOT’s traffic map, updating live throughout the event.] 

Fire officials are on edge over blazes burning near or within the zone of totality. This forced large swaths of the Three Sisters and Mount Jefferson wilderness areas to close, pulling back a Forest Service welcome mat for anticipated crowd of tens of thousands of backpackers. Barricades block the roads leading to trail heads, and law-enforcement officials — as well as backcountry rangers — will try to prevent people from sneaking into closed areas where they risk getting trapped by fires.

One of the biggest concerns is the Milli Fire, burning west of Sisters, which triggered evacuation orders, as of Saturday morning, for some 600 people.

“The increased tourism from the eclipse definitely adds a layer of complexity. We have trouble just getting firefighters to some locations,” said Steve Berube, a fire public information officer.

Eclipse preparation and viewing advice

Don’t try to watch a partial solar eclipse without eclipse glasses or a pinhole projector. You could seriously damage your eyes. In areas where the eclipse will be total — which doesn’t include Washington — it’s safe to look directly at the sun without eye protection only during the minute or two of totality, when the moon blocks the entire face of the sun.

• Only a certain type of glasses will protect your eyes. Beware of substandard versions. Look for ISO 12312-2 certification on the product. The American Astronomical Society ( published a list of reputable vendors, along with a list of retail chains selling certified glasses. The AAS also offers tips on how to tell if your eclipse glasses meet the standard.

• Watch the weather forecast. If clouds threaten, be ready to drive to a clearer area — assuming the roads aren’t clogged. Don’t despair if you can’t avoid clouds. They sometimes clear as the eclipse unfolds.

• Don’t photograph the eclipse. Unless you’re an expert, the results won’t be great and fussing with equipment will detract from your enjoyment.

• If you’re on a hill, you may be able to spot the moon’s shadow sweeping toward you at more than 1,500 mph. (In Western Oregon, the shadow will move at more than 2,000 mph.)

• For more information: NASA,, Sky & Telescope, “Eclipse: History. Science. Awe.”

Sources: “Eclipse: History. Science. Awe.” by Bryan Brewer;;

In Madras, a community of less than 9,000 people, a major stressor is how to take care of the tens of thousands of people expected to stay in town and the surrounding farm fields to witness the Monday-morning spectacle.

Merchants have stocked up and extra cellphone towers have been erected to help with service.

Eclipse events, tips and ways to watch

NASA’s livestream ( will be available online starting at about 9 a.m. Monday and will include videos and images from aircraft and balloons. (Eclipse glasses are not needed to watch online or on television.) reporters and photographers will deliver live coverage from around the Northwest.

• Some television networks, including The Weather Channel, will broadcast live.

Fourteen branches of the Seattle Public Library will show the NASA livestream beginning at 10 a.m. Monday. Go to:

The Museum of Flight will host a free viewing event on the lawn, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., with NASA and museum staff on hand. Free eclipse glasses will be available to the first 1,000 visitors.

• Paying visitors can watch the livestream in the Museum of Flight’s auditorium or at the Pacific Science Center, which will open at 8:30 a.m. on eclipse day. The science center will host an eclipse-viewing event and provide eclipse glasses with admission to the first 800 visitors.

Several community centers and libraries across Seattle will host outdoor viewing parties. Free eclipse glasses will be available as long as supplies last. Go to

• Some King County library branches, including Des Moines, Redmond, Bellevue, Shoreline and Valley View are hosting eclipse-viewing events from 9:45 to 11 a.m., with free eclipse glasses available as long as supplies last. Go to:

Law-enforcement and emergency personnel have beefed up their presence. And on Saturday afternoon, they responded to a small plane crash that killed one person near the Madras Municipal Airport, which has seen a huge surge of eclipse-related aviation traffic.

“They looked like they were in trouble. It tipped back, and nose-dived into the ground,” said Patrick Smergut, who saw the crash as he helped to host visitors at a farm-field camp site.

Tents, music and pinot

Eclipse facts

• A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about every 18 months.

• The last coast-to-coast eclipse in the U.S. was 99 years ago.

• If the moon’s diameter were 6.5 percent smaller, a total solar eclipse could never happen.

• The last total solar eclipse visible in the Pacific Northwest occurred Feb. 26, 1979.

• After this year, the next ones close to the Northwest will be Aug. 23, 2044, in eastern British Columbia and Aug. 12, 2045, in northern California and Nevada.

• Duration of totality varies because the distances between the Earth, sun and moon vary. The longest eclipse lasts more than 7 minutes. This year’s will last between 2 and 2.7 minutes.

Sources: “Eclipse: History. Science. Awe.” by Bryan Brewer; NASA;

Through the weekend, Misty and Aaron Cox’s company bears the burden of timely service of the portable toilets that the couple scrambled to secure from other vendors once the original supplier jacked up the prices.

The sewage trucks will travel on back streets during the early morning hours to try to avoid traffic as they pump out the waste.

“This is like an algebra problem with too many Xs,” Cox said. “The biggest thing is we just don’t know how long it will take to get from one place to another.”

Such challenges stretch across much of the zone of totality.

In tiny Mill City, a small Cascade town sustained by logging, at least one of the big mills will shut down Monday to keep employees and trucks out of the crush of traffic expected along Oregon Route 22, which runs through the heart of the zone of Western Oregon totality.

“I can’t wait to see the eclipse. I will be at home in my backyard with my six kids,” said Michael Irving, a shift supervisor at Frank Lumber.

In the state capital of Salem, city parks normally close at 10 p.m., and any homeless people who might seek to pass the night then risk eviction. But this Sunday evening, to help with the lodging crunch, city officials will keep the parks open for free tent camping so long as the no-fires and other park rules are obeyed.

“At least for the night, we won’t be hassled,” said Erica Ruiz, a homeless Salem resident who often sleeps outside. “It will be my right.”

The Monday weather forecasts appear promising for Salem and the broader Willamette Valley, where many wineries have packages pairing pinot noir and pinot gris with eclipse viewing.

But Western Oregon historically carries a greater risk of clouds that could obscure the sun’s corona, which will be briefly visible at the height of the eclipse. And the prospect for clearer eclipse viewing is a big draw to the more arid lands of central Oregon.

In the central Oregon area, the single biggest eclipse event appears to be a festival — sponsored by an international potpourri of groups — that blends art and music from a multitude of bands on remote private land within the Ochoco National Forest. Some 30,000 people are expected.

In the run-up to the eclipse, roads to the site have been the scene of some of the worst traffic jams, with Oregon State Police at one point reporting a backup of around 30 miles.

“Science, and the natural world is what’s sacred to me, and this is the best expression of that,” said Zaq Nilan, a Seattle carpenter and veteran of Nevada’s Burning Man festival who drove to the festival in a Mazda pickup packed with a solar-powered generator, paint and other gear he and his friends needed for a weeklong stay.

At the Warm Springs reservation, University of Washington researchers will be mentoring some 200 Indian youth from around the West for a weekend that will culminate in the launch of high-altitude balloons to capture images of the eclipse.

But for Warm Springs residents, the run-up to the eclipse has included difficult days.

On Thursday, the Nena Springs fire jumped containment lines, and burned nearly 20,000 acres in less than two days. The fire came close to the Kah-Nee-Ta Resort & Spa, forcing guests to shelter in place Thursday evening as they watched flames move like waves through the cheat grass, sagebrush and other ground cover.

“It looked pretty apocalyptic. There was fire all over the hillside,” said Carl Ventis, a Bend, Oregon, guitar player who arrived with other members of a band booked to play for the Japanese tourists staying at the lodge for the eclipse.

Ventis said he never felt threatened as fire crews conducted a back burn to keep the lodge safe. By Saturday, the fire had moved well past the lodge, and lodge staff looked forward to the evening arrival of the Japanese tourists.

$300 at the Motel 6

In Madras — where the eclipse will reach totality at 10:19 a.m. and last for two minutes — interest in the event has been stoked by NASA representatives. They have ranked the community as a stellar site for viewing and made it a kind of base for eclipse astronomy.

In May, Pesnell and NASA colleague Michael Kirk spent a week in classrooms, promoting not only the eclipse, but science careers in an outreach to all district students.

More on the eclipse

And they are in town this week to talk with visitors from around the world.

For astronomy buffs, there is a lot going on.

The Lowell Observatory, from Arizona, is hosting two days of activities that will culminate Monday in a communal viewing at the high-school football field.

All of this has added to the allure of the Madras eclipse, where motels have responded by escalating their rates. Motel 6, for example, on Sunday evening is more than tripling its summer prices to charge more than $300 for a room.

Some are staying in the heart of the city at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds, the site of Solarfest, a festival organized by local entrepreneurs.

“Everyone must see one in their lifetime, at least one, and then you will get hooked,” said Al Smith, a retired University of California, Santa Cruz, seismology professor who was one of the early arrivals at Solarfest.

This will be Smith’s seventh total eclipse, and he quickly sheds all traces of scientific detachment as he describes the experience. “The lighting is unbelievable. There are no mere words to describe it.”

Others are staying in hundreds of tents set up on the grass and equipped with cots, bedding, a chair and table.

Madras festival organizers say they started preparing more than two years ago, and interest was so strong they ended up setting up a whole other site — called Solartown — in farm fields several miles outside of town.

Ray Davis, a 55-year-old supervisor at a computer-chip plant, pulled into town Thursday, driving up from his home in Hayward, California.

Davis said he has been fascinated by astronomy since he was a kid watching science shows on public television. This week, he brought along his telescope, which has the girth of a rocket launcher.

“This eclipse is something that has been on my bucket list,” Davis said.

For those on a low budget and willing to practice leave-no-trace camping, there is the option of no-cost camping. It can be found along roadways in a so-far fire-free zone several miles outside of Madras that runs through the Crooked River National Grassland.

Many private landowners also are open for business. In the Madras area, camping sites are going for $100 or more a night, according to Joe Krenowicz, executive director of the Madras-Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

But portable toilets, in some locations, may be in short supply.

Cox said she has been contacted by some distraught landowners in dire need of more.

Cox has none to spare.

“We feel for them but can’t do anything to help them,” Cox said.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that the crash of a small plane near Madras, Ore., killed one person. Based on information from police, it was initially reported that two people had died in the crash.