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Centralia to Victoria

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 23, 2017 – Centralia, WA to Victoria, BC

I’m up at 7:30AM despite being in no hurry today. I find a coffee shop open nearby so I can get my morning cappuccino, and drink it on the Parkside Patio back at the Centralia Square Grand Ballroom and Hotel – a nice start to the day. After finishing my cappuccino, I go downstairs to have breakfast in the Berry Fields Cafe – two eggs in a thick slice of their oat bread and fried. It is yummy! I check out of the hotel and drive over to the Centralia Supercharger for a top-up before driving for two hours through Olympia and up the Olympic Peninsula to Sequim. There are no congestion problems today and I don’t have to pay the toll to cross on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge northbound, thank goodness.

I stop at the Sequim Supercharger, not that I need a charge, but I want to try it out and see where it is located for when I might need it on future trips. It is at a Holiday Inn Express, and I’m in need of another cappuccino, so I drive by the Supercharger and go downtown. I find a coffee bar which makes a decent cappuccino, and they also have apple strudel, so that will be lunch! After topping up my charge, i drive the short distance to Port Angeles. I’m three hours early, so I waste an hour parked downtown, and then check into the Coho ferry parking lot to wait to depart for home. Canadian Customs and Immigration don’t have pre clearance like the Americans do, so there are no formalities before driving onto the 5:20PM ferry. Before arriving in Victoria, I switch my iPhone back to using my Rogers SIM. After our arrival, I drive off the ferry and am directed to the slowest line clearing Canadian Customs and Immigration, but eventually I’m free to drive the few blocks to my home. The eclipse trip is over!

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Newberg to Centralia

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 22, 2017 – Newberg, OR to Centralia, WA

I am up by 7:30AM this morning and see the Sun rising through the smoke from local wild fires near Newberg. I pack, put my things in the car, and after grabbing some breakfast at the hotel, drive down to the nearby Woodburn Supercharger for a 15 minute charge. While I’m recharging, I find a Starbuck’s and have cappuccino while waiting for my Tesla Model S to charge to 90%. The drive north on I-5 to Centralia isn’t as smooth as I thought it would be the day after the eclipse. It appears the extra visitors to the area are still causing volume delays along the way at each interchange just like yesterday, but I arrive in Centralia only about 10 minutes later than estimated.

Joe enjoying a glass of Prosecco while I wait for my room to be made ready

Joe enjoying a glass of Prosecco while I wait for my room to be made ready

I park across the street from the Centralia Grand Ballroom and Hotel in the afternoon heat of the historic district. The front desk informs me my room isn’t ready since I’m a couple of hours early, so I go for lunch at the Berry Fields Cafe located in the same building. They serve me a huge Cobb Salad with a big wedge of bread and an endless glass of iced tea. When I check back at the hotel desk after lunch, they tell me my room is almost ready, and pour me a chilled Prosecco sparkling Italian wine while I wait. I find a seat in their lovely guest lounge area, and about 10 minutes later I am taken to my room – up the main staircase.

There are no elevators in this three story historic building, but the rooms all have individually-controlled heat pumps. I really appreciate the cool room, since this afternoon the outside temperature is past 30ºC. I take the rest of my stuff up to the room and move my car to the free parking lot behind the hotel.

After cooling down in my room for awhile, I take my camera and explore this historic district of Centralia in the late afternoon, taking a couple of photos of the train station and the historic Fox Theater. On the way back to the hotel, I stop at The Station Coffee Bar for a nicely-made cappuccino. This coffee place is huge, with a performance space and an upstairs. I sip my cappuccino in my room while editing more photos. I can’t face eating any dinner after having such a big lunch. I also take quite a few photos of this historic hotel – the Grand Ballroom is indeed grand, and the shared bathrooms and polished wooden floors the hallways remind me of hotels my parents and I used to stay at in the 1950s and early 60s. Thankfully, my room has a toilet and shower, and there is a sink is in the room, just like the old days.

Centralia Square Grand Ballroom & Hotel - links to Centralia slide show

Centralia Square Grand Ballroom & Hotel

When I booked this historic hotel, I had a feeling it would appeal to me, and it certainly does! It started life in the 1920s as a very grand Elk’s Hall, but was sold in 1985 and became an antiques mall with the restaurant on the main level. In 2013 a young Centralia couple bought the building with the goal of restoring the ball room and other event rooms, and making the hotel rooms once again available to the public. They have done a wonderful job of restoring the old building, with the view of hosting weddings and other events in addition to hotel guests. I hate to think how much it has cost them to bring the building to the point it is today!

I’m going to try to promote the hotel and this historic city, since driving to Centralia is an easy trip for those who live in Victoria, Vancouver and the Lower Mainland of BC, as well as from anywhere in Western Washington or Oregon. The bonus for Tesla owners is that there is a Supercharger in Centralia with outlet stores adjacent, and it is just a five minute drive to the hotel and the city’s historic district.

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Total Solar Eclipse Day in Monmouth, OR

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 21, 2017 – Total Solar Eclipse Day in Monmouth, Oregon

My alarm is set for 5:00AM, but I wake up at 4:30AM, so decide to get up and start my journey early down to Monmouth to the line of totality. The traffic on the road is quite heavy but it moves well, so the trip takes me just under an hour. After I arrive in Monmouth, there is a bit of confusion about our meeting point, but after a phone call to check-in with my two observing buddies I meet them on the astroturf field they have picked out for us. We are setting up at 6:45AM, before the staff at Western Oregon University are ready for us, but they are happy to have us there, so we get prime parking spots by the entrance to the field.

Solar Corona & prominences - photo by John McDonald - used with permission

Solar Corona & prominences – photo by John McDonald – used with permission

Six more of my group from Victoria show up at the same location to observe the eclipse together, which is a lot of fun. I take some video of the people on the field as well as our group to capture some of the pre-eclipse excitement. Unfortunately I am so excited during the eclipse, I lose my concentration when totality hits and forget to remove my solar filter from my camera’s telephoto lens, so all my photos of totality are black!

This is perhaps the prettiest Total Solar Eclipse I have ever observed. Viewing through my binoculars, there are spectacular Diamond Rings both as totality starts (C2) and as it ends (C3), and I there is a whole row of Bailey’s Beads, a good number of Solar Prominences, and the Sun’s corona has beautiful plasma streamers flowing off into space in several directions. The planet Venus shows itself near the Sun visually before totality, so I take a wide field photo with my iPhone to capture the moment.

My Observing Report – a technical report of observational details, equipment used, location, fellow observers, and photographs

Gallery of Total Solar Eclipse photos taken by my fellow amateur astronomers (including my own) who are all members of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Victoria Centre

2017 Total Solar Eclipse - phases banner

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – phases to totality

After we pack up our gear, our group goes to the Yeasty Beasty cafe in Monmouth for lunch. The cafe have eclipse-themed menus for both beer and entrees. After sharing our experiences and decompressing a bit, I say my goodbyes and start the drive north to my hotel in Newberg. Some of the group follow me north, however the Tesla in-vehicle navigation suddenly routes us off Highway 99W which I took this morning, and takes us over several back roads before I join the highway again at McMinnville Airport. My friends peel off before I reach the highway, since they have an AirB&B rented in this area.

Once I rejoin the highway, I can see why the navigation redirected me over the back roads – the traffic on state highway 99W is at a near stand still. I creep along for the last 10 miles to Newberg, taking two more hours! I’m concerned I won’t have enough battery power in my Tesla Model S to make it, so I turn off the air conditioning and put the car in Econo Mode to save as much power as possible. It is hellishly hot this afternoon, reaching 36ºC on the highway as we all sit there. Needless to say, I’m exhausted by the time I reach my hotel, some three hours after leaving Monmouth, however my car arrives with a comfortable 50% charge level, so in hindsight I had nothing to worry about.

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Lakewood to Newberg

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 20, 2017 – Lakewood, WA to Newburg, OR

Route from Lakewood, WA to Newberg, OR from Tesla in-vehicle navigation

Route from Lakewood, WA to Newberg, OR from Tesla in-vehicle navigation

I am up early and go for breakfast in the hotel’s breakfast room, where I meet a couple from the Netherlands who are travelling with a group of six to see the Total Solar Eclipse. They are planning to travel through the western USA after the eclipse. I pack up and leave the hotel, driving to the nearby Centralia Supercharger by 9AM for a recharge. Locals charging here tell me this Supercharger is never full, but it is full of my fellow eclipse-chasers this morning! After filling up, I join the I-5 freeway south through Portland on state highway 99W to the Best Western Newberg hotel. Traffic is heavy but moving well, considering the Oregon Highways Department is expecting 1.5 million extra visitors will be using the highways for the few days surrounding the eclipse date.

This afternoon, I assemble all my observing gear in the back of the hotel and ensure it all works as planned. I find out that my Kestrel weather station I plan to measure the temperature drop during the eclipse with doesn’t have the quick connect plate I need to attach it to the second tripod I brought along. So I get out the hockey tape and tape the weather station mount directly to the ball head on top of the tripod. This jerry-rig works fine, so I’m all ready for tomorrow’s eclipse!

I have dinner at the Chehalem Valley Brewing Company, a local pub which is a short walk from the hotel, and then decide to drive to the Woodburn Supercharger this evening, which isn’t very far from Newberg. I want a good charge so I don’t have to stop to charge tomorrow on eclipse day. That works out fine, since there are empty spaces at the Supercharger and the traffic is light both ways.

Aerovironment L2 and L3 DC charger near my hotel in the back of a local gas station.

Pacific Coast Electric Highway L2 and L3 DC charger near my hotel in the back of a local gas station.

Earlier today when I arrived in Newberg, I found a fast DC charger near my hotel that is part of the Pacific Coast Electric Highway. Before leaving home, I joined the Aerovironment network that is required to make use of this charging network that covers the Washington, Oregon and California secondary highways. I’m also signed up to the Plugshare system, which can be used to pay for charging at these kiosks. It’s always wise to have a Plan B, especially when you expect there might be contention at the Tesla Superchargers!

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Victoria to Lakewood

2017 Total Solar Eclipse – Oregon road trip

August 19, 2017 – Victoria, BC, Canada to Lakewood, WA, USA

Slideshow of Victoria's Inner Harbour

Slideshow of Victoria’s Inner Harbour

I show up for the 7:30PM sailing of the Coho ferry a bit early at 5:40PM, but since we have to pre-clear US Customs, there are lots of others showing up early as well, so the parking lot is mostly full. I pre-clear US Customs and Immigration, and the Coho leaves on time at 7:30PM. It is a funky old ship, and very small – only taking just over 100 cars. I am jammed in, as is everyone – so much so, it’s difficult to get out of the car. Once we clear the harbour and get underway, the ship is rolling pretty well, despite it being a calm summer evening. I wouldn’t want to take this route when there are winter storms!

A half hour out of Victoria as we head for Port Angeles, I take out my Rogers SIM from my iPhone and install the Roam Mobility SIM, which flashes up after a few minutes. I fiddle with the cellular settings and soon get the LTE data working. For my 4 days on their daily plan I am allotted 512Mb/day, so I have 2Gb total up front – more than enough data service for this short trip. Total cost is about $20.

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

Despite pre-clearing US Customs and Immigration before we left Victoria, all vehicles are stopped before leaving the Port Angeles terminal to be sniffed by a dog and talk to yet another agent. It takes a bit over two hours to drive from Port Angeles, pay a US$6 toll to cross the Tacoma Narrows bridge, arriving just before midnight at the Best Western hotel in Lakewood. I would never have found the hotel in the dark without the in-vehicle navigation, since it is embedded in the outskirts of Tacoma.

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Seattle to Victoria by Victoria Clipper

March 5, 2017 Sunday – Seattle to Victoria on the Victoria Clipper fast ferry

I’m up at 5:30AM, since the Victoria Clipper boards at 7:15AM for an 8AM departure for Victoria. Unfortunately I don’t have time for the included breakfast at the hotel, but grab a coffee in the lobby as I wait for my taxi to Pier 69, where the Victoria Clipper departs from. I have a few minutes before they open the departure area, so I get a cappuccino at the adjacent cafe. I check my big bag through to Victoria and go through pre-clearance where they check my passport against my boarding pass.

Rough seas as the Victoria Clipper passes Port Townsend into Juan de Fuca Strait

Rough seas as the Victoria Clipper passes Port Townsend into Juan de Fuca Strait

I’m soon settled onboard and the Victoria Clipper departs on time. We encounter some wave action as we pass Port Townsend into the open waters of Juan de Fuca Strait, but it smooths out again once we are in open water. There is no Wi-fi aboard, but my US data roaming gives me a good LTE connection for most of the trip, as I work on my photos and blog for most of the time anyway.

After our arrival in Victoria, the Canada Customs agent asks me the usual questions, then welcomes me back home to Canada. There is slush coming down outside as I catch a taxi home.

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Northern California & Oregon to Seattle by train

March 4, 2017 Saturday – Amtrak Coast Starlight train from northern California through Oregon to Seattle

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

Sign: Union Pacific Railway: Chemult, Oregon. Elev 4,764 ft

There is no rush to get up this morning, since our arrival in Seattle is scheduled for 8:12PM this evening. I get up around 7:30AM and then go for breakfast a bit later. We make a quick stop in Klamath Falls at 9:15AM – Upper Klamath Lake still has some ice on the surface as the train winds its way around the shoreline.

There is some light snow falling as we stop in Chemult, Oregon at 10:40AM – the same spot it was snowing on the way down. Needless to say, there is still quite a bit of snow on the ground in this high elevation area. The train stops to pick up some passengers and then starts the descent through the pine forest. As the Sun comes out, it’s beautiful country, but I’m glad to be inside with my slippers on.

At 11:23AM we are at Cascade Summit, the highest point on the railroad as it crosses the Cascade Mountains at an elevation of 4,852 feet or 1,479 metres. There is lots of snow on the side of the tracks and on the trees, and it’s lightly snowing as we enter the summit tunnel. The snow gets deeper as we descend, and the train becomes very quiet as it goes through the deep snow. By my count, there are 18 tunnels in this stretch of track.

After leaving Albany, the rain starts falling. There is lots of primary industry in this area, especially lumber mills. The train is running about a half hour late, not that it matters to me. We pass by Willamette Falls and Abernethy Island as the train runs down the shoreline of the Willamette River towards Portland. My sleeping car is pretty quiet after leaving Portland, so obviously a lot of people got off here. Portland has a big and busy rail yard. Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe both operate out of this yard.

Dining and sleeping cars as the train pulls into the KIng St Station in Seattle

Coast Starlight train – Washington – link to slideshow

As we leave Portland, Oregon and cross the Columbia River into Vancouver, Washington, the conductor announces that we will be delayed because of a swing span being opened and having several freight trains waiting ahead of us. In the mean time, they are serving an early dinner starting at 5PM. I send a Facebook message with a virtual wave to my friends who live in Scappoose, across the Columbia River from where I am on the train north of Portland (in Washington State).

After a short stop, the train engineer really barrels out of Tacoma station, obviously wanting to make time to the Seattle King Street station and the end of the line. We were about 35 minutes late earlier in the day, and I don’t think he gained or lost much time despite several delays mainly caused by freight traffic. It is sprinkling a bit of rain as I head out of the Seattle King Street train station after our arrival, walking the six blocks to my hotel, the Best Western at Pioneer Square. It is an older hotel, but well-run, and very convenient to the train station.

 

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California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station

Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station

The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are huge fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields. As the train hugs the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

California Coast by train from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline. transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

Sandy crescent beach and cliffs of Cojo Bay on the California coast

California coast by train –
slide show

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies. We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

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Tucson to Los Angeles by train

March 2, 2017 Thursday – Leave Tucson, AZ aboard Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train to Los Angeles, CA, USA

I arrive at the Amtrak station in downtown Tucson a bit after 5PM and check in at the wicket. The man tells me the train is running a bit ahead of schedule, so I will be able to board early (whatever that means). I’m glad the waiting room is air conditioned, since the Sun is pretty intense this afternoon.

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Old Centralized Traffic Control Board displayed in the waiting roomMaynard’s Market is next door to the Amtrak waiting room, and they also run a restaurant that is quite popular. I can smell the food, but I’m really not hungry after my late lunch. The other end of the terminal has a couple of shops and a railway museum, including a steam engine under cover and statues of Wyatt Earp and Doc Halliday. There is an old centralized control station, which was used to control the trains in the area.

People watching in the waiting room is entertaining: a guy is wearing a zipped-up parka and talking loudly to himself; a young, gay, black guy floats into the room hugging his pillow; an intense guy stares at everyone who enters but doesn’t say a word; and an obese young woman loudly talks non-stop to her skinny friend about her life trials for all to hear. One guy approaches me to look up on my iPhone where the Greyhound station is, since he wants to get to Roanoke, Virginia by bus. He mumbles about taking a taxi since it is too far to walk, but I later see him board my train. By 6PM some regular folks finally start to show up!

The train arrives at 7:45PM and after a few people get off, I board my sleeping car and find my Roomette. My car attendant made an 8PM dinner reservation for me before I even boarded the train, which is great service and very welcome, since I really didn’t expect to have dinner onboard. The train leaves a bit early at 8:20PM and last call for dinner ends up happening while we are still in the station. After dinner my car attendant makes my bed so I can settle in for the night. We stop in Maricopa just after 10PM to pick up passengers, and then it is quiet time aboard my sleeping car. Despite being on the north side of the train, I see the crescent Moon from my Roomette window. I’m relaxed and ready for bed.

We are scheduled to arrive at 5:35AM Pacific Time in Los Angeles, so I set my alarm on my iPhone for 4:00AM Mountain time to give me some time to prepare to detrain in LA.

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Biosphere 2

March 2, 2107 Thursday –  Biosphere 2, Oracle, AZ, USA

I pack my bags and check out from the hotel around 11:30AM, heading north on N Oracle Road to the Biosphere 2 located in Oracle, AZ – about a half hour drive. The admission is US$20, but I qualify for a senior discount, so it costs me $18. This includes a hour and a quarter walking tour of the Biosphere.

Biosphere 2 was built from private funding, although it is now owned and operated by the University of Arizona. The first experiment demonstrated the viability of a closed ecological system supporting and maintaining human life in outer space by shutting eight humans inside the Biosphere for two years. They have unique large-scale experimental apparatus housing seven model ecosystems with some active research by teams of multidisciplinary scientists. The tour showcases the tropical orchard, desert, ocean, and tropical rainforest. Our guide tells us the rainforest is pretty overgrown, and the desert still needs a project. The scientific focus appears to be Water and Climate. There are also lots of school kids taking special educational programs.

I have to say after listening to our tour guide and seeing the facility for myself, it strikes me as kind of an odd facility. It is a long way from being sustainable, since it uses huge amounts of energy from the electrical grid to maintain and alter the various internal climatic systems. Of course this can be enormously valuable to scientists who want to see effects of climate change, since the climate can be altered inside in a matter of hours, and can be maintained precisely for days or weeks at a time. Our guide candidly admitted that the University of Arizona is still in the process of moving the facility from the idealism it was built for to a more scientifically relevant footing.

Biosphere 2 is an engineering marvel. The ecosystems are precisely maintained inside a sealed environment – airtight doors are the only way in and out. The Lungs allow the atmosphere inside to expand and contract without caving in or exploding the enclosing glass and metal structures.  Of course, those airtight doors were closed for the first two years during the original experiment!

After the tour, I stop into the B2 Cafe for some lunch before returning to the parking lot and heading south to Tucson and my train to Los Angeles.