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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 historic district of the city. 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 in the bedroom, 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 from Newberg 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!

That said, this is perhaps the prettiest Total Solar Eclipse I have ever observed. Viewing through my binoculars reveals spectacular Diamond Rings both as totality starts (C2) and as it ends (C3), and 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. 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 photos) 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 their beer and food. 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 joining the highway again at McMinnville Airport. My friends peel off before I reach the highway, since they have an AirB&B rented in the area.

Once I rejoin the highway, I can see why the navigation redirected me over the back roads (Hwy 22 & 221) – the traffic on state highway 99W is at a near stand still. I creep along 99W 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

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 it 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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Northern California & Oregon to Seattle by train

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

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

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.

Oakland to Seattle by Amtrak train Coast Starlight - map
Oakland to Seattle by Amtrak train Coast Starlight

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 – 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. I stay here overnight before taking the fast ferry home in the morning.

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Seattle to Sacramento by train

Feb 16, 2017 Thursday – Seattle, WA to Sacramento, CA by by Amtrak’s Coast Starlight train

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

I wake up at 6:30AM this morning, having had a good sleep at the hotel. I go down for some breakfast and the essential coffee. It is then time to leave for the train station. There are patches of blue sky and no rain, so instead of taking a taxi, I slowly walk the six blocks, pulling my big bag on wheels.

Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight
Looking into my Roomette aboard the Seattle to Sacramento Coast Starlight

The King Street Union Station in Seattle is beautiful inside, with marble walls and classic high ceilings. The old-style wooden high-backed bench seats hearken back to previous eras. I go to the ticket booth to check-in and the agent explains that if I need stuff out of my big bag, then I will have to take it aboard with me instead of checking it through to LA. Next time, I will know to take a smaller bag, since there is no assistance with bag handling when boarding the train.

This is certainly slow travel, since our check-in consists of showing our tickets to the agent, and then they hand write a paper ticket with our car number and room number on it. No ticket scans and no security checks. The Homeland Security Police presence inside the station bring me back to the current reality, although they appear to be pretty bored, having little to do.

9:30AM – Leave Seattle, WA. There is a Sounder commuter train unloading passengers on the opposite track to ours as we leave. It’s so refreshing to see rail transport being actively used here in Washington State, unlike Vancouver Island, where rail transport is being neglected.

Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset
Tacoma Narrows bridge at sunset

10:30AM – Tacoma, WA – we stop to board a few passengers before leaving for the most scenic stretch along the Puget Sound to Olympia. The Roomette on the opposite side of the isle is being used by George, our car attendant, so I scoot over there to shoot video and photos, since he said he doesn’t mind. We also briefly stop in Olympia to take on a few more passengers, and then the train goes inland through rural areas.

Seattle to Sacramento by train - map
Seattle to Sacramento by train

12:00 Noon – Centralia, WA – we stop for a few minutes to detrain some passengers, and then carry on our way. Lunch is served in the dining car in three seatings: 12:00, 12:30 and 13:00. I skip the first seating, since there is a rush of passengers. The rivers in this area are muddy and swollen with the rain and snow we recently had over the last month or so.

12:20PM – Longview-Kelso, WA – The rain starts as we travel south, crossing rivers and streams with the I-5 freeway beside us. I’m so happy to not be driving…just sitting here in my Roomette with my slippers on, fully relaxed as I watch the drivers on the freeway drive through the rain. I go to the dining car at 12:30PM and have turkey medallions – a very nice hot lunch!

1:50PM – Portland, OR – We stop in Portland for about a half hour, where passengers get on and off. It is also where passengers can get off to stretch their legs, get some fresh air, and to have a smoke (outside the terminal). I stay onboard, since it is raining quite hard.

I receive a voicemail from Amtrak stating that I should get off at Sacramento to be transferred by bus and commuter rail to LA to connect with my train to Tucson, since they are expecting delays further down the track to LA. They have refunded a portion of my ticket in compensation. I check with my car attendant, and he can’t see why that is necessary since the train isn’t currently running late. He suggests I check with the next conductor before arriving in Sacramento, but I should be prepared to get off the train in Sacramento at 6:35AM.

Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oreon
Red barn and green field at sunset near Tangent, Oregon

3:50PM – Salem, OR – Quick stop. Willamette University Bearcats female football players practicing. Lots of farming is going on in the Willamette Valley between Salem and Albany.

4:35PM – Albany, OR – Quick stop. Big rail yard.

The conductor comes by to find out what I was told about getting off in Sacramento. He confirms there is flooding near Chico, California, which will slow the train down, and there is also track work being done on the California coast section, so the train will likely be quite late. He confirms I should get off in Sacramento, and tells me I will be on a bus from Sacramento to Stockton, then a fast commuter train from Stockton to Bakersfield, and finally another bus from Bakersfield to LA, driving down the Central Valley. I will arrive in LA at 4:15PM, and my train to Tucson leaves at 10PM.

6:10PM I go for dinner at the second seating, I am seated with a couple who boarded in Tacoma. They are heading to LA and then getting on a cruise ship in San Pedro, the Port of Los Angeles, for a short 6 day cruise down the coast of Mexico.

8:00PM – It’s pitch black outside, but I see quite a bit of snow flashing by and snowflakes falling outside the window. We haven’t had cellular reception for quite awhile, which is to be expected in this area, according to the conductor. The train has slowed down to perhaps 10-15 mph and now it has stopped. Our conductor announces that the train will stop because an outside sensor is detecting that something is dragging below the train. He goes outside to investigate – in the dark and snow, and with a serious drop in slope beside the roadbed. After 10 minutes the train starts moving again after he reports nothing found.

8:33PM – I thought the train has stopped again, but it’s just become very quiet riding through the snow.

9:05PM – Chemult, OR – more passengers board the train, with deep snow outside.

10PM – Time for bed…my cabin attendant makes my bed – my first night aboard a train in my own Roomette.