SALEM, Oregon — With its radiant corona, shadows that appeared to shimmer across the ground and 360 degrees of twilight, Monday’s total solar eclipse awed millions of onlookers across the northwestern United States.

Some called it a mystical experience while others praised the power of science. Either way, the spectacle seemed to leave most pretty impressed.

“I was looking for the diamond ring and when that diamond ring came, I had tears in my eyes. I’ve read about it, but it was . indescribable,” said Julie Vigeland, a 73-year-old Portland, Oregon resident who watched from the Oregon State Fairgrounds in Salem. “It was a very primal experience, it really was. I’ve seen other really magnificent things but there is nothing, nothing like this.”

John Hays drove up from Bishop, California for the total eclipse in Salem and said the experience will stay with him forever. He watched from a deck overlooking the Willamette Valley and the foothills of the Coastal Range.

“What I really liked this time was that I could see out, and looking across the entire landscape you get a sense of the planet going dark,” said Hays, who watched an eclipse in Guatemala about 27 years ago. “That silvery ring is so hypnotic and mesmerizing, it does remind you of wizardry or like magic.”

One state over in Weiser, Idaho, Keith Bryant watched the eclipse from the front of the candy store he co-owns, Weiser Classic Candy.

He said the event was “absolutely amazing.”

“I understand now why people chase this all over the world,” said Bryant. “When you start to see the shadows on the ground — the totality was just beautiful. I was catching the corona, everything.”

In downtown Boise, onlookers gathered on parking garage rooftops and city sidewalks, donning paper eclipse glasses as the moon blocked about 99.5 percent of the sun. Temperatures dropped and streetlights switched on. In neighborhoods across town, birds hushed and sidewalks became dappled with half-moon shadows as the spaces between tree leaves turned into natural pinhole projectors.

Over the Pacific Ocean, a group of about 100 people, including some contest winners, eclipse experts and journalists were on a special eclipse-chasing charter flight by Alaska Airlines.

The jet flew about nearly three hours over the ocean to intercept the eclipse, allowing the passengers to watch totality from their seats. Among the passengers was Joe Rao, an instructor and lecturer at Hayden Planetarium who helped Alaska Airlines plan the logistics for the flight. This was his 12th total solar eclipse.

Excitement on the plane built as totality neared, with Joe Rao shouting out: “Four minutes to totality! Two minutes to totality, two minutes!” As he counted down the final seconds, and the moon blacked out the sun, passengers pressed cameras and faces against the plane’s windows.

Totality passed quickly — just one minute and 43 seconds.

“That was magnificent,” Rao said. “It never gets old. It’s going to take another week for the adrenaline to leave my body.”

It was the second total eclipse for Dr. Michael Barratt, a NASA astronaut and medical doctor who was on the flight. He credited his first solar eclipse in eastern Washington state in 1979 with pushing him toward a career in space.

The other passengers were also inspired.

“I want to see it again,” said Jasmine Shepherd, 26, of Charlotte, North Carolina, who won a seat on the flight through a social media contest that Alaska held. Shepherd had brought her 18-year-old brother, Joshua, with her and both were decked out in eclipse-themed T-shirts. “It’s hard for me to process what just happened.”

As travelers and tourists headed back home, traffic was very slow in parts of western Oregon and eastern Idaho, but not jammed as badly as some had feared. Many of the slow-downs had begun to clear Monday evening.


Flaccus reported from Salem, Oregon and La Corte reported from a flight over the Pacific Ocean. Associated Press reporters Rebecca Boone and Kimberlee Kruesi contributed to the story from Boise, Idaho, and Andrew Selsky contributed from Salem, Oregon.


This story has been updated to correct the spelling of NASA astronaut Dr. Michael Barratt’s name.

Author photo
RACHEL LA CORTE and GILLIAN FLACCUS
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