MEGLER — Eclipse watchers who took in Monday’s spectacle in the sky from the Columbia River’s northern bank at Dismal Nitch saw nothing of the wretched storms and unrelenting gloom that earned the small cove its name.
A few dozen people gathered at the lookout point northeast of the Astoria-Megler Bridge as morning fog lifted, leaving clear skies for the first total solar eclipse to cross the country from coast to coast in almost a century.
Some said they stayed near the Peninsula to see the partial eclipse because 97 percent totality was close enough, considering the convenience of smaller crowds and fewer traffic snarls.
“It was full glory here on the river,” Debby Halliburton, of Ocean Park, said. “It really couldn’t have been better weather.”
Others stayed, hoping to avoid crowds around the path of totality, a 70-mile wide stretch from Oregon to South Carolina where the full eclipse could be seen.
During the early phases of the partial eclipse at Dismal Nitch, Joshua Kerns, 9, suspected he’d been duped into getting up before dawn to make the trip from Port Orchard.
“I think NASA is just pulling a prank on us,” he told the Observer. “I don’t see an eclipse happening right now. I don’t think our eclipse viewers even work — they’re cereal boxes.”
He and his sister Natalie, 11, helped make pinhole viewers so their family could watch without the protective glasses that kept selling out in stores in the days before the event.
Susan Kurtz, of Seaview, and her sister Christina Brokaw, of Phoenix, were prepared this time. They brought glasses to keep their eyes safe after having seen the 1979 eclipse through a pinhole viewer.
“There was no such thing as these glasses back then,” Kurtz said. “This is going to be a glorious day. We’re in the perfect place at the perfect time.”
As the eclipse reached totality around 10:15 a.m., the moon blacked out all but a crescent-shaped sliver of the sun. The temperature dropped and the bright morning light dimmed as if it were dusk on a gray, dreary day. After a few minutes the mild summer conditions returned to the lookout near the mouth of the mighty Columbia.
“It’s kind of like magic how the moon gets in front of the sun,” Liam DeConto, 6, said. “The sun is like a pie then it’s kind of like someone keeps cutting out a bigger and bigger piece.”
While most necks were craned up at the sky in the minutes before and after totality, Jackie Katz, of Boise, Idaho was watching the show on the ground with her daughter, Zoe, 10.
“The shadows were the coolest part. You actually could see the crescent in the shadows,” Katz said. “It’s nice to take pause and see nature and its magnificence.”
Mark Scott, of Ocean Park, was determined see the total eclipse without wearing flimsy paper glasses or getting stuck in traffic. His plan was to wear a welding mask while flying a small Cessna airplane over the crowds. He wanted to drop paper Trump and Putin masks to onlookers below.
However, getting a landing spot got complicated. So the mapmaker made his way to Mount Angel, Oregon along lesser-known routes.
When the day turned suddenly to night during totality, Scott said, monks from Mount Angel Abbey started singing and animals didn’t know what to do. For a few minutes, the moon blacked out the sun, revealing a gleaming white halo around it. The sun’s blazing corona can only be seen during a total eclipse.
“All of us were awestruck,” Scott said.
But experiencing totality just wasn’t worth the trouble others.
“We were planning to drive further down (the coast) but we heard about the traffic and said ‘no thanks,’” said Andy Powell, who’d instead stopped with friends from Kirkland at Cape Disappointment State Park. “We wanted to get out here early and relax.”
They staked out a spot among the drift logs along on Waikiki Beach with about 100 eclipse watchers. Staff at the park gave out eclipse glasses for the event.
Back at Dismal Nitch, people shared glasses with strangers who didn’t have them. Some gave away extra pairs and offered fellow enthusiasts snacks from picnic boxes.
After someone gave Joshua a pair of glasses so he could see the eclipse without the pinhole viewer, the 9-year-old, decided he wasn’t so skeptical of those NASA scientists anymore.
“It wasn’t what I thought,” he admitted. “It was interesting.”
Kathy Hughes was going to watch the eclipse from her home in Chinook but changed her mind.
I thought ‘No, I have to be with people for this,” she said. “We always think we’re so important but there’s a whole universe out there.”
Kay Short, of Boise, Idaho, said seeing everyone come together to experience the rare spectacle in Southwest Washington changed her attitude. Her partner John Langs said he considered his place in the universe after realizing the amount of light given off by just 3 percent of the sun during totality.
“This is a nice, shared event that everyone can feel good about. There’s no sides, no winners or losers,” Langs said. “It reminds me of what’s important in life.”