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Visitors and locals alike marvel at the solar eclipse as it graces the Crook County skies Monday morning

LON AUSTIN - Solar eclipse during totality in Crook County

The sky seemed to darken in an instant and temperatures plummeted.

Cheers erupted from small groups gathered in little pockets throughout the area, drowned out by fireworks exploding.

Nobody was celebrating Independence Day nor the start of a new year, and the evening hours would not arrive for nearly 10 more hours.

The total eclipse of the sun had finally arrived in Prineville.

The sun crept up over the horizon shortly after 6 a.m., no different than any other August morning. But around town, the anticipation of a very special experience was hard to miss. On dead-end streets near Barnes Butte Elementary, people set up temporary camps, armed with expensive cameras and telescopes, having traveled from as close by as Portland and as far away as Connecticut.

Richard Marty peered into a telescope as the moon blocked a sliver of the sun around 9:15 a.m. as his wife Linda watched with an eager smile. The couple had traveled to Prineville from Carson City, Nevada, and met up with Medford resident Cheryl Ayers.

"You can see some sun spots on it. Those are big magnetic storms," he observed.

Marty, a bit of an astronomy enthusiast, had learned about the eclipse in an academic magazine and figured it would be fun to go check it out.

"I didn't realize it was going to be this popular," he said. "I didn't realize half the world was going to come."

The group hoped to watch the progression toward totality through the powerful telescope with the aid of a filter, then remove that filter during totality.

"Then you will be able to see the solar flares and what they call blueberries," Marty said. "It's pretty cool."

About a block away at another impromptu day camp on another dead end road, Michael Wandell, of Seattle, recalls what led him to Prineville, peaking into his own high-end telescope.

"In ninth grade, I took German and the teacher made us read a paperback about an expedition to Africa in 1912 to prove the theory of relativity with a total eclipse," he explained. "Ever since that time, I have waited for this moment."

Another Seattle resident, Jon Minnick, manned two different telescopes across town at a temporary campground across Main Street from the Crook County Fairgrounds.

"A lot of this is courtesy of Cloudbreak Optics," he explains, as he moves the telescopes with the precision only a remote control can provide. Minnick not only hoped to shoot a time-lapse sequence of the eclipse, but capture totality on video.

"I will basically make a 10-second video of what I can," he said.

The actual eclipse began shortly after 9 a.m. when people could finally see a small bite taken out of the sun through their safety glasses. But during the minutes that followed, things looked very similar to most mornings and one might wonder if anything was going to happen or perhaps how much of a spectacle it would really be.

But 10 minutes into the 10 a.m. hour, any concerns of that nature undoubtedly vanished as the temperature started to drop and the sunlight took on an almost eerie dusk-like tint. Tree branches cast dozens of crescent-shaped shadows on exterior walls and other flat surfaces.

Then came the moment that some had waited years for – totality. Almost as if Mother Nature had turned the dimmer switch on Monday morning, the sky darkened at an alarming pace. As the final sliver of sun disappeared behind the moon, and it was safe for a minute or two to view the solar eclipse in all its glory without the protection of safety glasses, cheers erupted from the various viewing camps and yards where people had gathered to watch the rare cosmic event. Then came the fireworks, exploding in various locations throughout the community, celebrating the climactic moment of darkness and brilliance.

Then, almost as quickly as it arrived, totality was gone and sunlight returned. Though the cooler temperatures hung around for about a half-hour after totality, the sun rewarmed the landscape and the day once again looked like an ordinary August Monday.

But people who saw the eclipse were left captivated, amazed — their expectations met if not exceeded.

"We thought it was pretty awesome. It was definitely worth it. I don't know if I'll ever see one again," gushed Prineville resident Tara Fetterly. "The whole buildup behind it was pretty cool and then everybody cheering and the fireworks going off in the distance."

Prineville youngster Andrew Rosetti agreed, and found the whole experience a bit unusual.

"You could feel everything get colder," he remarked. "My eyelids felt heavier than they are usually."

A young girl, Aspen Cross, was similarly captivated, saying "I thought it was really beautiful and it was just amazing." And her dad, Tim, couldn't argue.

"I thought that I was prepared for it and knew what to expect," he admits. "It was completely different and more impressive than that."

Even those who had traveled long distances for the event and knew what totality was all about radiated an almost childlike enthusiasm. Marty, who had witnessed the eclipse through his telescope, grinned ear-to-ear.

"If you would have seen it through this," he said, gesturing at the scope, "you would have wet your pants. It was spectacular!"

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