Strolling through the Jefferson County Fairgrounds last weekend, it was obvious that Madras' billing as one of, if not, the best place in the United States to view the total solar eclipse caught people's attention.
The grounds were transformed to accommodate an ambitious event during eclipse week known as Oregon SolarFest. With vendor booths, seminars led by NASA employees, a bevy of food and drink options, music and other entertainment, the space drew people from many nations across the globe. Though crowds were somewhat underwhelming for the better part of the weekend, those who were in attendance came from all over.
Nothing represented that fact more clearly than a large world map near the event's main entrance, that was plastered with thumbtacks representing the locations from which visitors had traveled. Although the West Coast was the most densely populated location on the map, six of seven continents were represented, including distant countries China, Japan, Russia, Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.
Jens Nielsen, from Denmark, took a side trip from a vacation to Canada to see the eclipse. His work had brought him to Oregon once before, but he had never seen Central Oregon prior to this event.
"Coming in from Portland, it's very beautiful," he said. "It's called high desert, right? It sure is."
Like many, Nielsen saw the trek to Madras as an opportunity to see something that is literally a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"This is my last chance to see an eclipse in my lifetime," he said. "I'm hoping for something very unique. It also depends on the weather, of course."
Jin Kim, along with his wife and son, made the nine-hour drive from San Jose to Madras on Saturday, and within minutes of walking into SolarFest, they found themselves adding a marker on a map that was overflowing with Californians.
"We planned either Salem or Madras because it is a close distance from (our) house, but we chose Madras because of the NASA sighting and probably the better weather," Kim said.
A big draw of SolarFest was the musical entertainment, led by a stable of cover bands, playing the songs of artists including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Tom Petty, Aerosmith, Pat Benatar and Heart.
The band Creedence Revelation kicked off entertainment Saturday afternoon, as they jumped straight into "Green River" to a crowd of onlookers.
Perhaps overeager to bring some energy to the crowd, lead singer and guitarist Randy Linder broke a string on the opening song, but played through to the end of it.
Renei de Roche and Larry Richardson, both from Delray Beach, Florida, stood out near the front of the stage, dancing in rhythm to every song. Richardson said de Roche researched sites across the U.S. five years in advance of the eclipse, and eventually landed on Madras.
"And the people of Madras are so nice," Richardson said.
While people roamed the inside of SolarFest, others favored the comfort of their campsites. Rows of tents lined a space just outside the main entrance, as people slowly trickled in throughout the weekend.
Suzanne Rapley arrived in Madras Friday from Santa Barbara and ventured around town, visiting landmarks including the Madras Aquatic Center and post office.
"That kind of let me sink into the town, because no one was here," Rapley said.
Moon Kerson and Bill Rolfe, from Los Angeles, came to town having already seen an eclipse approximately 20 years ago in a boat offshore from the Caribbean island of Curacao, accompanied by a NASA scientist. They didn't initially plan on stopping in Madras for the eclipse, but upon driving through Bend and onward north, they opted to camp out.