Eclipse road trip: Weisler, Idaho

Just a hop, skip and 15-hour drive to see the great American eclipse in all its glory.

Flat stretch of highway on U.S. 95 northbound.
  • Flat stretch of highway on U.S. 95 northbound.

Rolling up to my destination at 1 a.m., a couple of miles north of Weiser, Idaho, where there were two little side roads I had picked out on Google Maps as being a few hundred feet from the eclipse center line, I encountered the little county store and restaurant, Mann Creek Country Store & Café, that I had also seen on the map. They were offering camping spots in their field for $20.

Prior to arriving, I was feeling unsure about sleeping on a desolate road, so I was thankful for the place with other people. There were lots of people there, relatively speaking.

On the way up, I didn’t see any sign of the masses that were predicted to descend on this small berg in Idaho. Close to the Oregon border and a major interstate, Weiser was easily accessed from north and south by US 95. I chose it because it was the closest to San Diego and I had never been up that way. The town itself also was purporting to have a festival that had started on Thursday. The state’s highway department put up big lighted signs on the freeway and highway warning folks to not park on grass or the shoulders of the highway.

I thought it was going to be wall-to-wall people. It was not.

Eclipse road trip

The drive up was eventless, long and beautiful, through the desolate country of Nevada and Oregon. I love driving at night with my brights on. Prior to this point, 81 miles into my trip from San Diego, my check engine light came on. My little white Echo has been a great car. It’s peppy, and gets great gas mileage. I was mildly concerned about the light as it has only come on once before in the 100k miles that I’ve owned it.

I briefly thought about aborting the trip — or that I would stop to have it checked out, perhaps in Weiser if I made it that far. I decided to press on. The car was running fabulously, so I tried to push the light out of my mind. After a couple of tank top-offs the light went out, at 671 miles in!

At the country store I paid the $20 camping fee, a deal for me and a boon for this country store. A drunk guy, obviously a friend of the man who was processing my camping fee, brought him a beer, which the guy who was working declined. The gentleman then offered me the beer, which I also declined. I wondered if he’d be awake by 11:25 am for the eclipse.

Parking my car up near the front for a quick getaway after the “show,” I climbed in the back and slept.

The day of

I awoke to a bright, shining sun. People were getting up and setting up their equipment. Some had big lens cameras, others with just phone or smaller SLR’s and the such. I met two guys parked next to me. Zafar and Miles were barley 21 years old, I didn’t ask their ages. They had driven up from Carlsbad. Zafar was studying astrophysics and was in Weiser to capture photos of the eclipse and to Facebook Live to his family and friends the event as it was unfolding. He asked me if I had a tripod, an out-of-the-blue request. I was surprised he didn’t bring one. But, I had one (go figure), with no intent to use it; he also asked for tape to affix the Mylar filters to his cameras. I also had tape! He and Miles also had big binoculars which they happily shared with me.

As the moon started to cover the sun, Miles made a hole with his fingers to project the occlusion on the ground. That gave me the idea to poke holes in a large piece of cardboard I had in my trunk. I made holes with a screwdriver and projected them on my car. Several people stopped by to check it out and take photos. A gentleman who had two cameras with big lenses parked on the other side of me, also looked at what I had done, and noted I had made seven holes (I didn’t count when I made them) — but that started an interesting conversation about the significance of the number seven in his life.

I also met John, who appreciated my low-tech viewing and invited me over to see his low-tech viewing apparatus and eclipse sundial he calibrated the previous day with sticks and horse turds.

I left several minutes after the eclipse to beat traffic... but a lot of other people had thought the same way, and it took over two hours to get out of town. Weiser sits next to the Snake River and there are only two bridges south out of town. Packed. I don’t know where all these people were the night before.

After getting on US 95, there was still a ton of traffic. It was fun playing the passing game with other people. It kept my attention for the very long drive south on that highway. After passing a bunch of cars, I was able to stay on 90 mph for several miles before catching another group. At which point I told myself I'd had a good run and chilled out a bit. I prefer the empty, dark, smooth back roads.

Diet coke and Rockstars kept me going until I got home at 6 a.m., happily exhausted. What a great trip.

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It's been a few years, but I've traveled on US 95 from here to the Boise area, which isn't far from Weiser. That's more than a hop and a skip. I'd not care to try to do it without an overnight stop. Depending upon your exact route, Bishop or Lone Pine are not bad places to find a motel room or campsite.

But part of US 95, just about 100 miles of it, actually passes through Oregon, the southeastern corner of it, and about as desolate and lonely an area as can be imagined. And it has some remarkably straight stretches of highway. But the problem is that Oregon, while "liberal" in some ways, isn't liberal about speed limits on regular highways. Last time I passed through there, the limit was 55! That's particularly irritating in that Nevada allows 70 mph on their portion of 95. But when you hit McDermitt on the state line, be aware. Yes, Oregon does enforce that dumb limit out there. Looking at the area and terrain, you might assume they don't, and on my first trip through the area I thought so too until I came upon an 18-wheeler pulled over by an Oregon State Police cruiser. That rig had passed me many minutes earlier doing 70 or more. That area usually has very few cars or trucks passing through, even during the day.

If that area where you were doing 90 was in Oregon, you may have lucked out. There was safety in numbers, I suppose, but I'd prefer not to risk a speeding citation, and maybe a trip into a tiny town to pay a hefty fine.

Hi Visduh. Thanks for sharing your experience. For me it was bliss. Funny, I didn't really pay attention to the fact I was in Oregon on the way up, and going back I didn't realize how much of US 95 was in Oregon. Quite a bit. I drove how I felt comfortable. I didn't see one cop either direction, yes I am lucky. I thought about how Kowalski in Vanishing Point (1971) must've felt speeding through the desert.

I enjoyed reading your experience. I was actually born and raised in Weiser. That eclipse was the biggest thing to happen to my little town in a long time, maybe ever. And any economic boon they gained was sorely needed. In your short time there, I don't know if you would have interacted with many locals to hear about the devastating amount of snow they got last winter. Along with a number of houses and other commercial and industrial buildings, the roof of the only grocery store in town collapsed. Anyway, I'm glad you had a good time and a safe trip

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