Our Great American Eclipse Adventure 2017
Why Wyoming? The most important player in a total eclipse is the sun. It has to be visible in all its glory. Otherwise you won’t see the spectacle of the moon moving in front of it. Wyoming had the best chance of cloud-free skies and not-so-congested roads. (Wyoming’s population is 585,501.) In January, after deciding on Wyoming, I went on a lodging quest. Most places on the centerline were already booked, so I chose the Little America Hotel in Cheyenne as our base. It is only 90 minutes from the centerline, the small town of Glendo (population 205), and Glendo Resevoir State Park. It’s About Calories The Internet and 24-hour news talked so much about possible food, water, and cash shortages during the eclipse, that we stocked up. After hitting the ATM, we bought all the nonperishables we thought we’d need, including toilet paper. As you can see, nothing is gourmet or particularly healthy. Our criteria were the the food must:
Not require refrigeration
Not need to be cooked
Be openable without a can opener or cork puller
Be transportable home in case we don’t eat it
Have enough calories to sustain us for two day
We didn’t necessarily intend to eat this stuff, as we were hoping to find local vendors selling something delicious, like BBQ chicken for dinner and brewed coffee and fresh rolls in the morning. If there weren’t vendors, or if they ran out, we would be prepared.
Scouting the Site The day prior to the eclipse, we set out at 5:30 AM to scout the Glendo State Park site. We wanted to get a look at possible viewing sites and assess how many people the park could hold. We figured that on eclipse day, we’d leave Cheyenne at 3:00 AM, beat the crowds, and arrive at Glendo when the park opened at 4:30 AM. Our scouting day started with a beautiful sunrise.
When we arrived at Glendo State Park at 7:00 AM, we discoverd there was lots of space. Some were marked for parking, some for viewing, and some were established camp sites. We had been under the impression that the camp sites were sold out, but now we saw that our information was wrong. We looked at each other and knew what we had to do. Drive back to Cheyenne, pick up our gear, and immediately return to get a camping spot. That would save us from driving at 3 am on eclipse day, a safer alternative than driving while sleepy. But first…breakfast! We set off for the town proper. In this town of 205 people there are a few bars but exactly one choice for breakfast. The restuarant featured “eclipse specials” which turned out to be the typical breakfast egg dishes rebranded with eclipsey names. The restaurant gave us the opportunity to experience a few things that we don't normally encounter. It turned out to be a true cultural experience. A gentleman at the lunch counter was smoking one cigarette after another. There was a Trump-Pence sticker by the cash register and a Trump: Make America Great Again hat next to that. To complete the scene, a TV at the front of the room was blaring FOX news. Its commentators were talking about the massive food shortages and traffic problems that the eclipse was going to cause. Some locals remarked “Where are the people they keep talking about?” So far, Glendo was calm. We arrived back in Cheyenne and packed up our viewing gear. But we also needing sleeping gear. I stripped the bedding and snuck it out the patio door to our rental car. I put the Do Not Disturb sign on our hotel room door so our deed wouldn’t be discovered. But just in case the maid ventured in while we were gone, I left a note on the bed: “We went to see the eclipse. We will return with the bedding on Monday night.” We headed north once again. No is Not an Option When we arrived back at Glendo Park shortly before 11:00 AM, two volunteers posted at the fee receptacle informed us there were no camping spots. The place still looked relatively empty to me, so I explained that we had driven to Glendo, back to Cheyenne, and back again to Glendo all this morning. Going back was not an option. I thrust the fee envelope into the receptacle and said that I now paid for a spot and need to get one. Fortunately these people were volunteers and had no authority to enforce anything. Seeing my eclipse passion, one of the volunteers said …”Just saying, but if you drove up the road a bit you would find open space, but I don’t mean open space for camping, but space that is open, if you get my meaning.” So off we went. We couldn’t camp in what was designated as Eclipse Central, but we found a stand of trees, pulled in, and placed the “permit” we paid for on the dash.
This is where Wyoming’s small population comes into play. With just over half a million people in the entire state, we figured that at most they have two park rangers for 100 square miles. Wyoming simply doesn't have the people power to visit each car in the park to see if it is authorized to be there. We vowed to keep a low profile and not move the car for any reason. Staying parked in one spot had its drawbacks because those vendors making delicious food were now about 2.5 miles away. It was hot and dusty. We were not going to walk that far for food, especially not knowing if, when we got there, anything would be left. The pile of non-perishables was looking very good at this point. We were in. We had food, water, pillows, sheets, and a little place to curl up in until eclipse day.
The "Crowds" On the day of the eclipse we took an early morning walk to the area designated as Eclipse Central. We climbed a small hill so we could see how many people had arrived for the eclipse. We were surprised that the park was not full. The day tripper areas had a good number of cars, but as you can see, they were not anywhere near capacity.
We walked back to our car, grabbed our gear, and set out for a spot near the Glendo Reservoir shoreline. We brought two telescopes. Our small $99 special solar telescope is best for looking at the sun during the partial phase. Our red Astroscan is only for looking at the sun during totality, when we would be able to see prominences. We also brought two pairs of 2x solar glasses. Glen set up his iPhone to try to capture the shadow that rushes over the Earth just prior to totality.
Projecting Shadow Creatures We were able to see the very first bite out of the sun by looking through the solar telescope. When the bite got a bit bigger, we could also see it in our 2x solar glasses. As it takes over an hour to go from first bite to totality, we entertained ourselves by making shadow creatures. If you look carefully, you’ll see “eyes” created by projecting the partially occluded sun through our fingers.
Using our solar telescope, we could see the sunspots in the center of the sun One by one they disappeared. Then two new ones showed up at the bottom. We were pleasantly surprised to see so many sunspots because this is a solar minimum year.
Sunset All Around This eclipse was to last about two and a half minutes. Not much time. My goal was to experience it myself—not through a camera. So I allocated about 5 seconds to taking a panorama photo and about that much to taking a photo of the sun. I didn’t look at the screen when I took the pano. I swept the phone and hoped for the best. The Camera app made my crooked sweep as straight as possible. Compare the before and during photos and you’ll see the eclipse one is a bit off. That’s because I was jumping for joy!
The Black Moon I placed the lens of my iPhone camera on the eyepiece of our Astroscan telescope. I looked at the screen for one second and snapped. Once again, I hoped for the best as I didn’t want to waste time lining up a shot. No photo can communicate the profound experience of being in-person at a total eclipse.
It was exhilarating to be there, in the moment, taking in the scenery around us. We each alternated between oohing and ahing at the extent of the corona, looking through the Astroscan to see the animated prominences, and basking in the darkness. All the while crowds were cheering in the distance.