2017 Eclipse Adventure
with: Garner, Katherine, Andrew, and Alan
It all began with a, "Dude, we gotta go see this eclipse!" So, where do we go? My parents threw a big party in Greenville, South Carolina, but we couldn't take off work long enough to pull that off, and anything within driving distance was still pretty far. We opted for what I thought would be the most wide open view combined with the best weather location in the country; WYOMING! I didn't want to be in the mountains with the possibility of thunderstorms, but still wanted to be be high enough to have clear air. The plains of Wyoming became the location of choice at 6,200 feet above sea level, AND we had only driven through this area before, never stopping. We wanted to check it out anyway, so why not during a solar eclipse? Below is the track we took to get to our camp, with an overnight stop in the Fishlake National Forest south of Salt Lake City.
To chose a camp location, I used Google Earth and the NASA overlay to precisely pinpoint a spot directly under the umbra shadow. This gave us the most time in "full totality." The particular area of Wyoming is BLM (Bureau of Land Management) property full of natural gas leases and minimal farms. The flora is sagebrush, cheat grass, dirt, and no sign of trees at all.
We piled into Alan's new, white, Dodge Powerwagon on Friday after work and motored up the I-15. I thought for sure that everyone on the northbound I-15 was heading to the eclipse. Maybe they were, since we thought it was cool enough to head up for it.
Our campsite in the Fishlake National Forest. Beautiful!
Katherine breaching her cocoon.
Yup, the solar glasses work.
We stopped for lunch along the highway and the sun was intense!
Wyoming wind farm
These highway safety signs were everywhere. Man, this got us pumped!
We left the pavement in Jeffrey City, Wyoming and headed north on a dirt road. Jeffrey City is a practically dried up mining town. After World War II, uranium was heavily mined in the area and the town population blew up to 4,000 people. Now, there are less than 100 residents. You can still see the ground scarring from the mining all around.
There were pronghorn everywhere. We saw hundreds of them. A baby even came right into our camp within 20 feet of us.
After a bit of scouting around in the "dead on line," as I was calling it, we nestled down in the area pictured above. We had a 360 degree perspective and could not be happier. The temps were in the low 80's during the day and dropped to the mid 50's at night. Although we were in the middle of nowhere, being in the direct line of the umbra made it a popular place. By popular, I am speaking in the sense of desert, I see no one for days, snootiness. We are talking 8 camps in the surrounding 5 miles. Other eclipse hunters were slowly coming in from all directions though. We could spot them with the scope, but there was plenty of room for all to camp with privacy.
Ahhh. Here comes our first Wyoming sunset of the trip. Tomorrow we plan to chill around camp and practice with the optics for the big day on Monday.
Katherine decided to push the sun down on her own.
In the evening, Alan likes to point out the planets. We saw the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter through the spotting scope. Wow!
This was with my cell phone camera. Trust me, the moons of Jupiter were better with the naked eye through the scope.
The morning sun was intense, so I popped up the shade structure and attached it to the truck while making breakfast. Nom, Nom, Nom!
Lots of chilling, talking, and carrying on like we do best.
Hope you brought what you need. The nearest shop is 2 hours away!
Andrew and Katherine cooking up a masterpiece.
In the latter part of the day on Sunday, a few vehicles came down the dirt trail. We had cued up a timed hand wave for the cars within our party. Doing that, we brought attention to ourselves, so they stopped. One person came running to our camp smiling and wanted to know where they could set up. I immediately saw that they were communicating with a ham radio and know that these were serious folks out on an eclipse adventure like ourselves. They mentioned something about launching a weather balloon in the morning and I was intent on finding out more about the event. So, I told them that we found the flattest, best place around, but to check a little further down the road. They went back to their trucks and motored over to the dilapidated corral next to us by 400 yards or so. But before leaving they said to come over once their other pals showed up. "OK" I told them and we cooked up a wonderful dinner. I thought, "A weather balloon for the eclipse, how cool!!!" Upon finishing dinner, their pals showed up, and without eating, we ran over there to say "HI" and see what was up.
Once we made the trek to their camp, we chatted about the balloon and I met David from Colorado. David seemed to be the ringleader with his balloon and ham radio telemetry kit. The rig to be launched in the morning before the eclipse would be carrying a few GoPro cameras, a Canon G9, spot tracker, and a ham radio transmitting on the APRS signals. Wow! We geeked-out for a while before it was time to go and eat our semi-cold dinner waiting for us back at camp.
The neighboring camp.
On the way out of their camp, everyone stopped. The distinct sound of a rattlesnake was coming from the fence line we had all climbed over to enter the corral. One of our new friend's dog had just discovered the snake, and was staring at it dangerously close. What do we do? There were three dogs within the camp, and surely one would get struck in the night or maybe even one of the people. So, I grabbed a stick with Alan and pinned this bad boy down. Suddenly, the stick broke. I fell towards the rattler, and Alan grabbed me by the scruff of the neck and saved my life. Yup, saved my life! I would have died for sure. Every day I live from now on I spend being thankful for him. (Wait! The "Broken Arm Event" of last year gave me reason to do that. Oh well, just let the list pile up.) Once I got myself together, I found a larger stick.. a 2"x4" board next to one of the vehicles and really pinned the snake down. Alan held a hatchet, and one of the new friends stepped on it rendering the snake decapitated. The Colorado crew buried the head so the dogs would not try to eat it (snakes can still strike after being decapitated!) and we said our goodnights, taking the snake body home with us. Once we got back to camp, we had a photo shoot and tried to retell the story over and over again with heavy laughter messing it up each time. Oh well, maybe the pictures below will do it justice...probably not.
Me and Andrew with the prairie rattlesnake.
Here we go! Gotta get that skin off. The body was still moving in the morning.
She's a beaut'
Alan coached me through the process, and being from West Texas, this was a walk in the park for him.
We laid it out over the fence post and Katherine added salt.
After a full night's sleep, we made a quick and easy breakfast in the morning. Soon enough, we could see the hydrogen fill going on in the camp next door. We literally ran over there to check out the balloon launch and see how it all worked. David showed us in great detail how the set-up was engineered and the process of launching. The launch went off a few minutes before the partial eclipse began and would be VERY high up for the totality, anywhere from 75,000ft to 110,000 feet.
Here is a shot of the moon's shadow coming at the balloon at 75,000 feet. I found it on David Stillman's Twitter site. I can't wait to see the video when he posts it. Unbelievable!
This shot was taken with my cell phone. It's kind of shoddy, but I like the reflection of my hat in the eyepiece.
Shot taken by Alan with Tammy's camera (wish she would have come!!!).
Here's a funny looking shot of all of us. The other camp hiked over to a large hill where a few people had already gathered. We decided to hang just at our camp and take it all in.
Another shot by Alan.
Past about 50% totality, our shadows started looking weird. At the base of our fingers, we could see little shadows from the moon and the intensity of the sun on your skin was diminishing. This is when the temperature suddenly dropped as well. It definitely became at least 10 degrees cooler. We were actually a little chilly!
The 10x42 binocs with the solar shades presented a great view of the eclipse and made it really easy to acquire.
At the 5 minute until totality mark, we took off the solar shields and readied our equipment. I was on the scope anticipating the phenomenon. Soon enough, "BOOM!" We were in the umbra. With the naked eye, I could see the corona in a platinum-like light which I considered to even have blue hues. The surrounding area was in a twilight haze and 360 degree sunset. We were all speechless. I mounted up the scope to my eye and could see the corona, electromagnetic looking shimmering waves, and a bright pink, coronal mass ejection from the 1 o'clock position on the sun. I could not believe it! We had a one minute timer set for optic rotations and everyone saw the event through all optics. I even tried a selfie which was a little strange with the light. Even though the corona was easily viewable with the naked eye, the camera still got whited out from it. The photo of me and Katherine doesn't show the corona very well, but it does represent the low light in the area. Alan got some nice shots below.
It really was that dark out there for 2'20"
As swiftly as totality set in, it was gone. We didn't know what to say to each other. Those gathered on top of the hill let out a few yells of excitement. We were all overwhelmed by the strangest celestial event we had ever seen. The sun poked its head back out and the reverse of the eclipse began. We used the decreased sun intensity to comfortably pack the truck for the long ride home back to Vegas. The whole time we were exploding with excitement. A few days later, I read news articles saying that the eclipse was just media hype and a waste of time. Unless you saw totality, you have no idea what you missed. It is not something that one can describe. It was emotional. I have no clue why it effected the 4 of us so strongly, but we all agreed that it was truly awesome.
Before we drove off, Alan had to check the power cable to his cooler, and while opening the hood, saw this!
There was trash all inside the engine compartment! He called over to me to take a look. Funny thing was that his initial response was thinking that I played a joke on him. But upon further inspection, we saw that some mice had snuck into the trash and built a home on top of the truck's engine. They took paper towels (some of them right off the roll,) bags, and the turkey leg we chucked way out into the sage. I guess our camp was not as tidy as we thought. Next time, we really have to be sure the trash is sealed up better, or REALLY out of reach. We stashed it all back into a bag and cleaned the area. Luckily they had not chewed on any wires or coolant lines.
Leaving the area, we ran into a few other cars and one sedan that was high-centered sideways in the trail trying to do a U-turn. We all got out and had to push it over the dirt, which got it moving and on its way. Most of the traffic was heading North to the 20-26 highway, but we took the dirt road South back to Jeffrey City, and from there, took a long dirt road directly south to the I-80.
While driving home, we talked a lot about how interesting the event was. Even though it was far, we all thought it was totally worth it and want to do it again. The next big eclipse will be in Chile and Argentina in 2019, and in 2024 one will cross Texas diaganol up to Maine. We got bit by the eclipse bug big time and can't wait to get out and see another.
Sunset just south of Salt Lake City.
The prairie rattlesnake skin drying out in my backyard.
Meanwhile, in the rest of the totality line..............
I am happy to report that many of our friends and family members were just as stoked as we were about the eclipse, and made their way to the path of totality. Check out the pictures and videos below to get a taste of the eclipse from other places across the U.S.A.
Greenville, South Carolina:
As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my parents threw an eclipse party in Greenville, South Carolina. Their shindig looked really fun, and we wish we could have been there with everyone. Both my sisters and their husbands and my brother were there, along with five of my nieces. My mom's brother and wife made the pilgrimage as well. Florida, Virginia, and Alabama were represented. My mom made party favors and the event was kicked off with Total Solar Eclipse cocktails. Good call Mom!
Total Solar Eclipse cocktails to get the event started in Greenville, South Carolina
Dad's homemade eclipse viewer rigged up with gear to collect all sorts of data
Aunt Karen enjoying the view
Check out this time lapse of the entire eclipse in Greenville, South Carolina:
Craig and Jon on Menan Butte in Idaho:
Menan Butte ID Eclipse from Katherine Mathiasmeier on Vimeo.
Jeremy in Chesterfield, Missouri:
Brittany in Charleston, South Carolina: