In the Path of Totality

In the Path of Totality

By the time the eclipse was on our radar we figured we were just too late to be able to see it. There were rumors of 10X10 foot spaces on golf courses going for $100/night and  Motel 6 renting rooms for$1000/night. We tried to tell ourselves, that a 90% eclipse would still be cool and we’d be glad we missed out on traffic and hoards of people. Plus, the kids would have just started school. There was some part of us that wasn’t satisfied with that though (this NPR story didn’t help), so we kept scheming up ways to make it happen. We ruled out our connections in Idaho as being too far away and thought about gambling  on finding a spot in a dispersed campground in a National forest in WY. Still, the unpredictability of it made us nervous. One day at work, Noel asked his co-workers what their plans were and one of them told him about some fairgrounds in Mitchell, NE. Mitchell wasn’t one of the big destinations for eclipse viewing and the fairground’s website hardly made mention that they even had a campground. Noel called that day, just under two weeks before the eclipse, and reserved us a spot for $30.

When we went to acquire eclipse glasses we again began to worry about what we were getting ourselves into. The county libraries were giving out glasses, but they ran out within hours of the announcement. When I went to purchase some, I found that every Lowe’s, Wal-Mart, Kroger Store, etc in the area was sold out. Our neighborhood Facebook page was abuzz with people begging for anyone with extras to make themselves known. Enterprising children set up stands selling eclipse glasses. I wondered, What has come over the people of Colorado? (For reference, my sister who lives in Utah, waltzed into her local Kroger store and just picked up a few pairs without a problem. She said maybe it’s because Mormons are always late to everything. Ha.) Finally, Noel worked a connection with a co-worker whose husband works at the Astrophysics department at CU Boulder and we acquired ourselves some glasses.

Ellen napping in the back of the car in the midst of our supplies.

Our preparation for the trip was sort of like preparing for the apocalypse. We bought a paper road atlas in case the cell network was overloaded. We packed extra gasoline in case the gas stations ran out or we ran out while in a traffic jam. We gathered enough food for a small army and filled every water bottle, plus our 5 gallon camping jug. We also brought a fire extinguisher and caffeinated soda for emergency purposes. We were prepared for the worst, and a little anxious for what this once in a lifetime experience would be like.

A car we saw on the way.

We woke up Sunday morning at 4:15 and managed to leave the house by 5:30am. Traffic was smooth sailing. I’m sure it was way more traffic than the road usually gets at that time of day, but I’ve never seen I-25 move that quickly. In Cheyenne, we peeled off from the slowly growing traffic and headed to Nebraska driving almost empty roads past fields of sunflowers. We made it to Scottsbluff, NE in time to go to church at a local congregation. My favorite part of the meeting was a prayer given by a gentleman who asked God to “bless all those watching the eclipse [long pause] with glasses.” All of the church signs in the area had some pretty great puns too. Son worshippers welcome here! No one can eclipse the Son! 

After church, we met up with one of Noel’s co-workers and his family. (Not the one that told us about the fairgrounds, but another that we’d recruited.) We checked out the two National Monuments in the area (Scottsbluff and Agate Fossil Beds). Both parks had brought in extra rangers from Badlands to help with the surge in visitors. I don’t know that I would make a special trip for either of the monuments, but we enjoyed exploring them. Back at the campgrounds we made dinner and listened to the music of a concert going on. Before bed, the town set off fireworks. There was a certain energy in the air. Kids that had never met played in the center of the campground while the adults chatted. One guy even went site to site giving everyone a glass of champagne. (We kindly declined in case you were wondering.) The only drawback was that there was a train track that ran through town and every train would lay on their horn for then entire duration of the town which was less than ideal for sleeping. Those that had stayed the night before warned us that it was pretty annoying, but we all naively assumed they were just light sleepers. One of our new friends said he’d camped somewhere else the night before with fighting raccoons outside of his tent and nothing could be worse than that. In the morning, I asked him which was worse, the trains or the raccoons and he said, “I’m not really sure I can decide.” It was a bit of a restless night for our family and we are all pretty sound sleepers. In the morning the campground was enshrouded in a mist and we all freaked out for a few minutes, but the forecast said it would clear out by 8 and by 8 the sun was indeed shining bright.

Totality courtesy of a friend from church, Nathan Jones, that also joined us at the fairgrounds.

We ate breakfast and cleaned up camp while we waited. At about 10:30 we could start to see the moon chipping away at the sun through our glasses. For those that didn’t get to see the eclipse in totality, it seemed to happen really slow for the longest time. We could see the moon’s progress through our glasses, but didn’t notice a ton of change in the world around us. Then it seemed to suddenly get darker. (It was really over the course of several minutes.) At first it was like it was hazy, then as if there was a cloud in front of the sun, and finally it began to feel like the sun was setting, but in the middle of the day. When the sun was fully eclipsed everyone let out whoops of excitement and kids and adults began to dance around pointing out stars (one of them was actually a planet, Venus) and generally marveling at how awesome this was. It was a goosebumps type moment. Eerie, but not in a frightening way. Noel kept saying it was like night punched through the middle of the day.

There’s that diamond ring. (Photo courtesy of Nathan Jones.)

We got two minutes of totality, but it felt like it was gone in the blink of an eye. The “diamond ring” appeared and then the light began to come back. We all stood around for awhile watching the eclipse retreat and remarking over and over again, “I’m so glad we made the trip.”

Carhenge in all its glory.

Eventually, we said goodbye to all of our friends who were headed home and we made our way to Alliance, NE to check out Carhenge. None of our friends were interested in joining us, but we had to see this piece of kitschy Americana since we have no plans to return to Nebraska. We knew Carhenge was a destination for eclipse watching and hoped by going there when everyone was leaving we would miss a lot of traffic. We sped along the road, past car after car in stop and go traffic going the opposite direction. Most of those cars had CO plates. Every ranch and business had signs advertising camping for $100+ or parking for $30+.We had a leisurely tailgating lunch at Carhenge and then checked out the car art. On the way home, we ran into a bit of stop and go traffic before peeling off on a less traveled road, but not nearly as bad as those departing earlier. We took a route that wasn’t I-25 on the way home since we knew it would be a disaster. (And it was.) We made it back with relative ease using our paper atlas. (The cell network was indeed overloaded). Honestly, our biggest issue was the kids needing to go to the bathroom urgently 1 million times.

Our view form the fairgrounds. (Courtesy of Nathan Jones.)

It was a quick trip, less than 48 hours, but well worth it. The only problem now is we’ve got the eclipse fever. Any other budding umbraphiles out there?

2 thoughts on “In the Path of Totality

  1. You guys planned much better than us! It didn’t really occur to me that until the night before that maybe this was something we should really make an effort to see in totality, rather than partial. It would have required driving all through the night (not really very safe for us) and it was the day before our first day of school (not ideal, but may have been worth it in the long run?) We didn’t go. I did look up the next total eclipse, and it’s in “only” 7 years and will run through our town….if we still live here. So we have that to look forward to!

    1. We noticed that there would be an eclipse there in seven years. If you still live there and we invite ourselves over don’t be surprised. One comes through our area in 2045, but so much could happen between now and then.

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