EclipseTrip2017 – Day 3/4; homeward

Shortly after the total eclipse concluded it was time to hit the road.  Watching the moon continue its path across the sun is somewhat anti-climatic and not all that exciting.  My plan was to retrace my route and spend the night in Council Bluffs, IA where I had a reservation at a Hampton Inn.  I was in my car and queued up to leave at 12:10 p.m.

It would take an hour to travel about 100 yards out of the field that I had spent the night in.  It took another hour to complete the 1.2 miles out of Glendo.  There is only one path ultimately leading out of Glendo onto I-25 and all of the thousands of people in the area had to make it through this funnel.  To further exacerbate the issue the vast majority of the people were from the Denver area (or Colorado in general) and needed to head south.  The interstate was already moving at a crawl with people coming out of Casper so it was difficult for anyone to move.

My original plan was to take I-25 south back to I-80 to take me across Nebraska.  I would have actually joined up with US-26 which I had taken from Scotts Bluff yesterday.  That maybe 20 mile stretch could have taken hours based on this report.  When reaching the Interstate entrance I therefore decided to abandon that plan and would instead take I-25 North, then take Wyoming Highway 59 to Gillette where I could pick up I-90 and head east across South Dakota.  I think I made the right choice as I made my way north, the southbound lanes were bumper to bumper, stop and go, for 14 miles with steady traffic coming out of Casper for the 28 miles until I exited onto Hwy 59.  Yikes!

I was now completely winging it.  Should I stop somewhere and camp or get a hotel, or just keep driving.  I considered stopping in the Black Hills, but it was only about 6 p.m. and that would mean not getting home until late on Tuesday.  I kept driving.  Was going strong all the way to Sioux Falls which I reached about 1 a.m.  Made it another two hours, to Blue Earth, when I decided I had to stop and rest.  Pulled into a rest area and got settled into the back seat.  Didn’t sleep real well, but must have got a little bit as my alarm woke me at 6 a.m.  I felt considerably better and got behind the wheel again – only two hours to go.

Stopped in Faribault for some breakfast and to also make sure I didn’t end up in morning rush hour traffic.  After breakfast it was back on the road for the final hour.  Pulled into my driveway a little after 9 a.m.  What a trip!  Have to say I’d do it all over again!

EclipseTrip2017 – TOTALITY

The eclipse would play out as follows:

(C1) – Contact 1; Start of Partial Eclipse; 10:24 a.m.

(C2) – Contact 2;  Start of Total Eclipse;  11:45 a.m.

Max – 11:46 a.m.

(C3) – Contact 3;  End of Total Eclipse;  11:47 a.m.

(C4) – Contact 3; End of Partial Eclipse;  1:12 p.m.

The total event would therefore last for about 2 hours and 45 minutes with the main event, TOTALITY, lasting for nearly 2 and half minutes.

The eclipse started right on time – isn’t science cool!  The partial eclipse begins very slowly, taking a peek every five minutes or so, the motion of the moon is barely perceptible and takes about 20 minutes before a sizeable chunk of the sun becomes obscured.  Until the sun is about half covered there isn’t really anything noticeable to the naked eye.  But from this point on, it slowly starts to get darker.  As more of the sun is obscured the one really noticeable item is the shadows.  Normally, shadows are somewhat fuzzy as the light comes from all directions.  As the crescent sun narrows, the light comes from mainly one direction and the shadows become very crisp and makes the environment appear almost artificial.

As the crescent sun shrinks to nothing the speed becomes apparent and you can actually see the moon overtaking the sun.  The darkness begins to deepen and without the sun’s rays beating down the temperature drops noticeably.  And then…


Now it’s safe to remove the solar viewing glasses and look upon a view that is otherworldly.  This is not normal.  Stars appear.  Planets appear.  In daytime.  Turning around three hundred sixty degrees it is sunrise and sunset simultaneously all around.  In the sky there is a hole where the sun existed moments ago.  Extending from this hole is the glowing atmosphere of our life-supporting star.  It is absolutely beautiful and


While totality approaches the crowd was very excited.  Lots of cheering and hooting and hollering.  As totality occurred there was a tremendous cheer.  It takes a few moments to then remember it’s safe to look with the naked eye.  So as people take off the glasses there are gasps and oohs and ahhs followed by silence and then quiet whispers as if in a moment of reverence.  Then the voices return with the joy and excitement of the moment.

And then it’s over.  As suddenly as darkness overtook us the light reappears as the moon continues its path across the sun.  The world begins to return to normal.  The partial eclipse will continue for over an hour but we’ve seen this all before.  Time to pack it up and head for home.

I have seen a partial solar eclipse and an annular solar eclipse previously.  While these are fascinating in their own rights, they pale in comparison to totality.  If you should think seeing the sun obscured by 90% or 95% or 97% is good enough, I can tell you that you’re mistaken.  Someone recently put like this:  a 97% eclipse is like driving 300 miles to get to the beach and then turning around 6 miles from your destination because it’s “close enough”.  You must see Totality to truly experience an eclipse.

EclipseTrip2017 – Day 3

Today’s the day!

So there are two down sides to the location that I ended up at overnight.  One – there are train tracks just to the west of the town and there is a constant flow of trains coming out of the Thunder Basin (Coal Creek Mine).  My neighbor heard that they come through every 20 minutes – not sure if they were that frequent but whatever, they blow their horns coming through town.  All.  Night.  Long…  Two, there is only one route to the interstate and I’ve no idea how many thousands of people saw the great opportunity I did yesterday…

Of course, the most important points are that the path of the eclipse will go directly overhead and provide 2 minutes 28 seconds of totality and the weather is forecast as clear.  So I’ll accept the down sides happily!

Anyway, I rolled out of my tent shortly after sunrise at about 6.  The weather forecast had not failed me.  There were some light clouds visible to the east with the rising sun, but otherwise overhead and to the west was nothing but clear blue sky.  Made some coffee and oatmeal and got a little reading in while waiting for the event to begin.


Sunrise over Glendo, WY


EclipseTrip2017 – Day 2

Well it ended up raining a good bit overnight. The constant pattering on the tent made it hard to get to sleep. Woke up about 6:30, broke camp, showered and opted for the buffet breakfast at the camp kitchen vs. cooking something myself. Was on the road about 8:30.

Plan was to drive to Casper, WY and find someplace to stay. I planned a stop at Scotts Bluff which is a National Monument to the pioneers on the Oregon Trail. It was one of the best known landmarks in the area. I drove to the top and stretched my legs on the short trail. Then back in the car.

I had been mulling over what to do for the evening; park at a rest stop, or go to a late movie and perhaps park at a Wal-Mart when I passed Glendo, WY and saw a little tent city. I stopped at a rest area about 15 miles north where a bunch of people had already setup camp as well as another little tent city a short distance down the hill. I checked the map and the path of totality goes right over Glendo and the forecast looks good there as well. So I called another audible and abandoned the Casper option.

I drove back down the interstate to Glendo and got a spot for the night. 20 bucks to just sleep in the car, 50 bucks to pitch a tent. I’m sleeping in my tent. Was all settled in about 5 pm. Should be able to get some sleep tonight and be ready for the big event in the morning. And staying here means an hour less driving tomorrow!

Now time to make some dinner!

EclipseTrip2017 – Day 1

After monitoring the weather for the Great American Eclipse of 2017, I called an audible and decided to head towards Casper, WY. My original plan was to be near southern Illinois or southeast Missouri where the greatest duration of totality will occur, however the forecast for that area looks to be cloudy and/or rainy – less than ideal for eclipse viewing of course.

The weather in Casper looks to be perfect so this morning I loaded up the car, after returning from a business trip about midnight, and headed out about 10:30. I’m driving the Edge instead of the Solstice on this trip as I may be forced to sleep in the back tomorrow night. Hotels and campgrounds are booked for hundreds of miles around Casper. Such are the hazards of winging things for such an historic event. Only hope for a campsite is a forest service campground which is small and first come first served.

I made it is far as the Grand Island KOA in Nebraska where I last spent a night in 2012 on another eclipse related trip. The path of totality will actually pass directly over this campground, however the forecast calls for clouds – no good, so I’ll be moving on in the morning.

It’s a pleasant evening here with fireflies flickering around the campsite. There are some clouds moving in and a few flashes of lighting. Forecast calls for some overnight rain but I don’t think it will be too bad.

Another 500 miles to Casper tomorrow. Hope to be on the road fairly early so I can get there, scope out a viewing location for Monday and oh yeah, find a place to sleep that doesn’t involve the car…

 There are a lot of Canadians around.

Days 12 & 13: Driving Days


The past two days have simply been driving days.  Yesterday was from Evanston, WY to Cheyenne and today took me to Omaha.  There was a bit of nice scenery coming through the mountains in WY yesterday but nothing like the sights driving I-70 through Colorado.  The only bit of mild excitement was when I ran over a chunk of tire just west of Lincoln this afternoon…

The passenger side wheel well was knocked loose and I found the marker light hanging buy it’s cabling.  I was able to pop those things back into place.  By the time I reached Omaha the tire was fairly flat.  I re-inflated it with the compressor and it seemed to be holding, but we’ll see in the morning.  If it’s low in the morning then I’ll use the sealant that I have and limp over to a tire store…

And for anyone whos ever wondered just what its like to drive across Nebraska, enjoy the following video.

Day 11: Cedar Breaks National Monument

I departed Cedar City for Cedar Breaks National Monument which was my last planned destination in Utah.  The direct route out of town was not an option as the road was closed due to a “massive rockslide”.  So the GPS thought I should take a dirt road over the mountain – uh, no thanks.  I kept going a bit further until I found the alternate paved road.  It was a fun drive that climbs about 5000 feet in about 20 miles.


The Cedar Breaks is an isolated version of the same type of formation at Bryce Canyon.  It’s a single amphitheater that is about 2500 feet deep and 3 miles across.  It’s located at just over 10,000 feet and there is still snow present as seen in the picture above.

From there I headed up to Evanston, Wyoming where I’;m spending the night.  The plan was to head to Grand Teton tomorrow.  However, I knew from the beginning that the back half of this trip was going to be a bit dicey given the time of year and the locations.  Looking at the weather for the next few days in Grand Teton shows snow/rain mix which is not a good idea with the Solstice and a trailer.  It’s also forecast to be raining at Devils Tower.  So, I’m pulling the plug on both of those and just heading for home.  Probably to Cheyenne tomorrow, then Omaha and home on Friday.

Day 10: Zion National Park

This morning was a short drive over to Zion National Park – only about 90 miles.  I got on the road about 8:30 and after stopping to top off the tank just outside the park I hit the gate about 10:30.  Asked the ranger which campground was best.  His answer, “whichever one you can find a spot in.  They’ll likely be full in the next few minutes”.  That didn’t bode well.  Neither did all the traffic in front of me.

When planning this trip I had tried to reserve a campsite in Zion but there are only a limited number available for this.  Most are simply first come, first serve.  I was hoping that since I was arriving on a Monday, before noon, I would be OK.  There are two campgrounds in the park and as I approached the first, the sign at the entrance said “Full”.  Ditto for the second.  Uh-oh.

So I ended up at the visitor center and decided to hop the shuttle up the scenic route – no private cars allowed except during the off-season.  I got off at two stops, the first just snapped a few shots, the second took a 2 mile hike along the river to the “Narrows” where the canyon narrows to a slot.  From there it was back to the car and decision time.


I have mixed feelings about Zion.  Without doubt it is one of the most beautiful parks, but it’s ridiculously crowded.  The campgrounds are in the bottom of the canyon near the visitor center and even today in late May it was very hot – hindsight I’m actually glad I couldn’t get a campsite.  The lodge rates were from $175-$200 a night – they had vacancies but I wasn’t going to pay that.  So I headed out of the park and of course all the hotels in the little town were filled.  I had decided by this time that I didn’t want to come back to Zion tomorrow as originally planned given all the crowds and the distance I’d likely have to drive.  So it was on to Cedar City which is near my next planned sight anyway – Cedar Breaks National Monument.  I put my Hilton Honors points to good use and am staying at a Hampton Inn tonight.  A nice break from the camping.  Besides it was awfully hot today…

I certainly want to come back to Zion as there are a lot of areas that I didn’t get to see and there are a number of hikes that I would like to do.  But given the crowds it seems like a visit here really needs to be in the off-season and more importantly needs to be a destination rather than a side trip as was the case this time.


Day 9: Eclipse Day at Bryce Canyon NP!

A beautiful day for an eclipse – clear blue sky and just a little wind!

I started the day at the park by just driving up the scenic drive again, this time capturing it in real time on my camera to compare with the time-lapse that I took yesterday.  After that I parked the car at Sunrise Point and headed off to hike the Navajo Loop Trail.

The Navajo loop is a 1.3 mile trail that goes down 0.6 miles and then back up 0.7 miles if you go in the clockwise direction.  Yesterday near the end of my 6 mile hike I took the 0.6 mile section up.  So today I went down that side and came back up the other way which I hadn’t seen yet.  On this leg which is called “Wall Street” the trail goes through a narrow slot canyon which makes for some spectacular views up the vertical walls to the open sky and also through the canyon looking at the switchbacks you have to climb to get out.  It took me about an hour to do this given all the photos I had to stop and take;-)

After that I headed to the Bryce Canyon Lodge and had a leisurely lunch.  From there I headed back to my car since I had seen enough of the canyon for awhile.  Just did a little reading and relaxing until about 3:30 when I headed down the road to grab a shuttle ride out to Bryce Point.  Turns out I should have taken that time to check my equipment – I had forgotten my tripod back at camp.  I was going to be forced to take pictures of the eclipse the hard way.

Made it out to Bryce Point about 4 pm and got myself situated right on the rim across from the Bryce Amphitheater.  There were hundreds of people at Bryce Point and I don’t know how many at the other sites.  Chatted with a nice couple from Eugene, OR while waiting for the show to start.  She’s French Canadian and he’s Czech and they had also lived in Owatonna, MN for awhile in the 80s.


It took me a few tries to dial in the settings on my camera to get images of the sun (should have had a neutral density filter…) but I finally got as best as could be.  The sun was still too bright for about the first half – even though I could see through the eclipse glasses the transit, it still caused overexposure of the sun.  But as the moon got a bit more than halfway across the sun, I could start to see a crescent in my images.  Then at the maximum I got the image above.  I then continued snapping photos through the remainder of the eclipse – all the way to sunset.  I’m going to assemble a time lapse of this as well but unfortunately since I did this all handheld I’m going to have to crop a lot of images otherwise it’ll be jumping all over the place.

After that it was a bit of waiting for the shuttle ride back to my car (or close to my car anyway).  Not sure if it’s always so disorganized, they also had one bus break down, but I think I waited nearly an hour.  This was after also sitting through the entire eclipse – most people had headed to the busses just after the maximum.  Then it was back to camp and bed.  On to Zion tomorrow!

Day 8: Bryce Canyon National Park – Day 2

Last night was another very windy night and I didn’t get much sleep.  Fortunately the modifications that I made to the rain fly during the day yesterday did go a long way in keeping additional sand out of the tent – so at least I didn’t have that flying in my face all night.

Today I had planned to be just a hiking day, but I realized that I had missed two of the viewpoints during my visit yesterday – Yovimpa Point and Piracy Point.  So on returning to the park this morning I ran out to those two viewpoints and got some pictures.  Then headed down to Sunset Point to start my hike.

While yesterday was a more or less cloudy day with less than optimal lighting conditions, today was absolutely perfect.  The sky was clear with just an occasional lazy cloud and the most stunning shade of blue.

The hike I chose was actually a combination of three trails; Queen’s Garden, Peek-a-Boo Loop and Navajo loop.  These take you down into the Bryce Amphitheater so that you are down in and amongst the hoodoos.  The lower section takes you through a nice conifer forest.  The total length is somewhere around 6 miles.  The Navajo loop is the steepest section as far as I can tell and is completely uphill/downhill with no flat sections.  After making it up one side of the loop I had the option of going down the other side and back up again (1 mile total) – or just taking the remaining half mile back to the car – I chose the car.  I’m planning to do the rest of Navajo loop tomorrow morning as from the top it does look very interesting.


The rest of tomorrow will be getting ready to view the eclipse which starts at about 6:20 MT and lasts about 2 hours.  I already have my snazzy eclipse viewing glasses!