2017 Solar Eclipse: What it was like experiencing totality in Wyoming

(written yesterday, August 21, 2017)

A few months ago Mark mentioned interest in driving to Wyoming to see the eclipse.  I’m a little embarrassed to admit this now but I wasn’t sure how much difference it would make to drive twelve hours round-trip to see 100% of the eclipse when we could have stayed home and seen 95%.  It’s not like me to be so unadventurous but being that we’re deep in the busiest six weeks of our lives, it wasn’t a chunk of time I easily gave up.  But the hype won me over and on Sunday morning I woke up after a long night’s work ready to get in the truck and see if we could find our own sliver of wilderness in Wyoming to experience “totality”.  Boy am I glad we did.  What we experienced at 11:40am this morning is going to be hard for me to put in to words but since I know not everyone was lucky enough to be in the path of 100% eclipse (aka Totality) today, I’m going to try…

About an hour before the moon was supposed to eclipse the sun, Mark handed me the welding mask and said “check it out”.  I looked towards the sun and sure enough, there was the moon creeping in to the path of the sun.  In that moment, it hit me that something really special was about to happen.

For the next hour, the world around us changed in a way I’ve never seen and probably never will again.  The intensity of the sun very slowly began to fade.  The wind picked up and the temperature dropped.  At 10am I was sweating, it was a warm, summer day like any other.  At 11:15am I put on my puffy and watched the quality of light become cinematic, almost artificial in it’s feel.

At about 11:35 my shadow was beginning to disappear.  It was the middle of the day and it was getting darker and darker by the second.

11:40am and the moon is 100% blocking the sun.  Day has turned to night, right before my eyes.  Everything is still, the wind has stopped.  I see stars.  Then I look up and see the moon surrounded by the hallow of the sun.  My mind is blown.  I struggle to document it and take it all in all at the same time.  I understand how quickly you remove yourself from a moment as soon as you put a camera to your face so I take a few pictures and then stop and revel in the most phenomenal two minutes of my life.

Two minutes later and the sun and moon are no longer perfectly aligned.  Like a light on a dimmer switch, the Earth is lighting up again.  The wind picks back up and the temperature starts to rise.

For the next hour Mark and I sit and discuss the sun, the stars, our galaxy and our fortune and sheer luck to be here on this planet.  The moment of the eclipse so fleeting, so surreal that we question if it really happened.

Astonished
Overwhelmed
Awestruck
Grateful

Just a few of the words that come to mind now that I sit and watch the sunset as though it’s just another day even though today was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed.

Three hours following the eclipse we decided to pack it up and head home or at least drive part way.  We’d chosen a pretty remote area of Wyoming and felt pretty confident traffic would not be an issue.  We could not have been more wrong.  About an hour in to our drive, traffic slowed to a crawl.  All we could see for miles ahead was bumper to bumper traffic.  We tend to twitch at the sight of traffic as though we suffer some kind of allergy to crowds so it came as no surprise to me that minutes later we’d U-turned and found the nearest two track dirt road to detour on.  What became a long and bumpy albeit scenic detour, turned in to the decision to pop the top, wait it out and try again tomorrow.  So now I sit at another beautiful Wyoming campsite surrounded by nothing but the expanse of the wilderness, howling coyotes and the whistling wind.  Tomorrow we’ll return home and back to our routines but today…today will be burned in to my memory forever.

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The BLM road we’d chosen to take us in to the path of totality:

Although we saw people camped everywhere, we managed to find a corner of BLM all to ourselves:

When you’re not in the mood to pack and forget half your camera gear:

 

A 360 degree sunset at 11:40 in the morning:

After attempting to drive home but deciding against it due to the insane amount of traffic, we found this gorgeous spot to camp another night.  It couldn’t have been a more beautiful two days to spend in Wyoming:

What an experience!  If you were fortunate enough to experience totality, we hope you enjoyed it as much as we did!

 

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

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  • We live, fortunately, in the path of totality, and could watch from our front yard. At 10 a.m. we had thunderstorms and rain. Totality was scheduled for 1:08 p.m. CDT, but we live on the downslope of a small ridge by a creek valley and woods, and at 12:45 we decided to jump in the truck and find a spot that had horizon. I wanted to experience the 360-degree sunset I’d heard about. We popped over the ridge and crossed the Little Blue River to a 4-lane divided road that runs through the east side of our town (Independence, MO; pop. 116,000). It’s suburban-rural; more fields than houses.

    This relatively new section of road runs past where a (now defunct) general aviation airport (for very small planes) used to sit. The city has tried to develop it into an industrial park, but it’s mostly a few suburban neighborhoods next to small corn and soybean plots beside the river, which has a lovely county-developed recreational walking/biking path running 10 miles or so; part of the flood-control project on a 20-foot wide, 20-inch deep channel that used to get nightmarishly high and wide after bad rainstorms. (My wife remembers folks having to roll planes up the street to higher ground when the river flooded and water covered the airport, nearly a quarter mile from the channel.)

    For the past three weeks we’d heard nothing but how many millions of people were traveling to the path. It was lunchtime, barely two miles north of I-70, with large hospitals, shopping malls, restaurants and hotels literally only blocks away, and yet the road was almost deserted. There were small groups of eclipse fans along the road, 2 or 3 cars parked at yet undeveloped intersections on the roadway (turnoffs that jut into an open bean field, with barricaded pavement that stops 20 feet past the roadway; harbingers of development dreams of city planners seeking more tax revenues). We drove north a ways as the light faded in the early stages of the eclipse, then turned around and came back, pulled over at the side of the road on the paved shoulder wide enough for my F250 to be 18-inches from the driving lane. Maybe 2 vehicles passed us during the eclipse. We popped out and snapped a few cellphone photos, posted on Facebook. You know how it goes so I won’t describe it in detail. The eerie light, the rapid changeover to dark. We saw streetlights come on in a neighborhood across the field, heard a few dogs howl (or possibly just revelers cheering the alignment of sun and moon; it doesn’t take much to entertain us out here in The Middle). We hadn’t bothered with eclipse glasses; $5 for something that lasts 20 minutes or so. I wanted to watch the world and the light change under totality, I’ve already seen the moon cross the sun before, using the box and pinhole technique. We could feel the temperature drop, although with the morning rain it wasn’t a typical Missouri August afternoon. The corona was amazing… so much so, I forgot to look for stars. All too soon it was over. I risked a micro-second glance and saw the “diamond-ring” effect. We popped back into the truck and drove the mile back to the house as the light returned to normal.

    Later that day, it began to rain again. Torrents, then steady rain all night; between 6′-12″ of rain fell all over Kansas City. Today the Little Blue River is 120 feet wide, the multi-use recreation trail alongside it sitting below the fast-moving muddy water (for the third time in less than 30 days). I spent most of the night awake in fear of power going out while I slept, the sump pump allowing the basement to fill. Morning came and we were still dry, but parts of the city were flooded, and friends were bemoaning their homes taking on water.

    The 2017 solar eclipse is in the book.

    As a note, the eclipse in 2024 totality path crosses this year’s path in beautiful Southern Illinois, a somewhat spectacular hilly region of cliffs and unusual rock formations just above the Ohio River, the Shawnee National Forest. It’s a spot we’ve visited numerous times, camping a few. I lived there back in the mid-70s. A few natural bridges, a “canyon,” waterfalls, a unique cypress swamp, a road that is annually closed as snakes cross in large numbers, huge lakes that fill with Canada geese in the fall (it’s the Mississippi Flyway… waterfowl literally by the thousands… it’s deafening and magical.) Worth a look if you’re ever that way going somewhere else. Unfortunately, the region filled with looky-lous during the eclipse, and the cliff edges and rock formations were packed with people. I imagine it will be worse in 7 years.

  • Dear Michele….well you have done it agin….what a great description of the event and your photos were outstanding. As a fellow truck camper who likes to be away from the mainstream [read crowds, noise, people] your pictures put me right there. Living in Maine we had only a partial sun covering but it was really nice to see and share it with my wife Genie as we passed my welding helmet back and forth. If I live till the next one we here in Maine will have the full eclipse so it will be our turn. Have to think where we will like to view it from. Thank you again for the great pics and you always manage to put into words the feelings and thoughts that can transport those of like outlook to a better place in our minds. Thank you both!
    Jim

  • Nice to see you two made it. As I read your description of the eclipse, I was able to relive the time my wife and I spent seeing the same thing at almost the same time.(11:23 Castle Gardens central WY) that ain’t gunna happen again anytime soon huh.
    Russ

By michele

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We’re Mark & Michele, modern-day nomads perfecting the art of slow, full-time travel.  Our tiny home on wheels and slow-paced travel style allows us to minimize our expenses while maximizing our freedom.  May our unconventional way of life inspire you to design a life that you love.

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