Imagine getting in the car with all of your equipment and NOT knowing where your final destination would be!
Before The Trip
I can guarantee you that I was the only child my age, in all of Riverside, California during the 1990s, that knew when the next total solar eclipse over the United States would be. I knew that I was not going to waste this chance!
But the couple years leading up to this eclipse were filled with kicks to the gut. The emotional pain from a recent divorce was still persisting. My longtime coaching job had pushed me out, forcing me to find work elsewhere. I was hurt physically, mentally, and financially during a rough period of change and “redesign.” Because everything around my home just seemed to be falling apart for those who lived there, this trip would provide a chance to be away from things at home, and give myself, plus my two parents a chance to get away, clear our minds, and visit relatives on the way to the eclipse.
Unlike many people who planned and booked their trips and hotels ahead of time to their destinations, I did not want to do that in case of last minute cloud cover.
While initial plan was to see the eclipse from Kansas City, MO because of my sister and her family living there, the weather forecasts were not looking good as the days drew closer. The first plan of action was visiting relatives in Boulder, CO, to use as a “home base” to decide the next plan of action before deciding to head to Wyoming, Nebraska, or to Missouri.
As we were driving through Colorado on the 18th, there were signs along I-70 warning of heavy traffic for eclipse chasers going into Wyoming or Nebraska. Uh oh, that’s not a good sign!
On the 19th, the decision was made to head to Wyoming due to the best weather forecasts.
Despite the path of totality in Wyoming being only few hours away from Boulder, my aunt and uncle warned us with reports that Wyoming was expecting potential “Woodstock” levels of congestion along I-25. Because of reports that basic amenities like food, water, and toilets would be scarce, my extended family, plus my mother, chose to stay and watch the partial eclipse from the comforts of Boulder instead.
But that wasn’t going to stop my father and I. We left for Wyoming on the 20th, stocking up with food and necessities, while expecting heavy congestion on our way there. Once more, we were thinking “just get to a location inside the path and stay there for the night.”
Despite the warning signs, there was no congestion during the drive to Wyoming on the day before. On our way there, we drove just through the outskirts of a thunderstorm to the east, and I was treated to one of the best double rainbows I’ve ever seen. A sign from the heavens perhaps?
Once we passed Wheatland, Wyoming, we then knew that we were within the path, and were guaranteed a total eclipse from then on!
Along I-25, we found Glendo, Wyoming, which I knew would be directly in the middle of the path. Despite being a tiny one road town, Glendo was DEFINITELY prepared!
When we found an open RV parking lot that was charging $150 to park the night, rather than take our money, the owner of the property instead decided to send us to someone who charged less. Sure enough, the property we were led to only charged us $25 for the night, AND it was in the middle of the town where all the amenities were available!
The entire town, residents and tourists alike were very happy and welcoming, as they knew in less than 12 hours, the biggest event to hit the little town was about to happen!
We didn’t get much sleep that night because of the excitement, and the fact that we were parked right next to train tracks and got woken up by them ever so often. But for something like this, it’s worth it!
The Day of Black Sun
Just before dawn, I woke up with the sight of a LONG line of cars in the distance trying to get off I-25. Because the town had filled to capacity the night before, state troopers were directing drivers outside the town to the nearby reservoir parks.
While the weather couldn’t be any clearer, wind was proving to be a factor in how well my 8 inch telescope could perform, as it would keep moving my tube, making imaging nearly impossible. Thankfully, I found a spot in an open alley between two buildings that was shielded from the wind, and got the telescope assembled without any problems.
Many tourists would of course see this giant 8 inch telescope, and there were quite a few who were almost too afraid to approach us and waited for me to wave them in. Those who came over before I started taking pictures were treated to a crisp look at the sun’s surface without going blind, and the sunspots clearly showed structure and shape.
The plan was to do a live stream of the eclipse, and I had many friends and teachers from home depending on me to do it. But unfortunately, there was so much traffic over the networks that a live stream was impossible. Facebook kept freezing, and even periodic updates were getting frustrating because I couldn’t tell if the updates were getting through. It turns out the network overload was all over the country, and I was told that even TV stations had trouble getting live coverage of the eclipse.
So all I could do was ignore the networks, and just keep snapping photos. My phone screen kept projecting the eclipse, and of course, many who were attracted by the telescope could see it. Still, despite the projection and my eclipse glasses resting on my forehead, I can’t tell you how many times I nearly looked at the sun unprotected.
As the moon kept “eating” more of the sun, I could easily notice that my surroundings on the ground were dimmer. The sun was clearly being deprived of light by the moon, and the scene grew eerier by the second! When the sun was about 60-70% covered, the pinhole projections were easily seen on the ground under the shadows of trees. I can’t tell you how many people were in awe of just the pinhole images through the leaves when they learned about this phenomenon for the first time.
In events like this, there are no do overs! I had ONE SHOT to get this moment right, and recorded.
Totality was less than a few minutes away, and I knew, heck, I EVEN PRACTICED the moment where I needed to remove the filter from the tube, and since the filter was attached to the tube via velcro strips, it had to be done slowly and carefully. I wanted my filter off approximately two minutes before totality.
At the same time the moment came for the filter to be taken off, there were three kids who were playing around in the alleyway, coming dangerously close to my telescope. Their parents had viewed the eclipse projected on my phone and then just seemed to disappear.
As I was slowly taking the filter off, I didn’t see that one of them kept tapping the tube with a stick, and my dad standing nearby could do nothing but tell the kid, “Don’t touch the telescope!”
“you mean like this?” he said.
Then I noticed on my phone, “the sun is gone!” The kid moved my tube! He did this at the exact moment I took my filter off!
At the same time, the light was dimming — FAST! Totality was seconds away. I could hear the anticipation from the nearby crowds in the town. I was faced with the thought of my whole experience getting ruined by this little kid, who had suddenly disappeared after the moment of sabotage.
“Dad, hold my phone, now!” Acting quickly, I put the filter back on, got the tiny crescent sun back into view, got my phone back on the eyepiece, retook off the filter, and pressed RECORD!
It was 30 seconds before totality!
Here is the magical moment captured on video!
When the moment came, I did not look up at the sun, because I was too focused on getting that moment captured.
“YES!” “I got it! RIGHT THERE!”
Had that tense moment prior to totality not happened, I would not have been as excited and loud as I was as heard in the video. Once I realized I had the moment captured, I remember jumping in joy as I finally looked up at the black Sun, and saw the corona with my own two eyes.
During the 150 seconds of totality, time stood still. The entire town could be heard cheering as day turned to night. Because of my location within the alley, I did not have a 360 degree view of the horizon, which had shades of blue, then yellow, then red in all directions.
You can hear me say, “Thank you Lord!” For the rest of the time, my father and I got to embrace. We looked at the sun together, and noticed just how pure the light of the corona was. The rays of the corona were also moving slightly.
Sure enough, after two minutes and thirty seconds of totality, the total eclipse was over!
The crowd had one final roar before the light of the sun came back.
“look at this light!” my father uttered. What struck us was the pure white color of the light on the landscape, almost like being under a white fluorescent bulb. Slowly, as more of the sun came back, the light started getting more color.
As soon as totality was done, nearly every tourist got in their car and started leaving. The climax was over, and people were not going to watch the rest of the eclipse, as it was now anti-climatic and almost depressing. The main street road soon got clogged, and during the time it took to disassemble the scope and repack the car, the cars had not moved!
Eventually we got back on the road, and as predicted, the congestion along I-25 was horrible on the way back. For us, the three hour and thirty minute drive was easily doubled due to the bumper to bumper traffic. We left Glendo around 12:30 – 1 pm, and didn’t get back to Boulder until around 8:00 that night.
I just said, “look at the bright side, at least we’re only doing this once. Had we tried getting here this morning, we could have easily had to do this traffic twice!”
It took a while for the cell networks to get back to normal. While yes, I was disappointed I couldn’t go live and stream the eclipse as it happened, I was blessed to see my totality video get over 350 shares and over 16,000 views and counting just a few days after the eclipse, reaching many more people in the process!
Not only that, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive! Many have said the images and the video was the best they’d seen of the eclipse!
This eclipse was truly the trip of a life time for me. It was one big moment for my father to cross off his bucket list. All of the people that Orion Bear Astronomy reached, and the nice people that I met from around the country was something I’ll never forget, and will always cherish. The story of this eclipse is something that I’ll be talking about for years!
After this eclipse was over, I could see many people already plan ahead for the 2024 eclipse. Perhaps that eclipse will be seen by many more people, and hopefully, people that either couldn’t, or didn’t take advantage of the 2017 opportunity will do so and witness this wonder of the heavens!
As Neil deGrasse Tyson has said, “you have no excuse!”