Tweet Follow @BoffinBill

(Note: This post contains detail intended for friends and family. If you don't care, for example, to know my route to and from the Eclipse, please feel free to ignore such details.)

I planned the eclipse for many years. At first, I wanted to share the event with my wife. That meant we would go to Casper, Wyoming as a nice "vacation-like" location. There would be 2 min, 26 sec of totality at Casper, and we could stay in a hotel, and have a great time of it. But when I tried to make reservations in Casper TWO YEARS before the eclipse, I found everything already booked. Two years before the eclipse I also had no idea the hype that would be coming, and subsequent gouging that would be going as people attempted to cash-in on the event.

Eclipse path across the US.

Lack of accommodation meant this trip would require a camping experience and a primitive one at that (even camping sites were going for premium prices), so it became clear that I would be seeing the eclipse by myself - roughing it. I still planned on camping near Casper or Glendo, WY, but as the eclipse time approached and the news about the "massive crowds expected" trying to get the centerline pretty much ruled out I-25. I was now running somewhat concerned.

So I planned for an Eastern Wyoming or Western Nebraska viewing location simply by geography – closest to the Colorado Springs area, yet hopefully away from the masses. I had hoped for a remote location where I could be on the centerline of the eclipse, yet far from anyone else if that was possible. My goal was to see the eclipse, not to schmooze or make this a social event. So here is my planning map. I had three main sites. Site 1, would be along the centerline on NE Highway 71, north of Scottsbluff. The roads on that area provided for 5 potential sites exactly on the centerline.

Eclipse centerline across WY & NE.

Site 2 would be west of Site 1, along Highway 85 in eastern Wyoming. It seemed there would be two possible locations at Site 2 where I could view the eclipse without interference. Site 3 would be Alliance, NE a small town, but seemingly plenty of room to camp and then set up near the centerline to view the eclipse though this site would be less desirable as eclipse time approached, again due to the "massive crowds" warning.

So, fast-forward now to the week or so before the eclipse. It seemed every news organization on earth was escalating their warning of gloom and doom of the enormous crowds which would inundate the eclipse sites! AND, as the week of the eclipse approached, the weather did not look good. Western NE started looking "iffy", and the further west you could be looked better. But just a couple of days before the eclipse, even Casper, WY was looking “iffy” due to weather and things began to look very concerning. I began to accept that this eclipse may be clouded-out as the July 1972 eclipse was at my viewing site at Cap-Chat, Quebec, Canada. And, west of Casper is sparse - not many roads, and very hard to get to making itinerary changes difficult.

So I stuck with my original plan which was to “base” out of Scottsbluff, NE, and check out all the sites within an hour’s drive or so of there and simply accept the weather for what I would encounter.

So, that meant departing home on Sunday morning, 20 Aug, and fighting predicted and expected heavy traffic northbound on I-25 to get close to the centerline. As I went to bed Saturday night, Aug 19, I knew that I would not sleep well, and that I would likely get up early as I tend to get pretty keyed-up in situations like this. If so, I figured, I’d just head north at an early hour - probably better anyway. My plan was that if I ran into traffic on northbound I-25, I would veer off the Interstate and follow the back-roads to Scottsbluff, after all, I’d have all day Sunday to find my camping location.

So, Sunday morning, August 20, 2017, I awoke, predictably, at 2 AM, and got dressed and headed out! I headed north on I-25 – and, to my surprise, found NO traffic. None! I continued on I-25 north of Denver and still found NO traffic. I went all the way to Cheyenne – still no traffic. I did not expect to get this far on I-25 with no traffic! So I got on I-80 East toward Nebraska – and still no traffic! I reached HW 71 N to Scotsbluff – no traffic all the way to Scottsbluff!

Here is my route:

Route to the eclipse.

(Yes, of course, I could have taken 85 from Cheyenne, WY, but remember, my plan was to "base" out of Scottsbluff, NE.)

On I-80 East, it was then about 5 AM, and I got to see moonrise! It was the last moonrise of the old lunar month, and the day before the eclipse. What a sight! Wish I had stopped to set up a tripod and get a photo, but I had not planned it and anxious to get to Scottsbluff, I pressed on. That is now a great regret.

At Scottsbluff, my plan was to have a “real” breakfast, but Scottsbluff turned out to be a small town, and nothing opened on Sunday morning till 11 AM. They had a Taco Johns, at which I planned on eating at a couple of times (because I like Taco Johns), but they did not open till 7AM, and their breakfast burritos all have pork, so that was out. No Carl’s Jr was to be found (they have a great steak & egg breakfast burrito), so I found a gas station with ready-made steak & egg burritos so I had one of those. Loaded up with salsa, it was not too bad. Coffee and a breakfast burrito in my car before a solar eclipse - what could be better! I had planned on coming back to Scottsbluff to lunch at Taco Johns, but things quickly changed.

After breakfast it was time to go check out Site 1, just 25 miles or so north of Scottsbluff. But the last weather I had heard suggested that Nebraska was not to fare very well, so I convinced myself to head instead directly to Site 2. Site 2 was 40 miles west of Scottsbluff on HW 26, then 19 miles north of Lingle, WY on HW 85. I arrived in the area of Site 2 about 8AM – still enjoying absolutely no traffic! When I got to the eclipse centerline crossing at HW 85, I was immediately disappointed that there was no place to pull off the road! All the land was fenced. So I went to Site 2a, which would have been suitably secluded, but found that where I thought there was a spot to park between two dirt roads, it too was fenced and there was no way to park in the area I had expected. So I went to the little town of Jay Em, where, according to Google Earth, was an old, neglected, almost ghost-town, where I had imagined I could park and not be noticed.

Not so.

Jay Em turned out to be a quaint, tiny community of groomed yards and well-kept homes and they were very prepared for the onslaught of eclipse-goers they expected to see the next day. Many had their properties marked-off with plastic “do not cross” tape and many had prepared observing locations for which they would charge the looky-loos. So I stopped at the “Wyoming Horse Ranch” just south of Jay Em where I had spotted others already camping. It turns out that camping there was by reservation only, and the “Day-of-eclipse” viewing spot on the range would be $60 on Monday morning, but they’d let me park there all night for $100 since I told them I would be sleeping in my car and did not need any additional space. Needless to say, I moved on.

I headed back south along HW 85 where I had seen a single RV pulled off the road in an unmarked area off the highway. I had committed the site to memory as a “maybe” as I had driven past it earlier. I pulled in near the RV and went up to it and knocked on the RV door. A nice man named Rob greeted me and I asked it the location was private. He said no, that it was BLM open space and I was welcome to join them. There were two other men with him in the RV but, sadly, I neglected to get their names. They were set up for a fun time!

So I pulled my car next to the RV, but far enough away that others might park in the area too if anyone else showed up.

There was absolutely no signal on my cell phone, and assessing the distance to Lingle where I would recover a cell signal, I decided that I had better stay-put at this observing site or lose it given that I had found a free camping site - a pearl out here in the wilderness! Soon, Rob and his buddies told me they needed to head into town (Lingle, about 14 miles south) so they could make some phone calls and I gave my wife's number and a message to Rob so he could text that I was safe and camping but that I had no signal out here. While Rob and his buddies were away, another gentleman showed up, Kirt, who was also looking for a place to park and camp and he, too was trying to avoid the area's camping-price. So he parked also. That’s Kirt’s car in the photo below, between my Yaris and the RV.

Later, a man named Mark showed up. He was not prepared to camp, but had spent the night Saturday in Torrington at a hotel where he paid the normal rate of $103. But for Sunday night they wanted $700! So he set out to find someplace he could go. Kirt was good to both Mark and me. He shared food and water with Mark, and let me use a small, one-man tent in case I did not want to try to sleep in the Yaris as I had planned. Kirt had been in Vermont visiting family and was on his way back to Nevada and wanted to see the eclipse. He had many stories of his life, but of course, I don’t remember any of them. He was a super nice guy though.

Campsite before the crowds.

Above: My Wyoming campsite with the RV and Kirt, before Mark’s arrival.

As Sunday progressed, more and more eclipse-goers showed up at the BLM site, delighted to discover that it was free! So the area began to fill up. (So much for my original plan to find an obscure, private eclipse site in the wilderness!) But about noon, the owners of the land surrounding this small patch of BLM land had showed up and they were very upset – concerned about the likelihood of fire caused by the careless campers. (The land was their life - it fed their cattle. Of course they would be upset with the thought of losing their fields to a careless fire!) They called the Sheriff. Several Sheriff's cars and fire vehicles arrived and for several hours they pow-wowed with the land owners and stopped many other eclipse-goers from further entry into the area. An elderly gentleman from Florida, Frank, who had joined our group but had parked on the span of land outside the gate, had listened to the ongoing pow-wow and came and told me they were fixing to kick us all off the land! That would have been devastating, for now it was mid afternoon Sunday and there was already lots of traffic on HW 85 and finding a place to park now for the night would likely be impossible! Waves of emotion wafted through me! What would I do if they made me move on?!

Well, Kirt, Mark, Frank, Rob and his buddies, and I watched and waited for what seemed an eternity but was only about 3 hours, till finally the Sheriff's vehicles left, and all but one fire vehicle left. I went up to the fire vehicle, a water pumper, and asked the status. They said we could stay. The land owners were satisfied that all the campers would be told to have no open fires and they could stay on the BLM land.

OH MY! A giant weight was lifted and at that moment it became "party time", (well, if I were a party animal it would have been party time)! I went and told the others in our little group in the now-very-large-group on this oasis of "free" BLM-prime-eclipse-site. Party time to me meant "Whew, dodged a bullet", but not so for Rob and his buddies! They were super nice guys but they turned out to be the party animals I was not. After the tension of the afternoon subsided and it became clear we were going to be able to stay, I joined Rob, his two buddies, Mark and Kirt in some “fireside” chats – sans any fire of course. Rod and his buddies were big drinkers and they consumed many a beer out there! (I had no beer, but I did have one, small celebratory bottle of Cabernet which I opened at supper-time and began consuming as I ate my all-beef summer sausage and chips - the hardship meal of choice at my campsite.) Later that evening, Rod and company invited me and Kirt and Mark to some barbecue chicken, and I accepted. I had two pieces of boneless chicken and some salad. Mark was there (remember, he had no food of his own), and Kirt had declined.

Come late evening Sunday, it was time to turn-in and I decided to try Kirt’s little tent. I had left my air-mattress at home as there was no way to use it in the Yaris. My plan had been to sleep in the front passenger seat with the seat as far back as it would go. But now I could have used the air mattress! I had with me my folding satellite observing chair, and it folded completely flat making most of a “cot” so I put it in the tent along with some water and my quilt and set in for the night.

I don’t know how long I lasted in the tent, but eventually the noise outside was simply too much. The fire water-tanker which had departed after sunset had returned at some ungodly hour and not only were they extremely noisy upon return and parking that big diesel rig, they had brought along their wives or girlfriends and commenced to carry on their own Wyoming version of “country eclipse party”, complete with turning on their headlights and yelling “Twerk it” as their “women” danced in the light to entertain them. So I sleepily crawled out of my small tent and retreated to the front seat of the Yaris and with the windows rolled up it was not too bad. I did the best I could the rest of the night to get some sleep.

At dawn, I looked up briefly and concluded “uh oh” as I thought it looked completely overcast. I turned to get some more sleep, but eventually opened my eyes again, this time looking East and I saw Venus. Upon rousting myself and exiting the car, I realized that the overcast I thought I saw was only heavy dew on my windows. WE HAD CLEAR SKIES!

I had to pause and take this in! WE WERE GOING TO HAVE CLEAR SKIES! I WAS GOING TO GET TO SEE THIS ECLIPSE! FOURTY-FIVE YEARS SINCE CANADA!

So now the order of business was: COFFEE!!!!

I fired up my little propane stove and started heating some water. Soon I had some boiling water and I poured it and my instant coffee into my travel mug. Boy was it good! As I enjoyed my coffee, I heated another pot of water for my next cup. I enjoyed a bear claw pastry for my breakfast which was also not bad at all.

Sunrise eclipse day.

Sunrise, 21 Aug, 2017 in eastern Wyoming – Eclipse Day!

After Kirt’s little one-man tent had dried from the dew in the air and sun, I took it down and rolled it up and presented it back to Kirt with thanks. (It had been a good little refuge to go to despite it's less-than-desirable sanctuary from the Wyoming firefighters late night party time. )

By now HUNDREDS of other eclipse-goers were arriving in the early hours of Monday, Aug 21st. Also by now, there were more fire and Sheriff vehicles controlling the growing traffic on HW 85. They stopped letting vehicles into our little BLM property citing some obscure “rule” of vehicular density on BLM land. But people could park outside the area and walk in. Soon TWO BUSLOADS of eager observers showed up! They parked on the highway and the story was that they were eclipse-chasers from Europe and they had been positioned at Alliance, NE, but had heard of the bad weather prospects so they piled into their busses and came to Wyoming! So who knows how many of them proceeded to find a place to stand in the field to observe the soon-coming eclipse.

So the eclipse began at 10:24:59. I could not find my remote-release for my camera so I allowed it to stay on the default 2-Sec delay. I would stand next to the tripod with a plastic tray to help block the wind and let the camera take a photo while damping vibrations during the 2-second delay. Turns out to have worked well. I got some decent photos that showed no signs of shaking. (The remote was, after all, found in my camera bag. I simply did not see it until I had gotten back home!)

Eclipse begins.

more..

more..

more..

Totality.

receding..

receding..

receding..

As the eclipse happened, of course conditions at first changed slowly. But as totality approached, things started happening rapidly. I found myself overwhelmed trying to experience it all!

As expected, the sky brightness eerily began to change. The hues and brightness all around the whole sky began to “change” completely against one’s senses and expectation. One's familiarity is at dusk because at dusk it’s one-sided – the sunset side in the west remains bright, while the eastern side of the sky begins to darken. But here, the whole sky was darkening at the same time! The temperature began to noticeably drop. As the last few moments of partial eclipse was happening you could turn to the west (in this case) and see the darker sky – the shadow of the moon fast approaching! Then suddenly the dusk conditions intensified as the moon neared and entered totality. You could not look at the sun just yet, but in that instance was the diamond ring, followed by Bailey’s Beads and in that instant you could look at the sun without protection because the brightness was fading exceptionally rapidly and the corona was already visible. There were shadow bands, but they were (predictably) hard to see and very brief and I did not want to concentrate on the shadow bands, rather, the eclipse was now the center of my attention!

Ensuring I snapped a few photos of totality in hopes of catching a decent shot, I then just stood back and looked at the sun in eclipse! MAGNIFICENT! I was completely in awe! I could see three main projections in the corona – extending all the way out to points! It was beautiful! This next shot, not one of mine, is very close to the way the sun looked to the naked eye, except of course, the sun was much smaller to the eye as the eye also sees more surrounding sky. The sky around the sun was also more blue. The photo shows a black sky, but this is an artifact of the photography, not reality:

Representation of eclipse as seen by the naked eye

You really could see the three main points in the corona and you really could see the other “rays” extending from the surface. The only thing is the sky all around the sun was still a dusky dark blue – not black like the photo above shows. In fact, I was very surprised that the whole area did not turn night time-dark. I expected to see more stars but only Venus was clearly visible. Regulus is seen in photos, but I did not see Regulus in the excitement of the moments of the eclipse.

Oh man, how 2 min, 28 sec passes so fast! When it ended I found myself mentally demanding a “repeat”! "Do over"! I wanted to witness it all again!

So here are two photos I found on the Internet which more closely represent the scene as it appeared to my eye. The bottom photo is probably the best. I remember seeing a fairly bright horizon as seen in the 2nd photo:

Representation of sky as seen by the naked eye

Representation of sky as seen by the naked eye

I continued to take photos of the last of the ending partial eclipse until about 13:00 local time and then I decided to finish packing up and get out into the crowd departing the area. I had smooth sailing southbound on 85 and then east toward Torrington, WY till I got close to Torrington on my way back to Scottsbluff and then traffic slowed to a stand-still. At Torrington, I decided to snake my way through back roads to south of Scottsbluff hoping to miss those trying to get to the main highways in hopes of speeding things up a bit.

It was not to be. I spent hours trying to get to Colorado. In the end, it took me almost 9 hours to get home – a distance of only 300 miles. My route to the eclipse was only 5 hours total – 4 smooth hours to Scottsbluff then an hour to the eclipse site. But I endured almost double the time home. Here is my route home:

Route from the eclipse site

I intentionally avoided Cheyenne, WY on the way home as I knew traffic from Casper would keep that area backed up. By the time I got to I-76, about 8PM, it was clear I was still in “eclipse” traffic, but it was then at least flowing smoothly. Finally, southbound I-25 south of Denver was somewhat heavy, but completely open and I got home about 9 PM.

In the end, I had 2 min, 28 sec of totality at the site I was at, about 5 miles south of the centerline of the eclipse – the same time of totality at the centerline for this longitude, so I was very happy. Here's me, at the eclipse, a rare “selfie”:

Rare 'selfie' of me

After returning from the eclipse, I saw a series of nice near-space shots of the moon’s shadow on the earth. They were taken from eastern Wyoming – and the shots were looking down obliquely and included where I was! Very exciting! I was at 42.327662° N, 104.314368° W:

Moon shadow seen from near space


Bill Welker,
Aug, 2017
Last updated 1 Sep 2017