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2017 Aug 21 Total Solar Eclipse


This posting is a bit late, but when I decided to resurrect this site, I figured I should also write up my eclipse experiences. (And post it on the correct date...)

Began thinking about the eclipse shortly after the last eclipse I saw, in Aruba on 1998 Feb 26. While there were going to be a few others I might try for, like the one in Europe in 1999, I knew that I would not be missing one that would be crossing Wyoming.

It was disappointing that the path of totality would just miss the Yellowstone thermal areas. According to my calculations, even Shoshone would only experience 99.5%. There may have been shadow bands there for a few seconds, but I knew that I wouldn't be the one seeing them.

At first, like a lot of people, the idea of the Tetons being in the path of totality got my attention. But I also figured out that from Jackson Hole, the sun would be to the southeast while the mountains would be to the west. Might be amusing to see them disappear into the umbral shadow, but that was about it. On the Idaho side, there's a ridge blocking the view of them until you get nearer to Tetonia. And the logistics of getting there and back didn't look great.

Living in Colorado meant that every trip to and from the park meant that we got to drive along almost 200 miles of the path, from Flagg Ranch to Lander. Why not see it from someplace along US-26/US-287? Would also have the advantage of watching for interesting places on every trip. So by the start of 2017 had come to the conclusion that the place to be would be off the main highway on the Wind River Reservation east of Crowheart.

The first complication was figuring out how to work with the land restrictions within the reservation. Sure we could get "trespass permits", but so would a whole lot of other people. Those had to be acquired in person just a few days before their use. That would mean it would be hard for a group of people to all go to the chosen site. It would also leave access until the last minute, with no way to get them for the tribal authorities figured out that they had an opportunity to really jack up the rates.

On our first trip to Yellowstone in May, we took the time to scout out a few of the side roads to confirm that access wasn't going to happen. Every side road is posted with "No Trespassing" signs, and from what I could read online, they meant it.

But we did find that there was non-tribal land accessible in what are shown as the reservation boundary. The access road to the Diversion Dam wasn't posted, and there were some wide spots along the road that, while not great, could function as emergency backup sites in case the place we eventually found wasn't going to work out.

Looking at the map, Suzanne suggested Ocean Lake about 20 miles farther east. One thing we wanted was a wide open view to the west in order to see the approaching darkness. That area looked really flat, and from what I could tell, was not tribal land, but a Wyoming wildlife refuge. So the next trip we left for Yellowstone early in order to look it over, and from what we could tell, it could work. There was open camping along the eastern shore, and except for the last few miles, local paved road access. The Mills Point area, where there was a boat ramp and pit toilets, looked like the best place.

And there was mention of Ocean Lake online. That was a concern, as we didn't want the place to be overrun with campers from California before we arrived. But no one specifially mentioned that spot.

As a backup, we took a day off during our two week Yellowstone visit in July to check out possible places in Idaho. I figured the Idaho National Energy Lab (INEL) would be restricted and help keep people a bit more bottled up along I-15, so we went as far a Howe just so those areas wouldn't be a complete surprise. On the way back I finally got to drive the road from Dubois (Idaho) to Island Park. There's a fair amount of gravel road, but well maintained and definitely would function as a way of getting around Rexburg, St.Anthony and Ashton.

We decided that we'd visit Yellowstone that weekend, no matter where ever we were going, because it would be easier to head out from there early in the morning as opposed to trying to leave Denver that morning. We left on Friday, and made one last visit to Ocean Lake. First we went through Lander, and where they were already starting to get ready for Monday. Just some closures around a downtown park, nothing that should have an effect on driving through later. Got to Ocean Lake and were pleasantly surprised that our chosen area was completely empty. That made us feel a little better, as we did not want to arrive to find several RVs that had put down roots. So on to the Upper Basin.

The visit to Yellowstone was different this time. For one thing, it was my first visit since 1985 that I didn't have a bike. Thanks to Fan & Mortar, I got to relive the experience of being a gazer in 1983 when they were really active and would sometimes walk down there multiple times in a day.

The crowds were different, too. Gone were all the usual American families. It seemed like the only people we heard speaking English were gazers. When we could understand people, the topic under discussion almost always seemed to be, "Where are you going for the eclipse?" As I'd suspected, most people had given that no thought, so any site off of a main road should not be overwhelmed.

Still, we were a bit paranoid, and decided that we'd head out early Sunday morning. On the drive we found plenty of evidence that the areas were getting ready. There were extra porta-potties stationed at pullouts, and the tribal patrols were in evidence. (They did finally decide to open a few places up, and charge something on the order of $40 per person for access, which is actually less than what it would normally cost.) In Dubois made sure that we had a full tank of fuel. With that, could easily get to Laramie. Then we double checked our backup site just past the US-287/26 split, and it was empty. So onward to Ocean Lake.

There we found the Mills Point area empty. We wanted a spot along the lake itself, and the best one was open. There was one RV set up to the north, at what appeared to be a well-used group campsite, a place that we wouldn't have gone to anyhow. A few hours later, some other people appeared, but mostly during the day it was local local families using the boat launch spot to play in the water. By evening, they may have been five or six campsite in use.

It was a pretty nice spot. The bugs weren't too bad, and during the day it was mostly calm. Suddenly at around 17:00, the wind picked up off the lake, and with our tent threatened to move on its own, we weighted it down a bit more. The bugs came out, too, but they seemed to be the non-biting type. I was a nice view, and plenty dark, with no lights nearby, which is one of those considerations for an eclipse people ignore until that streetlight turn on automatically just before totality.

Overnight, I heard some people arrive, but since none were really close, we ignored them. At dawn people started appearing. A long line of cars appeared, obviously an organized group. Who proceeded to setup right next to that occupied group site north of us. That's why I didn't want it. Then Linda Strasser and Matt Hocker found our site, and a little while later, the Mike Keller family did too.

There was some high cloudiness, and a definite band of clouds to the west, headed east. But that all made observations difficult for someone else out as totality approached. In the moments before totality, the bugs came out again.

Solar Eclipse 2017 Aug 21, Mills Point, Ocean Lake, Wyo

Not a whole lot to say about the eclipse itself. If you've seen one, you know what they look like. This one was much like the one I saw in Aruba in 1998-- not long enough, with too much happening and too much to see and experience. Even when trying to plan ahead on what to do and look for, things get ignored or forgotten. (It wasn't until the last few seconds that I remembered to try and look for stars and planets nearby.)

With the wide open horizon in all directions, the changes in lighting were easily seen. One factor that is much more obvious on a video recording than it was at the time was how the position of the shadow affects the lighting. At the start, what light there was was coming from the east. By the end, its from the west. Even though it is dark the whole time.

I looked for shadow bands both before and after, but there weren't any that any of us saw. One woman from another nearby group said she did seem some right after the end.

After the eclipse, we all took off fairly quickly. Originally I looked to see if there was some way to avoid going through Riverton, and I could not find a way. As it turned out, going through town was easy. The traffic on Wyo-135 was a bit heavy, but moving pretty much at the speed limit. Of course, there had to be a few people who needed to keep leapfrogging ahead, as if they were going to get back home to Denver any faster that way. After a while, it looked like most people figured that out, as the passing died out.

The first bottleneck I'd expected was at the Sweetwater Junction, where we'd have to make a left turn to get onto US-287. But it turns out the Wyoming road department was on the job. Not only did they have someone directing traffic at the junction, but they'd turned off the traffic lights at the one lane bridge construction zone just east of the junction. There they had flagmen allowing the long line of traffic moving east to go through unimpeded.

The traffic continued to be heavy, but orderly. In Jeffery City it looked like there were actually people using the gas pumps that appeared a few years ago. Then, just as we left Fremont County, the fun began. Suddenly there was a long line of halted traffic. After a while, figured out what the problem was, when we saw a similar backup off in the distance of cars headed south from Casper. These two lines merged, and there just wasn't the capacity to handle them. So we got to see a "once in a lifetime event", an actual traffic jam at Muddy Gap, Wyoming.

Even after the merge, there was stop-and-go traffic until we were past the first passing zone. Again, it was as if it took most people some time to figure out that there wasn't much point in passing in traffic that heavy. But after that, it was again consistently heavy but moving smoothly until we reached the bypass over to I-80. It seemed that much of the traffic was headed into Rawlins, probably headed west. We gassed up without a wait, and then got on I-80 where it wasn't much different than the usual weekday drive.

Heading south from Laramie there was another backup, this time probably from people trying to bypass I-25. Normally when we head home we'd use Owl Canyon Road, just north of Ft. Collins to get over to I-25, but this time we decided that it would be better to follow US-287 all the way home. Turns out it was the right decision, as we completely avoided the mass of people headed home from the Casper area. Driving through all those little towns was slow, and I'll probably never do that again unless something similar makes I-25 unusable. We got home at sunset, only a couple of hours later than if it had been a normal drive home.

Finally, it's not too early to start planning for 2024 Apr 08, especially since it's going to be in areas in which I'm not familiar.