Editors note!:The Great American Eclipse of 2017 was an 8 hour drive from Paonia. While not adhering to The North Fork Nutshell’s official parameters for our irregular feature “North Fork Weekend Getaway” , this potential once in a lifetime occurrence was the exception and thus complies with our strict Weekend Getaway parameters!
As T-day approached (Day of Totality) no hard plans were being made in the Canode/Williams household to make the pilgramage to the hinterlands of the American West in order to view the total eclipse of the sun. In the weeks and days before the event I’d occasionally throw out to my wife Amy, “The eclipse is coming. We gonna go?” But only received back vague and non-commital responses. Both of us had read and heard that there’s no comparing a partial eclipse to Totality but there was some resistance from my better half. Amy practices Ayurveda (The east Indian Art and science of Life) and Vedic Astrologers, considered to be the oldest and deepest practitioners of astrology in the world, suggested going inside, putting one’s head under the covers, and wait out any Total Eclipse of the Sun. These same astrologers also have prognosticated that this particular eclipse would spell total doom for our current president Donald Trump, which is intrigueing in and of itself. I didn’t particularly care that the Vedas were warning against bathing in Totality. As Amy described it, “All our skeleton’s get woken up and kicked out of the closet after an eclipse.” That was fine with me. I was game for a closet cleaning anyway. But as the day of Totality approached it was time to defecate or get off the pot. It seemed enough people were singing the fantastical virtues of experiencing Totality on Youtube and Facebook that we had to see what the fuss was about. So we loaded up the family truckster, threw caution to the wind and made a B-line for Lander, Wyoming, the closest place to see totality. (And incidentally and very importantly clear skies were in the forecast!)
Thus, we (wife and I, son Edan, new friend Jake, and friendly but annoying dog Brahmi) embarked from Paonia on Saturday with a fuel up, lunch up, and stock up of provisions in Grand Junction. Adequately weighted down for the 8 hour drive, we headed over lonely Douglas Pass, skirted Dinosaur Monument, and camped out just outside Vernal, Utah in the high country of Ashley National Forest. Ashley seemed very thirsty and well used with evidence of prolific tree disease as well as intense logging. Lots of traffic on the back forest roads which seemed to revolve around logging and hunting. Edan had a great time gathering plentiful firewood off the ground, poking at the subsequent pine camp fire, and of course roasting marshmallows over said fire. We’ve come to realize it doesn’t matter to Edan what our final destination is for family trips as long as marshmallows and campfires are involved! Amy went to bed early while Jake and I watched the fire die and speculated on what we would experience during our time in Totality. I was starting to feel the skeletons knocking.
Sunday, the last leg of the trip, would find us at our final destination of Lander by dusk. We drove over and looked longingly at the swimming holes of Flaming Gorge reservoir but were anxious to get to where we needed to be. There was lots of talk about the millions of people like us who were doing the same thing we were doing all over the United States. We had no idea what to expect in terms of traffic or crowds but we knew we didn’t want to be last in line to the show. Thus far in the pilgramage, state highways were desolate, empty, and as always in desperate need of repair. We lunched in the oil/gas/coal town of Rock Springs, WY in a little park decorated with an army tank and a fighter jet, and hid out from the intense August sun in the shade of some fir trees. Edan was convinced the fighter jet was fake. I spent a bit of time trying to prove it was real.
When we reached Lander our first stop was the Shoshone National Forest headquarters. What a welcome committee! Having no clue about the lay of the land we were so thankful and surprised by the warm, friendly, and extremely helpful government employees and working on a Sunday no less! They provided us with free maps with exact overlays of the path of Totality and even how long to expect Totality at a particular latitude. After patient explanations of what places had already crowded out we made the choice to check out a desolate swath of BLM scrub land about an hour north. Off we went north into what was considered maximum Totality (still no traffic really) and found some nice running water but with about 100 cows and enough cow shit to make walking a bit like hopscotch. Adjacent however to this well used BLM paddy was Boysen state Park surrounding a large reservoir. While there were perceptibly more people like us milling about the park for looking for the perfect spot there was still plenty of places to stretch out and stake a claim…for free! On that subject it was interesting to see all the fields, lots, and private land that had signs to “View the Eclipse Camping: $80. Most of those lots were empty but a few off major highways were filling up. The pack mentality always interests me…. but always from afar. We hunkered down, took refuge from the dry, hot, Wyoming wind and sun on the leeward side of our truck and waited for the big event.
Monday started warm and breezy. At around 10:20am I looked up with my handy eclipse glasses and could see a small nibble appearing at about 11oclock on the sun. To celebrate the 3 of us us boys went and jumped in the lake to wash off our roadtrip scuzz. By the end of our dip we could already percieve a drop in temperature and a less intense light. I went and got my cameral gear and we climbed a nearby hill that revealed expansive views in all directions. Adjacent to us a hundred yards or so a someone hollared to us and motioned us over. It was an amateur astronomer with his family from Michigan with various telescopes and viewing devices and he was eager to share with us. My 7 year old performed a quick inspection and quickly fell into deep conversation of Pokemon and Minecraft with another boy at the astonomer’s camp. By then the eclipse was around 75% or so and the sun continued its slow dimming feature.
At around 95% or so things start to get a bit fuzzy. Not knowing what to expect I had prepared to take a night time picture. You can see the image of Totality I managed to capture above and the wide shot just before totality but these photos do little to convey the what was going on. It was unlike anything I/we have ever experienced. The massive approaching shadow from the west, the planets peaking out of an almost black mid day sky, the substantial (chilly?) drop in temperature (My son put his jacket on!), animals, birds, and insects behaving as if the sun had set, etc, etc… In hind site, even though I am a professional photographer/videographer I would not have spent the precious 2 minutes of Totality fiddling with my camera. I’ve come to realize it was such an unbelievably rare and fleeting experience that 100% of ones attention is required to soak it all in. Because not only does the event itself rarely occur, but the weather HAS to cooperate. One has to be able to have an unobstructed view of the sun to fully realize what is happening, and even then it is a truly unbelievable sight and does not compare to even a 95% solar eclipse!
In conclusion, it was well worth the 16 hours of driving it took to experience 2 minutes of a total eclipse of the sun. It is something I will never forget, and I hope it stuck with my 7 year old as well. On the way back to Paonia we took a luxurious dip in Flaming Gorge reservoir and Edan took his first flying leap off a cliff (6 feet) into a lake! We had some awesome mexican food at Tacos el Gordo in Vernal, Utah. And that my friends is the end!
P.S. Still waiting for my skeletons to appear, but my wife says it could take a year or so. Same goes for Donald Trump.