The Bristol Family Eclipse Experience (Plus Colorado)
My family just got back from a week+ trip to see Monday’s total solar eclipse. Since we had to drive so far (Arizona to Wyoming), and you never know if Mother Nature will cooperate, we wanted to see some people and places along the way. Then, if for some reason the eclipse was a bust, it wouldn’t have been a long drive for nothing.
Fortunately, we needn’t have worried.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We had to sandwich our trip between Rory’s birthday and the hard date of the eclipse, along with my daughter starting her first college class soon thereafter (literally the day after the eclipse). This limited our time and visiting possibilities, so we restricted ourselves to visiting a few friends/sets of friends and family, all in Colorado, on the way up to Wyoming.
I took a ton of photos, some on my iPhone SE, and some on my DSLR. I’ll share a bunch below in some galleries (I wanted to do slide shows, but it distorted the photos). Click to embiggen.
We drove the long first day all the way from Prescott up to Colorado Springs, no small feat as I get older and being cramped in a car isn’t my body’s happy place. Along the way, Rory got in a new state (Colorado) and saw the Rockies with his own eyes for the first time (later he got in Wyoming and Utah, not a bad new-state haul). We then spent a couple of nights with GeekMom Patricia, who I had never actually met in person before. It was great to spend time chatting, and to meet her family. We had a number of really interesting conversations, which are about my favorite thing ever.
The next day, Patricia gave us a really cool and informative tour of the Air Force Academy. Such a gorgeous campus set in an equally gorgeous environment. I’d driven past the campus so many times on I-25, but this was my first time stopping. The buildings were neat, the chapel divine (see what I did there?), and Patricia gave us so many information tid bits of campus and cadet life and inside meanings that I almost wish I attended. Almost. So cool.
That afternoon, we went to The Garden of the Gods. The kids and I had been before, but Rory hadn’t been, and the kids didn’t remember it. Plus it is free. It was gorgeous, as always, and it was neat to help Rory get an up close and personal look at some of the rock that makes up Colorado’s Front Range.
That night, we met my half-sister for dinner up in nearby Manitou Springs. (Hi, Molly!) We ate some food and walked around and played at a park. It was a wonderful time, and I wish I could have taken her home with me. It had been five years since I’d seen her, and I hope it isn’t that long before I see her again.
The next day, we headed up to Evergreen, Colorado, where GeekMom Judy lives, to spend a couple of days. I hadn’t seen Judy in a while either, and it was fun to visit with her and her family. Plus Evergreen is just about my perfect environment. Cool, mountainous, and filled with, well, evergreens. I sat and stared at the nature for long stretches. The town’s herd of elk also decided to stop by, and hung out in the area of her house and in her LITERAL BACKYARD for hours. Photos ensued. We also checked out the town a bit, ate at Beau Jo’s (OM NOM), read books, knitted and crocheted, and played a bunch of games.
After two days of relaxing paradise, we headed up to Boulder, where I used to live, for another two days. I love the town, but couldn’t afford to live there, and the prices have only gotten worse since I left in 2002. Still, it was awesome to visit and to show Rory where I used to call home. We drove around town, looked at the CU campus (yay, college!), ate at Moe’s Bagel a couple of times, did a little shopping on Pearl Street, and had a great time with my friends Patrick and Suzanne, whom I hadn’t seen in probably 15 years, since I left Boulder when my firstborn was an infant. They hadn’t changed a bit and we really, really enjoyed our time there. Plus, amazing games, including the most rousing game of The Great Dalmuti that I’d ever played, complete with fancy hats chosen for the game’s positions. The kids enjoyed it immensely, and I can honestly say it’s been years since I enjoyed playing a game that much.
After bidding our friends goodbye (for now), we headed north. Destination: Casper, Wyoming. The traffic up wasn’t too bad. People had staggered their arrival times along the path of totality so well that it was smooth sailing. But we knew it wouldn’t be the same way for the drive after the eclipse. So we positioned ourselves away from the interstate in the direction we would need to take to go home.
This is how we ended up viewing one of the coolest astronomical events ever in a Walmart parking lot in Casper, Wyoming.
The partial eclipse was to begin around 10:22am on August 21st, with totality from about 11:42am to 11:44am. The plan was to enjoy the shrinking sun fully, embrace totality, see the sun re-emerge, and then hop in the car to leave. So we got everything ready for that.
We had two pairs of eclipse glasses along with my solar telescope, which was an awesome combination. We all took turns looking through them all, and made little holes through our fingers onto the ground, and through our hats, and all kinds of things. Should have brought a colander, but oh well. We met a nice lady who had a pinhole viewing box who wanted to help kids get that experience. Turns out she’s from 20 miles down the road from Prescott. And we met in Casper, Wyoming. What are the odds? There was also a hot air balloon behind us. Someone paid a pretty penny to take a hot air balloon ride during the eclipse.
As we were waiting for totality, some folks were talking to each other. Everyone, no matter where they came from or who they were, was nice, helpful, and excited for the experience. Even in the pretty small parking lot we were in, there were many languages spoken and cultures represented. We specifically heard Ukrainian and Chinese. There was a Mazda Miata car club. People traveling the country. People doing it on the cheap. Old. Young. Families. Couples. Everyone experiencing this awesome sight together. I took it all in, and wished I were more outgoing.
I got a ton of photos of the partial eclipse through the solar telescope. It was just as great a view as the one I got through a friend’s much larger and more expensive solar telescope for Venus’s transit of the sun back in 2011, and it’s so much cheaper (I got mine for review, but the thing only costs like $100—I’m not sure they’re selling it anymore, but there are other affordable telescopes available). Here are some of my partial eclipse photos.
Then, the moment everyone drove hundreds or thousands of miles for: totality. As it approached, the light started to dim. More than I’d ever seen it dim before during a partial eclipse (I hadn’t seen anything more than maybe 50% before, I think). It soon started to get cooler. And then dimmer and cooler still. It stayed a weird dimness with a lovely, cool breeze for many minutes before totality. Everyone had their eclipse glasses, telescopes, and cameras trained on the sky. I kept taking photos through my telescope so I could have a nice sequence. And then I heard someone say that it had started. Totality, that is. People cheered. The sky was dark. We saw the corona and the black of the moon. There was a “sunset” all around us. The hot air balloon lit up. We could see a star (planet?). I took a bunch of photos with my telephoto lens on my DSLR. And, before we could really settle in and enjoy it, it was over. The sun began to emerge. We quickly packed up and headed out of town. We had chosen a site that wasn’t a huge draw for people, and our traffic was fairly light. Friends of mine in other parts of the country were stuck in hours and hours of stop and go traffic. We sailed through the middle of nowhere, no cell phone service back country of Wyoming.
But since the eclipse was midday, there was no way we were driving the 917 miles home in one day. So we stopped the night in Moab, Utah, and finished the drive on Tuesday. We had to get home in time for my daughter’s evening class! Yay, college!
All in all, a wonderful trip, well worth the effort. I hope you enjoy the photos.