Aspen Untucked: Totally in Totality
August 24, 2017
In the weeks leading up to Monday's solar eclipse, I must admit, I was not buying into the hype. I was tired of hearing and reading news stories about it. People were driving thousands of miles to "get into the totality zone." Hotels in towns in rural parts of America were being rented out for 15 times the normal price. And traffic was forecasted to be absolutely horrendous anywhere near the totality zone. The buildup just seemed overwhelmingly unnecessary, and I didn't think the journey was worth the effort.
For those who still may not know, the totality zone during an eclipse is the area where the moon goes fully in front of the disk of the sun. At this point, the atmosphere on Earth goes mostly dark, and humans can stare at the sun without harming their eyes. For this eclipse, the zone of totality went from Oregon to South Carolina. It was a 70-mile-wide area in 14 states. All 50 states would get to view some of the eclipse, but only in the zone of totality would the moon fully cover the sun. For us Coloradans, the closest states for the best viewing were Nebraska and Wyoming. Still, I didn't see the point in going. It seemed like a lot of work for not very much reward.
However, two days before the eclipse, I received a call from my mother. She had just read an article in the New York Times that talked about being in the totality zone during the eclipse. Apparently, in the zone, all goes quiet. Cows run away, birds stop singing, crickets start chirping, pigs begin to fly …OK, maybe not the last one, but you get the idea. After reading more about it, my mom and stepdad were determined to get to totality for the eclipse. She wanted my boyfriend, our two dogs and me to join. My mother has never been one to get excited about natural phenomenons, so, in slight shock, I told her we would go with her. I figured if she was so determined, there must be something to all of this.
So, at 4 a.m. on Monday morning, two parents, a boyfriend, two puppies and myself headed north to Wyoming to reach totality. Once we hit Interstate 25, it became very obvious that we weren't alone on this venture. Many experts are predicting this was the most watched eclipse in history, with 2 million to 7 million Americans driving to the totality zone. Needless to say, the roads were crowded.
Despite the bumper-to-bumper traffic, we made it within the zone by about 7:30 a.m. We went to the first town in Wyoming within the viewing area: Wheatland. From the looks of it, the town of Wheatland doesn't see a whole lot of tourism on a typical Monday morning. But, on eclipse day, it was bustling. porta potties were set up on every other block, there were even some on the exit and entrance ramps to the highway. The longest lines were at the gas stations, where cars waited to fill up for the long journey back. A gas truck even had to refuel at one location. Arby's was also an extremely popular place, with hungry customers coming in to order breakfast and use the facilities. Some were even wearing solar eclipse T-shirts. One woman said she had driven overnight from Houston.
Once we unloaded our bladders and satiated our appetites with Arby's breakfast, we found a picnic table next to a dog park, the perfect viewing spot for our motley crew. Many others had chosen the park, as well. It was obvious that some of them had gotten there very early because they had set up their sleeping bags and were napping as they awaited eclipse time.
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The full eclipse was scheduled to happen at 11:49, however, right before 11, the moon started to cover the sun. As it continued, the light around us got dimmer, the blue sky lost some of its vitality, and shadows became much more detailed. At 11:49, when the eclipse was full, cheers erupted from the people all around us. Then, we all went quiet, staring up at a dark sun with only the thinnest outline of light around it. There were no cows running, and I didn't notice if any birds grew quiet or crickets got louder. Our puppies seemed confused, a bit anxious even, but not overwhelmingly so. The darkness lasted for less than two minutes before the sun started peeking out again, but that short period of time was worth every bit of hype I had rolled my eyes at in the weeks leading up to it. Seeing that natural phenomenon was well worth the journey. As for my mom, she was a bit disappointed she didn't see cows frantically running away from the sun, but she seemed to think the experience was, overall, an adequate one.
Another eclipse will grace us with its presence in 2024. The next one where the Roaring Fork Valley will be in the totality zone is in 2045. Make sure to plan accordingly. It's well worth all of the hassle.
Barbara Platts is now a solar eclipse chaser. She's hooked. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.
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