Anatomy of an Eclipse Trip – DAY SIX – August 18, 2017
A slight breeze brushes across the trees of Guernsey, Wyoming on a day when the temperatures are pushing 90 (*about 30 Celsius). A dog roams across the empty main street under blue skies with a few small scattered clouds. Twisters bistro is mostly full, but it’s lunchtime and the people are all local. Empty seating areas are set up outside other restaurants. The hotel will be charging people to camp on their property with tents. The grocery store shelves are still well stocked, and the rumors about the gas price doubling overnight have not occurred. Eclipse weekend is here, and tonight is the first of the town’s events; a showing of “Pete’s Dragon” in the town park after sunset.
Preparations are set in town and at the Park, as both are just waiting for the people to arrive. I imagine the situation is the same all across the eclipse path. People will start to arrive this weekend with the great masses pulling in late Sunday or early Monday for a glimpse of totality. I have friends all along the eclipse path. Oregon, Idaho, western and central Wyoming, and we’re in eastern Wyoming expecting another 26 people (most arriving Sunday). Other friends are setting up sites in western Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee and South Carolina. I wish them all clear skies, and I’m looking forward to sharing stories and images of their eclipse pilgrimage.
And “pilgrimage” is apropos. We are all journeying many miles from home to share in this awe-inspiring experience; many for the first time in their lives. The first people to join our group have driven out from New Jersey and arrive late afternoon. Alex Pena is a former teaching assistant for Gary at Moravian College. He travels with his mother, Karen Cortellino, who is a physician, and his friend, Andrew Bainbridge, who is a pre-med student. It’s the first total solar eclipse for all three of them. I asked them why they came, and what they are expecting will happen. Alex has an interest in astronomy and a thirst for knowledge and experiences, and besides how cool would it be to observe an eclipse with your astronomy professor! So invite a good friend to share the driving and the experience. Andrew hasn’t taken an astronomy course and isn’t certain what to expect at all, but he’s here for the adventure and anyway how do you pass up a cross country road trip to Wyoming? As for Mom, she observed a partial eclipse from New Jersey back in the 90’s, and isn’t certain just yet as to what all the excitement is about, but she wasn’t going to pass up on the opportunity to go on a road trip with her son, and share his interest in the heavens. Tomorrow they all leave for South Dakota to see Mount Rushmore. They’ll take my son Michael along as well.
Alex brought along a telescope to help out at the star party on Saturday night, and of course for the main event Monday. After setting up and polar aligning the instrument, he and Gary are having their own star party under dark Wyoming skies. It brings a smile to my face as I see the continued friendship and joy of sharing their passion for the heavens. I too, will have two former students arriving (one from my high school class, and another from college) tomorrow to share the same adventure. This truly is one of the joys of bringing people together for a total solar eclipse.
As the midnight hour approaches, Gary and I have decided it’s time to call it a night. Although the beautiful Cygnus region of the Milky Way blazes across the zenith, the winds have picked up and we decided not to image. Usually we leave for the hotel by dawn’s early light. Don’t get me wrong, staying in the yurts is beautiful, but the hotel gives us the chance to send out reports via the Internet, grab a shower, and most importantly recharge our battery power packs for the instruments. Bringing the heavy battery packs to the Jeep I move past Karen who is returning from her vehicle. She asks if there are any rattlesnakes around here. The answer is absolutely, although I haven’t seen any. Well, until I looked under her car. She heard it rattle as she was putting things in the back. The rattle is the snakes signal to stay clear, the serpent has no interest in striking, and we certainly have no interest in disturbing. He was kind enough to pose for a picture.
A strong breeze brushes across the trees of Guernsey, Wyoming on a night when the temperatures are dropping into the upper 50’s. The hotel parking lot is incredibly empty, but we notice an SUV with three gas cans strapped to the roof. It’s going to be an interesting weekend.