Two minutes and 32 seconds – Planning an eclipse trip

The solar eclipse from 21st of August 2017. What should you do if you don't have a brother in a nearby location? We came up with eleven items.

Join us in Wairarapa
for stargazing

Or, be an armchair astronomer

If you can’t make it to Wairarapa or New Zealand,  learn astronomy online with us and SLOOH. 

Love this photo? Take your own!

Also check out our favourite astrophotography guide

Learn from 
award-winning photographer Alex Conu

This (the featured image) is in eastern Wyoming.  Beautiful area. There are some negatives. Very windy…measured 15 mph gusts.  We think it’s being funneled by the topography.  No bathroom facilities nearby.  Possible large crowds… Only an hour until sunset – we’ll keep checking for other sites here before we grade it on our eclipse site rubric.

So let’s see a total solar eclipse!

Step one.

“A road of a thousand li begins with the first step”
Chinese proverb.

Load the Eclipse Chaser program on your Smartphone.  Eclipse Chaser incorporates Google Maps to give you the path and circumstances for every eclipse through the year 2100. Simple and easy to use it is an incredible tool for planning.  My friend Gary Becker and I decided to follow the eclipse path of August 21, 2017 from Nebraska to Idaho a year early and select some prime spots for viewing.  Yes the eclipse is longest in Missouri, but so are the possibilities of clouds.  So we’ll sacrifice an additional 8 seconds of totality for better weather prospects.  Weather is truly the biggest variable, and you need to be able to move quickly.  And that’s part of the eclipse experience.  There’s nothing worse than travelling to some remote spot to sit under clouds.  With this in mind we’re not interested in securing a hotel at a specific location.  First, most hotels near the centerline are already booked (and some have been booked two years ago).  Besides, we won’t be able to decide on our actual site until the day before.  Another great smartphone app will help with this.  It’s called Bloomsky, and it’s a weather app that shows all sky images from people’s backyards where they set them up.  I simply selected people who have Bloomsky operating near the centerline.  The pictures give real time updates every five minutes.  Along with weather maps this will determine where we will go on eclipse day.

Even so we will need a staging area.  I am blessed to have a brother who lives near Denver, Colorado.  From here it’s a short day’s drive to any of those locations.

So what do you do if you don’t have a brother in a nearby location?

Choose a hotel in a city out of the eclipse path but within easy driving distance to your prime sites.  And yes you need prime sites.  We have one selected in central and western Nebraska, eastern, central and western Wyoming, and Idaho.  Our goal is to get there the day before to set up, and be ready to move regardless.  And that’s the backup plan.  There is a road that follows the centerline fairly well for hundreds of miles through Nebraska and Wyoming.  In a worse case scenario we follow that road to where it’s clear, pull off the side of the road and set up.  Contingencies always have contingencies.

The outline for finding the perfect total eclipse site used a rubric.  Each item is worth one point, and then I changed the grades into percentages; the higher the percentage, the better the site for our needs.

We came up with eleven items.

  • Close to eclipse centerline (they should all get a point for this)
  • Lack of huge crowds (crowds mean traffic and decreased mobility, having people around is fine and adds to the fun unless you can’t move)
  • Bathroom facilities (a definite plus)
  • Setup overnight (for those with polar mounts)
  • Security (can we leave our equipment temporally, or have a place to store them)
  • Water (lake or river adds a lot of photography possibilities and beauty to the scene. Also adds stability to the air)
  • Wind (lack of strong winds)
  • Ease of Access (should be easy enough to get to with lots of equipment)
  • Beautiful Landscape (adds to the enjoyment of the event, although in this case the Sun will be too high to really catch them in the picture together)
  • Shade (you can always bring a portable large umbrella or pavilion, but if it’s already available that’s a bonus).
  • Parking (for you and all your friends)

We looked at lots of sites in each geographical region, but only selected the top site according to the rubric.  Weather will make the final determination of which site we would choose.  The following table shows our results.

Site Rating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Totality


Partial Begins Totality Begins
CENTRAL NEBRASKA 82% 1 1 0 1 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 2:32 11:33:50 12:58:05
WESTERN NEBRASKA 86% 1 1 1 1 1 0 1 1 .5 1 1 2:30 10:27:04 11:49:10
EASTERN WYOMING YURTS 77% 1 1 1 1 1 0 0 1 .5 1 1 2:20 10:24:17 11:45:42
EASTERN WYOMING CASTLE 73% 1 .5 .5 1 .5 1 0 1 1 .5 1 2:20 10:24:17 11:45:42
CENTRAL  WYOMING 64% .5 1 1 .5 1 .5 0 .5 1 1 1 0 1 2:13 10:23:01 11:43:39
WESTERN WYOMING 82% 1 0 1 1 .5 1 .5 1 1 1 1 2:17 10:19:52 11:39:16


1 1 0 1 .5 0 .5 1 1 0 1 2:10 10:14:10 11:31:14

Let me leave you with some other considerations.  Leaving from the Denver area is going to be problematic in one respect.  They are expecting a mass migration of 100,000 people leaving Denver to go to the Glendo Reservoir in Wyoming. 

Why Glendo?

Two reasons.  Glendo is right on the centerline and accessible by an interstate highway from Denver.  That highway is going to be wall to wall traffic the day of the eclipse.   At Boynten State Park they recommend strongly that you plan on arriving three days before the event to get your campsite and set up.  Good advice, accept you don’t know about the weather.  There is also one gas station in the nearby town.  So bringing extra gas is a really good idea if you’re travelling to any site in Wyoming.  In short the population of Wyoming is expected to double during the time of the eclipse.

So where will we be on August 21, 2017?

Keep in mind that every one of these sites are rated 100% if there is clear weather the day of the eclipse!  Enjoying the beauty of this amazing celestial event with your friends is what this is all about.  What happens after the eclipse?  The traffic and crowds will all melt away as you smile serenely with the memory of experiencing truly the most beautiful spectacle of nature.  And as you wait in traffic, you plan in your head for the next great eclipse adventure.