Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By John Davis
Columnist 

The great 2017 eclipse

 

August 29, 2017



When we first thought about the coming eclipse, my wife and I felt that the experience of an eclipse was over-hyped and that we could enjoy it as much on TV as seeing it live. And we sure didn’t want to drive through areas that promised to be chaotic. As the time grew near, however, we became more interested and tried to figure out if we could get to the total eclipse area without fighting brutal traffic.

We came up with a plan: We’d go to Ten Sleep and then south on Highway 434 (the Upper Nowood Road) toward Lost Cabin and Moneta. But we were still concerned about heavy traffic, so we decided to get a jump on the traffic the morning of the eclipse, getting on the road very early.

So, on that morning (Monday, August 21), we drove to Ten Sleep starting about 6:30. And up the Nowood Valley we went. This is beautiful country, and even though it was obscured by smoke, it remained the special, shining land we’ve known for so many years.

Going south from Ten Sleep to Big Trails, there seemed to be a couple more vehicles than normal, but the traffic was not much out of the ordinary. After Big Trails, where the road turns from paving to gravel, the problem was dust. In some spots there was no air movement, and we went through a lot of stationary dust. As we approached Cottonwood Pass (about 35 miles south of Big Trails), we noted a few more cars on the route. We started seeing people who had pulled off the road with RVs and trailers. But a few miles past Cottonwood Pass, as the road broke out from the Big Horn Mountains and the plains to the south revealed themselves, we still had only seen maybe eight or nine vehicles. We found a rough little road to the west, which followed a little creek, and we pulled off next to the creek. It was cool, maybe 60, and quiet and pleasant. It was also a good 3 ½ hours before the total eclipse. Gradually, though, over the next couple of hours, the area filled with people.

This is normally a lonely setting. I’ve traveled over this place several times, and usually have seen no other vehicles, coming or going. Not so this day. As the time of the eclipse neared, cars started coming in regularly. From our vantage point, we could see about 20 cars sitting on a bench below a long ridge extending to the southeast. Celia thought there were considerably more people in the immediate area, and there were certainly a lot of vehicles coming and going on the main road. I think that this day represented the largest collection of human beings in the entire history of this area.

The smoke had cleared out almost entirely, and although the sky had at first held some wispy clouds, it was almost all blue; what we saw directly overhead was the piercingly clear Wyoming sky we all know.

Starting about 10:20, the sun was slowly nibbled at by what seemed like a giant Pac-Man; it was mostly gobbled up before we noticed much change, though. Until only a few minutes before the total eclipse, the place was sunny; maybe a little spooky and a little dim, such as when you have cloud cover, but not something you would have thought untoward had you not anticipated the eclipse. But then in the last 10 minutes (after 11:30), things changed a lot. The remainder of the sun was quickly consumed, although an eerie sunlight remained until only a sliver of the sun shone, which was just a couple of minutes before the onset of the total eclipse. Then, the sky got dark rapidly and, suddenly, the lights went out entirely. It was night! And it got very cool. When we then looked toward the sun, all we saw was a dark orb, surrounded by a bright corona that emitted little light.

It was a strange and exciting moment, like nothing I had ever seen in my life. I could fully appreciate why such an event would terrify people without the scientific knowledge of what was happening. It must have been terrifying, as if some frightful power had captured their sun.

One thing I realized: In no manner could this experience have been duplicated by watching it on TV.

John Davis was raised in Worland, graduating from W. H. S. in 1961. John began practicing law here in 1973 and is retired. He is the author of several books.

 
 

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