In the Path of Totality
Sierra Grande Rest Area Highway 87 Northeast New Mexico 836 from Houston
The eclipse Expedition is underway. This is the first overnight stop on the way to The Casper Wyoming area.
On Thursday night I had driven 550 miles from the day before from near Kansas City to Denton, Texas which is just North of Fort Worth. Friday morning, at the Receiver, I pretend to be on break and trying to sleep while checking in, moving the truck, walking back and forth to the office on the opposite corner of the warehouse (~1/2 mile away), paying the lumpers (logistics technicians) and preparing routes for the next load assignment. Not only nearly sleepless, but also payless is this time spent. By the time I can call in empty, I have three and a half hours in which I can drive to a truck stop and finish the ten hours required before I start another load. There some two hours of actual sleep, and I could be on the way to a new shipper for a load.
But, I am bound for six days of leave. All I have to accomplish is to drag this trailer to a truck wash for cleaning. Then drag the clean trailer to a shipper’s yard and drop it. From there “bobtail” to the truck parking where I can collapse, exhausted mentally, physically and emotionally after 56 contiguous days of constant driving.
Meanwhile, the First Mate and Young Son drove from Houston to Dallas to install the latter in the University of Texas at Dallas. First Mate found me without much trouble and I abandoned the truck as planned.
- First Mate: An officer on a ship second in rank only to the captain and responsible for the safety and security of the ship.
She had driven the first 250 miles from Houston to Dallas and I took the next leg of 580 to New Mexico. From there in the morning to the carefully planned rest area location on Interstate 25 exit 92 in Wyoming.
As the route included Amarillo, there was an obligatory stop at the Cadillac Ranch. I’ll post a photo if I can pry it out of the new phone which currently refuses to give up any jpegs.
The First Mate at the Cadillac Ranch – caught red-handed with a spray paint can.
Dwyer Rest Area in Totality I-25 exit 92, Wyoming. Near the maximum totality August 20,2017
Outside Denver we encountered a traffic jam that I felt was going to defeat all plans. The First Mate chastised me for my pessimism and it was soon proven unnecessary. As we approached the target, we checked with the Eclipse App to see that totality was indeed mere miles away. I knew that if we were in the right place we would find hundreds of fellow Astronomy nerds who also came to the parallel conclusion that this rest area was the optimal choice. The Nerds did not disappoint. There were at least a hundred at this early stage.
I had researched this Expedition thoroughly and determined the Dwyer Rest Area near Casper, Wyoming to be optimal from access and weather conditions. But doubt remained – at least until we had ground truth from the GPS. We checked with the Eclipse App as we approached and sure enough, the totality duration was near the maximum as we entered the area and parking was already filling up. By that evening there was not an “official” space left and the Nerds were resorting to Crowded Truck Stop Tactics to find places for their vehicles. On the actual day of the Eclipse, there must have been thousands of cars, backed up in the parking and lining the driveways back out to the highway. They doubled and tripled up in the driveways until we were without an exit strategy – trapped for the duration. What had been a five-minute wait for the Men’s Room had become a half hour. The free WiFi and Cell phone coverage had become paralyzed with over-demand.
Flying J Truck Stop I-25 exit 7, Cheyenne, Wyoming August 21, 2017
There was a carnival atmosphere that pervaded the zone. It is truly a shame that we had not brought the First Mate’s Arts and Craft merchandise and the tent that she used at Craft shows.
She would have sold out completely. As it was, there were only a man selling “I was there” t-shirts and one chap selling eclipse glasses for $5. I told him that he was selling too cheaply – after I bought a pair.
To address how expectations were met:
This event was all about eyewitness experience. The cell phone photos before during and after Totality were of dismal quality. This requires professional grade photography for any accurate depiction of what the observer actually saw.
An example of the inadequacy of cell phone photography. This was at Totality, but you’d never know since the camera “adjusted” the brightness
I looked up a file photo that pretty much matches the eyewitness impression. I found some under a search for “Totality” but they did not show the Corona like this one.
Totality, showing the “Solar Corona” – the Sun’s atmosphere
I had to change the search criteria to “Solar Corona” because simply “Corona” got me many versions of the example below:
In late partiality, the sharpened shadows were clearly noticed.
The oncoming Moon Shadow was clearly looming in the West, just seconds from Totality.
Once in totality, we were surrounded by sunset-red sky on all sides. A pan-around montage below:
Red sky surrounds the scene at Totality
The “Diamond Ring” effect was clearly visible at the appropriate stage. Again, only a “file photo” will do it justice:
That red streak and dot “phenomenon” at the top of this picture was also seen at Dwyer Base and commented on by Nerd and Novice alike.
The Solar Corona was prominently visible.
A planet appeared in the darkened sky – it was Venus, about 30 degrees from the Sun. I had expected Mercury and Mars closer to the Sun but didn’t see them. A high thins cloud layer may have been responsible for that.
There were birds that flew to roost as they had the night before.
I failed to notice any strange behavior of the pet animals present, but a few human types had some genuinely frenetic reactions. 😉
The Aftermath of the entire event was most strongly evident in the huge traffic jam that started right after Totality. Most of the Un-Nerds hopped in their cars minutes after and were immediately motionless for two hours or so. We had expected this and planned to wait patiently until traffic was more reasonable. Because we had arrived early, we had an up-front parking space and a grassy patch to call our own. The First Mate took a selfie there that has a stunning lack of age-related facial features. I was about to ask her who was that teenager with her in the picture when I recognized my shirt.
In Partial Eclipse, a Youthful-looking Captain Walkabout and the First Mate. If this effect is due to eclipse light then let’s bottle the stuff!
Passenger Seat – Ford Explorer on the road from Amarillo to Dallas
The First Mate has the helm. In Venezuela, we learned that the First Mate was the logical choice to lead a landing party to negotiate with the Natives, while the Captain lumbered behind with the luggage. So it proved last night when she obtained a bargain price on a Hilton Suite for the night.
There was still traffic congestion on Interstate 25 all the way to Cheyenne where we stopped for luxurious showers at the Flying J Truck Stop at exit 7. After dinner, the South-bound traffic persisted so we sought anchorage at the Southeastern Wyoming Tourist Information Center at exit 4. If you go this way, don’t miss it. There are museum exhibits about the State, brochures, helpful staff and very good complimentary coffee. This was to be the last in-car overnight of the trip – and good riddance!
Even the next day, there were frequent delays for this Eclipse Traffic Phenomenon, as even those who wisely stayed over a day all returned all at once. The road from Cheyenne to Denver had been a nine-hour trip and was now down to four. It is about 100 miles. So a detour Westward was decided by Captain and Crew. This took us to the entrance of Rocky Mountain National Park and then South to Royal Gorge where we visited the highest suspension bridge in the world. It no longer carries auto traffic but has been preserved as a (pedestrian) tourist attraction. There is a cable car that also crosses the Gorge. Both offer awesome views and photo opportunities.
Royal Gorge Bridge as Seen from the Cable Car
The First Mate Contemplating Royal Gorge from Mid-bridge.
First Mate Indicating the Cable at the Heart of the Bridge’s Construction
The Stunningly Beautiful First Mate Enjoying the Equine Simulator Facility
We had wondered why the approach to the Park featured several deserted tourist shopping centers and blank billboards that should be valuable advertising. It soon became clear. There was a historical short film at the park that explained its history – including the 2013 forest fire that burned down 48 of the 52 buildings of the Park, destroyed the cable car as well as a funicular railroad that took guests to the bottom of the Gorge and damaged the bridge.
That is also the reason for the shinning new cable cars and the spanking-new buildings.
Outside Raton New Mexico, I saw a deer crossing the road far ahead. The First Mate regretted missing a photo, but only for an instant, as we suddenly encountered three (count’em, 3) big buck deer on the road at now-close range. They all had racks of antlers that were eight to twelve points – this estimated in the few seconds of panic deceleration. Dogs in the road know damned well what a car horn means but do deer? In any case, I pounded out a staccato that I later recognized as Morse code for “TSV”. Your Captain memorized Morse some time ago as a part of his life-long affliction with Nerd-Geek-Trivia Syndrome. We can assume that this was a message from my Unconscious – albeit one my conscious mind has yet to fully decode. So far, I reckon the “V” stands for “venison”. The Ford passed within ten feet of bucks #2 and #3, but escaped collision.
Shipper’s Bobtail Parking, Monnet Missouri August 26, 2017
I have returned to the road and the First Mate is in Houston, awaiting the passage of Hurricane Harvey. It was a good and restful trip and a pleasant interlude in the continuing Walkabout
Over The Road,