I saw a talk on Chaco Canyon archeoastronomy last year.
The professor giving the talk gave a fascinating overview of the importance of astronomical events in Chacoan culture.
And she mentioned eclipses.
Which naturally lead her to discuss the now well-known Total Eclipse of 2017.
Her excitement was contagious.
I knew that the Panhandle would not be nearly as crowded as the I25 corridor in Wyoming. And I also knew that from the previous trips, the light pollution would be very low.
The vacation day was procured, eclipse glasses bought well ahead of time, and plans coordinated with friends.
The trip was on!
I drove up early on a Saturday and took all back roads. When I reached the camping spot scoped out, I was pleased to see that a fair amount of spots were left. A shaded site, tucked in the back, was spotted and claimed. I introduced myself to the neighbors and then took off.
Toadstool is The Badlands in miniature with rock outcroppings, hoodoos, and stark terrain. Well worth another visit.
Half-way through the traditional loop, I reached the turn-off to the Hudson-Meng site. I felt as if I was walking in a Utah canyon more so than being on the High Plains.
Though it was very hot, a slight breeze on the exposed area above kept the hike tolerable.
The obvious outskirts of the archeological site were soon reached.
The very enthusiastic USFS employee greeted me and seemed rather pleased at all the people seeing what is an otherwise obscure corner of the country.
I was quite impressed with the site. The climate control room had the bones laid out quite well. An informative video about the site was watched.
This site contains the remnants of an estimated 600 bison from about 10,000 years ago. A gem of a place well worth the side trip.
The staff was extremely informative. As a bonus? I was able to use an atlatl!
Using millennia old weapons technology was an unexpected surprise for this trip. And I learned that I’d starve with my current skill set for bison hunting!
Time to head back and enjoy some more of the High Plains landscape.
I was again reminded of The Badlands trip I did in December.
Still having some time, I did a short hike near the Soldiers Creek Wilderness and saw some of the buttes a bit more close up.
I made it back to camp, talked to my neighbors a bit, enjoyed their company, and then went on a sunset hike along the network of old jeep trails in the wildlife area.
The following day was mainly lazy as I was waiting for Rachel and Mike. I again talked to my neighbors and enjoyed their company.
All of us were pleasantly surprised at how few people were in the area and how the campsite was nowhere near full. Several county officials came by throughout the day to check on things. Besides being very friendly, they provided some data on the weather forecast. All looking good! As an aside, the country folks really did an excellent job. The campsite was spotless, trash barrels were placed, and even the outhouses were pristine. I think the local community was quite proud that such an event was coming through their home.
Having some more time to wait, I did a longer hike to a butte on top of the Pine Ridge Escarpment.
The views did not disappoint.
I could see into the Oglala Grasslands, down into our camping area, and further along the escarpment.
Shortly after my jaunt, Rachel and Mike showed up! My neighbors teased me that I really did have friends and was not making it all up. 🙂
We settled in, had dinner, and talked to our neighbors.
A long-distance bicyclist named Johnny also showed up. Mike, having done some bike tours himself, had some good conversations with him. Johnny was biking to Rapid City and originally had no plans for the eclipse. Over a shared beer, we still could not convince him to join us.
Later on, he came back to our site and asked if the offer was still there. But of course!
The following morning we all enjoyed a breakfast scramble and then headed out for the main event!
We found a spot almost dead center for the totality. It was on a small hill with expansive views and a very wide spot of grass to park. And, other than the nearby Agate Fossil Beds, not busy at all within the immediate area.
And they brought some friends!
Time passed quick. The whole area had the feel of a festival. And because of where we were, it never felt overwhelming.
Another neighbor was kind enough to let us look through his telescope. We could see sunspots.
The eclipse started.
We all had the same expressions of wonder on our faces.
Totality was approaching. We could see the moon’s shadow approach from the west. The sky darkened, the wind stopped, a sunset-like view was seen for 360° around us. Some stars were visible. It was surreal. It was awesome.
Mike had a tripod setup with a camera on a timer. He was able to record a shot of the eclipse itself.
After the totality, we hung around a bit and enjoyed the eclipse slowly fading away.
Johnny was dropped off and he went on his way.
Rachel, Mike, and I went to the nearby “town” and it was hopping. Normally 250 people, the town was busy. And, on foot, you realize just how much a place can contain even when small by our modern 60 MPH standards. The mechanic, a small grocery store, a hotel, a bar and grill, the local high school, and a hardware store were all within a five minute or so walk of each other. The local park even had a food truck and picnic tables set up for the event. I can only imagine how much money was put into the otherwise normally sleepy town.
I decided to wait out the traffic and have dinner in camp. One last view in a little oasis on the High Plains.
Time to head out and go home.
Any major traffic was avoided and I made it home in reasonable time.
The Eclipse was easily one of the best experiences of my life.
Something I feel very fortunate to have seen. And in a remote area at that.
If you ever get a chance to see an eclipse totality, do it! A partial eclipse is not the same. And I guarantee a total eclipse is something you won’t forget.