Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse Adventure

When we were in Nebraska earlier this summer on vacation, we kept seeing all the excitement about the eclipse in August.  It caught me up and I decided to go.  My cousin, Vicki and her husband John, live and work on a buffalo ranch up along the North Platte River 11 miles  west of town, so I'd have a place to stay.  Motel rooms and camping spot were booked solid long ago. The interstate from Denver was pretty busy and people were driving awfully fast so I decided to take some of the old highways that paralell the Union Pacfic and old Burlington.  I could watch trains and experience the country.    I like the old highways because that's where you see history  and pass thru the hearts of old towns.  The old highway, US 30, the Linclon Highway, also parallels the Oregon and Mormon trails.  I stopped to photograph and read markers at a couple of spots.

Many of the old depots along the Union Pacific through Nebraska are long gone, but the depot in Julesburg still stands as a local museum.  It was Sunday and closed.  

Historical marker for the old Phelps Hotel in Big Springs, Nebraska. 

The historic Phelps hotel in Big Springs, Nebraska.

Marker for the Pony Express station in Deuel County, Nebraska.  I guess there's some controversy about the exact name of this station.   The Union Pacific mainline is in the background with the telephone poles.

Now this is a puzzle to me.  Why the pioneers following the Oregon Trail to the west coast waited to join up with the North Platte River this far west is a mystery to me. They could have avoided this hill climb to Ash Hollow by following the North Platte where it joins the South Platte just east of North Platte.  I have to look into this.  

Sign to the buffalo ranch where my cousin Vicki and her husband live.

There was a nice flock of wild turkeys  around the house.

This stuffed snow goose was hanging from the ceiling when Vicki and John moved in.   They just left it there.  Snow geese and sandhill cranes migrate thru the fields around their house in the spring and fall.  

John, my cousin Vicki's husband grilled us some great steaks.  John is 74 but still works  helping with the buffalo husbandry, and drives trucks for the local fertilizer and grain haulers.  He is from the Azore Islands.  

 I thought I might take my camper and camp in their yard, as motels were all sold out.  It was pretty warm and humid, though, so I opted for staying in my cousins's spare bedroom.  We had a nice dinner of steaks and produce from John's garden.  Didn't sleep that good as the roosters crowed very early and I could hear buffalo snorting in the nigh.  Woke up eclipse day morning, and the North Platte valley was shrouded in heavy fog and drizzle.  I figured it was a bust, but the local weather said it would burn off by mid-morning, so I headed out for my selected viewing point for totality in Tryon, a tiny burg about 40 miles north.  It was a tense drive thru the fog.  Lots of white tail deer out, and people driving way too fast for the conditions.  By the time I got to Tryon the fog was lifting, but it was still mighty cloudy.  The town had set up parking in a big mowed hayfield, with viewing across the road on a nice hill overlooking the rolling grassing Nebraska sandhills.  I really like the sandhills. Just mile after mile of gently, sometimes more than gently, rolling sea of grass.  The town had set up some tents for shade, benches made of hay bales and boards, and there was food and water.  I was also surprised that there was a professional astronomer who was very unobtrusive in providing some helpful tips and facts over a PA. He kept the viewing crowd I'd estimate at a thousand or better informed of the progress of the eclipse.

When I arrived at Tryon the fog had lifted, but heavy cloud cover still obscured the sky.  There were many RV's and campers on the far side of the parking field.  The pivot irrigation rig divided the field for campers and parking.  

Many places in the sandhills were a sea of yellow sunflowers, but big flags of these  primrose? stood above the sunflowers in many patches along the road. 

This is looking southwest at the viewing site at Tryon.  That's my camera with paper cardboard solar filter in the foreground.  

A lady from the North Platte visitors bureau wore this sun suit.  The NP visitors bureau had organized the event and bused in many bus loads of viewers.  

This dad and son duo is enjoying the eclipse. They were very laid back.  I hope they still had eye sight when it was over.  

It occurred slowly at first, it wasn't until about 80% or more coverage before I really noticed a marked decrease in ambient light.  I took some photos with a cardboard filter I had bought, along with a couple pair of eclipse glasses.  I left a couple of glasses with my cousin back in North Platte.  I had read where I should practice shooting the sun and moon prior to the event, but I hadn't done it.  I was somewhat apprehensive about it, and it did prove rather challenging with rapid and wild variations in exposure settings.  During totality, which lasted two minutes and a few seconds, I worked feverishly to get some shots.  I almost wish I had just forgotten the photography and just experienced totality.  It was quite brief, but very dramatic.  It came on rather suddenly.  I looked around  a few seconds before the astronomer on the PA announced, "glasses back on in ten seconds. "  It wasn't completely totally dark, as there was light around on all horizons.  The astronomer had said something about some odd waves of light that might ripple over the landscape just prior to totality,  I had my eye in the viewfinder then, but I heard people around me mention that they has seen the phenomenon.  It was a totally cool experience.  I would highly recommend it.

It's starting.  

Half way there.  The reduction in ambient light was not that noticeable.  

Almost there.  It was still like a very cloudy day.  The sun is amazing.  

Totality!  It was so cool.  Two minutes and several seconds flew by so fast.  

Ten seconds to glasses back on. Note the red flares on the right side.  

Grabbed this shot just as totality was about to end.  
This beautiful quilt was a door prize, I think.  I couldn't quite make out the announcement other than a  Tryon resident won it.  How appropriate.  It was beautiful.  

It was a very friendly experience.  There were people from all over the country and the globe.  Just right around me I heard people saying they were form China, Poland, and several US states.  Everybody was very friendly and happy, and helping each other out with glasses, filters, etc.

I packed up and left after totality hoping to avoid traffic.  Didn't work.  After visiting a craft fair at the high school hoping to buy some t-shirts which had long ago sold out, I drove west 40 miles to the small sandhill community of Arthur.  What a beautiful drive through the undulating, grass covered sandhills, (I read where the Nebraska sandhills are the largest grass covered area of sand dunes in the world) which are punctuated with some small flat valleys that host large stands of huge cottonwoods and some beautiful ranches.  I kept wanting to pull off for a pic, but I was in heavy traffic, and there was precious little shoulders to allow for a pull off.  What pull-offs there were were occupied by eclipse viewers.  I got to Arthur to encounter a traffic jam.  The small community of 145 had hosted a viewing that looked to be as big as what I'd been to in Tryon.  People were pouring out of Arthur and also coming down the highway from Alliance further west in the sandhills.  Once I got thru town, it was pretty much bumper to bumper, but things flowed along pretty smoothly.

I took a few more back roads on the way back to Denver to enjoy the country and allow the main arteries to clear up a bit.  Stillwhen I left Sidney going south it was still a steady stream of vehicles all the way back to Denver.

Overall, it was a great experience and I'm glad I went.  I would highly recommend traveling to a totality site in the eclipse coming in, is it 2024.  I see where it's going to be in the eastern half of the US and with a wider path of totality.  I heard people talking about the ellipse back in Devner where it was like 70% or so.  They said it got a little darker, but more like when a cloud passes over the sun.  There is nothing like experiencing totality.

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