August 21 was a happy day for eclipse viewers in Riverton, Wyoming. We stayed in the Riverton RV Park, a Good Sam park right in the town of Riverton. Riverton was not exactly on the center line of the eclipse but was well within the band of totality. We were giving up about 8 seconds of totality staying at that location as opposed to setting up at a remote location somewhere. It was nice to be able to get up, walk out the door and set up to observe the eclipse just outside the door of our motor home. At sunrise, there was a veil of thin cirrus clouds moving in from the northwest. The forecast called for occasional smoke from fires in Oregon but we never saw evidence of that on Monday.
We were sharing the campground with many other eclipse observers. Telescopes were set up at many sites. It was fun to watch individuals scurrying to set up equipment. I also was scurrying. I carry a small telescope, a Meade 5" scope and a large tripod to support it. I had various camera gear, my still camera is my main tool. I've been experimenting with video and had a GoPro set up and also a regular video camera. Neither of the video efforts were useful. It's a learning process. An event like the total solar eclipse is not a good time to be experimenting. With just 2 minutes and 20 seconds for the show, there is no time to make adjustments or change things in mid stream. So I set those things up and just let them run, hoping for some level of success.
There was a film crew in the campground and they had a compliment of complex, high end cameras to document the corona, the outer layer, of the Sun. Similar crews were stationed across the US in a coordinated effort to get something like 90 minutes of continuous video of the corona. There were also observers who had only the solar glasses to view the eclipse. They were relaxed, lawn chairs set up was the extent of their preparation. One couple we met was in a rental RV. They were from Belgium and had made reservations at this RV park in early 2016 as soon as they began taking reservations.
As mentioned previously, we paid a premium fee to stay in the park and we were lucky to get a site following a cancellation by someone who had made reservations long ago. As part of our fee, we got a number of perks that aren't part of a normal RV park stay. A pair of solar glasses, a Moon Pie, root beer floats Sunday afternoon and a catered dinner on Monday evening helped give us more for our money and helped build a campground community. The camp owners were out and about visiting with all their guests and we enjoyed many a conversation with them and other guests.
The partial phase of the eclipse began at 10:40 a.m. with a shout of "first contact" from someone in the campground. People continued to visit, wandering from location to location, discussing the eclipse, visiting as friends. Every so often, people put on the solar glasses and looked up to check the progress toward the big show. A herd of about 30 cows and calves were bedded down in the shade of some trees just across the fence from the campground. As the eclipse proceeded to about 75% the entire group got up and headed off toward the barn. We all had a good laugh.
As the Sun became a thin crescent, my eye was glued to the telescope. It gave me the most precise view of the final moments before totality. As the eclipse became total, I backed away from the telescope and looked up at the eclipsed sun. The view through the telescope might seem to be a better choice but its field of view would contain only the entire Moon or Sun when at lowest power. It works fine for the partial phases but for totality, nothing beats the naked eye or a pair of binoculars. My preference is just the naked eye. Nothing is like just standing in the shadow of the Moon and looking at the amazing corona. After a minute or so, I began snapping pictures with the still camera. I wasn't making adjustments, just taking a number of photos. Looking around I was able to see Venus high overhead. I never was able to see Jupiter or any other stars. I did seem to catch a star or planet in my still photos, I haven't been able to identify it yet. As totality ended a cheer went up across the campground. The thin veil of clouds had moved off as totality began and we were able to see a beautiful total eclipse of the Sun.
There followed a period of conversation among all the observers, sharing impressions and feelings about this event. I had a host of equipment to pack away but that could wait. There was a tremendous emotional charge that needed to be savored and shared. Slowly we began packing away our equipment and returning to more normal activities. Before the following partial eclipse some people began leaving the campground. Throughout the afternoon, more RV's made their way out of the campground. In mid-afternoon we left the park in the toad to go in search of eclipse T-shirts. We were amazed to see traffic backed up in Riverton. Cars would move from one traffic light across an intersection into line for the next traffic light. We took back streets to the campground in order to avoid the traffic jam. Later in the afternoon we had a conversation with a fellow camper who had left the campground for home. They got through town and then encountered a traffic back-up several miles out of town and were down to a crawl, 2 mph or so. They decided to turn around and stay overnight to leave on Tuesday.
We also left on Tuesday morning. There was no traffic jam in town or on down the road. Traffic was almost certainly a little heavier than normal but on a 80 mile stretch of two lane highway we seldom had more than two or three vehicles behind us. We were never slowed down by slower traffic, plenty of opportunities to pass when we needed to do so.
The next total solar eclipse will occur in 2024. That eclipse path crosses from Mexico into the US near Del Rio, Texas and cuts across the country to the northeast, exiting into Canada from Maine. Once again there will be millions of people who will gather to observe the total eclipse of the Sun. We found the remote area of Wyoming to be an easy place to get to the path of the total eclipse. We were far from large cities, the nearest were Salt Lake City and Denver. We were at least a two hour drive from the nearest interstate highway. This made for an area where crowds were manageable. We were pleased with the readiness of the small communities to serve the influx of eclipse watchers. The local merchants were promoting and accommodating eclipse crowds. There were activities in the park, a shuttle was set up to transport people from one location in town to another.
Thinking of the next solar eclipse I don't think there will be a place this remote. The population of central Texas, San Antonio, Austin, Temple and Waco are all just off the line of totality so there will be huge crowds headed for west Texas to observe. To the north and east there are no good remote locations, huge population centers will be nearby along the entire eclipse path. Let's hope that some good lessons were learned from this event. Start planning for the next if you didn't get to see this one. Make reservations early and hope for good weather.