30 hours of driving, 5 states including Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana, and one INCREDIBLE celestial event!! (and yes, I took all of these pictures).
We left Phoenix around 2:30 Sunday afternoon, and within a few hours managed to catch one of the most incredible thunderstorms and sunsets I have ever seen while driving through southern Utah. The sunlight just barely peaked under the clouds long enough to light up a valley of incredibly colorful cliffs and canyons. We had to pull over and take a few pictures because it really was nothing short of breathtaking!
After about 13 hours of driving, we arrived at our target destination. Before leaving for the trip, I spent some time looking for the closest possible place that fell in the center line of the path of totality with the lowest potentiality for cloud cover, finally deciding on a little area just north of Rigby, Idaho near the Snake River. It was around 4am when we got in, and considering all of the hotels were booked up, we looked for a spot to park and sleep for a few hours, ultimately ending up in a McDonalds parking lot with about 300 other people who had the same idea. Two hours of sleep later, I got up and started setting up the solar projector and camera.
The whole event probably took about an hour and a half, and we monitored the moons progress with a solar projector that I constructed from my son’s toystore telescope and an oil funnel I bought at AutoZone. The totality event, where the sun was completely covered, lasted a little more than two minutes, and I can tell you that it was an absolutely CRAZY experience.
It got WAAAAAY darker and colder than I expected it would. The temperature dropped about 15-20 degrees, and when you looked around, it was like the dimmest twilight on the horizon in every direction. Like the tail end of a 360 degree sunset, and directly above, the most brilliant white ring of light imaginable. I can’t describe the brilliance of it… It was the absolute purest white light I think can possibly be seen, and it was unlike anything I have ever witnessed before. The pictures are great, but they simply do not convey or capture the sheer magnificence of it. It was almost like the way white light lances into your eye when you look at a diamond up close under a bright light, except imagine that intensified a thousand times and spewing out from around a perfect circle IN THE SKY!! Literally AWEsome!
And just as quickly as it began, it was over. What happened next has been given the appropriate name of the Diamond Ring effect, which is basically where the ring of light is still complete, but just as the moon moves out of totality, a fraction of one edge of the circle explodes into a brilliant flash (resembling a diamond ring). The picture below is the only one that I captured of the effect, but it did not turn out very well. A quick Google search will turn up much better images of what we saw.
After the totality event, we packed up the car, and headed two hours northeast through Wyoming and into Montana to check out Yellowstone National Park, and what was originally supposed to be a quick drive through, turned into an entire day spent sightseeing and observing some of the local wildlife. We saw buffalo, tons of hot spring geysers, and boiling mudpits among some of the greenest pine forests and beautiful flowing rivers. It served as a pleasant reminder that we live in a REALLY beautiful country that offers a lot of amazing places to explore. We’ll definitely be going back to do some more adventuring there!
All in all, it was a pretty amazing trip! The drive back down south offered some pretty incredible views of Utah that we missed driving through the night before, and despite sleeping in a car for two days and spending a LOT of time driving, everyone managed to have a pretty fantastic experience!
I’m so grateful to my mom and my son for coming along and witnessing the dance of the sun and the moon with me, and I’m already planning the next adventure. Stay tuned!