Total Solar Eclipse 2017

We had such a great weekend! A year ago, we were camping with our friends the Gawenuses, and Kevin was telling us about a total solar eclipse that was coming in August of 2017. He said we’d need to get a hotel room almost immediately. It sounded very interesting, especially to Dave, our amateur astronomer, but also very far away. The year flew by, and after all that time waiting, the weekend finally came!

After considering the hotel option, we instead planned to camp somewhere in the zone of totality, because our home in Colorado is only a few hours away from the total eclipse. As the date neared, we poured over maps of BLM land and tried to figure out just how packed the highways were truly going to be. About a week ago, Lisa Gawenus mentioned a new plan: her mom and dad live in Dix, Nebraska, which is about 2 hours from here and only 1 hour from the zone. What if we camped in the Hochstedler backyard and drove up to Alliance, NE, or thereabouts on Monday morning?

A brilliant plan! We were able to spend Friday night NOT scrambling to get out of town. In fact, Dave and Phoebe went to a talk up at the Berthoud Observatory while Benjamin and I did the grocery shopping for the coming week. Saturday morning I went for a run, we had our usual burritos at Cannon Mine, and the kids and I strolled around the Lafayette Peach Festival while Dave got a haircut.

The kids pose in front of the pattern they made in the huge Connect 4.
Benjamin inches his way down the bouncy slide.
He’s much more comfortable climbing up!

We packed up the camping gear plus a load of astronomy equipment and drove off after lunch. After an uneventful drive with nary a spot of traffic, we beat the Gawenuses to Dix and introduced ourselves to John and Dorothy, Lisa’s parents, who welcomed us with open arms. We set up our tent, had some dinner, and put the kids to bed. It was very civilized to brush their teeth in the bathroom! We four grownups stayed up drinking wine and beer and chatting, gazing up at the clear Nebraska skies.

A wind farm in Wyoming. Note that we’re busy passing someone while I take the photo.
Lisa’s parents’ house.
Lisa and Fritz playing frisbee.
Benjamin had to take a 3-water-bottle shower after a dinner of spaghetti.

Sunday we spent the day lazing around the yard. We went to the playground, and Kevin flew his drone with the kids.

Video of B on playground:

Kevin and the big kids flying the drone.
Enjoying the afternoon outdoors.

We ate tons of food and made a slightly amended plan for the eclipse, based on the weather. The Internet informed us that the Scottsbluff area was going to be better viewing than Alliance, so we planned to leave for there by about 6:45 a.m. We were on the road right on time.

After a little bit of driving around, we stumbled on Lake Minatare State Recreation Area in Nebraska. We ended up on a road that led out to a peninsula and an old lighthouse built during the WPA era in the 1930s. There were dozens of people there, but not a crowd, and we were right on a lovely lake. After a bout of morning fog, the sun was shining like crazy. We walked along the beach while Dave set up his equipment and played some of what Benjamin calls frisbee ball. It wasn’t too long before C1 (the first contact of the edge of the moon with the edge of the sun). We alternated playing games with putting on our eclipse glasses and gazing up at the ever-shrinking sun. I’ll leave Dave to tell you about all of his filters and wedges; suffice it to say, we had all the cool gear. Phoebe had brought a notebook and wrote a report about what was happening (of her own volition!)

Our eclipse setup.
Kevin and Benjamin watching someone put a boat in the lake.
Our telescopes with the lighthouse in the background.
The perfect spot along Lake Minatare, NE.
A small crowd. Benjamin was ever ready to throw this great frisbee Fritz gave him.
Phoebe checking out the moon’s progress.
Writing a note in her eclipse journal.

A motorcyclist from California who was eager to check out our setup.
The motorcyclist has been all over the world!
Reliable bike with lots of capacity.
Phoebe checking out the view through the filtered telescope.

The wind kicked up. The sky got darker. We watched the bite out of the sun get bigger and bigger. We met other folks watching the sky. We ate snacks. We were all more excited than we thought we’d be, and then the moon slipped directly in front of the sun. Later, we all agreed that the 2 minutes went by in a flash. It was beautiful and spectacular. It was far more moving and powerful than I expected. It was worth every minute of the preparations and more. Just like the eclipse chasers on NPR said, once you’re seeing it, you’re watching in awe while wondering how soon you can see it again. We could see Venus clearly, and the sky looked like sunset. It was dark! And the edges of the sun slipping around the edges of the moon were glorious and otherworldly. It’s so hard to understand how powerful the sun is, but seeing how bright our sky is with most of the sun obscured was a great object lesson.

The eclipsing sun through a filter.
Almost gone…
Here you can see the eclipsed sun and Venus together.
The lighthouse with the eclipse.
It’s just after 11 a.m., but it looks like sunset.
Wow. Look at those coronal flares!
Total eclipse.

While we waited for Dave to photograph and view C4, we climbed up in the lighthouse, which was really neat.

A photo of Kevin taking a photo of Dave’s phone attached to the telescope.
Benjamin learning how to look through the special glasses.
Toward the end, Benjamin got interested and started looking up with his big sis.

What a perfect day! Great friends, the perfect place to have a stunning experience, and a pretty reasonable amount of traffic. We were home in time to eat a pizza and get Benjamin ready for his first day of kindergarten tomorrow.

Dave and Benjamin reading together the night before his first day of kindergarten!
Fire in the Forest, a favorite Lego book.

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