The Magnificent Spectacle
I learned of the Great American Eclipse of 2017 in New Mexico in 2014 from my camp host, an amateur astronomer. He provided me with information including links that helped me plan. Most of all, he urged me to plan ahead for a place to stay, because everything was going to fill up.
I began to plan. Depending on my physical assets, I had a number of locations in mind. Closest to home was a Forest Service campground near Smith Rock in Oregon. My second and third choices were Chickahominey Reservoir and Glass Butte, west of Burns, Oregon. None of them took reservations.
Further to the east, Stanley, Idaho would be a wonderful location but for several things. First, few of the campgrounds took reservations or had power. Most had tree cover, wiping out solar power. Good grocery shopping was over an hour away. A long stay there thus was problematic.
My next area was the Tetons, and I had a number of locations in mind there. On the west side was a fishing access west of Driggs, ID. It had great solar and internet, and very good shopping near by. There was a dump station within reasonable distance but no fresh water source that I felt safe using.
North of Jackson on the east side of the range was Turpin Meadows Campground, as well as several dispersed camping places. That area was a bit north of the center path, but well within totality.
My prime area was either of two campgrounds – Atherton Creek, my first choice, and Gros Ventre, my second choice. I planned my stays in the area so I could get to them 12 days before the event and stay a few days after to avoid traffic. With the campground host’s help, I wound up at Atherton Creek, taking the last designated campsite that was open. I couldn’t get MUCH closer to the center path.
I settled down and waited for the event.
As it drew close, the crowds began to gather. People were allowed to park and either tent or RV camp in the parking area for the beach and dock. That wound up tripling the occupancy of the campground above full. Many more campers were sent 5 miles further up the very rough washboard, winding, narrow road to Crystal Creek and Red Hills Campgrounds. Gros Ventre was full, and it is a huge campground, stretching more than a mile along the Gros Ventre River.
The day of the event, it looked like the weather would be perfect. I had two cameras set up on tripods. My d200 had my 18~200mm lens on it, with no filter. I planned to use it only during totality. My d300 had my 150~500mm lens with a solar filter film taped over the lens. The tape was set up with the ends folded down to make the tape easy to pull off once totality arrived. I had the d300 set to bracket my shots in increments of 0.7, 5 per set, giving me a fairly good range of exposures without having to do a lot of manual stuff.
Then it was time. The partial eclipse was pretty cool, watching that the moon obscure more and more of the sun.
I missed a really cool shot. With he solar filter, it was very hard to see the screen limits. With each shot, I had to carefully change the camera alignment to get the sun near center frame. At about 50% coverage, as I am looking through the viewfinder trying to align the shot, an airliner flew across the face of the sun, leaving a contrail. Had I been 30 seconds faster, I would have had that airliner in the shot. Oh well, I’m not complaining.
Then, the crescent changed to the diamond ring. I had peeled off the filter and covered the lens with my hand, so I was ready, and I got the first diamond ring.
Then it was totality. The corona blazed out, and there were stars in the sky!
Near the end of totality, I had an impulse. In the darkness, I turned the d200 toward the Tetons, 20 miles to the west, hoping to see them in some light while I was still in deep shadow. I set the d300 for the next shot and turned back to the d200. And there it was.
Immediately, I fired off 2 sets of 5 bracketed shots with the d300, as light bloomed around me, then swung my unprotected camera away from the sun. What I got was the start of the diamond ring, with a few solar prominences on the edge of the moon,
and finally, a grand diamond ring.
All my life, I have longed to see a total solar eclipse. On August 21, 2017, my wish came true. So, thank you, John Leffert, for the heads up, years ago. Thank you, David, for getting me into a spot where I could settle down and see this. It was truly thrilling.