This report comes to us from Lexi Dowdall, our social media maven and now passionate eclipse chaser. She made the trek to Driggs, Idaho to witness the Great American Eclipse of 2017 in its full glory. And, of course, she camped like a boss in her Springbar Highline 6 Tent.
It was about 13 months ago that I first learned about a rare astrological event that would traverse the skies above America, turning perfectly sane crowds of Americans into seething masses of umbraphiles. The Great American Eclipse would not be an event to miss; in fact experts predicted it would be the most-watched total solar eclipse in the history of mankind. Naturally, we decided we should probably go camping.
Being partial to mountain country, we decided a Teton view would be the best location to experience a total solar eclipse. As the date of August 21, 2017 loomed near, officials in the town of Driggs, Idaho warned of massive traffic jams, scarce grocery supplies, long lines for gasoline, and utter mayhem. Knowing that the public lands surrounding the area would likely be crowded, we secured a comfy campsite for our Springbar Tent in a local’s sprawling backyard.
In the days leading up to the eclipse, we scouted various areas and hunted for the perfect spot to catch totality. It’s difficult to imagine basking in the moon’s dark shadow in broad daylight, but we would not be deterred. This led to 3 hiking (bushwacking) sufferfests, many hours on Google Earth, one terribly ill informed attempt at mountain biking up a faint ATV track and a great deal of sunburn and dehydration. Suddenly, it was Sunday, August 20th and we hadn’t settled on the perfect viewing location because we’d been too busy with backyard BBQ contests and painting our corn hole set to mimic the glimmer of the sun’s eclipsed corona.
An emergency meeting resulted in simplifying our goal: gain as much elevation as we could as close to the Tetons as possible. At 7 AM on eclipse day we packed into our truck and started climbing skyward through the Targhee National Forest. Parking at the base of Grand Targhee Ski Resort there was a palpable hum in the air, a thrumming of feverish excitement similar to what you’d find on a morning after a massive snowstorm.
On a tip from a helpful ski patroller working to organize the crowds, we opted to hike to the top of Peaked Mountain, where he assured us a far smaller crowd would be gathered. Up we climbed, only interrupted by the startling sight of Willy, Targhee’s resident one-eyed cat, stalking down the hiking trail.
We reached the top of 9,830’ Peaked Mountain with just enough time to select a prime spot to settle in, enjoy some summit ham, and point our cameras skyward before the partial eclipse began around 10:15 AM.
As many have said, the experience of a total eclipse is difficult to put into words. The landscape slowly grew darker and we noticed the cooling temperature and goosebumps erupted on our skin. The light became strange, with a hollow quality that defies explanation. Shadows behaved oddly and still the temperature plunged. With rapt attention we monitored the progress of the moon with our eclipse glasses and a highly scientific instrument: two pieces of paper. The tiny shadows of crescents cast by a sheet of cardboard with a small hole in it mirrored the sun’s waning disc.
The intensity of the eclipse experience does not grow apparent until about 5 minutes before totality. The horizon sinks into the colors of dusk and it’s difficult to make sense of the world and what’s happening. We turned westward to view the awesome sight of the moon’s shadow traversing east across Teton Valley, Idaho at 2,100 MPH. Before you could blink, the shadow had overtaken us, throwing the Tetons into a stark silhouette.
An eerie orange sunset glowed behind the Tetons to the east, yet another sunset could be spied out west, simultaneously. Though the spectacle of a Teton sunset at 11:30 AM was enough to strike anyone dumb, the glimmering halo of the sun eclipsed by the moon above defied logic. The luminous quality of the sun’s corona cannot be captured by film, camera, or written word. It was the most beautiful thing any of us had ever seen. Tears flowed down our cheeks, expletives were shouted, legs and hands were shaking, the physical effect of the eclipse was intense.
In what could easily have been the shortest 1:41 seconds of my entire life, totality signaled its fleeting impermanence with the brilliant flash of the diamond ring effect. Everyone on the mountain top cried out or groaned in protest. How could it be over so soon? Back on with the goofy eclipse glasses, to protect the eyes’ dark-adjusted pupils from the sun’s searing rays.
In an instant the land grew light again, the shadow of the moon receded and we all glanced around in disbelief. Some of us could not speak after the moon’s retreat, others cried. To have travelled north, battled traffic, and abandoned the business of a typical Monday to witness this extreme phenomenon overwhelmed us all. An event such as this reminds us of our humanity. We are humbled into acknowledging our minute corner in the universe and the awesome power of nature.
Knowing that a good number of fellow Americans had also migrated into the path of totality or had paused their day to experience the partial eclipse provides serene comfort. We aren’t too busy or divided to come together and celebrate something truly special. We’ll be heading to Chile in 2019 to catch the next eclipse. Will you?