My first total eclipse! The suspense had been building for years.
Dave and I were in Wyoming. We'd made a hotel reservation nine months
ago, by which time we were already too late to book a room in the zone
of totality and settled for Laramie, a few hours' drive from the centerline.
For visual observing, I had my little portable 80mm refractor. But
photography was more complicated. I'd promised myself that for my
first (and possibly only) total eclipse, I wasn't going to miss the
experience because I was spending too much time fiddling with cameras.
But I couldn't talk myself into not trying any photography at all.
Initially, my plan was to use my
as a 500mm camera lens. It had worked okay for the
the 2012 Venus transit.
I spent several weeks before the eclipse in a flurry of creation,
making a couple of
mount, and then wrestling with motorizing the barn-door (which was
a failure because I couldn't find a place to buy decent gears for the motor.
I'm still working on that and will eventually write it up).
I wrote up a plan: what equipment I would use when, a series of
progressive exposures for totality, and so forth.
And then, a couple of days before we were due to leave, I figured I
should test my rig -- and discovered that it was basically impossible
to focus on the sun. For the Venus transit, the sun wasn't that high
in the sky, so I focused through the viewfinder. But for the total
eclipse, the sun would be almost overhead, and the viewfinder nearly
impossible to see. So I had planned to point the Mak at a distant
hillside, focus it, then slip the filter on and point it up to the sun.
It turned out the focal point was completely different through the filter.
With only a couple of days left to go, I revised my plan.
The Mak is difficult to focus under any circumstances. I decided
not to use it, and to stick to my Canon 55-250mm zoom telephoto,
with the camera on a normal tripod. I'd skip the partial eclipse
(I've photographed those before anyway) and concentrate on
getting a few shots of the diamond ring and the corona, running
through a range of exposures without needing to look at the camera
screen or do any refocusing. And since I wasn't going to be usinga
telescope, my nifty solar finders wouldn't work; I designed a new
one out of popsicle sticks to fit in the camera's hot shoe.
We stayed with relatives in Colorado Saturday night, then drove to
Laramie Sunday. I'd heard horror stories of hotels canceling people's
longstanding eclipse reservations, but fortunately our hotel honored
our reservation. WHEW! Monday morning, we left the hotel at 6am in
case we hit terrible traffic. There was already plenty of traffic on
the highway north to Casper, but we turned east hoping for fewer crowds.
A roadsign sign said "NO PARKING ON HIGHWAY." They'd better not try
to enforce that in the totality zone!
When we got to I-25 it was moving and, oddly enough, not particularly
crowded. Glendo Reservoir had looked on the map like a nice spot on
the centerline ... but it was also a state park, so there was a risk
that everyone else would want to go there. Sure enough: although
traffic was moving on I-25 at Wheatland, a few miles north the freeway
came to a screeching halt. We backtracked and headed east toward Guernsey,
where several highways went north toward the centerline.
East of Glendo, there were crowds at every highway pullout and rest
stop. As we turned onto 270 and started north, I kept an eye on
OsmAnd on my phone, where I'd loaded
a GPX file of the eclipse path. When we were within a mile of the
centerline, we stopped at a likely looking pullout. It was maybe 9 am.
A cool wind was blowing -- very pleasant since we were expecting a hot
day -- and we got acquainted with our fellow eclipse watchers as we
waited for first contact.
Our pullout was also the beginning of a driveway to a farmhouse we could
see in the distance. Periodically people pulled up, looking lost,
checked maps or GPS, then headed down the road to the farm. Apparently
the owners had advertised it as an eclipse spot -- pay $35, and you
can see the eclipse and have access to a restroom too! But apparently
the old farmhouse's plumbing failed early on, and some of the people
who'd paid came out to the road to watch with us since we had better
equipment set up.
There's not much to say about the partial eclipse. We all traded views
-- there were five or six scopes at our pullout, including a nice
little H-alpha scope. I snapped an occasional photo through the 80mm
with my pocket camera held to the eyepiece, or with the DSLR through
an eyepiece projection adapter. Oddly, the DSLR photos came out worse
than the pocket cam ones. I guess I should try and debug that at some point.
Shortly before totality, I set up the DSLR on the tripod, focused on a
distant hillside and taped the focus with duct tape, plugged in the
shutter remote, checked the settings in Manual mode, then set the
camera to Program mode and AEB (auto exposure bracketing). I put the
lens cap back on and pointed the camera toward the sun using the
popsicle-stick solar finder. I also set a countdown timer, so I could
press START when totality began and it would beep to warn me when it was
time to the sun to come back out. It was getting chilly by then, with
the sun down to a sliver, and we put on sweaters.
The pair of eclipse veterans at our pullout had told everybody to
watch for the moon's shadow racing toward us across the hills from the
west. But I didn't see the racing shadow, nor any shadow bands.
And then Venus and Mercury appeared and the sun went away.
One thing the photos don't prepare you for is the color of the sky. I
expected it would look like twilight, maybe a little darker; but it
was an eerie, beautiful medium slate blue. With that unworldly
solar corona in the middle of it, and Venus gleaming as bright as
you've ever seen it, and Mercury shining bright on the other side.
There weren't many stars.
We didn't see birds doing anything unusual; as far as I can tell,
there are no birds in this part of Wyoming. But the cows did all
get in a line and start walking somewhere. Or so Dave tells me.
I wasn't looking at the cows.
Amazingly, I remembered to start my timer and to pull off the DSLR's
lens cap as I pushed the shutter button for the diamond-ring shots
without taking my eyes off the spectacle high above. I turned the
camera off and back on (to cancel AEB), switched to M mode, and
snapped a photo while I scuttled over to the telescope, pulled the
filter off and took a look at the corona in the wide-field eyepiece.
So beautiful! Binoculars, telescope, naked eye -- I don't know which
view was best.
I went through my exposure sequence on the camera, turning the dial a
couple of clicks each time without looking at the settings, keeping my
eyes on the sky or the telescope eyepiece. But at some point I happened
to glance at the viewfinder -- and discovered that the sun was drifting
out of the frame. Adjusting the tripod to get it back in the frame
took longer than I wanted, but I got it there and got my eyes
back on the sun as I snapped another photo ...
and my timer beeped.
I must have set it wrong! It couldn't possibly have been two
and a half minutes. It had been 30, 45 seconds tops.
But I nudged the telescope away from the sun, and looked back up -- to
another diamond ring. Totality really was ending and it was time to
The trip back to Golden, where we were staying with a relative, was
hellish. We packed up immediately after totality -- we figured we'd
seen partials before, and maybe everybody else would stay. No such luck.
By the time we got all the equipment packed there was already a steady
stream of cars heading south on 270.
A few miles north of Guernsey the traffic came to a stop. This was to
be the theme of the afternoon. Every small town in Wyoming has a stop sign
or signal, and that caused backups for miles in both directions.
We headed east, away from Denver, to take rural roads down through
eastern Wyoming and Colorado rather than I-25, but even so,
we hit small-town stop sign backups every five or ten miles.
We'd brought the Rav4 partly for this reason. I kept my eyes glued on
OsmAnd and we took dirt roads when we could, skirting the paved
highways -- but mostly there weren't any dirt roads going where we
needed to go. It took about 7 hours to get back to Golden, about twice
as long as it should have taken. And we should probably count
ourselves lucky -- I've heard from other people who took 11 hours to
get to Denver via other routes.
Dave is fond of the quote,
"No battle plan survives contact with the enemy"
(which turns out to be from Prussian military strategist
von Moltke the Elder).
The enemy, in this case, isn't the eclipse; it's time.
Two and a half minutes sounds like a lot, but it goes by like nothing.
Even in my drastically scaled-down plan, I had intended exposures from
1/2000 to 2 seconds (at f/5.6 and ISO 400). In practice, I only made
it to 1/320 because of fiddling with the tripod.
And that's okay. I'm thrilled with the photos I got, and definitely
wouldn't have traded any eyeball time for more photos. I'm more annoyed
that the tripod fiddling time made me miss a little bit of extra looking.
My script actually worked out better than I expected, and I was very
glad I'd done the preparation I had. The script was reasonable, the
solar finders worked really well, and the lens was even in focus
for the totality shots.
Then there's the eclipse itself.
I've read so many articles about solar eclipses as a mystical,
religious experience. It wasn't, for me. It was just an eerily
beautiful, other-worldly spectacle: that ring of cold fire staring
down from the slate blue sky, bright planets but no stars, everything
strange, like nothing I'd ever seen. Photos don't get across what it's
like to be standing there under that weird thing in the sky.
I'm not going to drop everything to become a globe-trotting eclipse
chaser ... but I sure hope I get to see another one some day.
August 21 Total Solar Eclipse in Wyoming.
[ 20:41 Aug 27, 2017
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Last week, my hiking group had its annual trip, which this year
was Bluff, Utah, near Comb Ridge and Cedar Mesa, an area particular
known for its Anasazi ruins and petroglyphs.
(I'm aware that "Anasazi" is considered a politically incorrect term
these days, though it still seems to be in common use in Utah; it isn't
in New Mexico. My view is that I can understand why Pueblo people
dislike hearing their ancestors referred to by a term that means
something like "ancient enemies" in Navajo; but if they want everyone
to switch from using a mellifluous and easy to pronounce word like
"Anasazi", they ought to come up with a better, and shorter,
replacement than "Ancestral Puebloans." I mean, really.)
The photo at right is probably the most photogenic of the ruins I saw.
It's in Mule Canyon, on Cedar Mesa, and it's called "House on Fire"
because of the colors in the rock when the light is right.
The light was not right when we encountered it, in late morning around
10 am; but fortunately, we were doing an out-and-back hike. Someone in
our group had said that the best light came when sunlight reflected
off the red rock below the ruin up onto the rock above it, an effect
I've seen in other places, most notably Bryce Canyon, where the hoodoos
look positively radiant when seen backlit, because that's when
the most reflected light adds to the reds and oranges in the rock.
Sure enough, when we got back to House on Fire at 1:30 pm, the
light was much better. It wasn't completely obvious to the eye,
but comparing the photos afterward, the difference is impressive:
light on House on Fire Ruin.
The weather was almost perfect for our trip, except for one overly hot
afternoon on Wednesday.
And the hikes were fairly perfect, too -- fantastic ruins you can see
up close, huge petroglyph panels with hundreds of different creatures
and patterns (and some that could only have been science fiction,
like brain-man at left), sweeping views of canyons and slickrock,
and the geology of Comb Ridge and the Monument Upwarp.
And in case you read my last article, on translucent windows, and are
wondering how those generated waypoints worked: they were terrific,
and in some cases made the difference between finding a ruin and
wandering lost on the slickrock. I wish I'd had that years ago.
Most of what I have to say about the trip are already in the comments to
the photos, so I'll just link to the photo page:
Photos: Bluff trip, 2017.
[ 19:28 Apr 20, 2017
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