The Great American Solar Eclipse

The Great American Solar Eclipse

We didn't intend to visit Idaho. We didn't plan to watch the Great American Solar Eclipse at all.  Our original route had us in northern Montana for the eclipse but high temperatures and Montana wildfires caused us to scrap our Glacier National Park plan and, instead, explore Idaho and find a place to call home in the path of totality.

That home was on Trail Creek Road in Sawtooth National Forest just outside Sun Valley, Idaho. We arrived a full two weeks in advance of the eclipse because I was paranoid about finding a good spot.  I needn't have worried at all.  We found a site easily and it was a large flat space, next to a river, on a ridge, with no possible neighbors.  

The first few days were smokey.  We'd seen smoke in the air for a few days before leaving Montana and it was even thicker in Idaho.  The smoke makes everything gray and hazy. No sun, no blue sky, no clouds, just gray haze and cold weather, typically with a short afternoon storm to boot.  The cold inspired an entire day lying on the pull out couch in the living room, drinking Irish coffee, and waching movies under big blankets.

Despite the gloomy weather, Sun Valley and it's neighboring town Ketchum were bright, cheerful ski towns.  We had a few fun days exploring Ketchum, attending a local fine arts and crafts fair, trying local hole in the wall bars, visiting the weekly farmer's market, sifting through thrift shops.  

Our second week, weather improved considerably, the smoke disappeared and we had warm days with blue skies and cool evenings.  We found a couple good hikes near our campsite and Jane was able to be off leash in the national forest.  Alex ran miles every day.  I don't run so while he was out, Jane and I would walk down to the river and play in the water, look at rocks and birdwatch.

The Saturday before the eclipse was the Perseoid Meteor Shower.  We stayed up late that night, climbing onto the roof of our RV around 11pm.  We laid on a blanket on the roof for over an hour staring at the night sky.  The shower started slowly and then picked up speed. The stars fell so quickly that we stopped counting them after 20.  

Each time we went into town eclipse mania seemed to grow, and vendors were selling t shirts, posters, and stickers at roadside stands and all the grocery stores.  The town prepared its local park for a large eclipse viewing party and at camp, we noticed more vehicles surveying the forest roads, looking for their spot.  The city placed trash cans and portable restrooms along the forest roads to accommodate anticipated crowds.

On the morning of the eclipse, we carried a blanket and some pillows up to the RV roof.  About 6 new vehicles had gathered in the field near us but we barely noticed them.  We sat on the roof as the eclipse started, taking our glasses on and off as we checked the progress.  For at least the first 45 minutes there was no visible change in the world around us and without eclipse glasses, one wouldn't have even been aware an eclipse was even happening. But as totality approached, the trees and the grass began to take on a shadowy yellow hue and the morning began to feel like dusk.  The temperature drop was marked- from warm morning to very chilly evening almost instantly.  The yellow color deepened and when the moon covered the sun in full totality, everything was silent except for the cheers of excitement from people across the fields. Eclipse glasses aren't necessary for totality so for about a minute, we were able to stare directly at the big black disk covering the sun, watching light stream from its edges.

I don't know how to describe why it feels so magical- those few seconds of totality, why people chase it and plan years in advance to witness totalities around the world.  The way day becomes night, the way everything glows golden yellow from the odd shadows, maybe it feels like stepping out of time, out of this ordinary world just for a minute.  Whatever the reason, I think Alex and I caught the fever and will probably go out of our way in the future to chase down those brief magical minutes of totality.

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