Total Solar Eclipse 2017

We had friends staying with us at our home in Riverton that had come from California for the eclipse, one of which was a serious photographer. The day before the event he spent a couple of hours practicing solar photography in our yards with the four cameras he had brought. I personally had no intention of taking photographs because I just wanted to enjoy the experience.

The morning of the eclipse started out in a bit of a panic. The forecast for cloud cover had vacillated in the days leading up to the event. The day before it had finally looked good. Now on the morning of the eclipse the hourly forecast was back to 35% cloud cover. I frantically checked three different sources on the internet, but they provided conflicting forecasts. While we still had time, should we hurry east toward Casper or west toward Dubois? Our guests made the decision to roll the dice and stay in Riverton.

We set up “camp” on the bluff near the airport which overlooks the Wind River valley. There were about a dozen other vehicles there including some of my family and relatives. We set up a shade canopy over the lawn chairs, and then the partial eclipse started. The temperature started dropping, and we put on long sleeved shirts. When it reached about 60% coverage it started looking hazier through our eclipse glasses, meaning that the partial cloudiness was getting thicker. When I voiced my concerns about this to my cousin visiting from Grand Junction, he said “there is nothing about this eclipse that I am going to be disappointed about”. Now that’s the right spirit! And before totality the sun slipped completely out of the clouds.

As totality approached the light was very strange and seemed to affect depth perception. Down the bluff we could see sandstone formations that looked very odd in the light. Then my brother yelled “here comes the shadow”! We could see it racing across the valley toward us (being an engineer, I later calculated the speed at about 1600 mile per hour). My wife and brother shouted that they could see the “light snakes”, (but alas I didn’t see them). Then there was this amazing 360-degree sunset, and looking upward the sky was a dark blue with Venus shining brightly. My most vivid memory of totality is seeing the pinkish solar flares through binoculars, which was just stunning. And something else happened that I wasn’t expecting at all. The sky had been so hazy from forest fire smoke that we couldn’t see the mountains which are 30 miles away. But during totality we could see the mountains, apparently because there wasn’t sunlight shinning on the smoke.

Suddenly my brother said “here comes the end of the shadow”! What? This was supposed to last for over two minutes, and it seemed like just twenty seconds. But he was right. The end of the shadow rolled over us. Everyone was excited and happy, but disappointed that it was over. Our guest from California forgot to remove the lens filters from his cameras during totality, but he was so thrilled that it didn’t matter. More than 100 private planes had flown in for the event, and they immediately started taking off and flying over us. People started leaving our site, and by the time the partial eclipse ended we were the only people left. We stayed to decompress and enjoyed a picnic lunch while we got text messages about all the traffic jams.

The prevailing sentiment from everyone I have spoken too is that the partial eclipse was great, but totality was just incredible. I hope you got to enjoy it. There were a lot of visitors to Wyoming that were glad they came. If you want to re-live the excitement of the experience, I suggest the YouTube video “eclipse my brain stopped working”.

About Tom Axthem

Tom Axthem, P.E., is a Civil Engineer and Vice President of Inberg-Miller Engineers. His background includes civil engineering and surveying with emphasis on site development, utilities, grading, drainage and earthwork design and construction surveying. He is the longest tenured member of the Riverton Kiwanis Club, and regularly works on Kiwanis service projects to benefit children. In the past he has served on the Riverton Urban Systems Committee, the Job Corp Community Relations Committee, and the Ducks Unlimited Committee. Tom was the Committee Chairman for Boy Scout Troop 44, and I was a Construction Captain for the Riverton Playground project. He enjoys many activities with his extended family, and travels regularly with to visit their two children and one grandchild. Tom also enjoy many outdoor activities including camping, canoeing, canoe sailing, hiking, birding, and rock climbing.