On broiler days, we squint at him through the sweat sitting precariously on our eyebrows, wishing he would back off in spite of the carnal knowledge that it was very recently bitterly cold and winter’s bite will soon sting our faces again. When we’re driving across Wyoming’s vast landscapes, wanting nothing more than to be home already, the sun sets into our eyes and draws our ire. The moment the aloe is pulled from the shelf, we boldly throw our anger at the sky.
We fearlessly puff our chests because we know that he will return in the morning. Every morning, without resentment or agenda.
But what if that knowledge—that certainty that he will spend each day above us bringing light, warmth, and life—is called into question?
A total solar eclipse, perhaps, is designed to humble us, to bring us back to gratitude.
Events like the Great American Eclipse of Aug. 21 this year are easily predicted, planned for, and promoted in today’s world. However, it’s not difficult to imagine the same awe, the same shift in perspective, the same illogical fear still sweeping over us as it did the people long ago who were shocked by sudden darkness during the day.
This isn’t mere romantic speculation from someone who has never witnessed a total solar eclipse. This isn’t flackery from a writer who has spent the past year convincing travelers to visit windrivereclipse.org. In truth, narratives from eclipse chasers the world over confirm a near-indescribable awe and even fear while standing in the moon’s shadow.
At 11:20 a.m. on Aug. 21, a total solar eclipse will sweep across the nation at over 1,000 miles per hour, and it will plunge many Wyoming backyards into darkness. This unique eclipse will cross the entirety of the continental United States and only the continental United States. Wyoming is one of the 12 states that will experience totality (when the moon completely blocks the sun).
Not all residents of Wyoming will find themselves inside the path of this summer’s total solar eclipse, as it will sweep from Grand Teton National Park, over the Wind River Mountains across Wind River Country, then on to the east and south across the Cowboy State like a rodeo queen’s sash.
That sash—the path of totality—is only about 50 miles wide. Totality lasts longest in the center line of the path. So the closer you are to the center of the path, the longer you will experience night at noon—at the most about 2.5 minutes. The farther you situate yourself from the center, the shorter your totality experience will be. If you sit outside the path of totality, even by a mile, you will only see a partial solar eclipse.
Comparing totality to a partial eclipse, those in the know like to say, is like comparing smelling a bakery’s delights from the street to personally tasting the culinary masterpieces.
Consequently, this writer has pondered months the question we should all consider for such a profound spiritual, physical, and visual experience coming to our home:
From where should I witness this celestial sabbatical?
Because the moon’s shadow races across the landscape so swiftly, a high vantage point will afford a viewer the rarified opportunity of standing in sunlight while watching darkness rush toward her. Imagine feeling the sun’s warmth on a summer day while witnessing the moon’s shadow race across the Earth—from the west, then away—to the east.
Earth’s bodies of water and the moon are bonded together like two dancers. To be floating on one of Wyoming’s alpine lakes while the moon allows only the reflection of the sun’s corona on the water’s surface would be like stepping into that intimate dance for a few steps.
The last time Wyoming experienced a total solar eclipse was 1878. It’s estimated that any one place will experience a total solar eclipse only every 300 years or so. Some will want to find a place that shares the history of dusk at noon with their own experience—be it a falling-apart cabin whose walls won’t talk, petroglyphs, a mountain man rendezvous site, or a tipi ring.
The sun will be high in the sky at the moment the moon starts to take her bites out of him, but rather than directly overhead it will dip a little to the north. The colors of sunrise and sunset will paint the horizon on all sides as darkness sets in, then slowly begins to fade only moments later. It would be a shame to miss this heavenly one-upmanship because a bunch of aspens, a canyon wall, or even a house blocks your view. The fewer obstructions around you, the better.
Almost every inch—but not quite all—of Wind River Country will be swept up in the shadow and excitement of totality. Learn more about the eclipse, essential eye safety tips, and about Fremont County’s plans at windrivereclipse.org
In the areas of Wind River Country that will experience totality, there are breathtaking and unique opportunities to set up a personal eclipse-viewing site. Spend some time with resources and maps of the eclipse’s path to ensure you don’t mistakenly take a seat outside the bakery.
- Visit windrivereclipse.org to find the most highly recommended sites, as determined by the locals in the know
- NASA’s map is interactive and allows users to click on a location to determine exactly when the eclipse will begin, when totality will begin, and how long it will last.
- Great American Eclipse has a number of detailed maps of the path through Wyoming:
- To zoom in a great deal on topographic maps of the shadow’s path, use this site.
Witnessing the sun become what appears to be nothing more than a dark hole in our sky, feeling the temperature drop, and listening to nature bed down for a surprising night must surely change a person’s relationship with the sun. We will, perhaps for a heartbeat, fear he won’t return or delight in the goosebumps on our arms. It’s impossible to say how each of us will respond, but on Aug. 21 we will certainly be reminded that the galaxy can feel as capricious as we mere humans.