Chasing Totality

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

I am still completely and utterly blown away. An emotional and visceral experience that was unimaginable, even after reading and watching videos and posts describing past total solar eclipses. An event so profound, awe-inspiring, spiritual, immersive and overwhelming that it left me shaking with excitement for a half hour after it ended with tears in my eyes. Even today, waves of emotion wash over me as I try to describe what I saw. The now obvious and undeniable fact is you must be there to witness totality. Only then will the event be seared into your consciousness for eternity.

sunset

A friend and I left Steamboat Springs around 5 am, 21 August 2017 and headed for an area south of Casper, Wyoming. The early morning clouds did dissipate as forecast, though they highlighted a spectacular sunrise driving north from Walden towards Centennial, Wyoming.

area viewThe view looking south from our remote eclipse viewing area when we first arrived, about 30 miles south of Casper, Wyoming.

frontA view of our observation deck. Very low-tech, though there was a telescope with a solar filter behind us. The couple there were kind enough to let us view the partial eclipse phase both before and after totality. We could literally see the moon moving past the sunspots at around 50% coverage, as well as some solar prominences.

behindA view to the north shows Ice Cave Mountain just south of Casper, with its stunning white cliffs, and the lunar-looking intervening landscape.

As totality approached, the sun, as viewed through the eclipse glasses donated by a gracious friend the night before, became a thin crescent that steadily grew smaller and fainter until only an amoeba-looking remnant winked out of view. The valley winds suddenly died, the temperature dropped, and an eerie quietness enveloped the prairie as I removed the glasses to see a still-dazzlingly bright sun. At that point, the phenomena associated with totality began.

Frankly, I forgot about the camera for the first half of totality as I was overwhelmed by the spectacle, but managed to take the following three pictures during the few seconds around the end of totality. You can see the star Regulus, Leo the Lion’s brightest star, shining through the corona in the southeast quadrant of the first picture. At this point, the Shadow Bands, also present for a short time as the eclipse first dipped into totality, reappeared and danced across the landscape, even as a 360 degree sunset/sunrise surrounded us. These diffuse and eerie bands of light are caused by the few remaining rays of sunlight diffracting around the moon, and are mixed in with the impossibly sharp shadows present around totality.

near end of totality

Now we are just a split second past totality when a brilliant flash of white light, termed the Diamond Ring, briefly appears. This is also present just before totality, when the last ray of sunlight slides around the moon, and seeing it flash felt like a hammer-blow to the head; a sledgehammer to the soul. I mean, I expected to see something, as the effect is well discussed, but I was not expecting an infinitely bright and compact flash of dazzlingly pure white light that was immediately followed by the deep blackness of the moon covering the sun at the start of totality. An instantaneous change between blindingly pure white and infinitely deep black that took my breath away. Not that I was looking, especially as a scientist, but as totality ended, I could not imagine a more literal interpretation of Let there be light.

diamond ring 1

The Diamond Ring below is still in the process of expanding, even though the flash of light appears vanishingly brief.

diamond ring 2

Bighorn Mountain RangeWe just sat there for a half hour, in befuddled amazement, trying to make sense of what we had just witnessed, while reveling in the final phases of the eclipse. Finally, we grudgingly left our observation deck and, looking to escape the traffic, took the gravel road less traveled by. The Bighorn Mountain Range frames the serpentine escape route with this northeast view.

Wyoming rocksSome nice granite outcrops while we were avoiding traffic on the 60 mile loop of gravel roads.

Eclipse Day 21 Aug 2017 sunrise near Centennial WyBack in time for sunset in beautiful Steamboat Springs.

Some pictures from Spring 2017

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Sunset picture from my deck on 13 March 2017 I wanted to get some pictures posted before the current summer-like weather progresses any further! This sunset was taken on 13 March 2017

Sunset picture from my deck on 13 March 2017 Another one taken on 13 March 2017.

Sunset from my deck on 18 March 2017 A sunset from a few days later on 18 March 2017.

Sunset picture from my deck on 1 April 2017 Taken on April Fools Day 2017 - No joke!

Hiking through the grass on Lower Vagabond After 2 months with hardly any snowfall, winter returned during the week after the Steamboat Ski Area closed for the season. A trip to Winter Park after a couple of feet of snow was followed the following week by a hike on 3 May starting at the base of the Thunderhead lift. Conditions were ‘grassy’ and ‘muddy’ at the bottom! I had to take off my skis about a half-dozen times to navigate around the unskiable areas.

The Goods on Tornado taken 3 May 2017I hiked to the top of Four Points and took the following photo from Flat Out. Two weeks later later, after about 10 days of mountain biking, we received a foot of snow in town on 18 May and I did my last hike of the spring the next day. I would have taken some pictures, but skied down in a raging snow squall. Turns were difficult as we had another freezing rain event and there was a crust on the snow, so best that day was not documented. And skiing down Vagabond was treacherous as the foot of snow fell on bare ground - I probably should have just skipped that last outing!

Some moose, fall color and sunsets from the past month

Saturday, November 12, 2016

moose_creekside_11Nov2016 Continued warm and sunny days have allowed for a great fall mountain season that looks to continue for several more days until winter arrives about a week before the Steamboat Ski area official opening.

The moose are also out on the trails enjoying the beautiful weather. The picture of the one on the right was taken yesterday on 11 Nov on the Creekside trail right below the Pioneer merge.

The picture of the two moose below was taken on 9 Oct as they rested on lower Tenderfoot. They weren’t moving and they weren’t looking like they would be moving, so I backtracked to find a detour around the family.moose_lower_tenderfoot_9Oct2016

Milly_first_manmade_snow_right_o_wayOn the way up Zig Zag yesterday, Milly surveyed the latest efforts by the Steamboat Ski area’s excellent snowmaking crew. There were some isolated islands of snow she could roll around on, but winter will have to wait for a few more days.

pioneer_11Nov2016 After seeing the first moose in the pictures above, I headed up Pioneer on my way to Rainbow Saddle and then the gondola. The next 3 photos are all taken in a very similar spot a bit before the uphill trail crosses the Pony Express lifline. That there are no leaves on the trees on 11 Nov is not surprising, but the speed at which the color changed and the leaves dropped was, as shown by the next 2 photos taken less than a week apart, on 15 Oct and 9 Oct.
pioneer_15Oct2015/pioneer_9Oct2016

elkhead_9Oct2016Also on 9 Oct, the photo on the right was taken on the Elkhead trail.

sunset_lower_pioneer_14Oct2016I just can’t resist documenting a nice sunset; the first two were taken on 14 October from the top of Creekside looking south across the Yampa Valley.

sunset_lower_pioneer_14Oct2016

gunsmoke_sunset_20Oct2016This last photo was taken the next day on 15 October further down the mountain on Gunsmoke.

Some sunsets from the first half of June

Saturday, June 18, 2016

sunset deck 5june2016A few sunset pictures taken from my deck during the last couple of weeks. This photo was snapped on 5 June.

sunset deck 9june2016 This was taken on 9 June.

sunset deck 11june2016 This was taken on 11 June.

sunset deck 12june2016And this was taken the next evening on 12 June.

First tracks on Tornado Sunday after the area closes

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

First tracks on Tornado on 17 April 2016 After receiving 9” Friday morning in town, and another 2” Sunday morning, Milly and I headed up the Steamboat ski area to ski some powder.

Parking at the base of the Thunderhead lift, we hiked about 90 minutes on Alpine Touring gear to reach the Four Points lodge, rested, and caught First (and only at that time) tracks next to the Storm Peak liftline.

There was about a foot of medium-density snow with a bit of a crust, though the turns were bouncy and consistent. The chunky snow was flying around thigh-deep on the descent. The observant will notice the rest I took about half way down to fully enjoy the remaining turns.

The picture was taken from the bottom of Tornado Lane and you can see Milly’s paw prints bisecting my tracks!

First tracks on Tornado on 17 April 2016 from FlatoutOn the left is a panoramic shot of Tornado and the Four Points lift, with the very top of Nelson’s and Twister in view. The picture was snapped from Flatout near Surprise.

Tornado from Core Trail 18 April 2016The next day, while riding down the Core Trail to the gym, I noticed another skier had laid down some nice tracks next to mine.

I am heartened to see some powder etiquette and artistic skiing displayed as that seems to be sorely lacking these days!

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