Eclipse Day

Posted by on Aug 23, 2017 in Eclipse

And so the day dawned. But it wasn’t good news. I could tell from the light filtering through my tent that there was no sun. I got outside and was greeted with thick and heavy grey cloud in all directions. The car was wet, the tent was soaking. Not sure if it rained during the night or not. Either way, not good. 🙁 The folks next to me were already packing up and moving out, planning on heading west. However, without any intel on how thick the cloud was or how far it extended it was a gamble. There was also the problem of traffic. Reports had been filtering in of massive traffic jams in certain areas along those single track highways I’d driven up on. What to do? Risk a move and take a gamble on escaping the cloud or stay put and hope it would clear? It was three hours until ‘first contact’. Two other eclipse watchers were headed into town, so I decided to join them for a trip to get some breakfast and get some wifi! At least then I could have a look at the satellite maps and see what was going on. When we got there the skies were a bit brighter, but it was still overcast. However it was clear now that this was a fog bank that had settled in overnight. The question was, above that, was there cloud or not – and would the sun burn it off in time? Satellite images looked encouraging, but it was nerve wracking! Back at the camp site, the sun was making a valiant effort, by 8.30 we had tantalising hints of blue sky. With the rising temperatures and a brisk northerly wind the fog surrendered and the sun blazed forth. We were in business! Back to check the equipment again! I intended to snap pictures of the sun every 5 minutes from the point of first contact (about 10.30) all the way through the eclipse and out the other side until last contact, around 13:20. This worked fine in practice and I was pleased that my minimal kit that I’d brought with me worked well. And then. It started! It was mesmerising, watching the moon slowly roll in front of the sun. You get quite a strong sense of how celestial mechanics works when watching this. Everything is in motion all the time and this is one of the few times you can see orbital motion like this happening in front of your eyes. It’s remarkable to watch. The moon progressed steadily. The skies stayed clear – only the strong north wind provided a bit of an issue as it was rocking the tripod – this caused me a few problems for later images with long exposures. Then, all the waiting, the planning, the travelling came down to 2 minutes and 30 seconds...

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Eclipse T-1 Days : The crazy dude from the UK

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Eclipse

Sun up on the 20th of August. I was here, I was actually here. Alliance was pretty much bang on the centre-line of the Eclipse zone, and Wells Ranch (about 3-4 miles south of the town) was exactly on it. That meant 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality at around 11 o’clock the next day. First job was getting up and getting the equipment ready and checked. Fortunately it’s all pretty robust and seemed to have survived the rigours of travelling without any damage. The batteries had held their charge and the cameras, after a little tweaking, seemed to be operating well. I had both DSLRs working. One with the 6mm wide angle lens and the other with the 500mm zoom. A bit of duct tape and the focus and the zoom locked in place. The sun was showing some great sunspots, which was really useful for focusing! So far so good. With all that sorted it was time to say hello to a few folks. This didn’t take long, only about the entire rest of the day. 🙂 Everywhere I went I got variations on “It’s the Brit!” “It’s the hat!” “You must that Drew guy from the blog!” or, and my favourite, “You’re that crazy British dude, aren’t you?” 😉 Turned out that lots of folks had been following my blog, and once a few of them cottoned on, they’d shared it with everyone else. So it seemed that everyone knew who I was before I even turned up! 🙂 So much so, that pretty much where ever I went, everyone wanted a selfie with me. It was all great fun and really good humoured. I certainly didn’t feel alone out in the middle of a foreign country. Quite the reverse. People showed me around their RVs (still don’t know what RV stands for! – they’re huge self contained houses on wheels), gave me tours of the cars and chatted at length about my adventures to date. There were hundreds of people at the camp site, some with big telescopes, others just there for the experience of seeing the Eclipse. I spent the whole day wandering around and talking, enjoying the glorious sunshine and saying hello to people. Even when I went back to my tent I had people wander up and ask if I was the “British guy.” 🙂 Later in the day we went for a ‘Hay Ride’. This involves bolting a trailer to a tractor, throwing on some hay bales to sit on and then driving across a field trying to drink beer, but mostly sloshing it all over yourself and the trailer. I got a real sense of how big the ranches out here are. Thousands of acres of land. Astonishing from a UK perspective. Everyone was in good spirits… with plenty of beer available… and speaking of beer… 😉 I happened...

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Eclipse T-2 days : Travelling

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in Eclipse

Today was a travelling day, and a lot of distance had to be covered. For the most part this wasn’t very interesting, so this is a short update! I left the Red Feather lodge just south of the Grand Canyon at about 4am in order to drive back to Las Vegas. Though it was Saturday and the traffic should be light, I wanted to leave plenty of time to drop off the car and get through the airport security. I’m still lugging 3 bags everywhere (one for the hold, one for the overhead compartment and a rucksack) so I’m not very fleet of foot. 🙂 The drive was uneventful, but beautiful. It was before dawn and the thin crescent moon was hanging in the eastern sky in the constellation of Leo (a sign of things to come!) with the sky just beginning to brighten. I have to say, for the most part, the American highways and interstates are in pretty good condition – dead straight miles and miles of endless blacktop roads. Out of the cities everyone seems to be pretty well behaved and placid on the road. I put the cruise control on and headed on in. Up came the sun – another stunning day in the desert. Got to Las Vegas, dropped the car, caught the shuttle, checked in (slightly surly staff on the checking desks United – watch that!) though the baggage lady was friendly enough. And then onto the plane… Which broke down. 🙁 Not sure exactly what was wrong, but we almost needed a second plane apparently. This was not welcome news as my timeline was quite tight. I hoped to reach my destination in the light and I knew it was a 4 hour drive once I landed. United did eventually fix the plane (and we didn’t need to “deplane” – is that a word? Apparently!) but it was an hour an a half off schedule by this point. Folks around me were pretty upset as many had connecting flights and they weren’t going to make it. Got to Denver though, the flight was a little bumpy as we went over the Rockies. Arrival, baggage claim… and then to the hire car. More like it this time – a bright red Ford Mustang Convertible. 5.0 Litre V8. That will do nicely! A fabulous car, not something you could drive in the UK, but makes complete sense in the US. I’d definitely have one if I lived over here! Surprisingly practical too, with a big boot, quiet cruising and a great stereo (with a USB port for my music!) – of course – plant that right foot and this enormous woofly noise erupts all around you and the seat gives you an almighty shove in the back. The roads were typical interstate until I passed in to Nebraska, where they became single lane highways....

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Eclipse T-3 days : A cycle ride

Posted by on Aug 19, 2017 in Eclipse

I was thinking of doing another hike today, but I was a bit concerned that I might over-tire myself in the process. I don’t think I would have seen anything *that* different from yesterday. So instead I hired a bike. The route I took was from the Visitor Centre to a spot called ‘Hermit’s Rest’ and back again, a total of just over twenty two miles. For a lot of route the tracks are cycle specific and paved. It makes the going pretty easy. Sometimes you have to be on the road, and sometimes you’re using the same path as the hikers, so you have to watch out. One oddity – you have to actually come to a halt and stop to allow the buses by, they are forbidden from passing moving cyclists. Probably not a bad thing! There were a few hills, but nothing all that drastic. Despite the much longer distance it was a lot easier than the hike. The bike was pretty good too, a tourer, with 21 gears. After a leisurely hour and a half or so I arrived at the far end. I had an ice-cream and a rest and headed back. It’s a great way to get far from the crowds. I saw a few cyclists on the way out, but none on the way back. Most stopped at Hermit’s rest and then got a van to take them back! Feel like I’ve done justice to the place. Now I have to get back to Las Vegas and catch my flight to Denver. Big travelling day tomorrow and unlikely to have much in the way of internet access. Fingers crossed for good weather on Eclipse day… looks a little touch and go at the...

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Eclipse T-4 Days : Grand Canyon

Posted by on Aug 18, 2017 in Eclipse

I left Sedona at around 9am to head north towards the Grand Canyon. I’d done a little homework on this as the Grand Canyon is a huge place and you really need to plan something according to the amount of time you have here. I have a day and a half, so wanted to make the most of it. I’d spoken to a few people here in the US and also looked up a few things. The first thing was to avoid the obvious route (I-180) directly north into the Canyon. It’s the busiest and less scenic. I opted for the longer, but prettier Highway 89 from the east. This ultimately fetched me up against the ‘Watchtower’, from where I got my first view of the Canyon. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s what I saw. 🙂 I’d been warned that the place would be busy and it was – seemingly full of French tourists for some reason – and also that to get away from the crowds the best way is to take a hike down into the Canyon itself as most people don’t do this, but either stand around the viewpoints or hang out in the visitor centre. Certainly the later was packed with people. It wasn’t my sort of thing at all, I’d come to see the real Canyon. I’d been recommended a hike that took me to a place called ‘Skeletons Point’. First I had to find the start. I eventually figured out that you have start at the ‘South Kaibab’ trail head. This requires you to take a bus to the start point from the visitor centre. The hikes come with plenty of health warnings. You are advised to carry lots of water, high calorie snacks both sweet and salty and to ‘know your limits’. The hike to Skeleton point was a 6 mile round trip and was forecast to take between 4-6 hours. You have to be careful of sunset as there are no lights, so a torch is also handy. There are stark warnings about going to far for your abilities. The Canyon is a “harsh environment” and “going down is optional, coming up is mandatory!” I set off at around 2:15. I figured my fitness level would allow me to do the trip in the 4 hour area. The slope down was a constant 1 in 5 or so. Not difficult to walk, but jarring on the knees after a time – and you’re very conscious of the walk up that is growing behind you with every step! The first waymarker was reached after 0.9 of a mile. This is where most people turn back. The aptly named “Ooh Ah Point”. The trail was pretty narrow. You had to step aside to allow people coming up to pass. Apparently there are mules around every so often too, but I didn’t see any. At...

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Eclipse T-5 days : Kayaking

Posted by on Aug 17, 2017 in Eclipse

More of an outdoorsy sort of day today, without the big ‘site’ visits. I had to get up early to get down to a place called Camp Verde. As the name suggests it’s very lush and green down here. After a long drive, partly off road towards the end I reached a potage point where I met up with a few other adventurous souls and embarked on a spot of kayaking down the Verde river. We left the cars and drove 5 miles upstream and then kayaked back down to the cars over about two hours. It was an amazingly clear day with fine blue skies. The river looked (and was) very muddy, due to the previous week’s rain so I was told. Thus it was a little faster flowing than normal. We had inflatable kayaks, which were pretty sturdy and robust, but tricky to control as they have no keel and pretty much want to go in any direction other than straight ahead. There were a few rapids (or to be more accurate they should be called ‘Brisks’) as they were fun enough to make you pay attention without giving any real scary moments. Mostly it was drifting down the river enjoying the sun, the butterflies (some huge ones!) birds and cicadas making noise in the trees. These are surprisingly loud when you’re not used to them and they seem to be able to synchronise when they start and stop en-masse in some peculiar way. In the afternoon the jetlag caught up with me again and so I had a snooze when I got home, but not before I had a burger in one of the Sedona restaurants that overlooks the valley. They cool the veranda by jetting thin streams of water into the air, which evaporate before they get to the dinner tables, but keep the air surprisingly cool. Neat, if probably not very ‘green’, way of doing it. Next up… I’m heading North now. Tomorrow’s blog will be from the Grand...

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