I had the unique opportunity of driving north to experience a total solar eclipse. It was a last minute adventurous decision my wife and I made around 5 p.m., but because of a commitment to a family party that night, we weren’t able to hit the road until midnight. Four hours later, we arrived in Rexburg, Idaho.
The town was well light at 4 a.m., and after a quick stop to see the Rexburg Idaho Temple, we found a parking stall in the Walmart parking lot and did our best to catch a few ZZzzzs. It was a little chilly and uncomfortable sleeping in the driver’s seat, but I managed to catch about two hours of sleep before we were up and ready to experience totality.
We weren’t sure where we wanted to go to experience the eclipse, but a photographer from KSL (a Utah-based television news station) tweeted a park he was working in, so we headed there. We checked out the vendors selling t-shirts and other eclipse-branded wares, and after eating bowls of cereal, we set up our chairs in the park, a few yards away from the KSL satellite truck. I will admit – the placement was intentional because I figured it increased our odds of making it on TV and I knew two of our boys would love to be on TV (especially around such a monumental event like a total solar eclipse). Little did we know my wife would end up on KSL, but her interview would also find its way to NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt.
It’s difficult to put into words how spectacularly magnificent the experience was, so I figured I would break things down by the five senses: Touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing.
As the moon found its way in between the sun and the earth, the temperature slowly dropped. Since we had worn shorts to the event, it became a little on the chilly side, so at one point my wife wrapped a blanket around her and one of her boys. It was awkward to think that it was getting colder as the morning wore on, especially considering there were no clouds in the sky or any wind rushing in from the north. It was just getting colder.
It would be difficult to put a taste or smell to the solar eclipse, but I found a way. The only smell that I recall during this entire adventure was that of Cool Ranch Doritos breath. One of da boys had eaten the delicious chips and then started telling me something with his face a little close to me and the Doritos breath smelt more like throw up. I eventually ate a few of the chips and then made sure to breathe on a few of the family members to help them experience and remember the Doritos smell and associate it with the solar eclipse. We even captured a photo of the Doritos being consumed as proof that they made the perfect viewing snack.
The sounds around the park leading up to the moment of totality were pretty minimal. You could hear people talking about what they were seeing, or even doing a quick interview with the KSL team that was there. But the moment leading up to totality, during totality and the moment totality ended, the sounds changed.
It was almost like there was a countdown to the final seconds of a little sliver of sun that was keeping itself visible as the moon moved in front of it. But the moment the moon completely blocked the sun, cheers went up around the park. There was an excitement in the air and everyone knew it. Among the cheers, there were also tears. My wife was cheering and crying, because she knew how unique of an experience this was (the next one in Utah will be when I am 65 years old) and she was glad her two boys were able to experience it.
A little more than two minutes after the initial cheers of totality rang out, the cheers of the sun returning were just as loud. The moment was over, but the excitement of what we had just experienced hung in the air. People continued to talk about how cool that was for the rest of the day. I had a few conversations with people from KSL about their thoughts, and even had the opportunity to speak with city councilman from Rexburg about the experience – and the phenomenal job the city had done in hosting 40,000+ people.
But the sense that will likely take the cake is the one that is most memorable to me, meaning it will likely be the hardest to describe.
The motion of the moon photobombing the sun was a very slow process. It took roughly 1.5 hours for the moon to reach the center of the sun, so that gradual process left us time to wait. But as time moved forward, the outskirts of the moon’s shadow brought a slow darkness to the area. Had we not been at 100% totality, we would have only experienced a dimness of our surroundings; but being in 100% was looking up to be a memorable experience.
Using the solar viewing glasses to look at the sun was interesting, to say the least. I would find myself staring at it because I didn’t want to let it pass without remembering what it looked like. And while I had my camera all set up to capture photos of the moon moving in front of the sun, I also didn’t want to watch the entire thing from behind a camera. So I set a timer and every 10 minutes or so I would snap a new bracketed series of photos.
I was really grateful to the KSL photographer, Derek, who let me borrow a 2″x2″ square of the film that goes over a camera lens and allows you to photograph the sun. Without that, my “magnificent capture” wouldn’t have been possible.
As the moment of totality came closer, the dimness around the park was noticeable; but we had no clue just how dark it was going to get when totality hit. As we watch the moon make the last movement needed to completely block out the sun, night set in. There were stars in the sky and a 360 morning dusk haze that circled on the horizon – and yes, it was only 11:35 in the morning.
But the real memory that I have burned into my memory is what the moon and sun combination looked like in the sky. There was a black circle – blacker than any black I had ever seen – floating in the sky. Around it was a surreal-looking white glowing ring. Place that on a dark blue background and you have the scene we were looking at over the skies of Rexburg, Idaho. Despite my best efforts to photograph the scene, they don’t even come close to doing the real view justice.
The black hole in the sky reminded me of something you would see in a sci-fi movie. I was half expecting aliens or something to come streaming out of the black hole and start an invasion of earth. I found myself staring at it, mesmerized, and then jumping back into the photographer mode – “Oh crap, I want to capture this in a photo!” I focused my camera again and started bracket exposures, quickly dropping down the shutter speed to account for the lack of a filter (because I pulled it off when the sun went into totality as it was unneeded). I also had my phone out capturing some video of how dark the earth was; though the camera ended up on the ground underneath me as I quickly switched back to my still camera, then at one point, it ended up filming the inside of my pocket.
When KSL turned the camera on my wife, I began taking video and photos of her in the interview, and once that was done, I went back to my still camera to capture more shots, while being sure to look at it with my naked eye so I could better remember the vividness and colors of what I was seeing in the sky.
In looking back on those two minutes of totality, I probably looked like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to do too much. But I was glad I took those moments to just look up – and really glad I kept a finger on my still camera, because I snapped a few frames the moment the sun peaked its light out from behind the moon – thus capturing the phenomenon known as the Diamond Ring.
I wasn’t sure how to describe that first moment the light started to make its way back to the earth, but my Aunt Kelly (who ended up being a few blocks away in Rexburg as well) said it was like a giant LED light had just turned on in the sky. I don’t think there was any better way to describe it that how she did. After two minutes of darkness, a LED light turned on in the sky, whiter than any light I had ever seen, and started to gradually light up the earth again. By this point, I was putting my eclipse glasses back on, along with the filter over my camera lens, and pondering on the awesomeness of what I had just experienced.
As the light gradually increased and the dimness from the earth’s surface diminished, the crowds started to leave. I was surprised they didn’t want to stay and continue to experience the next 1.5 hours of the winding down of the monumental photobomb, but I was determined to stay and capture the phases of the exiting of totality.
I really wish my three other kids could have been with me to experience the path of totality – and that was a thought I had numerous times throughout the hours associated with our little adventure.
Our adventure didn’t end when the sun and moon had gone their separate ways. We ate lunch and headed toward Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve (which took us 2.5 hours), then spent two hours hiking the lava flows and lava tubes of the park. We weren’t the only ones with the great idea of visiting this park on the same day of the solar eclipse, so needless to say, the park was overflowing with people. But it was a great taste of what that park had to offer, and I hope to make a trip there again next year with all the kids and maybe even a family friend and his wife and kids.
We arrived in Blackfoot, Idaho, and ate dinner, and that is when the real mess of traffic came upon us. From Blackfoot to Inkom, we averaged 20 MPH. It increased a little bit after that, but by then it was about midnight and my eyes weren’t going to stay open much longer (remember, I only got two hours of sleep the night before because of our drive north). I pulled off in Downey and caught an hour of sleep in a gas station parking lot. It was comforting to see that I wasn’t the only one who was sleep in a vehicle in the parking lot.
I was able to make the rest of the trek south, and we arrived home around 3 a.m. I tried to get to sleep as quickly as I could because I had to be to work in about five hours, but even today (three days after getting home), I am still trying to catch up on my sleep. I’ve also been editing my photos when I can and am very pleased with the Path of Totality image I have put together.
If you are interested in purchasing a print of the Path of Totality, email me at jasonmcarlton at hotmail.com and we can make arrangements.
While I may have ended this blog post on a low note (I’m in desperate need of sleep), I have no regrets about missing out on some sleep to take part in this first total solar eclipse to pass through the United States in 99 years. I hope to be around for the one in 2045 when it passes through central Utah and hope even more that I will be able to enjoy it with my kids and posterity.
~ signed, Carltonaut