There are some definite advantages of having a geek for a husband.
Last week, we managed to engineer a few days away from our brand new jobs to go down to Casper, Wyoming for the solar eclipse. Carl really did drive a 2000km round trip for the sake of 2 1/2 minutes. But it was well worth it! Casper was in the path of totality – as in, we got the full, eerie dark eclipse. The sun really did appear to go out for a few minutes.
Two different telescopes accompanied us, one of which Carl fitted with a camera hooked up to his laptop with some nifty software that tracked the moon automatically and took around 4000 images without us having to do anything! Much better than my pathetic attempts with my normal camera.
The drive down there took over 10 hours in total, but we split the journey and stayed at a small town called Gillette (not where they make razor blades, much to my disappointment). We holed up in a cheapish hotel along with very many other people who had had the same idea as us. Unlike virtually everyone else convoying down through the US, we had to stop at the border, get our conspicuously red passports checked, get photographed and fingerprinted, pay $18 for a visa waiver, and sent on our way by Customs. In the customs office in Montana, they had a display case of contraband – things you can’t bring in to the US. Antlers, exotic animals (they had a very pretty but depressing tortoise shell in there), rum, cigars, and so on. Right on the top were Kinder Eggs with their killer plastic toys.
That night I walked to and bought some (very cheap) beer in a “drive-thru off sale” that had a sign outside saying Bikers Welcome! I wasn’t sure whether I should tip the woman who handed me beer through the window. I have never felt more British in my life! There was a “fun facts” section in the little blurb about Wyoming left in the hotel. Apparently, one archaic Wyoming state law still persists: it is illegal for a woman to stand within 5 feet of a bar. So we can go in, get table service, but we can’t actually order anything at the bar by ourselves. Good job I was at a drive-through I suppose!
We spent Sunday in Gillette, Carl recovering from the drive, and the kids recovering from their attempts to eat the utterly ENORMOUS breakfast portions included with our hotel booking.
We also found out that Gillette wasn’t that far from Devil’s Tower, a weird rock formation where they filmed Close Encounters. We even found the aliens. Ahem.
In the gift shop, there was a giant display of wooden toy AK47s – perfect for saving the world from aliens of course. I hope.
But back to the Eclipse! Carl dutifully forced himself awake at 5am, as the plan was to drive the remaining couple of hours to Casper as early as possible to avoid the crowds. I was already awake as Small Beastling had invaded our bed around 4am and woken me up. We managed to get the kids in the car without waking them. That was short lived though, and they woke up as soon as we set off. The drive was quite fun – Wyoming is possibly even more empty and spacious as Saskatchewan, but it also has hills and a higher speed limit. And deer. Many, many deer who were very active at that time in the morning and tried to play chicken with cars, leaping out in to the road. They certainly kept Carl awake!
We were right to get in early; luckily the first place we tried had space and we parked and just set up right by the car in a field at Casper fairgrounds. By 9am, the field was full up. So was the RV park next to it. Miranda and I wandered around hunting for breakfast and found people setting up telescopes in McDonald’s car park. I read later that 317,000 people had descended on Casper!
We had some special eclipse glasses that allowed the kids and I to just look up and view it without any hassle – Carl was worried that they would knock his telescopes out of alignment through over-enthusiasm! It took nearly an hour of the moon moving across the sun (looking like it was taking a bite out of it, we got “Full Pac-Man” around 10.45am) before it actually got dark. But totality was completely surreal. Even Miranda, who had been watching DVDs in the car all morning and bored, was blown away. For those two minutes, you could look directly at the sun without the glasses. Twilight, and then late evening suddenly happened at 11.30am. All the dogs that fellow sun gazers had brought with them suddenly shut up. The temperature dropped dramatically. Such a weird experience!
I hope Miranda remembers this trip. The next one will be in Mexico in 2024 and Carl is determined to go to that too, but by then Miranda will be a teenager! Terrifying thought. Here are some of Carl’s laptop/telescope images. Impressive hey?