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  1. #1
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    Mar 2005
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    Default Summer 2017 - Eclipse and National Parks

    I realize it's been a long time since I've posted and I'm glad to see the site still going strong thanks to the work of all the great people involved.

    This year I had the opportunity to take some time and explore some of my favorite places. It's been three years since my significant other started her business and the first time since 2012 that we were able to take a trip of any length together. While I've done some solo touring since then, it's always better to have a travel buddy!

    This is also the first trip where we packed our camping gear for a flight. Sometimes things just align perfectly for a trip. Twenty years ago we took our first long road trip together from Massachusetts out to Yellowstone National Park and back again. I had always planned to go back there and when I realized the full solar eclipse would be viewable nearby this year, I didn't need much convincing to start all of the necessary planning.

    Day 1 - We flew into Denver and picked up our rental car. Dealing with our multiple bags was difficult, especially the one with our sleeping bags. That one wanted to keep falling over. Our goal for the day was to end up at our reserved camping space near Devils Tower National Monument. This first day would require around 400 miles of travel, at an average of 50mph we would be at our site right at sunset. A quick lunch and then back on our way. Supplies were needed so our next stop was to pick up some groceries, etc. in Cheyenne, Wyoming. Time was moving quickly and we were standing still...back on the road!

    A friend of ours had often mentioned the jackalope in conversations about old road trips; knowing there was one that previously claimed to be the largest nearby, I had to stop and get its picture.

    DSC_8124.jpg

    By this time the sun was getting ready for bed and we still had around 175 miles to travel. We entered Thunder Basin National Grassland just as the sun was setting.
    DSC_8140.jpg

    Needless to say, when we got to the campground - after some backtracking and looking at the map a few times - it was well past dark. It being the weekend before the new moon, and the campground having minimal lighting, setting up the tent was rather difficult. But the view of the sky was absolutely incredible. The lack of nearby street lights gave us a glimpse of the Milky Way. That made me quickly forget the fact I had almost driven into a fire pit that was dug into the ground and apparently had been used earlier in the day because it still felt quite warm.

    We had been hoping to see Devils Tower at sunset but we weren't going to see it that day. After spending some time enjoying the view of the night sky, we set off to sleep.

  2. #2
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    Default Summer 2017 - Eclipse and National Parks

    Day 2 In the morning I was awoken with a statement "Wait until you see the view from here!" It did not disappoint:

    tower.jpg
    As luck would have it we had set our tent up in such a way we were right in the path of this excellent view. Most of the day was spent lounging around the campground pool. In the evening I went up solo into the park and took a bunch of shots of Devils Tower. At night I tried my hand at some night photography but cars in the distance were causing issues with the shots. That happens but while I was messing with the camera I did see a few shooting stars that appeared to be heading right towards the tower.

    Day 3 It was already time to move on if we were to make it to see the eclipse in the path of totality on Monday. A morning hike around Devils Tower, where we could watch those more brave than I attempt - and succeed - in climbing the tower.

    After a fairly long drive with significant haze caused by ongoing wildfires in neighboring states we headed over the Big Horn area on US-14A. Twenty years ago I made the mistake of not stopping for Medicine Wheel. That decision had always bothered me and I was able to correct that decision on this trip. After a drive up the dirt road, and then a hike up to the destination, we found ourselves at the medicine wheel.

    US-14A was relatively calm. Not too many vehicles make the trek over those hills or down those steep grades that end in a causeway. I had forgotten about that! Our stop for the evening was a campground in Cody.

  3. #3
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    Default Summer 2017 - Eclipse and National Parks

    Day 4 Since Cody was a stopover evening for us we didn't do exploring in the area. Up in the morning and then on into Yellowstone National Park, through the same entrance as 20 years before. I have to say that I didn't remember a lot of the scenery leading up to the entrance and it was nice to revisit the area. Traffic was heavier than I remember but usually any memories of traffic are wiped away with time and only the good parts remain (what's that about "nostalgia is memory with the pain removed?")

    Point of note: There is a "Big Boy" out in the middle of a field near the road into the park.20914417_1471251786274888_7428031349826370637_n.jpg

    We toured the central part of the park and made plans for what sections we wanted to focus on in the coming days. What we didn't realize was there are several areas undergoing renovation/reconstruction in the park and that was causing some of the heavier traffic we were seeing.

    On the way to our campground in West Yellowstone we stopped at a local restaurant and I had my first taste of bison meat. I found it to be prepared well and tasty, too. Some friends had mentioned their experiences finding it dry but that was not the case at all.

    Day 5 This was the day of the eclipse and we were up fairly early, expecting traffic to be heavy. The original plan was to head into Jackson, Wyoming for the eclipse but a check of the weather the night before mentioned partly cloudy conditions. Seeing as how almost every meteor shower is obscured by clouds back in Massachusetts, I've become accustomed to paying close attention to the weather near celestial events. The plan was altered to go into the tidy town of Rexburg, Idaho. Heading out of the campground, traffic was already heavy and I wasn't even sure I'd find a gap to get into the flow of vehicles. Finally a gap appeared and for nearly 70 miles we were part of a grand convoy of eclipse watchers heading out in the pre-sunrise hours.

    By the time we arrived near Rexburg many of our convoy companions had headed off to other points - most likely Jackson - and we found ourselves at Smith Park. The town was prepared for the incoming crowds as the park had all of the appropriate facilities for an influx of people set up. We were fortunate to have arrived early enough to find excellent parking on a side street.

    For the next few hours we watched the progress of the eclipse with a few hundred other people, including a soccer team from Seattle that had made a bus trip just for the occasion.

    Pictures cannot do justice to what we saw that day. If you ever get the chance to experience a full solar eclipse absolutely take the time to view it. Totality was brought on with silence from the birds that had been singing - many flew back to their nests - as well as the surreal sight of stars being visible during the middle of the day.

    During the eclipse I had been fiddling with my camera and I was making the mistake of using nighttime photography techniques during totality. That means I was using long exposure times...all the same the result was pretty interesting.

    20993916_1471432912923442_5979001159938825479_n.jpg

    The plan for afterwards was to head into the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest and travel the Gravelly Range Road, but the five-hour drive back (it took an hour to get out there) from Rexburg put the kibosh on that plan for the day.

  4. #4

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    Nice trip! I am glad you had a good experience.

  5. #5
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    Default

    Day 6 Today's plan was to head into Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. When we left the campsite the sky was very smoggy from wildfires. We didn't let this deter us as we had noted earlier in the trip that the pollution from the fires tends to follow particular paths and we had faith we'd drive out of the haze. Sure enough once we started towards Gravelly Range Road we had much clearer skies. Antelope, osprey, and magpies greeted us as we drove along the dirt roads. A detour - necessary due to logging activity - added a few hours to our trip. But the scenery was absolutely fantastic. Black Butte loomed over the land and several ominous drop-offs had us being extra careful. I did learn the hard way just how much water comes out of those standing irrigation systems as I drove past one that was spraying on to the road. Foolishly I hadn't rolled up the window...most of the rest of the drive would be spent sans shirt!

  6. #6
    Join Date
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    Day 7 Today we headed into Yellowstone and drove the northern loop. This includes Mammoth Hot Springs and the Yellowstone River. There was a fair amount of construction on US-89, meaning we spent a bit of time in traffic. It appears the entire alignment of the road is being moved.

    Parking near Mammoth Hot Springs I got a whiff of sage, which smelled terrific. The air was rather still and a rainstorm threatened to the north, but it held off long enough for us to take in the scenery and enjoy some time walking around the springs.

    When heading away from Mammoth Hot Springs we encountered some rain and thunder. I tried to capture some of the distant lightning strikes on camera but as per usual the weather gets shy when I try to capture it. As soon as I turned off the camera, of course, a big strike of lightning lit up the sky. Well at least I got a video of some rain and thunder.

    The storm kept its distance and didn't follow us as we headed towards the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. This is one of my favorite places in the park. As luck would have it, construction had closed some of the parking areas, as well as Inspiration Point. Given it was the middle of the day we were not surprised to find ourselves taking in the view with a large group of others.

    It was here that the differences between our 1997 trip and our 2017 trip really came to my mind. The most obvious example was the near-universal use of cellphone cameras. As I grabbed my digital camera and took a group of pictures, I remembered being at this very spot making sure not to use up all of my film. I was glad to not have that concern what with many gigabytes of storage available to me.

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