Total Solar Eclipse 2017 in Jackson Hole, Wyoming
This year’s summer vacation orbited around the Super Bowl of astronomical events: a total solar eclipse.
A few years ago I read that there would be an eclipse over the U.S in 2017. I knew then that’d I’d make it a point to see it under any circumstances. At the time, 2017 was still some unknowable and far-off date in the future. You can’t make reservations years in advance on Expedia. So I stashed away my plans until the date drew nearer, and dusted them off a year out.
Looking at the path of totality, I figured Wyoming would be the best place to watch the eclipse. It has gorgeous scenery and would likely have good weather that time of year. So my wife and I made up our minds and booked tickets. Lucky we did so–hotel rooms along the path were booked solid weeks before the eclipse.
Teton Village and Jackson Hole:
We stayed in Jackson Hole’s Teton Village, a ski resort at the foot of the Teton Mountain range next to Grand Teton National Park. It’s about 20 minutes from the town of Jackson. We could have stayed in Teton Village the whole time and still enjoyed it. It has a bunch of restaurants and cafes and everything was walkable. It had a little playground, complete with fountain spouts or whatever those are called.
We decided to bring our dog Annie with us, thinking that our hotel was as dog-friendly as it purported to be on its website. Things were a bit different. While you can bring a dog, you are not allowed to leave it alone in the room for any period of time. To make matters worse, you need to have a dog-sitter at a cool $20 an hour. Fine, I thought, I’ll pay that price for a few hours each day so we can go out and not worry about getting evicted. If it only it was that simple. When I called to request a sitter, I found out that the rate had jumped to $40 because of eclipse weekend. No, I’m not paying $40 an hour for a dog sitter. So we found ways around the rule, either by taking her with us or by putting her in the bathroom for an hour or two with a bone behind a “Do Not Disturb” sign. She didn’t like it but she came out alive.
Dogs were also not allowed at the nearby Laurence Rockefeller Preserve in Grand Teton NP. Drove out there one morning with Annie only to see the “No dogs on path sign.”!
Jackson Hole Children’s Museum:
This is a nice little museum for kids in downtown Jackson. My son spent about half his time there playing in the rice bin while I spent the half of mine cleaning the rice up from the floor.
Grand Teton National Park:
The northwestern corner of Wyoming has some of the most beautiful mountain scenery in the United States. Though it was late August there was snow visible on the upper reaches of the Teton Mountain range. This is the site of Grand Teton National Park, home of two big alpine lakes, Jackson Lake and Jenny Lake, and breathtaking mountain scenery right out of an Ansel Adams painting.
The park is home to buffalo, elk, wolves, bear, moose, and other animals of the American West. I saw each of these animals during the four or five times we were inside the park, but they were rare sights given the amount of time we spent there. Even in the early morning during their prime grazing time, I didn’t see many animals. A wildlife sightseeing truck filled with camera-toting tourists pulled up next to me in a parking lot. Leaning out, a man quipped that Annie was the only animals they’d seen on their safari thus far. “What great fur she has,” another said, before taking her picture, as if she was one of the bison they’d paid to see.
Make sure to check out Jackson Lake Lodge, built in the 1950s in the International Style of architecture. Its wooden paneled lobby, with red and black couches and carpeting, reminded me of the hotel in The Shining. Try the diner inside the hotel.
Jackson Lake scenic cruise: We took a scenic cruise on Jackson Lake from Colter Bay. Run by Grand Teton Lodge Company, the boat held about 40-45 people and took us around to the highlights of the lake. The tour guide was really knowledgeable about the geology of the lake, the flora and fauna, and the park’s history. My son started to get antsy and almost couldn’t take being cooped up in what felt like a church pew for about an hour and a half. Probably a little young for the trip.
We also visited the Church of the Transfiguration, a rustic 19th century one-room church in Grand Teton National Park.
Even though Yellowstone was a three hour drive away, there was no way I was going all the way to Wyoming and miss out on a chance to see the crown jewel of national parks. I left the hotel at 5:45 am, the sun rising on my right and illuminating the jagged peaks of the Teton Range. I stopped five times to take pictures before cutting myself off. At the rate I was going I’d get to Yellowstone by Thanksgiving.
After another hour on Rt 191, I entered Yellowstone. The trees to the left and right of the road were burnt to a crisp from fire. Not sure if they were burned in the devastating 1988 fire or a more recent one. Right next to the road is a huge gorge through which the Lewis River flows.
My first stop was the Old Faithful Inn, located about 500 feet from the famous geyser. The lobby, entirely made out of pine, is one of the most impressive manmade spaces I’ve ever seen. The ceiling soars to about 80 feet–a cathedral of wood.
I joined a tour group to learn more about the history of the hotel. Halfway through our tour, over the voice of our nice tour guide, someone was yelling. A man was facing the front desk screaming at the top of his lungs every obscenity you could imagine. Apparently there was a problem with his reservation and he didn’t have the room he thought he had. I’ve never seen someone so mad in public.
The Old Faithful geyser was predicted to go off soon, so I went out to watch the spectacle. Near it are dozens of other hot pools, some undergoing mini-eruptions and bubbling. They were really cool to watch, hypnotizing almost. I couldn’t believe how deep-blue the water is, and how far deep the pools go. In some, you could see underwater cave openings. I wonder if anyone has ever explored those? Anyone who has would have had to be in protective gear—some of the pools are over 200 degree Fahrenheit. A few years ago someone took a dip in one of the pools, thinking it would be no hotter than a Jacuzzi. He was scalded to death in front of his friends.
People crowded around Old Faithful for the eruption. Soon people pointed and I heard the spraying start. It looked like someone had a big firehouse and was spraying it straight up in the air from underground.
Afterwards I headed up a short path to Solitary geyser, which was true to its name—I was the only one there. Supposedly it erupts every 4-5 minutes. I was there for 15 minutes and it didn’t go off. Did I miss something? I was fortunate to see the nearby Beehive geyser go off, which only happens twice a day. Hordes of tourists lined up to see that one erupt too; they were only about 15 feet from the spraying water.
The crowds in the Upper Geyser Basin, the area that includes Old Faithful and a few other geysers like Castle Geyser, started to get overwhelming. On top of the regular busy August traffic on the roads in Yellowstone were eclipse watchers like me. I read later that the day after the eclipse the park rangers closed down the road to Old Faithful because of the crowds. The last straw was getting caught in a half-mile long traffic jam because some family wanted to take a picture of an elk or something. I started to make my way back to Teton Village.
On the way back I stopped at West Thumb Geyser Basin, named for the “West Thumb” of Yellowstone Lake. The geysers there edge right up against the lake shore and seem to be deeper and broader underground than the ones near Old Faithful. Sort of a spooky place since you can hear bubbling coming up from the geysers against the silence of the still water out on the lake.
Total Solar Eclipse:
Back in Teton Village, I could sense the anticipation for the eclipse. The village was putting on an eclipse watching event in a nearby field, complete with free eclipse glasses, a food truck, and porta-potties. I arrived an hour and half before totality to reserve a spot on the grass. We wanted to watch the eclipse with a crowd of people. I was glad to see about 200 people there, many with telescopes and serious cameras set up.
At about 10:30 am, the moon’s first contact left the sun with a little nibble at the top. As the minutes went by, the nibble turned into a bite, which soon grew to turn the sun into an orange sliver reclining against the sky. The temperature dropped. The wind picked up. Annie started to shake. The sky darkened; my senses seem to sharpen. Even with the wind it was eerily quiet. A flash in my peripheral vision. The sun disappeared, noticeable only by a white glow against a sky suddenly black. Though we knew what to expect, we were still startled by its beauty. The sun and the moon, lined up in an elegant dance, hung majestically, like a glowing orb—it was almost sinister in its beauty. It looked like someone punched a hole through the sky’s canvas. We couldn’t keep our eyes off it. I could see why the ancients thought the world was about to end.
I’m now hooked on eclipses. You would be too if you saw this one. 2024 is the next one to pass over the continental U.S. Start making those plans!
Jackson Hole’s Teton Village restaurants
Calico: We would have eaten here every day if we could. A very family friendly Italian restaurant with a large outdoor patio overlooking a big lawn teeming with playing children. We ordered our food on the patio and let our son practice his walking.
Spur: A sort of corporate-looking restaurant you’d see at an airport, but with good, if pricey, fare. How could I not try the elk?
Mangy Moose: An Old-West style restaurant with all sorts of curiosities hanging on the walls and ceilings, like stuffed moose heads and elk heads and even a biplane. Very family friendly, but we still left an extra tip for the person who had to clean up the mess that our son dropped on the floor during his food tossing entertainment.
Bet the Ranch: Nice place that always had seating even with the crowds of eclipse watchers flooding into Teton Village. Food was tasty but the pizza pies on display were not for consumption; they were only for purchase at their window next door. Hide them then!