Eclipse Trip

Who in their right mind would drive 2,667 miles over nine days to see a spectacle that at best would last for less than 4½ minutes?

I grew up being something of a space junkie. My favorite adventures on Walt Disney’s TV series were those dealing with space travel, I’ve watched 2001 a Space Odyssey more than a half-dozen times and I can still spout out the names of the original seven Mercury astronauts.

The first time I saw a photo of a total solar eclipse, I knew I had to see one in person. Unfortunately, they never seemed to happen anywhere close enough to visit. Over the years, I’ve seen plenty of partial eclipses, and in 2012, I caught an annular, ring-of-fire eclipse over Utah canyon country.

I would have had an opportunity to see a full eclipse across Wyoming in 2017, but we were up in the Great White North camping across Canada. When I heard that there would be a total eclipse crossing Texas and beyond in 2024, I began making plans.

Texans, being savvy entrepreneurs, made sure that lodging costs in the path of totality were as lofty as the moon itself. One Super 8 motel had rooms going for more than $900 a night. We ended up saving $800+ a night by booking a Days Inn motel in San Angelo, Texas, which lies 150+ miles from the path of totality.

Day one of our eclipse trip involved motoring south from western Colorado to Farmington, New Mexico. Last time we were in Farmington, Dianne and I were on a press trip (I love traveling on O.P.M.). One of the things we got to do was watch a pair of local Indian ladies make frybread for Navajo Tacos.

On this trip, we ate far inferior fare at a local Mexican chain restaurant.

From Farmington, we drove to Albuquerque by way of Bernalillo where we stopped for brews at our favorite New Mexican brew pub. It’s a favorite because it’s located next to a KOA campground we used to frequently visit.

From there, it was down to Albuquerque where we found that the motel we had reserved was under new ownership. Worst lodging on the trip.

The best thing about Albuquerque is that it’s home to Sadie’s of New Mexico, which some think offers the best Mexican food in America. Where else does one get fried potatoes with a green chili burrito? Spicy good!

Their margaritas are pretty good, too!

Day Three took us South from Albuquerque to Alamogordo. I planned a backroad route that would take us past the three units of Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument. The ruins date back to the 1600s when Spanish priests built towering missions in Native American pueblo communities.

Back in the ’60s when I was living in Tucson with my starter wife, we often drove to Alamogordo to visit White Sands National Monument (now a national park). Back then, visitors were few and I envisioned the wife and I disappearing behind a few dunes and lying naked atop the gypsum sands.

Can’t do that now. Instead of preserving unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the park for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations, White Sands has become the national playpen for the sandbox crowd.

My latest wife and I did find a place where we could get out and wander the dunes (fully clothed) away from the hoards, so our visit was not a total waste.

From Alamogordo, we headed east toward Texas. Our route took us through eastern New Mexico where oil wells poked up like zits on an acne-prone teenager’s face. The only nice thing was we had a 30-40 mph tailwind scooting us along, with the Subaru’s gas mileage gauge reading 35+ mph, so we didn’t have to use as much of the locally pumped product.

I’ve heard that some Colorado residents do not like Texans, but we really enjoyed our stay in San Angelo, in spite of the motel’s state-shaped waffles. Arriving early, we had a full day to explore the city’s River Walk trail…

…ogle the town’s sidewalk artworks…

…and admire blossoms at the city’s International Waterlily Collection…

…and the nearby Municipal Rose Garden.

As it turned out, it was a good thing we were miles away from the path of totality. A front had moved into West Texas and skies above most of the area were scheduled to be totally overcast. I scanned AccuWeather forecasts for cities along the path of totality, hoping to find a town with less cloud cover.

The best option appeared to be Gatesville, a city of 16,000 located about 40 miles southwest of Waco. It lay dead center on the path of totality, and the forecast said it would be only “partly cloudy.”

Arriving in town, we were directed to several possible sites for watching the eclipse. We chose the local ball fields option where we would have parking, restrooms, food trucks and, of course, a neighbor playing Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon on a nearby car stereo. It cost $20 to park, but the money was going to the local library, which promised it wouldn’t be used to buy banned books.

Through the morning hours before the eclipse, the clouds behaved and stayed away from Old Sol. But, as Murphy’s Law dictates, the clouds thickened as the last sliver of sun was being eaten away by the moon.

Fortunately, things were changing quickly, and during the four minutes of totality we enjoyed full-on views of the darkened sun. The thin, misty clouds actually seemed to enhance the solar corona.

All too soon, our four minutes of totality was over and a crescent sun began to reappear.

The show was over. We packed up our toys and drove back to San Angelo. There, we celebrated our Texas eclipse trip with dinner at the most Texan place around – the Texas Roadhouse (a restaurant chain started in Indiana by a former Colorado resident). The steaks and ribs were great and best of all, we got a 10% discount, courtesy of a coupon from the motel.

The next morning, we set off for home with an overnight stop along the way at Dalhart, a small city in the corner of the Texas Panhandle. The land out here, in the words of James McMurtry, is “flatter than a tabletop,” and we made good time in spite of the wind and rain. Even paved farm roads carried a 75 mph speed limit.

But as anyone crossing Kansas can tell you, flat is boring. I was so glad when we finally entered Colorado and were treated to views of a mountainous wall of white.

After nine days and 2,667 miles on the highway, it was good to be back home again. Rather than schussing straight down the well-paved highways in Texas, we now get to do the four-wheel slalom, dodging potholes and pavement cracks on our beautiful Colorado highways.

Grand Canyon – Bryce

Every year, I get an email invitation from Xanterra to book off-season lodging at one of their national park lodges at a discounted rate. In years past, we’ve headed off to Zion for our national park winter getaways. This year, we chose the Grand Canyon, where we would celebrate the anniversary of my 40th birthday.

The route down took us south along what was formerly the Grand River to Moab. The cliffs were dusted with snow and ice floated in the stream. It’s so much nicer driving the Subaru instead of the truck pulling the trailer.

Having booked months in advance and not knowing what the weather might bring, we chose to break up our trip south with an overnight’s stay in Bluff, Utah. Arriving early, we drove to the nearby Sand Island BLM campground to photograph an extensive array of Indian petroglyphs.

From Bluff, we had a choice of routes to the Canyon. We chose the scenic, Monument Valley alternative. The nice thing about winter travel here is that there was very little traffic.

After a bathroom break and a lunch of Navajo tacos at the Cameron Trading Post, we headed into the Canyon, with a long stop at the Desert View Watchtower.

A few stops later, we arrived at Grand Canyon Village and followed the signs to the Bright Angel Lodge where our cabin for three nights was located. The place was small but cozy with the rim a short stroll away.

It snowed that night, leaving the canyon walls coated with winter white. We wandered around shooting photos. That night, we dined in the El Tovar.

The Bright Angel Trail to the bottom was closed a ½ mile below the rim, so Dianne and I couldn’t do our usual 50-mile, Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim day hike. Instead, we settled for a stroll down the snow-packed Rim Trail along the canyon rim.

While the trail was covered, most of the snow had melted from the canyon cliffs.

Arizona’s Big Ditch has always been a special place to us. Between us, Dianne and I have hiked all of the park’s maintained trails, most of its unmaintained ones, and we’ve floated its length on two occasions, once in dories. It’s always good to be back.

Since we were going to be in the neighborhood anyway, we had also booked a three-night stay Ruby’s Inn, a Best Western resort just outside Bryce Canyon National Park. We had a pair of options for routes there from the Grand Canyon. We chose the Vermilion Cliff route, which crosses Marble Canyon on the Navajo Bridge.

There’s a visitor center/gift shop there along with some restrooms. Fortunately, the flush toilets come with complete instructions.

We followed the towering Vermilion Cliffs for 40+ miles to Jacob Lake, then turned north toward Utah. I remember how inspired I was the first time I saw this magnificent escarpment when I was just a kid. I’m still inspired.

Arriving at Bryce, we checked into our room. The next day, we headed into the park for some rim-top views of snow on the hoodoos.

One of the rangers suggested a hike we might like. The next morning, we parked at the trailhead, strapped traction spikes to our shoes and headed down the snow-packed, Queen’s Garden Trail.

The going was slow, not because of trail conditions but because of the beauty that surrounded us. I shot well over 300 photos and Dianne came close to that number.

In April/May, we are scheduled to go on a short, Colorado Mountain Club trailer-camping outing to Capitol Reef National Park. After Cap Reef, we had reservations to camp in a Utah State Park near the San Rafael Swell.

That state park reservation got cancelled when we got home. Instead, we booked an RV site near Bryce and plan to spend two weeks exploring Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument after Cap Reef.