Path of Totality

View Another Adventureexpand_moreexpand_less
menu
August 20, 2017

Against prevailing wisdom, we set a course for a ridge high above Stanley to sleep then sit in observation of the celestial mating.

Don’t play in the road
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Don’t play in the road
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/35985430464
infoinfo_outline

Local news spent so many days focused on eclipse day traffic — be sure to bring extra jugs of water and gas! — that it was easy to expect the usually short trip from Boise to the center of the moon shadow to be some ten hour saga.

“Good luck with that,” our friends would say when we mentioned where we were headed.

It reminded us of winter news reports a few months ago filled with words like “serious” and “potentially catastrophic” that sent people in droves to grocery stores for water and batteries. Then nothing happened.

Stanley stop*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Stanley stop*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/35985438914
infoinfo_outline

Stanley is busy like a holiday weekend but the highway up was cruise-control clear.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
Decrepit mines for Trump
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Decrepit mines for Trump
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36649148772
infoinfo_outline

Nick and I sat a couple weeks ago and traced the center of the path of totality on a map, west to east, looking for a drivable mountain spot that would have us home with time to prepare for school starting the next day.

Something around Deadwood Reservoir? Bear Valley? A short hike around Stanley Lake? I showed Nick pictures of our previous visits to those places. They’re all nice. But when I saw the line cross Railroad Ridge, farther east, I knew the search was over.

The high road
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
The high road
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36649153722
infoinfo_outline

Depending on what you mean by “drivable road,” the track atop Railroad Ridge is Idaho’s highest at around 10,400 feet. While the road on top is easy going, a vehicle with some clearance is best for the climb up. Our Jeep scraped ground in a couple places.

Over ten-thousand
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Over ten-thousand
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36649158822
infoinfo_outline

Jessica and I visited this ridge a few years ago on a motorcycle trip¹ after hearing about it from other riders. We thought it was amazing and have been excited to share it with the kids.

  1. Trail Image, “Three National Forests: Challis”: trailimage.com/…/challis
Base camp
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Base camp
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010833763
infoinfo_outline

I initially thought we might have the vast ridge to ourselves — it’s kind of hard to get to and not marked on any signs — but after seeing another truck, then three, then twenty, we realized that was unlikely.

“I shouldn’t have posted about it on Facebook,” I joked.

Center of totality
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Center of totality
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010837843
infoinfo_outline

We were relieved to see most vehicles parking at the White Clouds hiking trailhead along Big Boulder Creek in the small valley below the ridge. Atop the ridge itself, within a few hundred yards of the very center of totality, are only about ten other, widely dispersed groups.

Party started*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Party started*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010842173
infoinfo_outline

We position the Jeep and tent to create a break from the steady wind, sit for a photo, then Nick and I head off for a photography walk-about.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
Lichen
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Lichen
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010846543
infoinfo_outline

“You always talk about that,” Brenna complains when I point out different colored lichens growing on dark rocks below our tent.

“I have a big, thick book just about lichens,” I tell Nick proudly, ignoring Brenna. My mom got it for me.

Best friends*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Best friends*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010850333
infoinfo_outline

Sensing indifference, as pets always do, a little dog runs to me from a truck and tents some ways off, its owner in pursuit. I pick it up and try to simulate the sounds of someone who likes little dogs. “Hey there little guy, where you going?”

“Thanks,” the young owner says when he reaches us.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010854573
infoinfo_outline

It is still beautiful and awesome but I’m surprised how much drier it us up here compared to when Jessica and I visited, also in August. It was a carpet of flowers then.

Lens hood kata*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Lens hood kata*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010859863
infoinfo_outline

A common photography tip is to change your perspective: get high; get low. I don’t know if it helps the pictures but it’s funny for everyone else.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
Scree walker
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Scree walker
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010865603
infoinfo_outline
Shadow boxing
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Shadow boxing
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010871383
infoinfo_outline
Creosote
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Creosote
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010877533
infoinfo_outline
Drinking buddies*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Drinking buddies*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820067825
infoinfo_outline

Nick and I get back and find the ladies huddled on the inflatable mattress in the tent. “Do you want to go see the snow?” I ask Brenna, hoping to rescue her from this debauchery.

“Okay,” she answers with mild enthusiasm.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820075595
infoinfo_outline

“How far?” Brenna asks as we’re walking. My instinct is for a snarky answer since we can both see the snow from here.

“Just down this hill.”

Lupine
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Lupine
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820083535
infoinfo_outline

“The sun is going to set soon,” I say absentmindedly, noting the long shadows falling across the valleys below.

“It’s getting ready for its big day,” Brenna replies with unexpected whimsy.

Reprise
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Reprise
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820089915
infoinfo_outline

“That’s called ‘watermelon snow’,” I explain to Brenna after she’s walked out on the frozen ledge. “It’s caused by algae.” She looks at me incredulously as if I’ve told her it’s the work of elves. “It’s true!” I insist.

Neighbors
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Neighbors
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820097745
infoinfo_outline

We leave the snow and start circling back around the other side of our ridge neighbors.

Bouquet
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Bouquet
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820102565
infoinfo_outline

“These are for Kayla,” Brenna explains of all the lupine she’s picking. “And mom too.”

“They’ll like that,” I reply. “Just leave some for other people to enjoy.”

Crepuscular
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Crepuscular
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820107455
infoinfo_outline
Prodigal
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Prodigal
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820111345
infoinfo_outline

Jessica has hot dogs on the grill (no fires allowed) when we get back to our spot. “These don’t have much flavor,” I complain of my vegetarian version as we’re all sitting with paper plates on our laps. I grab the mustard and squirt more on, looking jealously at the others. I’m not vegetarian but I do penance when I can for my ice cream habit.

Twin peaks
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Twin peaks
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820115345
infoinfo_outline

“I think I’ll go say ‘hi’ to them,” I say, looking at a group of KLR riders on a nearby knoll. I’m curious to know where they rode from and if we know any of the same people.

“Yeah, you should go socialize.” Jessica says with too much enthusiasm. “Be friendly.”

“Now that you put it that way, I don’t really want to.”

Pink crags
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Pink crags
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820118305
infoinfo_outline

The toothy horizon turns orange then pink as it swallows the sun. Nick and I dutifully record the moment as the ladies prepare evening entertainment.

“You add marshmallows to your mouth until you can’t say ‘chubby bunny’ anymore,” Kayla explains. Nick and Brenna are ready to go.

“Get Jason to play,” Jessica suggests. I answer with a scowl. Trying to cook s’mores on the grill has been silliness enough.

Side door
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Side door
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010936533
infoinfo_outline

We don’t last long after Brenna and Kayla take turns reading cheesy, scary stories. Next thing I know, I’ve been awakened to the sound of footsteps outside. I focus my senses in the darkness. I can still hear them. It seems unmistakable but I’ve thought that before of midnight camping sounds … and been mistaken. I guess even if there is someone wandering around, I don’t care enough to see what it’s about.

“I went out to go to the bathroom about three,” Nick mentions in the morning. “The sky was a-m-a-z-i-n-g.”

photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010939233
infoinfo_outline

Nick jumps out of the tent to join me as I start wandering toward the Chinese Wall, leaving the ladies to lie in their sleeping bags a little longer. The morning sun should have the broad stone face lit up nicely.

photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010941773
infoinfo_outline
Occult
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Occult
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010944173
infoinfo_outline

After coffee and a Costco pastry breakfast, the ladies join us for a walk to the other side of the ridge, the side we drove up. We’re surprised by all the smoke that rolled in overnight. We can’t even see the valley below anymore.

Footsteps*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Footsteps*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36680329221
infoinfo_outline

“Wow, bummer for them,” I remark of the many, many campers we saw down there and along the highways, now under thousands of feet of smoke. It could be a verse in an Alanis Morissette song. It makes us all the more glad to be here, high above the haze.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
Some are red
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Some are red
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010949833
infoinfo_outline
Alien forest
photo_camera

Camera Settings

Alien forest
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010953733
infoinfo_outline
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010957263
infoinfo_outline
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010961553
infoinfo_outline
Latte
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Latte
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010966253
infoinfo_outline
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423417320
infoinfo_outline
Chinese Wall
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Chinese Wall
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423423020
infoinfo_outline
Gateway
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Gateway
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423428850
infoinfo_outline
Pillow
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Pillow
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423433090
infoinfo_outline
Staring at the sun
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Staring at the sun
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423438490
infoinfo_outline

We pack up and find our special glasses as the moon begins to cross the sun, signaling totality in about an hour. This is what we came for.

photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36423442420
infoinfo_outline

I was skeptical of things I’d been hearing about the eclipse. The temperature will drop thirty degrees. Fog will form over lakes. The dead will rise. C’mon, we’ve all seen the sun obscured on cloudy days. None of that stuff happens.

It turns out I was wrong. The air grows colder and colder as the moon makes its way. We started with a warm August day but now we’re pulling on jackets and finding blankets.

Partial*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Partial*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010995473
infoinfo_outline

“It would be funny to play that ‘Total Eclipse’ song,” someone says.

“I have it but probably not here,” I answer. We’re far from any cell service. “It would only be on my phone if I downloaded it before. I don’t think I have. I guess I can check, though.” I walk to the Jeep, find it in Google Play and press the triangle button expecting to get a message about being offline. Instead it starts playing.

“Oh, sweet.” I connect it to the Jeep speakers and turn it up. We all begin laughing and singing along.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
White light
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
White light
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36010999543
infoinfo_outline

The color and quality of the light as the eclipse approaches totality is like nothing I remember. To call it surreal seems an understatement since it stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s like the fluorescent lights have been flipped on over a movie set that just moments ago we mistook for reality.

Layer of smoke
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Layer of smoke
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36011003853
infoinfo_outline

The layer of smoke looks like a dark ocean in the strange, penumbral light.

“Play it again,” Brenna pleads of the too-obvious theme as we sit watching the slow but inexorable movements above.

“Let’s save it for the total eclipse,” I answer.

Awestruck
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Awestruck
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36011007073
infoinfo_outline

I am unexpectedly awestruck as we enter totality and the moon becomes the dark maw at the center of a swirling, paranormal light that seems to radiate cold instead of heat.

I don’t want to turn away to bother with Bonnie Tyler again but Brenna insists. It kind of seems irreverent now.

Total*
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap
Total*
http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36011010963
infoinfo_outline

It seems like hyperbole to assign much significance to so simple a phenomenon, something blocking the sun. But we all agree — the experience is stunning.

  1. starPhoto by Mikolaj Wus
photo_camera

Camera Settings

mapmap http://flickr.com/photos/trailimage/36820214865
infoinfo_outline

Witnessing the total eclipse is more than worth the effort getting here. We are left feeling excited, somewhat triumphant, as we fold our chairs and regular light returns to this grand simulacrum.