The Eclipse Bullseye
We left Victor, Idaho the morning of July 7, crossed the pass back into Wyoming, retraced our steps through Jackson, and got to see the Tetons in morning light (nice!). When we turned onto US 26, we where driving “new road” for us. This is something I like to keep mental track of. Whenever we take a road trip, we like to go to new (to us) places and take roads we have not traveled. This is often not possible, but when it is, we do it. For the rest of today, we drove new road. Now I know that Wyoming is sparsely populated and we got to see that first hand. For 250 miles the population of all the towns we drove through may have added up to 25,000. It was a wonderful landscape. It gradually shifted from the greener Teton area to the browner central Wyoming area, which reminded us of canyon country in southern Utah.
Wherever we stopped, the same three groups of people seemed to know about the eclipse: astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts, governmental agencies and the hospitality industry, in particular those who schedule reservations in motels. In Riverton, for example, there had been a meeting of interested agencies in anticipation of the eclipse. They felt prepared until I informed them that they may have more people on eclipse day than they expect. I spoke with a front desk person at the Holiday Inn there and she knew about the eclipse but could not check reservations for eclipse day, since the system only goes out one year before a given date. She did tell me that they have no rooms available for eclipse weekend. I asked how could that be and she said that the sales department can create ‘events,’ in which large blocks of rooms can be reserved years in advance. This I was not aware of or if I had been at one time, had forgotten. So an individual who wants to reserve a room way in advance, can’t do it, but a tour company can reserve the entire motel years in advance. Good to know.
We arrived in Casper and found our site at the Fort Caspar RV Park after 5 PM. We scouted the area, found the Chamber of Commerce and discovered a planetarium, both closed for the day. We found an open book store, Wind City Books, and they decided to buy several copies of my book to sell. I also learned from the RV park manager that Casper has been told that it and its environs is the best location in the country for viewing the eclipse, meaning it has the highest likelihood of clear skies at the time of the eclipse. The reason for this label is that the umbrella organization for most all the astronomy clubs in the USA , the Astronomical League, has scheduled its annual meeting, known as AstroCon, for 2017, during eclipse week and has booked 2 of the major hotels and many venues for events that week. Casper was chosen because of its high probability of clear skies. Now this may be true, but on eclipse day, you don’t get climate; you get weather.
FYI, one of the considerations when choosing a viewing site, is having a clear view of the horizon. Around Casper there are many accessible mountains that are a thousand feet or more higher than the surrounding plains. These would make great locations for viewing the oncoming shadow of the moon as totality begins.
On Friday morning, July 8, we headed into town to visit the planetarium. It is owned by the school district and is open year round, giving shows and camps in the summertime. We met the director, Michele Wistisen. We had a great time commiserating about the eclipse. She told me that her job for the next year is to educate the local people about the eclipse, get them excited about it, and make sure they know how to view it safely and with understanding. On that we agree. She feels she has a supporting role with the Astronomical League and will work with them in the days prior to eclipse day. However, the planetarium will be closed ON eclipse day, so that the employees can go view the eclipse wherever they wish. The duration of totality in Casper is 2 minutes and 26 seconds. She also mentioned that motel rooms are fully booked. In fact, she has heard of rooms already being scalped for $750 per night!
The Visitor Center/Chamber of Commerce directed me to the Casper Area Convention and Visitor Bureau. There we met Anna Wilcox, recently hired as the Executive Director of Eclipse Casper or the Wyoming Eclipse Festival. This is the first person I have met hired to deal with eclipse matters exclusively. We had a great talk and I came away with the sense that the Casper community, if not now, will be well versed in solar eclipse matters in due time. I wish them well in their efforts.
The population of Casper area is about 80,000. They are anticipating that to double for the eclipse to about 150,000 to 160,000. Since you can’t sell tickets to the eclipse, nobody knows the exact number and maybe never will, but it is the best guess they currently have.
And if you ever decide to visit Casper, you should visit Taubert’s for the finest in western wear, including boots. Here is just a sample of their offerings. They also carry used lassos for $9.50!