2017 Great American Total Solar Eclipse: Eclipse Hunting in Wyoming

Last Sunday morning, at the urging of co-workers and bosses, around 4:30 am we left Denver, CO (and like millions of other Americans) with a car packed with camping gear and some eclipse glasses and headed towards the path of totality for the Great American Solar Eclipse on August 21, 2017! Our caravan of friends didn’t have any reservations for a campground or hotel, but we figured we’d be able to find some place to camp in Wyoming.

Driving up 80 to Wyoming

There was a chance we’d head toward Casper, the closest major town in Wyoming near the center line in the path of totality, but decided to go further west to hopefully avoid some crowds. We had found a possible lead on getting camping permits from the Wind River Reservation and Tribal Game and Fish Department which were still available, but at $100 PER PERSON, it was going to be a pretty steep price to pay.

We agreed to discuss our game plan over lunch in Lander. I was super-excited to be back in Lander, WY since just over a year ago I came to the town to attend my NOLS course in the Wind River range. We ended up eating at the Gannett Grill – the very same restaurant my group went to directly after we had finished our course.

Gannett Grill wall
Gannett Grill NOLS wall

It’s a charming little casual bar and restaurant (with a very cute, tree-covered outdoor garden) that serves up some pretty mean burgers, pizzas, and other yummies.

Gannett Grill Hungry Hippie sandwich

My husband and I both got the Hungry Hippie sandwich, a nice light option (perhaps to counteract those yummy onion rings and waffle fries).  The sandwich was delivered on a grilled pita filled with sliced avocado, swiss cheese, lettuce, grilled onions, and tomatoes with a special sauce drizzled on.

Visiting NOLS

After lunch, walked a couple blocks over to say hello again to the historic Noble Hotel, where so many NOLS students like myself have spent a night or two on the dormitory style bunk beds before/after their course.

As luck would have it, on the way back we stopped by a little booth that was set up by the National Forest Foundation outside Wild Iris Mountain Sports. It was there that a ranger gave us an area eclipse map and told us that there was likely plenty of room for us to do dispersed camping in the Union Pass area of the Shoshone National Forest which was only a mile or two from the center line! Best part, of course, was that camping in the National Forest is 100% free. Magical things happen in Lander!

With that, we took off towards to Dubois, WY and the Shoshone National Forest.

Winding road in WY
Wyoming badlands

Driving through any part of Wyoming is always so dreamy. So many beautiful natural features and wide open spaces. What a lovely state!

We stopped in at the rangers station in Dubois to get the most up-to-date info on where to camp.  They were so nice at the rangers station – giving us multiple maps of the area and all the details of the important times of the eclipse for the Shoshone National Forest. They also had extra eclipse glasses available and some awesome National Forest stickers AND a special eclipse bandana – all free! We checked the cloud cover readings they had for that day and it was predicted only 5% chance of cloud cover for the time of the eclipse. YES!

After driving up winding dirt roads, we finally arrived at the Union Pass area of the national forest. We saw many RVs and car campers set up along the roads, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that it was not at all cramped, plenty of room for everyone. We scouted around and found a great spot and started setting up our tents and building a fire ring so we could build a campfire.

Campfire in the Shoshone National Forest

That night we sat around the fire, gazing up at the beautiful stars and enthusiastically chatting about how awesome the National Forest is and how lucky we were to find a wonderful spot to view the eclipse without spending a dime.

Camping in Union Pass, Shoshone National Forest

Next morning we got up around 7:30, ate breakfast, broke down camp, and dispersed the fire ring (Leave No Trace, folks!). The day was looking perfect – not one cloud in the sky. Rangers drove by on ATVs and made sure we had eclipse glasses and also handed out some more cool stickers!

We headed over to the open pass area and claimed our spots just after the start of the partial eclipse (10:18 am).

Looking at the partial eclipse
Holding our special eclipse bandana

We watched as the moon slowly but surely started to cover the sun. It increasingly started getting darker and darker – sort of like a sunset, except there was no orangey glow.

Crescent shadows

Someone called us over to take a look at some crescent-shaped shadows.

About 10 minutes before the total eclipse it was a dark daylight, like viewing the world through a polarized camera lens! It also got pretty cold, so bundled up with multiple layers and even a Nano Puff.

One of the things people said to watch out for was how animals reacted to the eclipse. In our case, we had one lone cow rush across the field as the moon inched towards totally covering the sun. Maybe she was on her way home, thinking it was nighttime.

partial eclipse
total eclipse

The start of the total eclipse happened at 11:37 and ended at 11:39, lasting a total of 2:19 minutes. I will never forget looking as the sun went from showing the tiniest bit of light, to it going completely black. All of a sudden I couldn’t see any light through the glasses. Someone shouted, “Take your glasses off!”

eclipse selfie

When I looked up at the sun, the corona was incredibly beautiful – with a celestial glow to it. A bit like moonlight, but far brighter and whiter. I was surprised to see that the sky was not completely black – it was actually a gray-blue color.

Because we were high up in a wide open area, we could actually see 30 miles out in the distance and could see areas outside of the path of totality where the sun was still shining. The full horizon in either direction had a sunset glow. Everyone around us was freaking out. (BTW – all my photos look a lot brighter than it was, the cellphone was overcompensating for the darkness.)

At 11:39am, the sun started peeking out again – and with that, the total eclipse was over and the eclipse glasses needed to come back on. Wow.

It was indescribably beautiful and well worth the journey to get to see it. I am so glad we did it. The 2 minutes and 19 seconds just flew by, I wished the totality had been longer — there was so much to take in.

Group photo outside Shoshone National Forest Ranger Station

We quickly piled into our cars and headed out. We stopped by the ranger station to get a group photo with our super cool eclipse bandanas.

As you probably know, the traffic was major coming back – at certain points, we could see the other roads converging and you could make out these tiny little shapes which were cars, single file, creeping at a snail’s pace. What is normally an 8-hour drive took us 12 hours to get back into Denver, but it was definitely 100% worth it to see such a special natural phenomenon.

A big THANK YOU to the National Forest Service for being absolutely amazing through this eclipse experience. Thanks for keeping everyone well-informed and safe!

See you on April 8, 2024 somewhere between Texas and Maine? 😉

Shot of WY scenery from the car

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