Wednesday, August 23, 2017

In the path of totality - August 21, 2017 - Nebraska

Isabella and dad decided to brave the forecasted terrible traffic and drive to Nebraska to watch the total solar eclipse. This is the tale of their short adventure.
Alarm sounds at 2:45am in order to meet with Kirk and his children at 3:30.
The morning air is brisk but pleasant. Food and water were prepared the night before but we want to get an extra container of gas, just in case. The first gas station pump I try does not dispense gas. Maybe they turn it off at night? So we get gas at a second one.
We meet our friends, cram 5 people in a Hyundai and are on the road toward the Scottsbluff area by 3:40am. Surely one of the earliest departures ever.
We have plenty of food, water and entertainment, a full tank of gas as well as three full 5-gallons gas containers in the trunk. Unfortunately, one of them has a tiny little leak next to the cap and the smell comes into the car. So we spend the day opening and closing the windows for fume control.
As we drive up E470, there is a steady stream of red car lights ahead of us and we wonder how bad traffic will be. Yet, our fears never materialize. We reach Fort Morgan, then head up country roads to Nebraska. The young people in the car sing: "Take me home country roads, to the place I belong...."
The stream of car continues but it's the fog in northern Colorado, not the traffic, that slows us down to 40mph for a while. We cross I-80 and stop in Kimball, NE for a break. About twenty people are in line for one bathroom at the gas station in town, so we decide to keep going and stop by the roadside on a small country road instead.
The Nebraska radio station we tune is talks with excitement about "Nebraska being in the path of totality" and says that the stadium in Scottsbluff is getting filled with eclipse watchers. It's 7am, so we decide to head for the country instead. We turn onto CO RD 88 and then north to stay out of town. In the meanwhile the radio features the daily value for corn, hay, wheat, alfa-alfa and other vegetables on the farmers' stock market (corn $22.50 up 2...) along with the list of people that will be selling cattle this morning at the market. Quantity, price and breed are all mentioned. I wonder if anybody will buy cattle today....
4 1/2 hours after our departure we drive over a large rail road crossing and enter into Morrill, NE (population 912 according to the 2010 census). It is small, quiet and rundown. The local gas station does not have a line for the bathroom. Plus they still have plenty of eclipse glasses for sale along with eclipse T-shirts. It seems like the right place to stop.   Besides, there is a well maintained, green park in the center of town. So we set up camp for our observation point.
The sky is blue, not a cloud in sight.
Coal trains stream by next to main street with a loud whistle about every 20 minutes; full trains come from Wyoming to the west and empty trains come from the east. There is a pattern.
The town seems to be in existence because of a "bean plant", but apart from that there is not much life here.
The police station has two cars that drive loops around the few streets and the green park.
We play some frisbee and tennis, do some homework, Isabella naps on her portable hammock while people start trickling in. By the time the eclipse starts at 10:30am there are probably 60 to 80 people mostly from Colorado and some from Wyoming, where we hear the traffic is terrible.
Ha, ha, good choice not go there.
The viewers include a group of 4 Asian people (Chinese?) each wearing the equivalent of a homemade, full body suit including gloves, hoodies and face masks. Then they lay on the ground on their blankets to watch the natural show.
An older man from Fort Collins sets up a telescope with a 90 degree lens that projects the sun onto the bottom of a cardboard box. Very simple but ingenious. A line of curious people quickly lines up to see the setup. We can see the sun spots that way. He says he observes them regularly and they usually last from a few weeks to a few months.
A woman gets out from a Colorado SUV wearing a low cut shirt which says something like: "Stop staring here, look at the sun instead". I did NOT stare, so I am not sure of the exact wording, but we get the idea. :)
I did not want to drive all the way to Nebraska for a two minutes total eclipse. I thought: "how different can 93% in Denver really make?" Well, it did make a big difference. Only when the sun is almost fully covered does the lighting really changes and super interesting effects take place. Isabella and her friend see "shadow snakes", a 360 degrees sunset happens within literally a few seconds. The temperature drops, the corona of the sun becomes visible and people start applauding...
I am so glad I came. Thank you Isabella for insisting. My only wish is that the full eclipse would last longer, in order to be able to observe all the effects more closely. We may have to go chase another one somewhere. By the way, did you know that other known planets do not experience such perfect full eclipses as we do on earth? The dimensions and relative distances of sun, moon and earth allow for that to happen. God surely knows what he is doing (for more info on this see:

When light returns we say goodbye to Morrill and head back south. Fearing traffic again, we decide to go through gravel roads all the way to I-80. The result is a lot of dust but not one car for about 54 miles.
Once we reach good pavement again is time for saying the rosary and then there is still one more exciting event. The traffic slows down right at the border between Nebraska and Colorado. I look at Google maps which predicts that the drive home will take another 10+ hours. I freeze and everybody in the car panics. But the traffic eases again and I look at the phone one more time. Google maps direction for set for bike instead of car.  We all breath a sight of relief. It will take us 5 hours to get back. In total 9 1/2 hours in the car for a two minutes nature show.
It was all worth it. Thanks Isabella for convincing me to go. Thanks Kirk for driving and thanks God for such an amazing design, once again.
We all learned a lot today.

Waiting for the exciting time


Sun spots

This projections were made with a telescope, a deflector and a cardboard box

total eclipse moment - camera - no filter - no magnification

total eclipse moment - no camera filter - full zoom

picture above cropped

A cool sign for a very tiny village in Nebraska - Thank you Morrill, NE

Morrill's sights

More Morrill's sights