Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Dark Side of the Moon

For the first time in almost one hundred years, on August 21st the moon moved between the earth and the sun over the continental US, giving some states from West to East the rare opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse. After a rainy (but still fascinating) total eclipse we witnessed in Germany in 1999 and a beautiful annular eclipse in Northern California in May 2012 we were excited to have another chance to see this spectacular natural event.

Since we are not living in the path of totality we had to figure out where to go. Months in advance we planned and finally booked a hotel in Boise for the night before because we had decided to either go North to Smith Ferry (which we had checked out on our way back from Yellowstone a few weeks before) or Northwest to Eastern Oregon. Both were excellent destinations for the eclipse.

In the weeks and days before, the eclipse craziness had the media in its grip and there were already horror stories about traffic chaos as well as shortage of fuel and food. We were well prepared with an ice chest full of food, an extra gas tank and, most of all, good mood with a spirit of adventure. Kaefer invited B., her friend and roommate, to come along and so we left on Saturday around noon.

We were prepared for everything. What we didn't expect was this:

Where was all the traffic? Definitely not on our route.

The girls had brought a lot of music for the trip which, of course, we called eclipse music. We listened to "Here comes the sun", "Daylight", "Highway to hell" (which it thankfully wasn't) and, of course, the ultimate eclipse song "Dark side of the moon". As you can tell, we were more than ready for the eclipse.

And where were the long lines at the gas stations? This was one of the longest lines we saw - so no, there were no real lines.

We stayed the night in Winnemucca in Nevada where almost every hotel was booked out. The little town was packed with eclipse chasers on their way, and everybody was in a good mood. On our way up to Boise the following day we met many more eclipse chasers and everybody was cheerful, happy to be on their way to see this rare greeting of the universe.

We arrived early in the afternoon and decided to check out the places right beyond the state line to Oregon. There were two options in the path of totality that interested us. One was Lime, an old abandoned cement plant and ghost town. When we arrived there, it already looked like this:

No facilities, no nothing. No thank you. We do like our adventure, but this wasn't the right kind of adventure for us.

So we settled for this:

This is Farewell Bend State Recreation Area right at the Snake River, just an hour and 20 minutes from Boise (without traffic). We drove back to Boise, had dinner and went last-minute food shopping at Trader Joe's whose staff definitely was totally in the eclipse spirit.

The next morning we got up really early, left without a breakfast and went to Farewell Bend. Thankfully there was a time change in between, we gained an hour and thus it was only 4:50 am when we arrived at the state park (yes, there was no traffic!). Volunteers were already busy, they even offered us eclipse glasses for free (which we declined since we had our own) and directed us to a parking lot where we could leave the car. Everything was masterfully organized with a lot of cheer. There were lots of very clean and always well re-stocked bathrooms, picnic tables and of course the beautiful Snake River.

We had breakfast, and then the long waiting started (totality would start at 10:26 and last for two minutes and seven seconds). The girls goofed around and played cards, I knitted and the Geek set up the equipment.

The park filled with people, but it never was over crowded. Some people brought very heavy equipment. The atmosphere was so cheerful and expectant, we talked to a lot of people and it was just a great feeling of belonging together.

Shortly after nine the spectacle started with the moon biting into the sun and pushing further and further in front of the sun.

The shadows started to change and you could see those crescents - this is something you can also see during a partial eclipse and is a very fascinating side effect.

The light started to change as well, there was a slight breeze and the temperature dropped. I tried to capture the weird light in this photo, but it is way too difficult. It is not like dusk, but a very eerie quality of light. You could feel how the excitement was rising minute to minute now.

Finally there was only a sliver of the sun left.

And then - boom!

It became dark from one moment to the next, and there was this wonderful glow around the sun. It was amazing, fascinating - I lack the words to describe this special moment, these short two minutes that are forever in my memory.

The photos don't do it justice.

No, it wasn't completely dark. It was like a very beautiful very dark blue, and all around the horizon glowed in light like shortly before the sunrise (or shortly after the sunset). We could see some stars as well. It was other-worldly.

And then the sun popped out again.

Time to put on those eclipse glasses again!

This is me after the eclipse - happy, grateful to have witnessed this beautiful play of the universe, still full of awe. Covered in crescents.

You might wonder whether we are completely crazy to be on the road for almost four days to watch just two minutes and seven seconds of a solar eclipse. We probably are (and so were many others). 

Was it worth it?

You bet.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Scene & Story - July 2017

One of the most unforgettable experiences in Yellowstone is seeing wolves. Most people don't even see them because you need to get up early to have a chance of a wolf encounter.

The Lamar Valley is home to one or two wolf packs, and so we headed out one morning before sunrise. We first saw a black bear right at the side of the road who didn't bother to pay any attention to these humans in their funny little boxes on wheels. After the bear had trundled away we continued our journey into the valley - and when we reached the top of a hill we had this stunning view over the valley.

I already knew when I took photos of this moment before the sun rose over the mountains that one of them would be a favorite of the month. This image reflects the atmosphere of that morning in Lamar Valley perfectly - the beginning of a new day, cool air before the heat, the meadows with the Lamar River meandering through them and those tall trees scattered all around. It holds the anticipation of seeing wildlife - at this moment I didn't know that only minutes later I would see five wolves feeding on a bison carcass and, after their meal, standing together and howling, an eerily spooky and beautiful sound at the same time. I would stand and stare through the scopes and listen to those "wolf watchers" talk to each other, deeply envying them for the time and leisure they had to follow these amazing animals day after day and get familiar with their behavior. My heart would beat for joy that I could see the wolves.

But all of this I didn't know when I took this photo, but when I look at it now it all comes back. I have always loved the gentle Lamar Valley with its abundance of wildlife and its tranquility. I know how quickly it can change from calmness to excitement, from peaceful enjoyment to breath taking joy.

I'm joining Sarah and León for Scene and Story.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Firework of Orange and Turquoise

Yellowstone is full of hot springs, bubbling mud pots and hissing geysers. One of the most famous thermal features that seems to be on every calendar, collage postcard and in every article about this beautiful national park is the Grand Prismatic Spring. Since we had never seen it before (I don't really know why) we visited it this time.

When you get there it doesn't really look like much, especially when the sun is hiding behind the clouds.

But then you get closer, and the sun leaves her hiding spot behind the clouds, and suddenly the entire scene changes!

The colors are just spectacular! You do need the sun out to see this place in all its glory. It's rather drab in overcast or even rainy weather.

I also loved the reflections of the clouds.

But it was the intense vivid color that completely fascinated me.

When you look toward the wooden hill in the picture above you can see people standing up on a small hill in the right half of the photo. Of course we had to find out how to get there.

It was only a 20 to 30 minutes walk up there and it was fully worth it, every single step. Just see for yourself.

Here you can also see the crowds - it was incredible. However, it didn't dampen our excitement about this amazing view.

If only I could bottle those colors and take them home!

It wasn't only the color, but the texture as well.

The Grand Prismatic Spring - located in the Midway Geyser Basin - is the largest hot spring in the United States and the third largest in the world. Of course it got its name for its striking colors. Its colors match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism: red, orange, yellow, green, and blue. The water is mineral rich and the colors are a result of microbial mats around the edges of the water. The spring is about 370 feet in diameter (bigger than a football field) and 160 feet deep.