Getting there and back was something of an adventure in its own right. Our day trip coincided with the day trip of seemingly everyone else living along the East Slope of the Rockies. The transportation near-gridlock that resulted demanded special routing from us, and the story of our odyssey follows.
Regina and I arose at about 4:15 (AM) on the morning of the eclipse. We ate a hasty breakfast and departed home just after 5:00, having loaded nearly all of our gear in our automobile the day before. Although the day's newspapers were already in our mailbox, we saw little else going on as we traveled down the mountain and through Boulder.
Traffic picked up some as we drove east along CO 52, and it was beginning to look like a normal day by the time that we reached I-25 to continue our journey north toward the site near Spoon Butte in Wyoming that I had previously chosen. The distance amounts to somewhat more than 200 miles, and on a normal day, we would expect to arrive at the site after three, or maybe 3-1/2 hours. The traffic on I-25 didn't seem too onerously dense for the first few miles along the interstate. It moved at a reasonable pace.
Then, as we approached one of the Loveland exits about 20 miles further along, matters grew dramatically worse. We stopped completely, surrounded by two lanes of wall-to-wall automobiles and trucks. Then we moved a short distance at 20 mph. Then we stopped. Then we moved a mile or so at 40 mph. Then we slowed to 25 mph for a piece. And this became a familiar pattern. Between interchanges we sometimes moved at a goodly clip for a mile or a few. Then, as we neared an interchange, the pace would slow and sometimes stop altogether. Even once we were past the final interchanges around Fort Collins and the flow of south-bound traffic dwindled to the usual trickle, our north-bound lanes remained full and full of start-stop driving.
Getting eventually near Cheyenne, the traffic was no better, and I surmised that it had been this way all morning long, that the start/stop experience many miles south of Cheyenne was likely caused by events at the Cheyenne interchanges. Whatever the cause, I dreaded the prospect of inching our way past Cheyenne on the four-lane I-25 to get onto the merely two-lane US 85 that we planned to take as far a Torrington. At the present rate, we'd likely fall short of our destination before the eclipse ended, and the band of totality where we hoped to be was essential to achieving our intent.
So just south of Cheyenne we determined to go another way. Reading our maps, it appeared that we travel a sequence of small roads that led east toward Nebraska and then encounter roads that would lead us north, bypassing Cheyenne, avoiding US 85 and eventually reaching Torrington. So we exited the interstate at the first interchange in Wyoming and started out following a paved state highway headed east. It soon ran out of pavement and we found ourselves traveling a motley class of unpaved roads. To our surprise we also found that other ... apparently many other ... people were casting their lot with the back roads less traveled, too. So we would zoom along with one clade for awhile, then stop to consult our maps, go alone for some distance, fold into another group ... and so on.
Sometimes we were zooming down the gravel roads eating the dust of the cars ahead of us and feeding our dust to those behind. Sometimes we were roaring down other unpaved roads entirely alone when our judgement as to best the route apparently differed from that of the others. Sometimes encountering a paved road but not knowing what road it was, because even the paved state highways have a paucity of signs that enable their identifcation. At all times avoiding going west, for only US 85, mired in massive traffic congestion lay in that direction.
My Wyoming topographic atlas contains all the roads that we traversed, but unfortunately it is old. Unfortunate, because the roads at issue were evidently renumbered sometime after the atlas was published. I say evidently, because the numbers appearing on the roadsigns we encountered at intersections never corresponded with any numbers anywhere in the atlas. Doubt and confusion ensued. Which way to turn? What to do? Where are we? ... Head north ... always north ... that's where the band of totality will occur, and we are not yet in it. Time passed as we zoomed at 45 - 60 mph along wide graveled roads and along dusty, single track lanes we headed north. Zigzagging to and fro when north was not an option, we must have traveled enough miles to more than reach our destination. But eventually we did.
We reached Torrington about 40 minutes prior to totality. There vast groups of people were clustered in every park and every parking or vacant lot, standing or sitting in lawn chairs staring at the partially eclipses sun through their eclipse glasses. The local entreprenurial types were present, too, hawking drinking water, food and other less essential wares. The streets were lined to overfilling with autos bearing mostly Colorado license plates. It seemed plausibly true, as was earlier conjectured, that the population of Wyoming had actually been temporarily doubled from its mere half-million by an influx of another half-million eclipse chasers.
Finding WSH 159 we drove north - always north! - toward my chosen observation site. As we did, we found that both sides of the highway were being used by many more people. They had pulled off the road onto the flat spots there and had erected tents, tarps and canopies to shield them from the waning sunlight. All seemed to have some safe means to view the eclipse: some glasses, some binoculars, some telescopes. They tended to cluster, for some unknown primal urge, on the tops of the small hills that the road passed over. Looking for side roads to get away from the highway, we found few and none suitable. Then, about 20 minutes before totality, we encountered one road leading straight east. We turned and then drove past several other parties who had chosen to leave the highway and who were parked alongside the road. We reached a cattle guard with a fence bearing "No Tresspassing" signs, but the county road appeared to run on through the private property. We could see no one beyond this point. Only one other party had breached the cattle guard to pull over for eclipse viewing in the wide, flat area near the portal. We joined them there. Rather than the usual and expected 3 to 3-1/2 hours to reach this spot, it had taken us more than 6-1/2 hours. We had not reached my chosen site at Spoon Butte, but later study showed that we were only short of it by one side road and about six miles as the crow files.
It was very fortunate that I had practiced the day before to set up my equipment, as I had little time available before totality began. The parts were all neatly laid out in the rear of our auto inside the hatchback, and I had brought a toolbox with all the necessary screws, nuts, bolts, wrenches and screwdriver. My rehersal paid off, and I had the system operational in mere minutes. After a few exposures of the last of the pre-partial eclipse, after a drink of much-needed water, and after removing the solar filter from in front of the lens, I waited a short time for totality to begin. It soon did, and a chorus of oohs, aaahs, and other exclamations could be heard rising spontaneously from our neighbors back along the road as I furiously made exposure after exposure, bracketing them widely in my attempt to capture the corona both close to and far from the sun. (My D600 can bracket exposures as a programmable and thenceforth automatic facility, but I preferred to do it manually, because I can better acommodate vibrations or any other unexpected occurrences. Fortunately none arose during totality.
And then, sooner than wished, it ended. A bit of a letdown. Still rather dark but brightening quickly. I re-installed the solar filter so as to be able to make more exposures through the remaining partial phases and made a few of those. Then we ate our lunch.
We returned home during the afternoon and early evening, arriving home some 17 hours after our departure. Although the return trip took longer than the 6-1/2 out-bound leg, we drove at a leisurely pace over a much longer route to avoid all the congestion that we assumed would take place as all the other day-trippers returned by the same route that they had taken in the morning. But our return was an adventure in itself.
Our route took us east along the same road as the observing site into Nebraska then south. We intersected US 26 at Henry and, finding no roads leading south, followed US 26 to Scottsbluff. There we followed the roadsigns to state highway 71 which is a four-lane highway that leads south to Kimball. That highway had a lot of Colorado traffic on it, but it moved along quickly. In both Scottsbluff and in Kimball the Nebraska highway department has built a puzzlingly ineffective "bypass" that runs around these large towns and then is stopped in its tracks in favor of the unmarked business route which runs through the town. Ordinarily, this may work well, but with great volumes of traffic flowing on both routes, chaos ensues where they meet on the way out of town
Kimball is located on I-80 which is probably the most-traveled interstate highway for cross country travel in this part of the US. And the Kimball "bypass" crosses Kimball on the north and then east sides, dumps bypassers onto I-80 at the east edge of town and directs them next to an exit at the south edge of town where they are forced to merge with the folks who know enough to go through town not around on the bypass. The traffic in the "slow" lane between the two exits on I-80 wrapped back around the east side of Kimball.
We avoided that traffic jam by briefly trying the gravel roads south of Kimball and then learning from our maps that they lead nowhere useful to us. So we instead drove east on I-80 in hopes of taking a road that goes south from Dix. That turned out to be an unfortunate plan, because there is a 20 mile stretch of I-80 for which the east-bound lanes are being reconstructed, and the powers that be have closed the Dix exit for those east-bound lane and so wisely made it impossible to get to Dix unless you're headed west. Finding no other useful roads heading south from the two other exits to the east along I-80, we gave up on small roads and drove to Sydney where a major state road leads south to Sterling, Colorado. Now Sterling is far, far east of any route that we had imagined taking, but it provided pleasant afternoon drive via a congestion-free route. From Sterling we went west on CO-14 which leads eventually to Fort Collins, but we turned south on CO-52, a very familiar road, that leads through Fort Morgan, a bit further south and thence directly west for 50 odd miles to just north of Boulder. Along the way we dined at Burger King, knowing that we'd be too tired to seek and eat better fare once we reached Boulder. We arrived home very tired after our long day's adventures but very much the better for them.