Idaho greeted me like an old friend. The smell of skunk and burning grass. The feeling of a slower pace. Not that there is nowhere to go or nothing to do, just that it is not so rushed, not so hurried. I had been back a few short times since my college years, but not for more than a day or so. This was where I had learned of the eclipse, so it was only fitting that I return here to experience it.
In the Spring of 2000, I took an astronomy class to finish up a science requirement for graduation. I discovered astronomy is incredibly amazing and loved the class. At one point about a year later, I even thought about changing my major to astrophysics. At the back of my astronomy textbook was a list of all the total solar eclipses for the next however-many years. I ran my finger down the list until I found the next one that would be visible from the United States. August 21, 2017.
I memorized that date and noted that it would be visible from my beloved Idaho. As the date neared, I brainstormed the best way to watch, and where. We had even considered a job offer a few years prior that would put us living in the path of totality! While we chose not to accept that job, the location was a big selling point for us. I wondered, would family want to travel with me, would friends? And where to stay? Hotel, AirBnB, camping??? I ran through multiple options in my head. When I thought I had settled on one, I would change my mind or it would begin to not feel right.
About a month out, it was all I could think about. Of course, it was all over the media. Something I had been waiting 17 years for and had discovered in the back of a textbook was now being broadcasted from the internet rooftops. I worried about my sweet, slow-paced Idaho farmtowns being overrun with eclipse gawkers. I feared that an event that I had heard would be a quiet one (that animals and birds would quiet themselves) would be full of loud cheering and raucousness. That’s not my Idaho.
If you’ve seen my other road trip blogposts, you know I love to travel in the off-season and I prefer minimal crowds. Not because I’m not a people-person, but because I love to enjoy nature for what it is and to allow myself room to breathe.
Amidst my anxiousness, I reached out to a cousin. I have a handful of friends living in various parts of Idaho, but I wanted to know about a specific area and thought my cousin would have the most expertise for a certain area. Over the course of the conversation, she extended an invitation for me & my family to stay with her. A calmness came over me as I thought about what that would mean for my eclipse-watching. She lives in a small town, far from any major cities. The likelihood of crowds was minimal. I said yes.
(Please forgive my cellphone shots through a dirty windshield, and my lack of desire to take the time to photoshop it all out…)
This was my kids’ first trip to Idaho. I had raved about how beautiful it was, and then I navigated us onto a road that cut through what can only be called a barren wasteland. (Near Craters of the Moon park. That says enough, doesn’t it?) One of the kids said with slight disgust, “uhhhhh Mom? I thought you said Idaho was pretty.” In my defense, I had never been that way before, but wanted to drive the area that would be in totality so we could scope out good observation locations. It ended up being kind of a bust, but it makes for a laughable part of the trip. My cousin’s town was not actually in the path of totality, but it was close enough for us to stay overnight. The morning of the eclipse we drove to a sweet little spot just outside the town of Clayton, Idaho. Population 7.
We arrived at our spot next to the river. Hopefully we didn’t disturb the one guy that was already there! Our kids played in the river. Eventually two more cars showed up and I had a moment of panic – what if more cars come??? But no more came. And our new fellow eclipse-watchers turned on Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, so that’s alright.
We were prepared with eclipse glasses and pinhole papers. We were prepared with previous experience, as we had seen an annular eclipse a few years prior. And we were prepared with lots of internet research. And you know what? It was amazing. All 2 minutes. It was an amazing, super-fast 2 minutes of wonder and beauty, and ugh, it ended too quickly. We saw the crescent shadows, we felt the air get cool, we saw stars in the sky, we saw the diamond ring, we saw the shadow snakes. I didn’t notice the animals, because really there weren’t any around and the river was too loud. But, wow. It’s truly, truly incredible. It is completely different than seeing a partial eclipse and even the annular eclipse.
After the eclipse, we ate lunch (gotta eat!), and then hit up the Goldbug Hot Spring. It involved a hike, which my children are beginning to complain less when I suggest one of those, and then a long soak in the spring. Although it was a busy day at the spring, there were plenty of individual pools at varying temperatures to satisfy all the hikers.
On the drive home we stopped at this awesome sign – the 45th Parallel!! Unbeknownst to me, I’ve actually crossed the 45th Parallel about 6 times on previous trips in various places, but this is the first time I’ve seen a sign that says so!
We stayed another night to avoid traffic and boy did we ever avoid traffic on the way home. Hello, gorgeous Idaho. (And this is called the Sacagawea highway. We learned all sorts of stuff on this trip. Thank you Idaho, for having so many informational signs on your roadways.)
Fulfilling a 17-year-long dream/goal/bucket list is pretty significant. And the experience of watching a total solar eclipse is incomparable. But the best part of the trip? Being with my cousin who I hadn’t seen for 20 years. The fact that she felt comfortable inviting us to stay at her house. Watching our kids become fast friends and start writing letters to each other on our drive home, just like Jenny and I did when we were little. That is the best part of my trip.