Weary and red-eyed after six hours of driving, we pulled off into a trailhead parking lot just outside Ketchum, Idaho at around four o'clock on Saturday morning to grab a couple hours of sleep. In hopes of beating the massive crowds predicted for the solar eclipse, we'd left Salt Lake City around 10 on Friday evening, heading towards the Sawtooth National Forest and the Path of Totality.
The trip was a spontaneous one, at least for me. I'd planned on watching the partial eclipse from my own lawn or maybe not at all. But when the opportunity came up midday Thursday, I jumped on board. By this time eclipse fever was full pitch in Utah and I couldn't find any eclipse glasses for sale. I wasn't the only one in our party of four that didn't have them. Thankfully, we were still able to snag a pair in Ketchum for $5.17 before heading into the Sawtooths.
We passed multiple official eclipse viewing areas off the side of the road as we approached Stanley, the small town situated in the heart of the Sawtooths. At one of the scenic overlooks where we pulled off, we were greeted by forest rangers--clearly stationed there in anticipation of the crowds--who warned us one of the two gas stations in town had already run out of gas. Still, we were well ahead of the rush and managed to fill up our tank and mosey about town for a bit, taking in the scene and feeling the buzz of excitement around all the pop-up bars, BBQ, and taco stations.
Since our crew lacked any true planners, we spent a good portion of the day driving around and even hiking some in search of the perfect campsite. Rather than watch from the midst of a crowd, we were hoping for something a bit more private in the wilderness. We finally settled on hiking toward the waterfalls from the campground in Stanley Lake. Predictably, all the spots in the official campground were full--not that we would ever have wanted to camp there with the $200/night rate (up from the regular $10-$30).
The trail leading up to the mountains and waterfalls above the lake was remarkably easy, almost completely flat and well-maintained aside from some fallen trees. A number of people, like us, were opting for backpacking into the free dispersed camping along the trail, but most were day hikers coming up from the lake area. Despite the thousands of people pouring into the Path of Totality, the backcountry can always be counted on to remain relatively empty. I expected the trail to be inundated with people, but we still managed to find a secluded camping spot at the top of Lady Face Falls, the first waterfall just 2.5 miles from the lake.
From Lady Face Falls we could easily strike out to explore the remainder of the trail on Sunday. It was all waterfalls, hiking, hanging out for a day, and waiting for the sun came up on Eclipse Monday. The Sawtooths really are amazing and I suggest you add them to your shoulder season or weekend getaway destinations list if you haven't already.
The previous night had been cloudy, but we awoke on Monday to a cloudless, blue bird day. We ate breakfast early and checked our watches more than necessary with giddy excitement. Once the partial eclipse began, we realized we could easily have shared a single pair of glasses. You couldn't stare up at the sun the entire time even with the glasses anyway, but it was nice to have your own. In between periodically glancing up to see how far the moon had passed in front of the sun, we looked around us, searching for any indications of the eclipse in our surroundings.
The first thing we noticed was the creeping chilliness. At 10 a.m. we'd all opted for t-shirts in the hot morning sun, but by 11 a.m. we were back in sweatshirts and beanies. It was definitely getting darker and the birds around us seemed a bit disoriented, wondering why it looked so close to 6 or 7 p.m. if the sun had just come up. Even when the sun was almost completely covered, it was impossible to look at it in anything more than a passing glance. Then finally it happened. The sun went dark, aside from that iconic ring. We took our glasses off and looked around. It was 11:28 a.m., but around us the forest and mountains were draped in a late sunset. Even a couple bright stars (or planets) glimmered above our heads. I hadn't prepared at all for taking photos, but I managed to get a few snapshots as souvenirs.
I've seen a lot of really amazing things in my life, but witnessing a total solar eclipse was one of the trippiest. It wasn't difficult to imagine ancient cultures thinking the eclipse signaling the end of the world. We were standing there, all of us with this natural euphoria because we knew what it was, but a few hundred years ago, it might have been two minutes of utter terror and panic. For a second the world stood still and then it was over. As soon as the first ray of sun peeked out, the lights turned back on. It was like watching several hours in fast motion; the world went from 7 a.m. to high noon in the space of a few minutes.
After the eclipse, we weren't in a hurry to get out, but the horizon looked hazy from a forest fire in the area, so we decided to head back down to the lake. Most everyone who came to watch high-tailed it out of there quick; by the time we got back down, we were able to find a campsite by the lake and pay the regular $10 rate. We spent the rest of the day hanging out on the lake with the few people who remained, reminiscing about the unique experience. There are many people who after seeing their first eclipse decide to go chasing them down all over the globe. After seeing my first one, I think I might become one of them.
Hope you had a wonderful eclipse from wherever you were and if you didn't make it to the path of totality, here's hoping you do next time!