Innkeeper Frank Lane wondered why the front desk at his hotel couldn’t handle a simple four-night reservation, why they sent the call to his office.
When he picked up the phone that day in 2012 and started talking to Joe Horowitz, a prospective tourist from the Boston area, he discovered the problem. Yes, Horowitz just wanted a room — double occupancy — for four nights. But he wanted to book it five years in advance, for August 2017.
Lane had to ask…. Horowitz responded with a question of his own. “You don’t know about the eclipse?”
Forget about the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service this summer. Never mind that National Geographic will feature Yellowstone National Park in an issue in May.
The All-American Eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017 will overshadow conventional tourism in northwest Wyoming and across the rest of the state. People call the event All-American because land-bound folk will see the shadow on the U.S. mainland only. It will flit some 2,650 miles coast-to-coast across 13 states, from Oregon to South Carolina, in an hour and a half. It will enter Wyoming at Alta at 11:35 a.m., shadow a path approximately 60 miles wide, and leave the Equality State at Huntley some 13 minutes later. Casper will be dead center.
Totality in Wyoming will last about two minutes 20 seconds in the center of the path. The longest period of totality in the U.S. will occur in the Midwest and last about 2 minutes 41 seconds. It’s been 37 years since a total solar eclipse has been seen anywhere in the Lower 48. In 2017, all of the Lower 48 outside the path of totality will experience a partial eclipse. Although there’s a total solar eclipse about once a year somewhere around a globe, it’s “often no place you would want to go,” Horowitz said.
Meteorologists say central Oregon has one of the most favorable climates for clear sky, but Jackson Hole is not far behind. That, plus mountains, makes northwest Wyoming and Jackson Hole extremely attractive for the event. Hotelier Lane explained eclipse-chasers’ thinking; “Do I want to be in Nebraska for 12 extra seconds [of darkness] or in the Tetons?”
Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce director Jeff Golightly might as well put his feet up on his desk right now. “There isn’t a hotel in Jackson that is going to have a problem selling [out]” he said.
Jackson Hole All-American Eclipse Tourist No.1
Horowitz, Jackson Hole All-American Eclipse Tourist No.1, retired 16 years ago from a career with the National Weather Service. A meteorologist with a PhD from Yale, the 73-year-old chases eclipses with his wife, Nancy Hicks. She has a physics degree from Harvard and “had seen three total eclipses before we met,” he said.
Together they have seen another three total eclipses — in 1991 on Hawaii, in 1998 on the Caribbean island Curacao, and in 1999 in Normandy, France. For Hawaii, Horowitz had to make 65 phone calls to get a room. For Normandy, the couple booked a last-minute trip from Boston that dragged on for 53 hours only because they missed their scheduled plane home.
So in June 2012 he knew he had to book a room in Jackson Hole. He called The Lexington.
Tourists book rooms in Jackson Hole a year in advance — right after the Jackson Hole Shrine Club Cutter Races for example, or the World Championship Snowmobile Hill Climb. But five years ahead?
“I called about a dozen places trying desperately to get somebody to agree to make a reservation in advance,” Horowitz said. “They won’t take a reservation more than a year, year and a half – especially the hotel chains. I got variations on the theme why it was not possible to make a reservation so early.”
On June 6, five years and 45 days before the All American Eclipse, Horowitz’s call reached Frank Lane’s desk. And Lane had to ask….
“He had me type in the [internet] address, bring up the map,” Lane said. There was the path of the eclipse right over Jackson. “I had no idea.”
Although no hotel computer would take a reservation five years in advance, Lane committed.
“He basically wrote into his book longhand,” Horowitz said. (Lane has since left The Lexington for the Jackson Hole Lodge, but he remains in touch with Horowitz who, in turn, has stayed in touch with The Lexington. Management there assures him Lane’s reservation made the transition from longhand to computer.)
Back in 2012, Lane soaked in all of Horowitz’s ebullience. “People are going to be coming,” he recalls Horowitz saying. “You’re going to sell out the entire town.”
One problem remained — the cost of the room. Lane hadn’t established prices for five years out. “I just pulled a rate out of the sky,” he said. He doubled his 2012 price. Tourist No. 1 didn’t hesitate. “He booked one room for four days.” Lane now wonders how much money he left on the table.
“There was probably a two-year lull,” Lane said. “In 2014 the gates blew open.” As Horowitz had warned, people were coming. Capitalists led the charge. “The tour companies were like ‘I want all your rooms,’” Lane said. One operator booked the rest of The Lexington — 91 rooms — in one group reservation.
By 2014 the word was mostly out — mostly. One story circulates in the industry — insiders won’t name names — of a manager who proudly told colleagues more than a year ago that he had sold out his entire house for a few days in August 2017 — and he only had to offer a small discount.
Right now, “if I had to guess, I’d say we’re 60 to 70 percent sold out,” Chamber director Golightly said. But, “I know a lot of hotels are waiting.”
Most computer reservation sites and chain hotels and motels are not geared up to book years in advance. In desperation, some people have turned to The Hole Concierge, a service operated by Stan Everts, for help.
“At first it was a trickle,” Everts said of eclipse interest. “I think it was some lady from India [who] contacted me. They were looking for 20 rooms.” Then came the flood.
“It’s been kind of mind-numbing to find out there are people who go to all the eclipses, travel – that’s their thing. It’s all foreign people. I hardly have any inquiries from someone inside the United States.”
They want rooms. “That’s what people are freaking out about,” Everts said. “People are stressed out about getting locked out. They just want to make sure they are here.”
Jackson Hole’s not going to see much of a boost in lodging occupancy from the eclipse. That’s because the moon has the bad manners to schedule its shadow over the tourist town during an already busy season. Booking rates approach 90 percent in late August, even when the sun shines, Golightly said.
Grand Teton and Yellowstone national parks near Jackson are such strong draws the Chamber doesn’t do much marketing for the summer in any case.
“There’s not a lot of room to grow,” he said. “The restaurants, bars, they’ll notice it more.”
The Chamber expects an explosion in camping and an overflow to communities nearby. “It’s not a time people are going to find bargains,” Golightly said. “There’s going to be some creative retail coming out of it. An eclipse hacky sack, as far as I know.”
Where’s the best place to be?
After securing rooms, visitors further check out the Jackson Hole scene. Lane has directed eclipse chasers to scenic ponds, highway pullouts and the Snake River Overlook where Ansel Adams made his famous picture of the Tetons. The closer an observer is to the centerline, the longer the total darkness will last. There’s little question thousands will flock to the Jackson Hole Mountain Resort — about as near as one can be to the centerline. They’ll be shuttled by the Jackson Hole Aerial Tram 4,139 vertical feet to the top of Rendezvous Mountain.
No doubt mountain guides will be booked for the summit of the Grand Teton and other peaks. Gannett Peak, at 13,809 feet in the Wind River Range, will be the highest point along the path of the total eclipse, but it is not quite on the centerline. By choosing to be high, climbers will be able to look down on the plains to see the moon’s shadow racing across the landscape at about 1,766 mph.
There’s no danger of looking at the sun during a total solar eclipse. In fact, spying a total eclipse through binoculars will reveal the luminous, living corona. When the moon only partially blocks the sun, however, viewers must use special glasses or No. 14 welding glass to protect their eyes.
Many people will want to take pictures, something Horowitz doesn’t do. “Trying to take pictures would occupy you,” he said. “You’ll miss the whole show. Any diversion from the complete personal experience to me is just not worth missing what you’re only going to get for 2 minutes and a few seconds.”
Nevertheless, photographers will flock to the mountains, some seeking the perfect vantage. To figure out where the eclipse will be, photographers need to know their planned location, the eclipse’s azimuth or compass bearing, and its altitude, or height above the horizon. With information from the U.S. Naval Observatory they can plot their perfect photograph. In Jackson, for example, the eclipse will be full at about 134 degrees — southeast — according to calculations made by Mike Maurer of the Jackson Hole Astronomy Club. Looking in that direction, the eclipse will be about 50 degrees above the true horizon.
Don’t expect a rain check
For Horowitz, the Tetons are a sideshow. There’s also a chance that forest fire smoke could obscure the drama. “Jackson, it’s in a bowl,” he said. “If there are forest fires in nearby Idaho, for example, you may be better off if you’re farther downstream from the smoke.”
There’s another worry about the Tetons. “Mountains create their own weather,” he said. Horowitz and Hicks are going to be ready to bolt if the weather is bad. They’ll employ all the tricks they used when they flew to France for the 1999 Normandy eclipse.
On that trip they immediately ran into problems. “It was raining when we landed,” Horowitz said. But the veteran meteorologist had contracted with a commercial weather service for spot forecasts.
“I called AccuWeather to find out what they were seeing on their satellite transmissions — where the clouds were,” he said. He and Hicks ordered their driver onward. “Five minutes before the eclipse we thought we weren’t going to see it.”
Then, “we found a hole in the cloudiness,” he said. “We took a sharp turn into trees with five minutes to go ‘til totality. We ran up onto a side of a little hill. It was unbelievable.”
They saw the diamond-ring phenomena — just before totality when the moon is circled by a glow and the last sparkle of sun peeks from the edge. They saw solar prominences, red-orange material thrown out from the sun. They saw the ephemeral corona.
“That is so beautiful,” Horowitz said. “No photograph can reproduce what the eye sees.”
2017 eclipse resources
Maps, times and other useful information.
Eclipse bulletin, road atlas.
Eclipse glasses, information.
Use these altitude and azimuth tables to calculate where the sun will be in the sky according to your location.
Information about viewing in and around Jackson Hole and Wyoming.
Nonprofit group offering general information, services.