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Shadow money; Moon eclipses Tetons as coming attraction

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.

The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017 will cross the U.S. from coast to coast in about an hour and a half. Of all the locations it will be seen, parts of Oregon and Wyoming have the best climate for potential clear sky, meteorologists say. (NASA)

The total solar eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017 will cross the U.S. from coast to coast in about an hour and a half. Of all the locations it will be seen, parts of Oregon and Wyoming have the best climate for potential clear sky, meteorologists say. (NASA)

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.

Two-year lull

“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.

Expect creative retail ideas to emerge for the total solar eclipse, perhaps even an eclipse hacky sack. Already Tyler Nordgren, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Redlands, California, has produced a Tetons-themed poster. (Tyler Nordgren http://www.tylernordgren.com/)

Expect creative retail ideas to emerge for the total solar eclipse, perhaps even an eclipse hacky sack. Already Tyler Nordgren, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Redlands, California, has produced a Tetons-themed poster. (Tyler Nordgren http://www.tylernordgren.com/)

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.”

NASA and others offer detailed maps showing exactly where the path of totality will be and how long the eclipse will last within the path. About 70 miles wide, the path crosses all of Wyoming. It will take the moon's shadow about 13 minutes to make the journey across the Equality State. (NASA)

NASA and others offer detailed maps showing exactly where the path of totality will be and how long the eclipse will last within the path. About 70 miles wide, the path crosses all of Wyoming. The moon’s shadow will flit across the state at about 1,766 mph. (NASA)

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.

Hotelier Frank Lane probably made the first reservation for the 2017 eclipse in Jackson Hole when he booked a room more than five years in advance. Lodging already is becoming scarce in the national park gateway town. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Hotelier Frank Lane probably made the first reservation for the 2017 eclipse in Jackson Hole when he booked a room more than five years in advance. Lodging already is becoming scarce in the national park gateway town. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

“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

NASA

Maps, times and other useful information.

Mr Eclipse.com

Eclipse bulletin, road atlas.

Great American Eclipse.com

Eclipse glasses, information.

U.S. Naval Observatory

Use these altitude and azimuth tables to calculate where the sun will be in the sky according to your location.

Jackson Hole Astronomy Club

Information about viewing in and around Jackson Hole and Wyoming.

Wyoming Stargazing

Nonprofit group offering general information, services.

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About the Author

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Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at [email protected] or (307) 690-5586. Follow Angus on Twitter at @AngusThuermer

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6 Responses to Shadow money; Moon eclipses Tetons as coming attraction

  1. Susan Marsh March 16, 2016 at 7:07 am #

    Looks like some of us will have to leave town that week!

    Jackson, Wyoming

  2. Richard Jackson March 14, 2016 at 6:59 pm #

    I would Really like as a state to be better able to facilitate the scientific tourism that will be brought to Wyoming, but what i really want is for Wyoming to diversify our economy by turning to Science & Technology, and become less reliant on on Gas & Oil Revenue. Im not saying that any of that will or should stop, but i am saying that as a University Student (at our only University) If we were to invest more in the science that can be done in Here, During a solar eclipse like this we get to see into the corona of our star, People travel across the whole earth to get access to an event like this to do cutting edge observations & science. So why cant we bring some of that business to our state and keep a few more kids from UW in the state rather than shipping them to Colorado. The Opportunities that exist in Wyoming for Astronomy are some of the best in the northern hemisphere, imagine if we were able to set up a deep space radio observatory, like the national radio telescope in West Virginia, It requires a radio quite zone 120 miles by 110 miles, Which for them is a hassle not having cellphones or modern radio technology (not even microwave ovens) that would disturb the observation of star formation around our galaxy. Radio Quite Zone’s are difficult to set up, But there are plenty of spots i can stand in Wyoming where there isn’t a city or light around for a hundred miles, Seems like we have an untapped source of jobs for Wyoming. We wouldn’t even need to set up an area where technology couldn’t be since it will be another hundred years before we even get settled out that far in Wyoming. Imagine if the money that went to Chile in the Atacoma desert were being spend in rural middle of no where Wyoming at a high altitude over 8000ft in a desert, sounds like most of Wyoming to me. Well Here is to the yet to be established Wyoming Radio Telescope array somewhere north on South Pass if i were looking to sites, I would like for just once in wyoming that we dug a pit that wasn’t for power for the rest of the country and rather dug one to make a radio telescope. But that wont be nearly ready for this 2017 eclipse, with any luck ill be there with camera and telescope in hand for this once in a lifetime opportunity.

    laramie, Wyoming

  3. Keith Benefiel March 8, 2016 at 9:38 am #

    Zombies? i thought all we had to worry about was the werewolf of the Latin Quarter.

    Wilson, Wyoming

  4. Dan McGlaun March 8, 2016 at 8:36 am #

    Your readers can also get information on the eclipse at:

    www.eclipse2017.org

    Indianapolis, Indiana

  5. Dewey Vanderhoff March 8, 2016 at 8:03 am #

    Don’t say I didn’t warn you , Wyoming.

    Anyone living within 150 miles of the narrow eclipse track on either side will soon discover they have dozens of long lost relatives who coincidentally all want to visit Wyoming for the same three days in August 2017. They’ll have to get in line behind your entire high school graduating class , and they behind your Facebook ” friends”. You will eventually prove the actuarial notion that everyone on Earth is your 9th cousin , and the first seven degrees of separation all want to camp in your yard and use your plumbing that week.

    Then there are the zombies. Ain’t no zombie like a total solar eclipse zombie. I went to Morocco in May 1984 for an eclipse, and the Barbary Coast was overrun with zombies. More zombies than the resident goat and sheep population. They vastly outnumbered camels and all other available forms of transportation. For perhaps the first time in its history since Mohammed’s warriors settled the Mahgreb in 800 A. D. , Morocco ran out of mint tea.

    Today , March 8 as I write this, there is a solar eclipse cutting a trail across Indonesia. That’s where the zombies are right now. With their kiwis and kangaroos and whatever the hordes of Chinese and Japanese zombies bring with them. To Sumatra.

    In August 2017 , Wyoming will be crushed. While this is great news for tourism , it is a zombie apocalypse for law enforcement, emergency personnel, and public safety people. Don’t even think about ” airport” or go near one any time between August 7 and August 20. You think what happens in Sturgis is a spectacle? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Sturgis will just be getting over about the time all of affluent Europe goes on their annual August holiday , and they will all come here . And all those Sturgis bikers types will still likely be here…somewhere in the vicinity.

    Yup. August 2017 , the Zombie Apocalypse is coming to a cowboy bar and pickup rodeo arena near you. Forget Jackson Hole. It will be a Mad Max movie set with pine trees. Go to the Gas Hills or Jeffrey City instead. For once, the cursed town of Pavilion Wyoming also on the centerline will have it’s day in the sun , and 2 minutes and 36 seconds of negative sun.

    Wal-marts will be emptied of supplies as if a dryland hurricane was looming. Stock up. Now Your zombie relatives and friends of friends are all coming, Wyoming. The August 2017 total eclipse will paradoxically be the longest and shortest 3 minutes of your lives…

    Cody, Wyoming

  6. Tammy Christel March 8, 2016 at 7:00 am #

    Wow! Glad I’ll be back in town by then!

    Jackson , Wyoming

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