Chasing the Totality

Days 8-11: Guernsey State Park

Below Rabbit Ears we headed north on CO 14, climbing into the Medicine Bow Range and then crossing into Wyoming. We had planned to camp somewhere in this sector, but changed our minds when we saw the condition of the forest. Bark beetles have attacked virtually every tree for miles in every direction, and once pristine campgrounds were either shorn of vegetation or spiked with dead timber looking for a place to fall down.

We took my friend Larry's advice and headed for another sector of the national forest southeast of Laramie. By now we were beginning to see a lot of competition for prime camping spots from the first wave of eclipse chasers, but as usual we were able to outclimb them, to a nice spot near the base of Twin Mountain.
We got an early start the next morning, racing to a rendezvous with my sister Ruth. She and husband Ray were on their way from southern Minnesota to their favorite hunting area in western Colorado, and Ruth figured out that with a slight adjustment of our itinerary, we could meet for breakfast at a diner in Laramie. It was great to see them! I wish we didn't live so far apart, and now that we have more freedom to travel, we should figure out more creative ways to get together.
Guernsey State Park was a wonderful place to settle in for a few days! Our fellow campers were a disparate group of biologists, engineers, lawyers, computer scientists, adventurers and entrepreneurs who kept the conversation lively. We hiked into the high yellow hills above the reservoir in the morning and spent afternoons swimming in the long green lake and relaxing in the shade of our camper's tiny awning.
The big day arrives — August 21, 2017. There was excitement in the air as our crew scrambled to assemble our gear and hike to our location.
For a 360° view, we chose the top of a hill above the reservoir.
Dennis and Kim heading up.
We had our hilltop to ourselves, but on a nearby ridge, hundreds of cars were visible.
Alex and Rob.
Dave (outstanding in his field)
Kim (outstanding in her field)
Dave, Kim, Rob, Blaine and Alex
Dennis and I deployed no fewer than five cameras — some shooting video of eclipse, some video of the surrounding area, and others used for still photos and snapshots.
In the end, the most interesting photography was of US watching the eclipse!
Gradually we all broke camp and went our separate ways. But leaving the park we immediately plunged into an hours-long traffic jam. Using our tools, we identified a gravel road that could bypass the bottleneck.
Here's the "Hartville Welcome Wagon": two rednecks in a big white pickup truck who forced us off the road, claiming it was a military road with restricted access. But no uniforms and no insignia on the truck. Apparently a number of local residents took it upon themselves to blockade "their" roads to deter post-eclipse traffic.

Dennis and I managed to avoid the worst of the traffic and slowly made our way to Wheatland, our other favorite Western town. Here local shopkeepers put on sidewalk festival to welcome eclipse chasers, and many stayed open late on Monday day to serve refreshments to traffic-weary travelers. We refueled at The Wandering Hermit, a terrific combination bookstore/coffee shop, and headed west into the mountains.

Palmer Canyon Road is a narrow ribbon of gravel that winds its way high into the Snowy Range. Pretty country, but although this area is part of Medicine Bow National Forest, once again every single side road was posted, gated and locked. How is it that ranchers not graze their cattle at bargain basement rates but also create private, gated fiefdoms on what appears to public land?

On and on we rolled, dropping down out of the mountains into high, open, empty grassland. For hours, all we saw was the narrow ribbon of gravel in front of us — not a house, driveway nor any sign of human habitation. And then, as dusk descended, the land fell away to an impossibly wide, treeless plain, eerily occupied by a large body of water with the strange moniker, "Wheatland Reservoir #3. There was primitive camping along the shore, in howling wind, clouds of bugs swirling overhead, and nothing taller than a blade of grass as far as the eye could see. Did we somehow land in Siberia?

Next: Flaming Gorge