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1735 - Eclipse was Wyoming`s finest hour

It was Wyoming’s finest hour.  Its finest this year.  Perhaps its finest this century.

         I just can’t quit writing about the big solar eclipse event that tripled and maybe quadrupled Wyoming’s population a week or so ago.

         After discussing it and cussing it for three years, the event lived up to its hype and exceeded it. The weather was perfect and the crowds showed up. Did they ever show up!

As a publisher, I hope someone does a coffee table book about the eclipse.  There is no shortage of photos and no shortage of great stories.

         The best photographers in Wyoming were busy snapping amazing images.  Check out Facebook for some unbelievable shots.  Some talented folks were using drones to film the shadows crossing the valleys and town sites. Both Jackson and Casper had videos taken by drones of the totality occurring.

         So far the most amazing eclipse photos taken were in Crowheart and Jackson.  They included a series of photos taken near Crowheart, which managed to capture the International Space Station crossing in front of the partially obscured sun.

         On a famous Jackson Hole ski run called Corbet’s Couloir, a photo was snapped of a man walking along a high wire with the totality in the sky behind him. Wow!

The eclipse was eerie and spectacular.  Seeing it in person was astonishing.  No photo or video could give you the same experience as actually standing there and seeing that amazing image as cool air and darkness and surrounded you.  The sounds of crickets, birds acting odd and roosters crowing all added to the mystique.

         On Boysen Lake, State Sen. Ogden Driskell said fish started jumping out of the water at the moment of totality. Not sure if insects were falling out of the sky or if the fish were confused.

         Without bragging too much, but I was just about the only one who predicted 1 million people would come to the state for the event. But I was wrong about the source of all those people. I thought the weather would be bad in other places and the predictable Wyoming sunshine would draw them in. No, it was the friends and relatives who came that tipped the numbers into the seven-figure range. 

         Based on the fifteen family members I hosted, well, if you multiply some number like that across the 150,000 families in Wyoming, you get an additional half million people easy.

         On a lesser scale, I also predicted that all those tee shirts would sell out. Folks looking for souvenirs after the event were disappointed.

         People climbed mountains, descended into deep valleys and visited historical areas to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event.

         And yet, as big as the eclipse story was, in its own right, the biggest story, by far, was the clogged highways.  Nobody has ever seen anything like this in Wyoming.

         Sure, it can get crowded in Cheyenne around Frontier Days. And the interstates can get backed up during winter conditions. But to see cars stacked up bumper to bumper on a sunny day with clear roads was the scene all over the state.

         Here in Lander, the entire Main Street was blocked as cars were packed bumper-to-bumper for eight miles on Highway 287-789 to what is called the Rawlins Junction, where the roads divide. Carol Baron counted license plates over a five-block stretch in Lander and found 30 different states represented, including Hawaii.

         Muddy Gap was clogged as two main highways came together. Interstate 25 north of Cheyenne was probably the worst.

         Teton National Park had the largest visitation in its history during a time when the roads are already clogged with the highest tourism concentration of the season. It was very slow moving around Jackson Hole.

         Wind River Canyon is a natural bottleneck and it sure was on Aug. 21. 

         There were a few reports of road rage but mainly folks were in good spirits. They were patient as they sort of soaked up the California freeway atmosphere with a normal good-hearted Wyoming attitude.

         Most folks now do not want it to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. I know we have our sights set on Texas in seven years for the next totality in April 2024.


         CLARIFICATION: I have not changed my political beliefs. In a recent column, I quoted Larry Wolfe of Cheyenne, saying he was becoming a Democrat. Sorry about the confusion.  I have endured a lot of ribbing and some nasty criticism by folks assuming it was me who was changing my politics. Not so.

1734 - Eclipse was unforgettable

Some 580,000 Wyomingites and over a million guests became “Umbraphiles” Monday morning because of the wondrous solar eclipse they witnessed.

         The Cowboy State offered up a perfect Bluebird Day, with perfect skies and a golden sun that disappeared into blackness for up to 140 seconds. Despite fears of clouds, rainstorms and inclement weather, the day was just unparalleled.  

         Folks in most parts of the state, but especially Alpine, Jackson, Pinedale, Dubois, Riverton, Lander, Casper, Douglas, Wheatland, Lusk and Torrington, got fantastic views.

         State officials have been preparing for this eclipse for two years and there were fears that the state could not handle the crowds. These fears were mostly unrealized except until after the event, when all those cars, trucks and RVs clogged the highways, as folks headed home.

         Pat Schmidt reported traffic was 10 mph from Wheatland to Cheyenne. He saw lots of vehicles with extra gas cans strapped to the roofs.

         It was bumper-to-bumper south of Riverton and southeast out of Lander for eight miles after the eclipse.

         Casper hosted 50,000 people or more and the conditions could not have been better.  Casper was featured on ABC-TV on that network’s program of the nation experiencing the big event.

         I had earlier predicted 1 million additional visitors to Wyoming for the eclipse.  Turned out that estimate might have even been low.

On Sunday, the Wyoming Dept. of Transportation (WYDOT) estimated an additional 217,000 vehicles on Wyoming roads over normal numbers.  That number was doubled on Monday, so it could add up to 1 million people.  Plus those two days of traffic did not count people who had already arrived.

         And it was not just tourists or eclipse aficionados who came to Wyoming.  It was also family and friends wanting to come home to experience this totally unique event.

         Our house was typical. We had 15 extra family members here from California and Colorado. Our experience was duplicated all across the state.

         Oddball events were supposed to happen during times like these. But as best as we can tell, members of a suicide cult did not slay themselves in Jackson Hole nor was there a camel sacrificed in the Red Desert outside of Lander.  Alas, for the sake of the cultists and one poor camel, they were just rumors. Not sure how many babies were conceived during the totality.

         It is also assumed that at least some Arapaho Indian men shot arrows at the eclipse in commemoration of that famous eclipse of 1878. That was when real braves reportedly did shoot arrows at the moon because some sinister force was blocking out their sun.

          Google will feature Dubois for its Mega-Movie on the eclipse that will come out soon, using more than 1,000 photographers across the country.

         However, in Dubois, Sheriffs officers were called because someone heard a ticking sound coming from a backpack that one of the photographers had left behind. Inside was a camera that had its motor running, sounding like a bomb.

         While in Dubois, the Google folks interviewed Dubois Mayor Twila Blakeman and Paula McCormick of the Wind River Visitors Council.

The word to describe someone who gets excited about an eclipse is Umbraphile.  I can officially say that I am one. It was a fantastic.

Lander enjoyed a 67-second eclipse. We journeyed to my sister’s house in Riverton, where the totality occurred for twice as long.

Monday, we saw crescent shaped shadows and eerie bright and dark spots during the long periods leading up to and immediately after the totality. The totality was a total unique experience.

I had experienced a partial solar eclipse in 1979 in Lander and in 2012 in Montrose, CO.  Both were exciting and in both cases, the surrounding area got very dark and really odd shadows were all over the place. But each event was nothing to compare with Monday’s excitement.

         Paula Wonnacott and Fred Pickett of Rock Springs got married in a Riverton back yard during the eclipse as did Lander’s Dave Kellogg’s oldest daughter Julia, who got hitched in Alta. Congratulations for quite the memorable way to get married.

         Gov. Matt Mead reported at 4:45 a.m. Monday that traffic on Interstate 25 past the governor’s mansion looked bumper-to-bumper, based on the headlights.

         The big AstroCon convention in Casper lived up to its hype and the new downtown development in the WyoCity enjoyed huge crowds.

         Wyoming put out the red carpet and was rewarded with perfect weather and perfect skies for a once-in-a-lifetime event.



1733 - Chasing eclipse across 98,000 squre miles

This “Great Eclipse of 2017” business has had me traveling Wyoming from one end of the state to the other.

         In recent weeks, we have been in Wilson (west of Jackson) to the Terry Bison Ranch (south of Cheyenne). And everywhere in-between.

And we have not been alone – there must be a million big RVs and 10 million motorcycles out there. But I exaggerate.

         This latest adventure involves me promoting the big eclipse of Aug. 21, 2017.  We put special souvenir covers on my three coffee table books. We are promoting the books as souvenirs for those folks coming to our state to view this astronomical wonder.

         We have sold more than 30,000 of these books over the last four years. They are surely the best-selling coffee table books in the state’s history. Thanks to the wonderful work of 54 Cowboy State photographers, the books have been a big hit. Most of those same wonderful artists will be trying to capture unforgettable images on eclipse day.

         Our small company includes just me, and my wife Nancy, as the only full-time staff. So when it came time to distribute books, we drew the short straw and off we have traveled.

         We got lost trying to take the “old road” from Wheatland to Torrington. Saw some great rock formations on some bumpy gravel roads.  A rancher named Spencer saved the day by steering us back to the paved roads. Linda Fabian gave me perfect directions, but I botched it.

Wheatland goes dark for 51 long seconds at 11:46 a.m. on Aug. 21. Lusk goes dark at 11:46 a.m. for 112 seconds.

         In Douglas Helga Bull said her town is all-in for the big event as the town goes dark for 142 seconds at 11:44 a.m.

         In Casper, the visitor’s bureau are preparing for the best (or the worst). A big new downtown pavilion is taking shape and they want it ready by the big day when the sun goes dark at 11:42 a.m. for 146 seconds. Lots of spectacular events planned.

         In Riverton, Jim Davis at the chamber is working hard. Jackie Dorothy at Wind River Casino has a full slate of amazing events scheduled.  Gigantic crowds will be headed her way on the big day. The sun goes dark for 133 seconds at 11:39 a.m.

         Paula McCormick and her crew at the Wind River Visitors Council have a full slate organized. Check out their web site. Concerts are being held all over the state with a big one in Lander the night of the eclipse, says chamber manager Brian Fable.

         In Jackson, Anna Olson and her chamber crew are busy.  One observer described Jackson’s situation as “a crisis.”  It will be pitch black there at 11:34 a.m. for 135 seconds.

         This is the biggest deal in the last 99 years when it comes to a coast-to-coast full-on eclipse of the moon covering the sun.  Earlier, I predicted one million visitors would come to Wyoming. 

         The totality of the eclipse goes through the center of our state. Jackson, Riverton, Casper and Glendo are all smack in the totality, which means it will be black for over two minutes. Here in my hometown of Lander, the dark will last only 67 seconds at 11:30 a.m., which is similar to Pinedale and Thermopolis.

         Many folks are staging tours so you can see the eclipse from a mountaintop, deep inside a canyon, or out in the middle of the desert.

         Wyoming Whiskey created 6,000 special Eclipse boxes for their product.  “Sold out already,” owner Brad Mead told me three weeks ago.  Other places are staging booze blasts so you can really get “eclipsed” on this most famous day of 2017.

         Business people all over Wyoming are stocking up on souvenirs. Most popular items are tee shirts.  Each town has its own custom tee shirt. Some are really neat and some are sort of hokey. I predict they will all sell out.

         We only had 3,000 books left in our inventory and they are selling fast. You can find them at fine stores around the state or online at

         My prediction is that our state will truly be overwhelmed. Traffic jams caused by stupid drivers could paralyze some places like in and out of Jackson, in and out of Casper and on Interstate 25 between Denver and Casper.

         Biggest potential spoiler to the whole experience will be smoke from forest fires. The smoke might add some color to the experience but our famous blue skies could be gray. Let’s hope it does not cloud up and rain.

         With all that said, I think it will be an unforgettable experience.  Stay put and enjoy it.

         See you around.


1732 - Wild, wild 2018 Wyoming governor`s race

Who will be running for Wyoming Governor in 2018 and who will win? Seems premature to be thinking of this in August of 2017, but that is what we political observers like to do.

         I think two important aspects are going to dominate this campaign:

         First, candidates will need to get out early and line up their supporters across the state.

         Second, this baby will be the most expensive governor campaign in Wyoming history.

         All the fun and all the action in this race is on the Republican side.  We have two deep-pocketed candidates already lining up and they both know a lot about Wyoming state government.  I am talking about State Treasurer Mark Gordon and Secretary of State Ed Murray.

         Both men have a huge desire to further serve the people of Wyoming. And the way they both can imagine to best serve the state is to be the governor.

         There are other possible candidates like Matt Micheli, Taylor Haynes and Darin Smith of Cheyenne. Bill Dahlin of Sheridan has already announced.

         But the early betting and handicapping will be on Murray and Gordon.

         So where is former U. S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis in all this?  She was lining up supporters earlier this year and looked like a shoo-in to me.  I am not sure in the history of Wyoming a candidate could run who would have been better prepared than Cynthia.

         But no go.  She let her supporters know three weeks ago that she was not going to run, after all. 

         Political observer Larry Wolfe of Cheyenne has some thoughts on the race:

         “Since Cynthia is out we might see Leland Christensen, Tim Stubson, Ogden Driscoll, Tyler Lindholm and Larry Hicks. Even Jillian Balow and Kari Jo Gray,” he says. “What about Eli Bebout, Steve Harshman, or Drew Perkins? Dave Kinsky? Ray Peterson?

“Someone like Albert Sommers, who is in the thick of the education debate, might come to the governor’s race.

“Of course the other interesting speculation is for the other four offices. If Murray and Gordon run, their seats are up. Is Cynthia Cloud running again? Jillian Balow may decide to take a Diana Ohman jump to Secretary of State. There will be lots of candidates for these lesser offices. Mary Throne might consider State or Treasurer.

“On a personal note, President Donald Trump has turned me into a Democrat although I am still a registered R!, Wolf said. ”

Speaking of Democrats, Ryan Greene, Throne and Chris Rothfuss could all be worthy candidates for governor from that side of the aisle.

         Now I know something about running for governor, although most of my experience is pretty dated.  It was 2002, some 15 years ago, that I ran a rather decent campaign with disappointing results.       

         But there are things I learned, and I will share them today.

         First, in Wyoming all the action is in the primary.  It is virtually impossible today for a Democrat to win the general. Thus, GOP candidates need to get out early and often.  What is crazy is that nobody but us pundits is interested in the race until June of next year. But you still need to get out there and press the flesh.

         Second, the campaign schedule can seem to be rigged.  The primary is in late August so nobody is paying attention to your ads when they count the most. This fact, alone, will drive the treasurers of most campaigns up a wall as hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent in those last critical weeks. The primary date favors those candidates who have been working for years cultivating those Republican primary voters.

         Third, by May 2018, you lose control of your campaign.  There are so many conventions, parades, fairs and programs; you go crazy in the last 13 weeks just trying to be at all the events.  It is hard to draw a crowd so you have to go where the crowds are.  All this drives your campaign chairman batty as he or she tries to keep focused on what is happening.

         Fourth, it will be the greatest experience of your life.  You have no idea how big Wyoming really is until you have a campaign event in Evanston at noon and one in Gillette that evening. I had my own airplane and it was nearly impossible to get to everything.

         So there you have it. The campaign season is upon us and we have a year to go before that all-important August 2018 primary.

         Stay tuned.