The Total Solar Eclipse August 21, 2017

View Eclipse Composite Poster

   November 2016 - The Adventure Begins ....

Our trek to view the Total Solar Eclipse began on November 12, 2016.  Sue and I decided to take a trip to the Lake Geneva area to tour Yerkes Observatory. For years I wanted to visit this historic observatory, so we took off on a Saturday morning to the observatory.  While waiting for the tour to start, we walked around the Yerkes building and notices a large poster on the wall showing the Eclipse path for Aug 21st, 2017.  I was somewhat annoyed and disappointed in myself for not knowing about this significant event. At that point I turned to Sue and said, "We are going to see this Eclipse somewhere in the path of totality."  I picked up a small book by Michael Zeiler, that provided information about the eclipse and detailed maps showing the path of totality. Michael was also the author of the web site,, a very valuable source for information about the Eclipse.  So that began my search of where we might go to view the event.

August 21, 2017 Solar Eclipse Path


  December 2016 - Viewing Site Selection

I spent to next 3 months researching a viewing location. I found lots of information on the web highlighting what is important in selecting a viewing location and what we might expect to see, hear and feel during totality. One of the major concerns is the weather and cloud cover. I wanted to select a sight that gave us the best chance of clear skies in the middle of August. Knowing the weather in the Midwest, I immediately eliminated S. Illinois and other destinations East. I was concerned about two things.  First, clouds of course.  It's not uncommon to get nice humid air masses to move up the gulf and bring showers and thunderstorms to the Midwest.  I was also concerned that if dew points were high, which again is common during the Midwest summers, we might get spontaneous cloud formation as the temperature drops during totality and ruin the view.  I decided to go West of the Mississippi, but how far. The plan was to see if we could get to our viewing sight with a one-day drive, so that eliminated Oregon, Idaho and Wyoming. Nebraska seemed like a good option since the path covered the entire state from West to East. My thought was farther West drier and therefore better. After looking at the detailed map of Nebraska, considering travel, towns in the path, general population and being West.  I then looked up historical cloud cover data from some of the main towns along the path.  That also confirmed that farther West gave a better chance of a cloudless sky on August 21st.  After some additional checking,  Alliance Nebraska was picked as our viewing destination. This would give us 2 minutes and 30 seconds of totality.

Alliance Nebraska Eclipse Duratation

 Alliance Nebraska is the place

 Alliance met our requirements for a viewing location.  As I noted, the historical weather information was positive.  The data indicated we had about an 80% chance of a clear sky in August.  Potential traffic was another concern. The Eastern part of Nebraska had larger population areas of Omaha and Lincoln along with numerous cities along I-80. The only concern I had about Alliance was the possibility of a bunch of Denver traffic heading there, but I expected most of the Denver area viewers would head North on I-25 and settle somewhere in Wyoming. The more data I collected and matched against our viewing requirements, the better Alliance looked as a choice. The only down side was it would be a long drive, roughly 13 to 14 hours from Freeport.

 January 2017 - Planning the Trip

 The next task was to find a place to stay.  By now it was late January and I knew any hotels along the path of totality would more than likely be already sold out.  After looking at hotels in Alliance and some of the surrounding towns, my assumptions were right, nothing to be found.  I started looking along I-80 and came upon some hotels in Sidney, NE that were reasonably priced and had space available. That meant about a 90-minute drive early on the Monday morning of the eclipse, but that was manageable. So, on January 27, 2017, I booked the Comfort Inn & Suites in Sidney, NE for Sunday Night, August 20th.

The plan at this point in time was to leave Freeport very early on Sunday, Aug. 20th, drive about 12 hours to Sidney, NE and then head of Alliance, NE the next morning at about 7am and drive to a viewing site.  Prior to leaving on Sunday, we would check the weather and if it looked bad, we would head West into Wyoming.  We also agreed to make a pre-eclipse trip, sometime in April or May out to Alliance to check out the area and select a spot for viewing in August.

February 2017 - Cameras, Telescope and what else?

With about 7 months to the eclipse, it was time to determine what sort of equipment to take out to Alliance. I was planning to take a camera to capture some pictures, a small pair of binoculars and my Meade EXT-125 Telescope.  I already had solar filters for the camera and telescope along with some of the cardboard glasses included in the Zeiler book we bought earlier.   I decided to buy some plastic eclipse glasses from Rainbow Symphony, Inc as well so we didn't have to worry about possibly damaging the cardboard variety.  We were set to safely view the eclipse during it's partial phases. I felt that I needed to purchase an additional camera since my Canon T3 DSLR would be attached to my telescope and I wanted to be free to take some shots on my own. After a lot of research, I settled on a Canon SL1 with a 70mm-300mm Zoom. I also needed an additional solar filter for the second camera, so I made that purchase as well.

  May 2017 - A Pre-Eclipse Trip to our viewing Site

Our next step was to plan our pre-Eclipse trip to Alliance and look at the area to find a suitable view sight.  I found the Alliance Chamber of Commerce web site and they had a number of events planned for the weekend prior to the eclipse.  They also had information about a number of viewing sites around the area and details of the events being planned.  Based on available weekends, we selected May 14-16 as our timing for the visit. We would leave on Sunday Morning, visit Alliance on Monday and then travel back on Monday and Tuesday. Our plan was to stop in at the Chamber Office to get information about the eclipse, travel around the town and visit a few of the viewing sites to select a location that met our requirements.

Travel Time and More Planning

 Sunday May 14 rolled around and we headed to Alliance. We left the house at about 6 am and expected to arrive in Sidney, NE around 6 pm. Sue had packed snacks, sodas and sandwiches for the trip. We only expected to stop for bathroom and stretch breaks.  During the time in the car, we were able to discuss the plans and logistics for our trip in August.  One of the items I was considering was not taking my telescope.  I originally thought I would set one of the cameras on the telescope to take pictures automatically.   The telescope coupled with my camera was equivalent to having a 1900mm lens. Because of the long focal length, the image of the Sun was magnified and was too large for the field of view. I would not be able to capture the sun in a single frame. This would have been ok, but I really wanted to have the entire disk of the sun visible during totality. I purchased a 50% photo reducer, but the image quality left much to be desired, so I ruled that out. The more we discussed the options, the more I was convinced not to take the telescope.

Sidney and Alliance

We arrived in Sidney close to our estimated time, found a restaurant for some dinner and retired for the evening.  We got up the next morning, had breakfast and headed North to Alliance. There was very little traffic on the 78 mile drive. It took about 1 1/4 hours to drive on the mainly 2 lane road. We talked about the possible issues if the traffic was heavy, but at this point, all was well.  As we neared Alliance, I started looking for potential viewing areas along the highway. There were a number of spots with small areas at road crossings that would have been acceptable if we couldn't find an acceptable location in the city.

 We picked the right place - Alliance, NE

Alliance is a small town on the West edge of the Nebraska Sand Hills with a population of about 5000. We parked near the court house and our first place to visit was the Chamber of Commerce office. I wanted to talk with someone about the plans they had along with expectations of the number of visitors and potential view sites.  Once we were at the Chamber Office, we met with Kevin, the Director of the Visitors Bureau. He was responsible for planning the details of the Eclipse activities. We spent quite a while talking with him. He indicated that they were planning for roughly 10,000 visitors for the Eclipse and gave us lots of information about the city and the viewing areas. We thanked him for his help and told him we were looking forward to coming back in August.  From there, we drove around the city, stopped off at Carhenge and went out to the Rodeo grounds. Overall, Sue and I felt much better about coming back in August, but we still needed to make a decision about our viewing location. As we left Alliance, we decided to head East on Route 2 across the Sand Hills. Again, I kept my eyes open for small areas along the roadside that we might use as a viewing area.   Once we got back home, we continued to discuss details of our trip plans and where we would setup and view the event.


 Downtown Alliance, NE Car Henge 
Downtown Alliance, NE  Carhenge,  North of Alliance 

June 2017 - 60 Days and Counting

For the next few months we continued to discuss the trip and our plans for viewing the Eclipse. We still hadn't selected the exact location, but I was leaning towards one of the spots along Highway 385, near the center of totality. There were also some good places along Highway 2 just East of Alliance.  Any of those spots would give us a viewing time of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.   If we weren't viewing the event in town or one of the designated areas, we would need to make sure we considered alternatives for taking "potty breaks".  The plan was to setup very early and stay through totality until the eclipse was done, which would be a total of about 9 hours.  We figured nature would call sometime, so we needed to plan for alternatives.  There were a number of portable camping  toilets we could purchase just in case.  We figured that was something we could do a day or two before we left.  In addition, we were getting our lists made for food, clothes and other items that might be needed in addition to the observing equipment we were taking. I also settled on the final list of equipment.  I would be taking 2 cameras, 2 tripods, binoculars, canvas chairs, solar glasses and filters for the cameras, but the telescope was not going. I expected that it would take too much care during totality to get pictures through the scope and would take away from my time for the "experience".

July 2017 - 30 Days and Counting

We continued to research and try and find as much information on the web about what to expect during the eclipse. During my research, I had found an interesting article about how the media might treat the event and the implications.  It really caught my attention, since we were close to 30 days left and I had only seen minimal stories about the eclipse on the nightly news programs and in the general media.  The article described 3 different media scenarios that might occur and how this might impact the public response. #1) the media would not provide much pre-coverage and only do a few a few stories, primarily during and after the event, but otherwise remain very low key. This was a very low probability, but would result in not much disruption from traffic and impulse travel to view the eclipse.  #2) the media would begin putting stories together about the eclipse 6 to 12 months before the event. People would be well informed about what was happening and where to be along with having lots of time to plan. Traffic would be orderly and only slightly more the normal.  I knew this wasn't happening since there just wasn't that much information being pushed out by the media to the public.  You had to go look for it.  #3) which was the worst case, the media would start to hype the eclipse a week or two before the event. People would make their decision to view the eclipse only days before, causing very high traffic volume and problems finding places to stay.  As it turned out, this was exactly what was happening, so my anxiety level was beginning to rise thinking about our long trip and what we might encounter.

August 2017 - 21 Days and Counting - What about the Weather?

August 7th Forecast for EclipseOut of the many items we were planning for, the outcome of the weather was something we had no control over. I began seeing some very long range forecast information for August 21st. The initial information said good conditions over the far West, questionable over the West and Mid-West and not good on the Eastern Coast. Knowing this would change a number of times over the next 3 weeks, I wasn't too concerned, but it was still in the back of my mind, "What if .....?".  The common thread was the farther West you were, the more likely the viewing would be good. Our backup plan was to do a detailed check on the weather the Sunday night the 20th and plan to drive to the NW until we find reasonable sky's. One of the things I had to keep in mind was that we picked Alliance, NE as our viewing site because historically, we had a fairly high probability of clear sky's mid-day in August. Of course statistics can't predict the weather for any one day.

As the time got closer, I was down to checking the forecasts daily. There was a low pressure system moving in from the Pacific and it didn't look like it was going to clear Nebraska until after the 21st. The forecast for Wyoming was good, clear sky, but Western Nebraska looked like it might be on the cloudy side of the low.   This was really out of our control and I really don't know if the clouds would have socked in, how far West we could have driven without hitting massive traffic heading North from Denver.

7 Days and Counting - The Alaska Connection

The next series of events fell into place and helped us resolve our final issue. Where specifically would be to view the Eclipse. I had been talking about my trip to Alliance, NE and the Eclipse since April with my golfing friends. They had quizzed me for my reasons to travel so far instead of just going to Southern Illinois. So they had heard my rational and the town of Alliance, NE man, many times.

  One of my golfing buddies was taking  a 2 week trip to Alaska during July.  Once he got back in early August, I was interested to hear about his trip and the sights he took in. While he was giving me the details, he said he had something interesting to tell me. He said that during the trip, they met another couple and teen age son on their trip. He said they really enjoyed talking with their son and struck up a friendship with the family during the two weeks. As they talked, the couple said they were from Alliance, NE. My golfing buddy said he knew about Alliance and the upcoming Eclipse. He also said one of his friends, me, was planning to travel to Alliance to view the Eclipse. Before they parted ways, the couple offered the opportunity to stay with them  the night before the eclipse.  I explained to my friend that we wouldn't feel comfortable imposing on his Alliance friends, but if they didn't mind, we would be happy to view the Eclipse from their home, which was just to the E. of Alliance. He relayed the information and gave me their e-mail address, I exchanged and e-mail and phone call and then we were set. We had our viewing location nailed down in Alliance.  My wife and I are extremely grateful to the couple and their son from Alliance for their friendship and hospitality on our trip.

6 Days and Counting - A small change in Plans

With less than a week before the Eclipse, the media was in full swing covering "The Great American Eclipse of 2017".  We started hearing reports of traffic jams already starting in Oregon as people were traveling to viewing locations. I was amazed by this, but also concerned. Our plan was for a 12+ hour trip to Sidney, NE on Sunday. If we ran into traffic issues, it might be very late before we would arrive. After some discussion, we decided to book a hotel in Omaha, NE for Saturday night. This would give us a much shorter drive on Sunday and even if we hit traffic, we would expect to get to our hotel at a good time. I booked the hotel with no issues and we were back to our final preparations.

5 Days and Counting - One more change and we are set

We contiued to have discussion and thoughts about potential traffic.  The new coverage kept up the theme of reports of traffic jams and hords of people trying to get to view spots along the Eclipse Path.  After some consideration, I canceled the hotel in Omaha and booked Saturday night in Sidney, NE.  Figured it would be better, just continuing to our destination.  Our hotel for Sunday night did not have any rooms left, but there was anothe hotel nearby with avaliablity.  I booked Statuday night in Sidney.  This would give us a little extra time to check out the surrounding area and possibly meet our hosts the day before the event.

4 and 3 Days before - Final Preperations

We spent Thusday and Friday going over the final inventory of equipment and other logistics we needed to consider.  I was checking the weather forecast twice a day.  The forecast showed clouds moving out by Monday, but we dicussed the possiblity of heading farther West in seach of clear skys if the clouds were with us on Monday.  Our fallback plan was to head out on I-80 towards Cheyenne, WY in search of clear skys.  On Friday Night, the car was packed and ready to go early Saturday Morning.

2 Days before Eclipse - Travel to Sidney Nebraska

We  left home before Sunrise on Saturday and headed down to I-80. Once there, it was a straight shot to Sidney. No major issues during the trip.  We packed sandwitches for the trip, so our only stops were for fuel and rest stop breaks. We arrived in Sidney in the late afternoon.  There were some clouds in the area with iosolated showers moving accross the the plains.  We checked into the hotel, we grabbed a quick dinner and settled in for the evening.

1 Day before Eclipse - Survey the area and some Sight seeing

Since we arrived a day early, that left Sunday for some sight seeing the area.  After a few stops at some of the local sights, we arrived at Alliance to meet out hosts.   I was able to survey the area, check out my setup location and let our hosts know the plans for Monday morning.  Our plan was to arrive early, around 6am and assess the weather.  If it was cloudy, we would still have some time to head out to clearer conditions.   After a short visit, we drove back to Sidney for dinner and another early night.  That evening the weather forcast look ok, but there was fog expected in the early morning. This could be a problem for the drive, so we decided to rise at 4am and hit the road at 4:30am in case we had some delays with fog or traffic.

 Castle Rock, NE Castle Rock, NE 
Castle Rock, NE  Castle Rock, NE 


Monday August 21, 2017 - Here we go!

We were up a bit early and got the car packed up ready to head out.  The hotel had box breakfasts setup very early for the guest departing to view the Eclipse.  As we got in the car the fog had moved in. As we drove off and got into the some of the lower areas, it was pretty thick.  The traffic wasn't bad, but there were a number of vehicles heading North on Highway 385 heading to Alliance.  The trip took about 30 minutes longer than we had expected, but we got to our location with plenty of time to setup and wait.  The fog was slowly moving out giving way to a nice blue sky.   After I setup, our hosts kindly provide some coffee and rolls.  We had about 3 hours to go before First Contact at 10:27 am MST.
I was periodically looking up and checking to see if the Eclipse has started when I finally noticed a small piece of the sun being covered by the moon.  At that moment everything became real.  Up to that point, the event was still just a plan, but once it started that was it.  Nothing I could do would slow down or stop the event.  It was finally going to happen.
I got up and started up one of my cameras to take a frame, every 15 seconds.  The zoom was set to 135mm.  I didn't have any tracking for it, so I would periodically need to recenter the image in the frame.  The other camera, I would shoot hand held every few minutes to capture the full sequence. 
For the next hour, I was taking shots and checking to make sure the other camera still have the sun in frame.   As the total eclipse time got closer, I had to adjust the exposure times of the cameras.
As Totality occured, I remember stopping, pulling off my solar glasses and just taking in the moment. I said "Oh my God" and became very emotional. After 1 1/2 years of planning and preperation, this is what we came to see. I continued to snap picures, but also took more time to look at this amazing sight. In a short time, the 2 minutes and 32 seconds of totaliity were over.  I set the cameras up with filters again and resumed taking picures until the eclipse was over at 1:16 pm MDT.


Seconds Prior to Beginning of Totality Mid Totality Seconds after End of Totality

21 Nov 2022