Photo by Bulletin graphics
Photo by Colleen Pinski
This National Geographic photo displays the majesty of a solar eclipse.
At totality, only the sun's corona will be visible.
A wide open viewing spot near Tyron.
Myths abound about the solar eclipse – especially a rare total eclipse -- which arrives in any given place once in 350 years or so.Shortly after noon on Monday, Aug. 21 in central Nebraska, a total solar eclipse will occur. The shadow of the moon will totally cover the sun for two-and-a-half minutes, casting the world below into eerie mid-day darkness.
It’s the stuff of myths.
The native Tewa tribe from New Mexico believed that a solar eclipse signaled an angry Sun who left the skies to go to the underworld.
However, not all myths about the eclipse are negative.
In Italy, for example, it is said that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colorful than flowers planted any other time.
Thanks to the advancement of science, people today have a more objective opinion of an eclipse, yet even scientific, experienced watchers of today say there is nothing like the emotional impact of the phenomenon.
Tryon and Stapleton, just 30 miles north of North Platte are in the center of the eclipse’s path -- giving them a remarkable opportunity to welcome visitors from other parts of the country, and the world.
A total eclipse will not occur again in these parts for another 700 years or so. Organizers are making extensive preparations to host thousands of people.
The two small Sandhills towns are well-suited places to watch the sky, with lots of wide open spaces from which to see the once-in-several-lifetimes phenomenon.
It’s enough to drive organizers nearly crazy with happiness.
Stapleton organizer Gary Johnson said he doesn’t know how many people to expect, but the community has ordered 10,000 pairs of viewing glasses and souvenir cards to give to visitors.
He’s not sure that will be enough.
“We’ve been told it could be from 5,000-15,000 people,” he said. “It’s just a crap shoot. I am conservatively guessing 5,000 at this point.”
Johnson said viewpoints will be established at the Logan County Fairgrounds, on surrounding pasture land, and at the golf course, which is whimsically named Augusta Wind.
The exact centerpoint of the path of totality is on the No. 4 and 7 fairways at Augusta Wind – near the middle of the nine-hole course, where a limited number of viewing sites are available by reservation.
“We’re very excited,” Augusta Wind organizer Skip Hecox said. “We take a lot of pride in the amount of effort to make our course look great. It’s gorgeous. I think it will be a great spot.”
Hecox said the number of viewers will only be limited by parking space. With space for about 200 cars at the course, occupants can walk to the fairways to see the sights.
To reserve a spot, email him at email@example.com.
“It’s exciting to know that we will have the longest duration,” said Johnson, a retired Stapleton High science teacher. “It will get totally dark in North Platte, but only last a minute or so. We’ll have 2 minutes, 34 seconds here. That is nearly the longest duration in the entire county, which is 2:40 minutes.”
Some Stapleton residents learned 15 years ago that the town would be in the middle of the eclipse path, Johnson said. Amateur astronomer and eclipse enthusiast Derryl Barr knew about it, and before Barr retired, he was not only a North Platte high teacher, but he installed underground sprinklers during the summers.
Long ago, while he was on a sprinkler crew at Stapleton, he talked to some residents about it.
Barr is so enthusiastic about eclipses that he travels the world to see them. He has seen more than 20 total eclipses.
Barr is slated to give a presentation about eclipses at the fairgrounds in Stapleton on Sunday night.
On Aug. 21, the passage of the moon in front of the sun will begin at 11:31 a.m.
Totality – when the sun is completely covered -- begins at 12:54 p.m. and lasts for 2 minutes, 34 seconds in the center of the path. Totality will end around 12:57 p.m. and the shadow will gradually move through and past the sun. The sun will be completely clear at 2:22 p.m.
Organizers say it is absolutely essential to protect your eyes with certified viewing glasses or a No. 14 welding helmet. Eye protection can be removed during totality, but as totality ends, the sky will suddenly blaze with the near-blinding bright edge of the sun.
Gary Johnson of Stapleton taught high school science for about 30 years.
“I was asked to coordinate the festival, and I agreed,” he said, “But I would like to be like Derryl, if I could, and travel the world. I’m super-excited to see it.”
“We have good viewing at the fairgrounds,” Johnson said. “It is pretty much open for 10,000 people. They will be able to see 360 degrees. We have a few buildings, but people can get away from them. Visibility should not be a problem.”
A good view will be vital during totality to witness the phenomena, including shadow bands – snake-like strips of light and dark that seem to wave across the ground.
The annual Logan County rodeo and festivities, including a street dance, will be held the weekend before the eclipse, providing visitors a real experience in Sandhills entertainment. During the nights, visitors are welcome to star gaze out in the wide open spaces, Johnson said.
A total eclipse can be seen from a specific spot on earth only once in 350-375 years or so, on average, according to a report by Joe Rao of the website, www.Space.com.
At Tryon, visitors can experience both the Sandhills and ranch life, with wagon and horse rides, a petting zoo, question and answer sessions with ranchers over coffee, educational booths about the aquifer, native grasses and fragile soil, said Elnora Neal, one of the organizers.
Tryon will also have a tipi village, a flint knapping demonstration, cutting horse and cow dog demonstrations, as well as team penning, a sod house and antique tractors.
A presentation about Sandhills history, called The Sandhills Through Song, will begin at 7 p.m. Sunday night, portraying the history of the Sandhills and the people, beginning with the homesteaders and Kincaiders to the present day.
There will be stories of staking claims, hardships, blowing sand, the fun and the hardiness of the people.
In other words, real life in Nebraska.
When it’s time to watch the eclipse on Monday, people will go to a wide-open pasture outside the village for the full view, Neal said.
And after the historic eclipse, people can party and stay up late to look at the stars, far from the “light pollution” – the manmade glow of electric lights.
“We’re not sure how many to expect,” Neal said. “We are thinking maybe 1,000. We know will have busloads of people. People are calling to reserve telescope sites.”
Neal said people from England, Germany, Denmark, Florida and California have contacted them.
She said there are about 15 people on the Tryon organizing committee.
“We see this as an opportunity to help people learn about Nebraska,” she said. “Of course we are arranging parking and facilities, but we also want to offer more to let people know what it’s like here.”
“(Organizer) Linda Kemp has really put a lot of thinking into this,” she said. “Sometimes I think Linda eats, sleeps and dreams the eclipse. It’s exciting and overwhelming. We are making good plans.”
Muriel Clark of the North Platte and Lincoln County Visitor’s Bureau said all the motel rooms in North Platte are essentially full for the Sunday and Monday nights of the big weekend, as are motels across the state in the path of totality.
Many more visitors are expected who will stay with Lincoln County family members. Rooms in private homes are also being rented through Airbnb, an online site where people can rent short-term lodging in private homes.
Clark said a lot of day trippers – people who live within a few hours – are expected to come watch.
In North Platte, the Prairie Arts Center is planning eclipse events that weekend, as is Scout’s Rest Ranch, the Grain Bin Town, Feather River Vineyard and Pals Brewing, Clark said.
On the Saturday before the Great Eclipse, Maxwell Heritage Days will be held, where organizers are planning to have viewing sites.
Clark said the Visitor’s Bureau has purchased thousands of viewing glasses for school children.
While visitors from far away are expected, Clark is also urging people nearby to come see.
“What concerns me is that residents of Wallace might not,” Clark said. “They are just south of the path of totality, and will only see a partial eclipse from there. Everyone I talk to tells me that there is nothing like being inside the path of totality, so I hope people come into the path to experience it.”
(The majority of this report was first published in the Bulletin's May 3 print edition.)