For months, while not knowing exactly where we would be, we knew along what path we would be on August 21st: within the great eclipse totality, the band of total darkness running across the U.S. As our schedule slowly solidified, I started looking at specifics: could we find an affordable (many places jacked their prices for the event) RV park in the closest path of the totality to our current location, or would it be a day trip in Loki to watch on the side of the road some place?
As usual, persistent daily checks of a couple of NW Nebraska state parks revealed a cancellation, and we locked in the perfect two day window at Fort Robinson State Park. And so having only spent two days in the South Dakota with lots more on our list to see, we broke camp and sprinted the 133 miles south on the day before the great solar eclipse.
We found Fort Robinson State Park to be a great place for the viewing. We had a large, level, partially tree covered, partial hook up (electric only) site for $24 a night, but due to a Nebraska State Park “Gotcha” rule requiring the purchase of separate day or seasonal passes in addition to your camping fee, we were obliged to pay an additional $8 a day for our vehicle, bumping the true daily cost up to $32. This is pretty similar to the Texas State Park gotcha ruleTexas State Park gotcha rule, but not nearly as egregious as the Michigan State Park systems “double gotcha” fees (requiring a day or seasonal pass for both the motorhome and the tow vehicle.)
Yeah, so that ends up not being a great daily rate, but we were happy to have anything at all given how crowded many parks were that day. Besides, Fort Robinson is a pretty fascinating place in its own right, with some extraordinary, though tragic history. This is were Crazy Horse was killed under very sketchy circumstances while residing at the Red Cloud Agency. It is also where the Cheyenne outbreak and massacre occurred, where just over a hundred Cheyenne made a desperate deep winter escape attempt after being locked inside a barracks building, deprived of food, water, and wood for fires.
Our first night at the campground we were introduced to the miraculous “Walking Taco” by a group of young women raising money for some school event. The gist of it is this: you take a medium sized bag of nachos, 3.3 oz size if I recall correctly, and into that you dump all of the remaining taco fixings; meat, lettuce, cheese, onions, guac, sour cream, what ever. You sort of mix the whole thing up, lightly crushing the chips, and then eat straight out of the bag with a fork. Brilliant!
Enough of that, on to the Eclipse. We set ourselves up in our personal clearing, chairs and solar glasses (obtained from the base library back at Ellsworth Air Force Base), and enjoyed the whole process along with our neighbors. For starters, it’s not just the full eclipse that is fascinating. Take for instance the odd shadow forms resulting from the glimmer of the crescent shaped sun scattered through light tree branches:
While we had a pair of solar glasses to share, we found it near impossible to get a good picture with our phones, either through the solar lens or without. This is about the best we could do at peak totality.
Hard to describe how awesome a minute of darkness can be when it comes from such an interesting alignment of our star and moon, but it was indeed very cool. We were also happy that we didn’t have to break camp and leave right after it was over like many of our neighbors did. Instead, we could linger in the aftermath, watching as the odd crescent shadows reversed themselves as the eclipse concluded.
All in all we are very glad we chose to spend the time and gas getting down to the totality. We had other things on our itinerary with an aggressive time line, so we packed up the day after the event and sprinted back up to the South Dakota Badlands. Next post: two more National Parks!