The Great American Eclipse came and went across the Gem State on Monday — with lots of oohs and aahs, but not the hordes of visitors to Idaho that many expected.
In Weiser, an estimated 1,200 people watched the event from Memorial Park. As hundreds gathered on a grassy hill, all eyes turned toward the sky at about 10:12 a.m. That’s when the show of total totality began. By 11 a.m., it was noticeably colder. By 11:20 a.m., it felt like dusk. At 11:25 a.m., there was total darkness. Crowds cheered when the sun finally broke through the moon’s grasp at 11:28 a.m.
Before the eclipse, there were predictions that upward of 20,000 people could show up each day over several days in Weiser for the celestial celebration. And while the actual numbers fell short overall, Monday’s crowd was estimated to still be as robust as several thousand people, and the excitement was still strong in the tiny town northwest of Boise.
VANTAGE POINTS IN BOISE
In Boise, a few hundred people watched from the Boise Depot. The Boise State University campus was filled with students, staff and others waiting and watching. While Boise wasn’t quite in the eclipse’s path of totality, about 99.5 percent of the sun was covered.
“I think this is amazing,” said Tashi Sherpa, a spring 2017 Boise State graduate from Nepal, while looking into a pinhole viewer.
“It’s something we’ll remember for the rest of our lives,” said Amy Vecchione, head of the Emerging Technology and Experiential Learning program at Albertsons Library. “I’m so happy that so many people thought so much about science to come out here.”
“It was beautiful. It started getting cold, and then it reached the peak really quick,” Sherpa said after the eclipse.
Families and office workers carried chairs and glasses outside in Downtown Boise, eager to catch a glimpse of the eclipse and set themselves up to stare into the sky.
“Eclipses don’t happen every day, so it’s a good excuse to get out of the office,” said Susan Odom, who works Downtown and sneaked away her desk with her office colleagues to watch the eclipse. “It’s very cool to see.”
“I got my glasses weeks ago, but I forgot them today,” said Kathleen Pollard, who works with Odom. “But I have friends who are sharing.”
VIEWS FROM POND, ZOO
About 110 people floated on Quinn’s Pond at Esther Simplot Park in Boise, quietly taking in the eclipse, said Richard and Byrdeen Nota, who sat bank side in a camp chairs.
The couple retired and moved to Boise last year.
“It was real peaceful,” Richard says. “We had a great view and we just sat back and relaxed. It’s wonderful to experience a natural phenomenon and how calm it was. The world needs that now.”
It reminded them that there are things “bigger than us,” Byrdeen says. “It was an extraordinary happening that was truly awesome.”
At Zoo Boise, the animals were less taken with the celestial event than the people. The butterflies were the most affected. Even before we humans could notice a drop in the light, the butterflies settled into place — as they do every evening as twilight approaches. (That’s when birds become most active, Zoo Boise Director Steve Burns explained, and the butterflies know to minimize their chance of being a bird’s dinner meal.)
The gibbons were noisy early, whooping and calling as the eclipse peaked. The birds got quiet. Crickets chirruped.
Zoo staff sensed other different behaviors, but nothing else very specific or dramatic. But the nocturnal binturongs (also known as bearcats) didn’t come out. The lions may have roared, as they do in the evening, but that was disputed. The tigers may have been more active. And within a few minutes, the primates were gnawing on leafy sticks while children chomped on corndogs — like any other zoo morning.
COOL AND DIM
In Boise and elsewhere, drivers had headlights turned on and lights were on at gas stations. The temperature as the moon covered the sun dropped to below 70 degrees. Walking outside, the light was dim, similar to wearing sunglasses.
About 300 to 400 people hiked or drove to Table Rock to watch the eclipse from one of Boise’s landmarks. As the air cooled — a reprieve for the hikers — you could see the streetlights coming on in Downtown Boise as the eclipse reached its peak.
James Campbell of Boise and his brother arrived at Table Rock at 3 a.m. because they expected a much larger crowd. They watched a recent meteor shower from Table Rock, too. People camped for that, which stoked Campbell’s fears about overcrowding.
“I thought it was going to be crazy,” he said.
Instead, it was a relaxed scene with families staking out spots along the rim on both sides of Table Rock. The sun was high overhead and behind Table Rock, toward the rest of the Foothills.
Campbell hikes to Table Rock every weekend, he said. “But I never have seen the eclipse, so I thought it was the best place.”
Eclipse viewers were surprised by the lighting changes as the eclipse progressed.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s dusk, but it’s weird,” one man was overheard saying.
“It feels like early, early morning when you wake up — 6 o’clock in the morning. I thought it was going to be black-black. Boom, and it’s night,” Campbell said.
Izzy McDowell, a 6-year-old, checked out the eclipse on her last day before starting first grade.
“It’s skinnier,” she said of the sun as she looked through her eclipse glasses.
She was accompanied on the morning hike by her dad, Nick McDowell, and Jill Steinmetz.
“We figured it would be a good view,” Nick said. “I expected more (people) actually. This is a little more than you’d see on a regular weekend. I’m glad it’s not more crowded.”
Duane Stanislaw of Boise drove to Table Rock at 6:30 a.m. He brought a lunch and met some neighbors who hiked up.
“It was excellent,” Stanislaw said of the eclipse. “It didn’t get as dark as what I thought but … it wasn’t worth the hassle to try to chase the 100 percent.”
ECLIPSE AT THE FAIR
As the temperature dropped at the Expo Idaho grandstand and the moon nearly covered the sun, the crowd oohed and ahhed. Kids giggled and gazed upward behind special eclipse glasses.
“That was really cool — get it? cool?” said Robyn Gordon of Eagle.
Gordon was one of about 1,800 people at Total Eclipse of the Fair, an event filled with prize drawings, music — Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” mostly — and early admission to the Western Idaho Fair.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to do something special as a family at the end of summer, said Robyn’s husband, Mike. The couple and their daughter Karley, 23, sat in the grandstands for the event.
“It’s our last day to be together before Karley goes off for her internship in Denver,” Mike says. Making it more special was a family connection.
“My dad, Jim, is 85, and he saw an eclipse when he was about Karley’s age,” Mike says. “Now, she’s seeing one. That’s pretty cool. He said they’ll watch the next one together.”
Fair director Bob Batista told the crowd that as far as he knows, “the Western Idaho Fair is the only fair in the path of totality. We wanted to do something special.”
Haylee Trombley, 5; her mom, Kristin; and her grandparents came to the fair from Meridian. They sat on the lawn for the big event as Haylee tumbled around on the grass.
“We decided that for 2 percent more, it wasn’t worth dealing with the traffic,” Kristin said, referring to Boise’s location just outside the path of totality. Even if it wasn’t a total eclipse at the fairgrounds, she said, “it was pretty awesome.”
Haylee sported eclipse glasses that her mom attached to a paper plate to keep them on her face. Her cousin sent her a link with the directions.
“The glasses you buy are too big for her face and kept falling off,” Kristin said.
LAST-MINUTE PLAN CHANGE
Traffic on the Connector into Downtown Boise was very light Monday morning, and there were very few people Downtown early in the morning.
Vinay Shah and sons Zachary and Brady flew into Boise from San Francisco last night.
Shah said he began planning the trip two weeks ago.
He wanted to get to the path of totality but couldn’t get a rental car, so he asked workers at their hotel where to go and ended up at Camel’s Back Park. He set up a camera and eclipse telescope on tripods while the boys snacked on chips and Cheetos.
“It only works one day of the year … or this century,” he quipped about the eclipse telescope.
School started last week in their hometown of San Mateo, Calif. So they’re returning home Tuesday.
TRAFFIC FEARS EASED
After months and years of anticipation, this rare astronomical event stretched from coast to coast across the U.S. — from Oregon to South Carolina. The country’s last total solar eclipse like this, on June 8, 1918, came in over Oregon and Washington, and made a beeline for Florida.
The 2017 eclipse began to cast its shadow in Idaho about 10:10 a.m. Aug. 21, with the peak of the eclipse coming at about 11:27 a.m. in Boise.
The pre-eclipse gridlock that many feared failed to materialize, and officials said morning traffic, while heavier than usual in some spots, was mostly manageable. Most people apparently got where they were headed before the moon briefly blotted out the sun late Monday morning, but as the sky returned to normal in the early afternoon, many hit the roads again and found the going wasn’t easy.
Starting around 12:30 p.m. Monday — about an hour after the total eclipse in Emmett, Stanley, Weiser and other prime viewing spots — drivers reported a noontime rush hour headed out of Emmett, with intermittent traffic problems on Idaho 16. And many hit the road from other spots, as well, Idaho State Police report.
About 1:15 p.m., the Idaho Transportation Department reported slow traffic coming out of Weiser and on Idaho 55 between Banks and Horseshoe Bend, but no major incidents. Traffic worsened out of Weiser a little later in the afternoon. Earlier, ITD had urged drivers not to be in a rush to head home.
Traffic was reportedly heavy but manageable across the state during the run-up to the eclipse, slacking off as the much-anticipated event began after 10 a.m. and peaked at 11:27 a.m.. Treasure Valley traffic moved smoothly through the morning, but elsewhere in the state congestion had set in by 10 a.m., according to reports.
ISP had urged motorists not to stop along Idaho highways to view the eclipse, but many reportedly did.
Asked mid-morning if eclipse-day traffic was lower than expected, an ISP dispatcher replied, “We didn’t know what to expect.”
AN OUTDOOR CLASSROOM
The drive from Boise to Emmett, which was in the path of totality, was smooth and fast before the eclipse — 43 minutes from State and 15th streets in the Idaho capital to the small agricultural town.
The Emmett School District transformed the Gem Island Sports Complex on the city’s northern edge into a giant outdoor classroom on Monday morning.
“This was such an opportunity for education,” Superintendent Wayne Rush said. “It just landed in our laps.”
Shadow Butte Elementary hosted the “spectrometer” stand where students could create rainbows using cereal boxes, broken CDs and scotch tape.
Emmett High math and physics teacher Shayne Seubert helped students visualize eclipses with the aid of a scale model made from wooden rulers. Seubert has been posting science tidbits for his students leading up to the big day, he said. The most recent post: How did ancient civilizations regard eclipses?
Monday marked Seubert’s first experience of a full eclipse. He’s also thrilled because he has 10 students in his physics class this year.
Science can be daunting for some students, so he plans to spend the year breaking down some of the misconceptions students have about science — that it’s all about lab coats and elitists.
“My hope is that even if my students don’t choose careers in science, they will leave thinking about the world in a new way,” he said. “The district’s eclipse day will help promote that idea.”
“Not to mention that the eclipse is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
Students made chalk art — their visions of what the eclipse might actually look like. Other students got their arms and faces painted with an array of planets, stars, moons wearing sunglasses, and rocket ships.
All the educational fun stopped, though, as the eclipse began. Temperatures fell notably. Sunlight became lilac-colored and surreal on the grassy slopes of Gem Island. Several people wrapped themselves in blankets. One teacher noticed the planet Venus, visible in the night sky, as well as a band of light, something like a 360-degree sunset around the horizon.
Then, suddenly, full totality was over, even as the chill remained.
“The hype was real,” said Robert Brown, an Emmett High 10th-grader.
He was still wearing his eclipse glasses, pushed back on his head, and a T-shirt with a picture of an astronaut that read: “I Need More Space.”
“That was so cool,” he said. “Let’s do it again.”
ELSEWHERE ALONG THE PATH
More than 5,000 backpackers watched the event from the Sawtooth and White Cloud wilderness areas with even more in the Hemingway and Jim McClure-Jerry Peak wilderness areas to the south.
But the crowd in Stanley was smaller than expected. Still, viewing areas set up by the Forest Service were full, and eclipse chasers were spread out across the 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area.
Caroline Leib had come from Thailand to watch the event that connected her with a deeper reality.
“It’s nature, and nature is telling us what we need to know,” Lieb said.
The Treasure Valley’s two health systems, St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus, reported no retina burns or other eclipse-related incidents at their hospitals. Saint Alphonsus, which has two hospitals in eastern Oregon, said it had seen 15 patients over the weekend who were visiting the region for the eclipse.
In East Idaho, viewing sites filled up quickly Monday morning in Idaho Falls.
Traffic was heavily congested on the eastern side of the state on U.S. 20 and Interstate 15 for hours, but by sundown it had cleared.
The estimated time to get from Roberts to Pocatello on I-15, a 67-mile stretch, was at one point as long as three hours.
There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on I-15 from Idaho Falls south toward Pocatello and on U.S. 20 from Idaho Falls north to Rexburg, according to a news release from the city of Idaho Falls. By 9 p.m., Idaho State Police reported that traffic cleared on I-15, until milepost 100, at which point ISP said there were still delays in Pocatello.
A couple of minor vehicle accidents were reported in Idaho Falls following the eclipse, according to an Idaho Falls news release.
There was a recent report of a boat accident at Blacktail Reservoir, near Rigby, that ended in one death. The Bonneville County Sheriff's Office confirmed there was one fatality and two serious injuries. The two injured individuals were transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center — one by air and one by ambulance.
Also in East Idaho, a Utah family capitalized on the large number of solar eclipse chasers by setting up a campsite in Idaho to raise money for cancer treatment.
KSL-TV reports (http://bit.ly/2xkL9Fx ) that the Ahlstrom family is conducting the fundraiser for research for a cure for multiple myeloma at their Rexburg campsite on Monday. Jenny Ahlstrom of Sandy was diagnosed with the rare terminal blood cancer seven years ago. She started two foundations that have raised about $477,000 so far. She’s hoping the campsite will bring her to her $500,000 goal.
Ahlstrom’s husband and children helped her organize and advertise the campsite. RV sites and tent sites for the full weekend went for $250 and $200. Monday-only tent and RV sites were listed for $50.
The Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night for a sliver of the planet. But these sights normally are in no man’s land, like the vast Pacific Ocean or the Earth’s poles. This is the first eclipse of the social media era to pass through such heavily populated areas.
In neighboring Oregon, dire warnings of bumper-to-bumper traffic failed to happen in the days leading up to the total solar eclipse.
And most travelers reached their destination with relative ease Monday morning.
Officials were more concerned about traffic jams following the eclipse and hoped drivers would stagger their departures, instead of all leaving at once.
Oregon DOT tweeted: “Don’t forget, if everyone leaves at once, you’ll get nowhere fast.”
Eric Lee didn’t take any chances Monday.
The Sacramento, Calif., man told The Oregonian/OregonLive (https://is.gd/YhS1fY ) he drove to the Oregon coast Sunday and spent the night in a parking lot north of Depoe Bay.
He wanted to see the moon’s shadow go across the ocean. But after awakening to a cloudy Monday, he decided to head inland in search of clear skies.
Though locals told him the skies would clear before the eclipse, he didn’t want to gamble when it came to witnessing the astronomical event of his lifetime.
THE VIEW FROM ALOFT
An astronaut, eclipse experts, reporters and some lucky contest winners had unique seats for the total solar eclipse Monday. They were viewing it from 38,000 feet (11,582 meters) above the Pacific Ocean.
About 100 people were on Alaska Airlines’ special eclipse chaser charter flight, which took off in Portland. The passengers were able to watch totality — the point at which the moon completely covers the sun — from their seats.
Across the nation, Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and protective glasses Monday as the moon began blotting out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century.
“The show has just begun, people! What a gorgeous day! Isn’t this great people?” Jim Todd, a director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, told a crowd of thousands at an amphitheater in Salem, Ore., as the moon seemed to take an ever-bigger bite out of the sun.
Hundreds of amateur astronomers converged on Casper, Wyo. Among them was Mike O’Leary, whose camera was outfitted with a homemade eclipse filter, its focus and aperture settings locked in with blue painter’s tape. He was there to log his ninth eclipse.
“It’s like nothing else you will ever see or ever do,” O’Leary said. “It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things.”
The celestial show was expected to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with millions staking out prime viewing spots and settling into lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the projected line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured. The path was 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide, running from Oregon to South Carolina.
Astronomers were giddy with excitement. A solar eclipse is considered one of the grandest of cosmic spectacles.
This report was compiled by Idaho Statesman real-time editor Holly Anderson and will be updated throughout the day. Statesman reporters Michael Katz, Chadd Cripe, John Sowell, Kristin Rodine, Cynthia Sewell, Katy Moeller, Dana Oland, Bill Manny, Rocky Barker, Audrey Dutton and Ruth Brown contributed. The Associated Press and freelance writer Maria L. La Ganga also contributed.