Solar Eclipse Spurs Family Adventure


The partially eclipsed sun shines through a pair of pinyons at the Grand Canyon.

The partially eclipsed sun shines through a pair of pinyons at the Grand Canyon. |

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Months ago they told me we had to see it.

“Mom!” said my youngest daughter, “Dad says there will be an eclipse over Lake Tahoe on May 20. He’s invited us to go!” she insisted, begging with her sweet, brown eyes.

“I can drive,” said my eldest, “I’ll have my permit.”

“No way, girls,” I shook my head, “Just no way,” I said with finality, thinking of the lost weekend, the family complications.

“But Mom...you don’t want us to miss it,” said my youngest.

Could I make them miss it? Hadn’t I always told them to accept life’s adventures?

I turned to the Internet and discovered the eclipse would hit Payson, but would not look as impressive as it would in Tahoe, which is much further north.

But surely I could match my ex — not that I’m feeling competitive. I studied the path the eclipse would follow on the NASA website.

“Hey guys! We could go to the Grand Canyon,” I suggested.

“Yeah!” came back the response in stereo.

Now I’d done it. I had committed myself.

Total round trip from Payson to the Grand Canyon South Rim and back again: 400 miles, seven hour hour drive — on a school night.

“Oh well,” I thought, “A trip to the Grand Canyon with nearly grown teenage daughters to watch the sun vanish — priceless.”

The U.S. hasn’t had an annular solar eclipse since May 1994 — and won’t see a total eclipse until August 21, 2017. In an annual eclipse, the moon doesn’t quite cover the sun — leaving a ring of fire.

But that total eclipse in 2017 will follow a path from Oregon to North Carolina, skipping Arizona entirely. This was my one sure chance to share that with them. So it’s now or never.

We left on Sunday at a leisurely time, 9 a.m., off on a solar scavenger hunt.

First problem: Viewing glasses. Looking directly at the sun can cause irreversible damage to the retina — maybe even blindness. Since the retina can’t feel pain, the effects of the damage may not appear for hours. Fortunately, an outdoor store in Flagstaff sent us up to the Lowell Observatory, which was selling “Eclipse Shades” from Rainbow Symphony, Inc. for $2. (Check www.rainbowsymphony.com if you yearn to stare at the sun.)

Sky watchers might want such solar viewing glasses in the next month, by the way, because between June 4 and 5, Venus will cross the sun, an event we won’t see again for a century. (Check www.transitofvenus.org for information.)

As we finally neared the Grand Canyon Visitor’s Center hoping to crash the NASA sky viewing party, we found cars lining every viewing pullout. Cameras sat on tri-pods facing the setting sun. Unfortunately, the Visitor’s Center faced northeast — with the sun more behind us than over the canyon. Would hardly satisfy my daughter’s plan to get a picture of the sun sinking into the canyon.

Family conference: We decided to try the Watch Tower at the east entrance of the park, perched on a spur jutting into the canyon, which means we could look west as the eclipsed sun neared the horizon.

When we arrived, the parking lot still had spaces: A good sign. Walking to the point, we found just enough people to create a festive atmosphere, without the stifling crowds. So we found a comfy rock and settled in and pulled out our spiffy glasses.

The black of the moon crept across the face of the sun. With our glasses, we could sit and stare as long as we wanted at this magical show from nature.

At 6:34 p.m., we saw it — the ring of fire. The crowd spontaneously burst into applause.

We piled back into the car at 7:30 for the long drive home, lingering to watch the now full sun sink behind a distant spire of the canyon.

In the parking lot, college-age kids had an impromptu tailgate party going with loud music and food.

Later, we learned that the eclipse looked just fine in Payson — better maybe since the smoke from the fires created a ready-made red filter.

But that didn’t matter, as I stifled a yawn driving through the darkness, listening to my daughters chatter happily about the eclipse, the people they’d encountered, the elk browsing alongside the road.

I saw the annular eclipse of 2012, with my daughters. And I bet they’ll remember our day together through all the improvised eclipses of their lives, like I’ll always remember Crystal’s sleepy voice in the back seat, recalling the strange, orange-tabby crescent of the eclipsed moon through her $2 glasses.

“It looked just like the Cheshire Cat,” she said, her voice a purr.

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