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Know the West

Photos: An unexpectedly quiet eclipse viewing

In Lander, Wyoming, the promised eclipse hordes never materialized.


The total solar eclipse on August 21 passed over Lander, Wyoming, where High Country News was founded. So I made the journey north from Paonia, Colorado, to photograph the much-anticipated event. 

Throngs of people were expected to flood towns along the path of totality, so many that some places were expecting to run out of gas or food items at grocery stores. With a 6-gallon jug of gas stashed in my trunk, extra water and a cooler full of food, I began the drive north on Friday night and met only empty, winding roads. I even found a camp site that was devoid of other people, although wild horses plodded around the BLM land while I slept. 

On the morning of the eclipse, I biked around town, looking for the crowds, and instead found small groups of people gathered in front of homes, at picnic tables in the park, and along sidewalks.

The lack of overwhelming crowds surprised some locals. Tracey Dobbins, the community coordinator for Wind River Visitors Council, said the town had less business than expected, but the eclipse traffic was still more than normal. Businesses took advantage of the uptick in visitors, boasting sales and selling eclipse-specific souvenirs. A waiter at the Lander Bar said the night before the eclipse was one of the craziest nights they’d had. 

During the celestial phenomenon, people spread out. Fremont County is the second largest county in Wyoming and contains more than 2 million acres of public land as well as the Wind River Indian Reservation where people were able to disperse. “They’re in their own place, in their own time,” Rodney Orwig, the supervisor at the Inn at Lander, said.

When the moon passed over the sun, the change in the atmosphere was palpable. Hoots and hollers rose into the chilled air, and a sunset surrounded us. But after a minute, it was bright again.

On the way back home, the true influx of people became obvious. The amount of cars traveling south increased by about 300 percent, according to Wyoming Department of transportation. Traffic slowed on the packed highways, as people returned to the normal rhythms of life.

Brooke Warren is HCN’s associate photo editor.