The solar eclipse was anticipated in our park for months. Sunday staff was added, programming put in place, and 40 or 50 solar viewing glasses were ordered. In Canyonlands, about 70-80% of the solar disc would be covered — impressive, but nothing like in Bryce Canyon or Zion, where 94% coverage would create the dramatic “ring of fire” of an annular eclipse.
Nothing could have prepared us for the level of interest generated among visitors to Canyonlands. For an eclipse beginning at 6:30 pm, the parking area was full before 4:30. Around 300 folks gathered at the Green River Overlook, bringing lawn chairs, blankets, picnics, and excitement. They willingly shared the limited number of viewers we had available, and spent the next hours hanging out in a lovely place observing a rare celestial event.
Families played games while waiting and watching. Pinhole cameras were devised. People made hand shadows, casting little crescents on the ground. And, at an opportune time, a small Midget Faded Rattlesnake slithered onto the scene to add to the festive atmosphere. Ranger Julia, who regularly gives a talk on reptiles, stayed near the foot-long youngster all evening to educate visitors about it and make sure no one harassed it. It seemed only a little confused by the crowd, generally staying underneath the blackbrush and Mormon Tea.
A small band of young boys made a loop snare from a piece of grass and caught an unsuspecting lizard. Ranger Julia intervened, creating a teachable moment for the kids and their parents. The moon continued its trek across the face of the sun, and the early-evening light took on a thin filtered quality that is unlike any other astronomical condition. Glasses were passed around; oohs and ahhs emanated from every perch.
At its peak, for just a few moments, all the sun’s surface except a thin horseshoe of light was covered. The little rattler slithered to his next bush, oblivious. Visitors, joyful, thanked us for putting on an event like this. “It’s our privilege” was the only thing I could say as I pinched myself and walked to the edge to shoot a picture of the waning light.