I am still remembering the Great American Eclipse of 2017 with fondness and surprise. Even to a trained physicist like me, the sudden disappearance of the sun for a few minutes in the middle of the day was surprising, even startling. It’s probably my fondest memory of a natural event, together with the sight of lava falls on Hawai’i, the Big Island of the state.
But there was a much more convenient eclipse happening in 2023. It happened in October, in the middle of Colorado’s Mud Season, and on a Saturday. The weather was forecast to be absolutely perfect, warmish and sunny and with no clouds in sight. Still, was it not going to be a letdown after the Great Total Eclipse? I mean, we all had heard the song, Total Eclipse of My Heart. Had anyone written anything about the Annular Eclipse of the Heart?
I decided not to go. But then, a couple of days before the event, my friend Ian mentioned he was interested in going, but similar to me didn’t want to brave the drive and crowds by himself. Two half-hearted goers combined makes one full-hearted resolve, so we planned and got ready. We’d drive on Friday night to Southern Colorado, sleep over, and then get to the event first thing in the morning.
The initial drive was delayed by a nap gone overboard. Ian made it to my place where we packed my stuff into the car and tried to coax an unknown cat out of the bushes. Then we were on our merry way, hitting up a supermarket for snacks while shooting the breeze. We made it into the La Quinta in Trinidad, just before the border, and crashed hard. In the morning, we decided we (I) needed coffee and drove on to Las Vegas. Yes, there is a Las Vegas, NM, it’s an oddly touristy place, and yet not once did anyone make a reference to the more famous place in Nevada.
We found the El Fidel Hotel, whose bar (Dicho) had great reviews. It’s a bit hard to find the place, because it’s inside the hotel and hidden by a very charming patio. I absolutely loved the coffee I got, and moreover loved the hotel itself. It was already heavily decorated in a Halloween theme, down to a flying witch on a broom in the staircase. And everybody was already talking about the eclipse.
An annular eclipse occurs when the moon stands in front of the sun but is too far from Earth to completely obscure the star behind it. Because the sun peeks all around the moon, it forms a ring around it. From the vantage point of an earth-hosted viewer, the sun becomes a ring of fire around a black blob.
As I knew from the total eclipse, if you can see even just 1% or so of the solar surface, it’s almost as if there were no eclipse, at all. It just looks like a strangely dim day, as if a dark haze were cast upon earth. Even just ten second later, when the sun is completely covered, it’s absolute night and the effect is startling.
We wouldn’t get that this time. Because the alignment doesn’t have to be as precise. the region of annularity is also fairly large, and even when you are outside of it, you still see a very good partial eclipse. In Las Vegas, NM, they would get to see only an almost complete ring. Nearby Santa Fe would get 2 minutes of annularity, while our destination, smack in the middle of the eclipse path, would get almost 5 minutes (and the moon centered in the sun).
We left Las Vegas and drove on. I-25 makes a turn to the right after the city and goes North-West to Santa Fe, dipping again South-West to Albuquerque. It was the week of Albuquerque’s hot air balloon festival, probably the biggest deal of the year in town, and we were excited to see the colorful hot air balloons compete for attention with the annular eclipse. Sadly, the balloons had flown out in the early morning and were all back to earth by the time we arrived in town, around 9a.
We had scoped out locations in advance, but our preferred location (Balloon Fiesta Park) was still mobbed with people leaving the hot air festival. We retreated to our secondary location, Petroglyph National Monument. That was also full, but the staff was incredibly friendly and directed us to a nearby dirt lot from which we’d have no facilities but an unobstructed view.
We did as directed (and my thanks again to the amazing staff of the National Park Service, some of the most incredible people on the planet). We set up and started chatting with the people nearby, and finally saw the sun almost obscured.
As mentioned, the ring of fire effect is neither directly visible nor as startling as the onset of a total eclipse. In fact, taking pictures of the sun with my phone revealed nothing out of the ordinary. The only special thing was the double reflection of the sun onto the protective glass of the camera lens. The sun was so strong, you could see this reflection very clearly, and very clearly it was a ring.
While it’s not fund to drive seven hours each way for an event that lasts only five minutes, we were pretty excited. After it was all over, we could just jump into the car and drive away - fortunately, there wasn’t the same mad rush as during the total eclipse. We rushed to find a restroom and got in touch with Ian’s friends in town. They’d meet us at a small park in the North of town.
I was surprised at how warm it still was. We were sitting there on the grass, just playing chess in our T-shirts, in unusually warm (for the past, not for the future) temperatures. In fact, it was so pleasant that we stayed much longer than anticipated. We finally roused ourselves to action around 2:30p, way too late to do the task of the remainder of the day, which was to take the back roads into Colorado and see some fall colors.
We asked and apparently everybody in New Mexico raved about this park in the mountains near Santa Fe, where everybody went to see fall colors. It was named Hyde Memorial State Park and was on the road to Santa Fe’s tiny ski area.
We drove and had more coffee in Santa Fe, at a strangely fancy coffee shop called La Mama. It was not only strangely fancy, but also strangely devoid of sweets and pastries. The coffee was great and the ambiance entertaining.
We headed out of the shop and of town and took Hyde Park Road to the aspens. It was simply gorgeous, and we couldn’t have asked for a better time to see the colors. There is even a basin in the park, aptly named Aspen Basin, that at the time looked like a section of the mountain was on fire.
We stayed way longer than planned and didn’t get out of the park until three hours later. By then, we were both tired and knew daylight would not last us long. We hit the freeway back, driving through Las Vegas and Trinindad again. A quick stop in Pueblo for food and we were home, sweet home.