The Total Solar Eclipse Experience at Jay Em, Wyoming

or “Then came totality.”

(edited to add some photos from the Citizen CATE experiment)

I left my house at 5.20 AM to drive to Jay Em, Wyoming to witness the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017.

I had chosen Jay Em because it was one of the thirteen towns in Wyoming where the postmaster (or in this case, postmistress) had had the initiative to create a special cancellation for the event.

I drove through Cheyenne on Greeley Highway (which is what US 85 N is called in Colorado as it runs through/past the town of Greeley). The name changes to Warren Avenue as you get into town, and then Yellowstone Avenue, before finally going back to US 85 N when you leave Cheyenne behind and head northeast toward Torrington, Jay Em, Lusk and finally on in to South Dakota.

As I was driving on Yellowstone Ave, toward the junction where it changes back to US 85 N and meets up with US 85 coming off of I-25, I looked to my left and saw a line of headlights of cars on I-25, headed up to Chugwater or Wheatland, or perhaps Glendo or Casper.

I, on US 85 N, had no problems. Oh, there were cars – more cars than have ever been on US-85 at the same time in a month of Sundays – but there was probably 20 yards or more between each car, and we were all easily averaging 70 miles per hour.

Business window in Torrington celebrating eclipse

Business window in Torrington celebrating eclipse

It was 7 am or so when I arrived in Torrington. There were people everywhere, but there was still plenty of street parking. I parked and walked around for a few minutes taking photos.

Table inside the building which houses the Java Jar, the Torrington Visitors Center and the Torrington Chamber of Commerce

Table inside the building which houses the Java Jar, the Torrington Visitors Center and the Torrington Chamber of Commerce

The Bread Doctor had arranged several tables and chairs, with tents to keep folks cool while they waited for totality

The Bread Doctor had arranged several tables and chairs, with tents to keep folks cool while they waited for totality

A US map and a world map were on display. People could place pins near their home town

A US map and a world map were on display. People could place pins near their home town

Once I passed Torrington, I started to see that – at about 7 am, mark you – people were parked on the verges and in the little cut-offs and laybys along US-85. There were cars, trucks, and camper vans.

Some people were just standing around, others had brought comfy chairs. Some people had cameras – large, sophisticated cameras – already set up to record the eclipse.

7 am or so along US 85 heading toward Jay Em

7 am or so along US 85 heading toward Jay Em

The closer I got to Jay Em, the more cars on the side of the road there were

The closer I got to Jay Em, the more cars on the side of the road there were

I hadn’t known what to expect with Jay Em. I had driven there a week ago, to take photos of the post office (for a purpose which I will reveal shortly), and learned about the history of the town from Wikipedia (which is sadly lacking in info, as I will reveal shortly) and that it has only 16 residents.

I had hoped that there would be people coming there to get the special cancellation…I thought, “I hope at least one other person besides me comes here to get this cancellation!”

That’s what I had thought before I got to Torrington. After I left Torrington and headed north and saw all these cars on the sides of the roads, I began to get worried that Jay Em would actually be full up! Not necessarily of people wanting the cancellation, but jut with people who wanted to view the eclipse.

Jay Em at 8 am. About 500 or so people there

Jay Em at 8 am. Note the “J Rolling M” brand on either side of the text

There were a few volunteers stationed at the turning into Jay Em. Parking was free, and I parked in a grass field beside about five other cars. It was 8 am when I arrived, and more and more people kept coming. Not so many cars parked where I was, but there was a camping field just a mile away – people paid to camp there but the money went to the Jay Em Historic Society.

I immediately went to the post office to get my cancellations.

Jay Em cancellations on my specially designed postcards

Jay Em cancellations on my specially designed postcards

Here I met with a hiccup, a hiccup that would plague me later on in the day as well. I wanted to buy more sheets of eclipse stamps, as I had brought a box of postcard paper and wanted to get lots of cancellations – but they credit card machine was down. I had only enough cash for one more sheet of 16.

A steady line into the post office until it tapered off about 11 am

A steady line into the post office until it tapered off about 11 am

I then wandered around the “Historic Downtown,” and, quite by accident, saw Marjorie Sanborn, the grand-daughter of the founder of the town (1915). She and her sister give tours of these abandoned buildings – the interiors are furnished – and tell about the history of the town.

Marjorie Sanborn, granddaughter of the founder of Jay Em.

Marjorie Sanborn, granddaughter of the founder of Jay Em.

I’ll be sharing some of the history I learned in a more detailed article about Jay Em in future.

The bank and post office shared space. This is the original post office, replaced in the 1970s by the current one

The bank and post office shared space. This is the original post office, replaced in the 1970s by the current one. This is one of a handful of original 1915-ish buildings in Jay Em in need of restoration

EDITED: Also present in Jay Em was the Citizen CATE experiment – a group of people with sophisticated equipment inside a cordoned off area. (I suspect they were a group of students from Montana recording the eclipse because this article has gotten a few hits using those keywords.) I wanted to talk to them but they were extremely busy recording the transit of the moon across the sun. After the end of totality I never went back to see if they were free.

Citizen CATE - part of cameras across the US filming the eclipse

Citizen CATE – part of cameras across the US filming the eclipse

Citizen CATE

Citizen CATE. A cardboard box comes in useful for blocking out the glare of the sun!

Finally, the moon started to encroach upon the sun. I returned to my car and settled down on top of the trunk. Beside me were a few people, two sets of married couples and the brother of one of the wives, who talked about everything under the sun and I listened to them while I watched the movement of the moon across the sun with my eclipse glasses.

The moon came upon the sun from is upper right, moving westward.

I had expected that as soon as the moon started obscuring the sun, it would gradually get darker and darker, but this was not the case. Even when there was only 1% of the sun not covered, it was still broad daylight outside, although the temperature did seem to have dropped by a few degrees.

Then came totality.

You could no longer see the sun through the eclipse glasses. But you could watch the sun with naked eyes because it was obscured and “all” that was visible was first this bright white “diamond” which I saw, and then a fiery corona all around the black disc that was the moon over the sun.

It didn’t get completely dark, which surprised me. It was twilight-ish. The corona must give off that much light.

I saw a pinpoint of light to the right of the sun – I think it was Venus but I have since read elsewhere it was Mars. *I* only saw one such pinpoint – supposedly several planets and stars were supposed to be visible, but I expect you needed better eyesight than I have to see them.

The sun and Venus. (Or Mercury).

The sun and Venus. (Or Mercury).

I risked taking an unfiltered photo with my smartphone. In the photo it looks like the sun is a glowing ball, but this isn’t the case. I then took a video, and in the video the black disc of the moon is visible, though much smaller than it actually was. (You can see the video at the Wyoming in Motion YouTube channel, A Minute in Motion.)

Once totality happened, there were oohs and aahs from everyone in the field, cheering and clapping. That’s what made is extra special – to share this moment with others even though of course we were in our own little group segments – but we were together and we shared our appreciation of the sight vocally.

After 2 minutes and 47 seconds, the moon moved a percentage point away from the sun. As soon as that 1% sliver appeared, it was broad daylight again.

After my “neighbors” had put away their chairs, I left Jay Em and headed toward Lusk, about 20 miles north on US 85. Lusk was one of the towns that had a unique cancellation. And here, things did not go smoothly. Everyone was trying to go home – back to South Dakota, presumably – and there was a 30 minute delay just getting in to Lusk.

The Lusk event had taken place at their fairgrounds, and the representative with the special cancellation stamper didn’t get back until about 2.10 pm. I got my cancellations, however. Also their credit card machine was working so I picked up two more sheets of stamps for more postcards.

I then headed on a road I no longer remember toward Glendo, because I wanted to get a cancellation there. Although each of these cities will have their special cancellation stamper for 30 days, I wanted to get my postcards stamped on the actual “day.”

But it was not to be.

Traffic. Traffic. Traffic.

Finally I gave up and just headed home, arriving 4 hours later after stop and go traffic.

I wasn’t too bothered…even sitting in traffic for five minutes before moving a car’s length forward, and then repeating the process….was all part of the communal experience of the Great American Eclipse.

This entry was posted in History, Natural Phenomena, Stamp First Day of Issues, Wyoming and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.