This weekend was so ridiculously awesome that I don’t know where to start.
Months ago, Mark Zabala asked if we wanted to go see a total solar eclipse. We ended up making plans to camp at the Grand Canyon at Mather Campground as a birthday trip. The group that ended up on the trip were Grace, Eliot, Ana, Marcus, Craig, Dave, and myself. We left early Saturday morning from LA, and started looking up interesting places along the 40. Bearizona caught my eye; Nathan and Carrie had stopped there a few weeks ago. It sounded so cheesy, but we had to stop along the way. I called ahead and they said they’d keep the gates open if we were running late.
A towering rustic Bearizona sign greeted us as we rushed to the Jurassic Park style gates. I stared at a bighorn sheep next to the jeep as I realized I should have brought more camera lenses with me (never leave home without the telephoto!!). We passed a mountain goat and dall sheep, when things got interesting and we drove by some wolves. We saw a pair of school buses having sex, which was confusing. A zookeeper cleaned off our windows (stay inside the jeep!) and we were off to bear country! We saw a lazy bear eating some tomatoes, and then found a pair mating. Next up were some bison and burros. We were about to leave, but decided to check out the walking tour of baby animals. This was the best part! There was an enclosure with bear kindergarten, with like 15 tiny crying baby bears. Nearby were the larger bears, and two of them were climbing trees. We saw beavers, a lynx, and a few other animals. The zoo was still under construction; it took us a while to figure out that the trailer trash modern art enclosures were really just structures that would eventually be plastered over to look like rocks. We’re assuming that the school buses would also eventually be fake mountains. If you have a chance to visit Bearizona, I highly recommend it!
It was getting dark by the time we made to to Grand Canyon National Park and found our campsite at Mather Campground. We set up a couple tents and got a campfire going. I tried hooking up my rice cooker to Craig’s car inverter, but it didn’t work out. Ana was able to seal a pot using foil well enough to make some rice. I then made our favorite bacon-wrapped asparagus sushi rolls. We partied all night and found lots of constellations and Mars.
The next day, we took a shuttle to the Visitor’s Center and watched a lecture by Brian Day about eclipses. Afterwards, we walked over to the Grand Canyon to check out a giant hole in the earth. Dave had never seen it before, and I hadn’t seen it since I was a kid. As Craig put it, it’s one of those things you have to visit in person. Photos never do it justice. All of the distant canyon walls just look.. painted.
We hiked over to the Geology museum, which was okay. Caught a shuttle back to the campsite and discovered that we had been attacked by ravens. They ate all the dinosaur oatmeal and cheez-its and corn.. even stripped the husks dry. They also had been pecking into the wasabi. We cleaned everything and made Seattle dogs (bacon wrapped Hebrew National dogs with a bunch of cream cheese). The Tofurkey Italian Sausages I got for Eliot kept falling apart though 🙁 Craig busted out his Egyptian hookah and we chilled out in the shade as our camp was visited by super adorable elk and deer.
Half our crew drove to the Eclipse party, but Dave, Craig, and I decided to take the shuttle. The shuttle that came by was full, and we got worried that we would miss the eclipse. Our phones didn’t have signal in the park, so Dave took a guess on which direction the Visitor’s Center was at, and we walked in the hot sun as fast as we could. It was probably a mile and a half. At some point, we lost Craig, but eventually everyone found each other. The moon was just starting to cover the sun.
Eliot and Grace made some badass cardboard solar eclipse viewers using #14 Welders Glass ($2 ea!). We drew on them with sharpies and they were quite popular with passer-bys. Our glass made the sun look green and alien. There were many amateur astronomers present with a variety of telescopes. We used them to look at sunspots. My favorite was a wooden handmade telescope that projected onto a piece of paper so that a crowd could watch the eclipse.
Going to the Grand Canyon for the eclipse made it feel like even more of a special event than any other eclipse I’ve viewed. Many people chase eclipses around the world, flying from country to country just for that moment.
As the sun was setting, Grace, Ana, and Marcus left for LA. The rest of us were exhausted and went back to our campsite. I made asparagus pizza on the stove, and we roasted marshmallows. We were actually too tired to go to the Star Party, and went to sleep early instead.
On the way up, we noticed a crater on the map, which Craig and I thought was a meteor crater. In the morning, we took an alternate road to get there, along the edge of the canyon. We ended up going to the Sunset Volcanic Crater, which had a 1mi walk through some ancient lava flows. It was cool seeing tiny flowers struggle to grow in the remains.
I’m not much of a camping person, but the Grand Canyon was epic. I’m really glad we got to experience it in the company of friends, and the whole trip made me really excited about science. I’ll leave you with these two citizen scientist apps that we learned about at the lecture:
Full Photo Gallery: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinguino/sets/72157629874196880/
Here is Eliot’s trip writeup!! http://www.robotskirts.com/2012/05/23/grand-canyon-and-the-annular-solar-eclipse/