A sign in the Gros Ventre Campground reads, “This place is just one tent away from a full-blown circus.”
The campground is in the path of totality for the solar eclipse on Monday, making it a popular spot for visitors from all around the globe. Campground officials say people have been lining up at 4:30 a.m. or earlier to nab a spot, because it’s first come, first served.
Workers don’t get there till 8.
Betty Burris, who has worked there for six summers, said the lines — sometimes 50 or more people — are getting tense. Earlier this week, she said, two people started bickering over who was first in line.
“Usually people are good,” she said. “But now, they push and shove.”
People can put their names on a waiting list. Once staffers make the rounds at 10:30, any available sites are distributed.
Shouts of “Yes!” filled the air Thursday when at least one group of people got their hands on a site. Officials said they expect 24 sites to open up today, but they could theoretically be taken by people already there.
There are 318 campsites and five group sites — the only ones that can be reserved in advance.
They were taken by Jan. 1.
Assistant manager Joe Russell said they’re doing their best to get visitors situated for the eclipse.
“We do everything we can to help people,” he said. “We’re campers ourselves. We try our best to get people settled.”
The limit on campsites is 14 days. So if people didn’t do the math right or think they can just extend their stay, they’re wrong. Russell said that reservations can only be extended if people get in line with everyone else — before the crack of dawn.
Theresa Stabo and her husband were part of a crush of people attempting to get a spot Thursday. They drove in from Madison, Wisconsin, to find a completely full campground.
“We came out on the hope and chance that we could find a site,” Stabo said. “Usually we are lucky, so we’re hoping for some good karma. But we’re not so sure.”
As Stabo was talking with the Jackson Hole Daily, she got word that an overflow site down at Atherton Creek campground in the Bridger-Teton National Forest had openings.
They were overjoyed. A few hours ago, Stabo said, they’d learned they just had their first grandchild, who was actually due Aug. 21.
“Our grandson eclipsed the eclipse,” she laughed.
Inside the campground, license plates came from Oregon, South Dakota, Arizona, California, Florida, Colorado, Michigan, Texas and more.
John and Lynn Courtney scored a tent site on the northern edge of the campground. They showed up last Sunday.
“We came here because we are 0.1 second off of max totality from where I’m sitting right now,” John Courtney said, reclining in a camp chair.
If there isn’t blue sky Monday, they have backup plans to the east and west.
Matthew and Beverly Scudder drove all the way from Houston with their five children to secure a prime eclipse-watching spot. They said they were looking to get away from a city for the event and were drawn to the mountains.
Matthew Scudder took off work on Aug. 1. Three days later they were at Lizard Creek Campground on Jackson Lake. They stayed there eight days before moving to the Gros Ventre, figuring that would be enough time in advance.
“I didn’t think people would be as psychotic as us,” Scudder said.
As campers settle into their sites they’re thinking about the big day, excited for the once-in-a-lifetime natural phenomena but also poking fun at the idea that it would be earth-shattering.
“I wonder if there will be a world after,” Alan Blair from Oklahoma said.
Charlie and Shirley Paterson came to Jackson from Colorado Springs, Colorado. Charlie Paterson joked that the hullabaloo leading up to the eclipse mirrored 1999, when people worried the world would end on Dec. 31.
“I’m excited about it,” he said. “I’m thinking I’ll fall to my knees, weep, and that it will be life-changing.”