It was just two minutes of darkness.
But for some, it was months or years in the making and a memory that will last a lifetime. Visitors and locals gathered on top of peaks, along highways in national parks and forests and in Town Square to watch as the moon slid in front of the sun and plunged the valley into a peaceful, yet eerie, dusk.
News&Guide staff posted up around the community to capture the experience from those who traveled here, those who live here, those who have never seen an eclipse and those who have seen many.
Seattle resident Rachelle Koren, who watched the event from a rock atop Rendezvous Peak with her partner, possibly put it best: "Even though there’s 798 strangers up here, it feels like we all share something.”
Traveling to Teton County
Many of the people who viewed the total solar eclipse in or around Teton County made specific travel plans to get here by Monday — sometimes making arrangements months or years in advance.
SNOW KING — Robin Wolf was at her in-laws' home in the Boston area two years ago when she heard about the eclipse. They told her "no one is paying attention to this yet, but it's going to be a big deal."
Her husband loves science, and is the child of two physicists, so she decided to surprise him with a trip to the line of totality.
She said the day the phone opened to book reservations in the Jackson Hole area for this August, she called and was on hold for over 45 minutes, but finally got through.
"I remember I broke the news to my husband and he was so excited."
Before totality, the couple sat under the tent at the Wyoming Stargazing party on the summit of Snow King, enjoying a late breakfast and all the festivities. They picked that party for the nonprofit angle; the affair was a fundraiser for an eventual observatory that is planned for the summit.
"There's so much enjoyment that happens at an observatory," Wolf said. "It's fun to think there could be one here that so many people could enjoy."
MOOSE — Cliff Considine, from Colorado, said he picked Grand Teton National Park as a spot to watch the eclipse because he could “kill two birds with one stone.”
He hadn’t been to the national park for at least 20 years and wanted to bring his kids, Considine said. In order for his plans to come to fruition, he parked his RV in Colter Bay for 12 days to get in place.
He woke up at 5:30 a.m. to make it down to the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center.
“Yeah baby, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Considine said. “Who needs to sleep.”
GROS VENTRE ROAD — Perhaps the Grand Teton National Park eclipse visitors with the most elegant do-it-yourself viewing setup were Tarja Dye and Richard Pater. Three miles down Gros Ventre Road, the middle-aged Salt Lake City couple were leaning into lounge chairs living the good life, with glasses of chardonnay in hand at around 11 a.m. A mostly emptied wine bottle rested nearby on a linen-covered portable end table.
“We’re big on being civilized,” Dye said.
Jackson Hole was the destination, Pater said, because, “hell, this is heaven.”
“At my age, this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” he said. “I figured if we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right.”
An unopened 2014 bottle of Chardonnay flown back from a recent Italian vacation was on ice in waiting.
“We’re saving that one for totality,” Dye said.
SNOW KING — Harry Howard spent the time before totality painting.
Seated on the ground overlooking the Tetons at the summit of Snow King. Howard was quiet, using his watercolors to capture the view.
Howard, tour manager for Criterion Travel, was leading an American Museum of Natural History group trip.
"We're spending an entire week here," Howard said. "It's been fantastic but this is truly the culmination of the trip."
As hundreds put on their eclipse glasses and stared east, Howard kept his eyes west, looking at the Tetons and his small canvas.
"Just something to put down as a memory," Howard said. "Besides all the feelings I'm feeling right now."
TETON VILLAGE — Trip planning started for Kelly Powrie a year ago.
She remembered viewing the 1979 eclipse in Florida and wanted her children, 14-year-old Ian and 11-year-old Lauren, to have the same opportunity.
She was only in third grade when the eclipse came through Jacksonville in the late ‘70s, and they viewed it through pinhole cameras.
“I don’t remember it getting dark or even cloudy,” she said. “But I remember it was exciting.”
When she heard a total solar eclipse would be making its way across the county, she started planning a trip out west from their home in Durham, North Carolina.
“It was the eclipse that helped me choose to come here,” she said.
The family spent a week hiking, biking and paddleboarding in Grand Teton National Park before making their way to Jackson Hole Mountain Resort for the big event.
The family headed up the mountain with 800 other ticketholders who had purchased a viewing spot on the peak of Rendezvous Mountain.
“The town planned for the worst and you’re getting the best,” Powrie said before the family boarded the 8:36 a.m. Aerial Tram. We didn’t experience crowds on the way here and we didn’t experience shortages of any kind. We have our glasses, food water — everything we need.”
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK — Watching the eclipse was a family affair for Chris and Leslie O’Neill. They came from San Diego with their sons, Jude and Dylan, and Chris’ parents, Mary and John Barry from New Jersey.
They love national parks, Leslie O’Neill said, and wanted to do some hiking while they were here. Her father-in-law said he started planning about a year ago after seeing information in Discover Magazine.
“We knew the West would be dryer,” John Barry said. He was concerned about cloud cover elsewhere. He and his wife remember seeing a partial eclipse when they were little, through pinhole boxes.
The family stayed in Park City and got up at midnight to make the drive to Grand Teton National Park. They said it was worth it and didn’t hit any traffic until the Highway near Jackson Hole Airport.
“It’s an education as well as an experience,” John Barry said.
His wife agreed.
“They’ll never forget this,” Mary Barry said.
Locals share their stories
While many locals viewed the event from their own backyards, patios or out-of-town undisclosed locations, a few were found amongst the crowds of visitors.
RENDEZVOUS MOUNTAIN — Jonathan McLaren was terrified of the total solar eclipse that came over his New Jersey home in 1970.
“My dad was an Apollo 11 engineer,” McLaren said. “He was trying to get me excited and I hid in my room under my pillow.”
He had just turned 6 years old — it was his birthday, in fact. Now, at age 53, living in Wilson and having beat stage 3 renal cancer, he was excited to be on Rendezvous Mountain with his 14-year-old son, Richie, for the total solar eclipse.
“I can’t think of a better place to be than right here,” he said.
After the eclipse, McLaren was all smiles saying, “I’ve seen heaven.”
SNOW KING — For one attendee at the Wyoming Stargazing eclipse viewing party at the top of the Snow King, the eclipse wasn't the main attraction — it was seeing his son in action.
Steve Singer, father of Wyoming Stargazing founder Samuel Singer, had traveled to the party to see his son live out his dreams.
"I'm so proud of Sam," Singer said. "This is Sam's passion and I'm so happy to be up here with him."
Steve Singer kept asking people if they wanted to meet the younger Singer, and pointed at him, on the stage under a tent, talking to scientists in front of an eager crowd.
"His dream to build an observatory is going to happen," Steve Singer predicted.
FIRE STATION 1 — On an eerily deserted Pearl Avenue, the streetlights clicked on as a handful of Jackson Hole Fire/EMS firefighters stared upward at the darkened sky. Cheers and gasps burst out in the moment the moon blocked the sun.
“My camera’s not going to do this justice, so I’m going to just watch. This one will just be for the memory banks,” one firefighter said.
KHOL 89.1 FM’s very appropriate broadcast of Pink Floyd’s "Dark Side of the Moon" culminated in the album’s final track, “Eclipse,” blasting from the station’s radio as totality hit and setting a dramatic mood.
“I can understand why people chase it around the globe,” Captain Chris Stiehl said.
Firefighters said they were grateful to locals and tourists for staying safe throughout the morning so they could experience the moment along with the rest of the valley.
Newbies to a (total) solar eclipse
While many of Monday's viewers had seen a partial solar eclipse though pinhole cameras, Monday's total solar eclipse was the first dip into totality for a lot of watchers.
MOOSE — Alan Loo had never seen an eclipse before, and he wasn’t messing around with his camera equipment. His setup looked legit enough to perhaps be scientific, but it was simply to take the best personal photos possible.
A computer setup controlled multiple telescopic cameras and tracked the sun to take pictures.
“This way, I don’t have to worry about it,” Loo said. “I can just kick back, relax and enjoy the view.”
After seeing a partial eclipse in 1979, Loo said he looked toward the future.
“I said, ‘I am going to the one in 2017,’” Loo said. “This was on my bucket list.”
Nick Young, who made the trip from Salt Lake City with his mother Cheryl Young and his two children, said the experience was priceless.
“The cost didn’t matter,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter when there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
His mom said real life was so much better than the pictures.
“It was just insane,” Cheryl Young said. Her son agreed.
“We watched YouTube videos and all of that,” Nick Young said. “But you see it in person and it’s just so different. Wow.”
Experienced eclipse chasers
Umbraphiles flocked to Jackson Hole to see the eclipse, saying the event was a unique experience to check off a bucket list — even though some had seen many others across the globe.
TOWN SQUARE — Tony Vaughn was hooked from the minute he first saw a total solar eclipse in his hometown of Cornwall, England in 1999.
“I always watched space movies as a kid hoping to go to space one day,” he said. “Seeing a total solar eclipse is the closest I’ll ever get. It’s an addiction now.”
Since then he’s witnessed eight total solar eclipses in as many countries, including Australia, China, Libya, Russia, Greenland, Pakistan, the Faroe Islands and now the United States.
“It’s a great excuse to go to interesting places,” Vaughn said. “It plans your holidays for you.”
Just minutes after totality Vaughn immediately began to tentatively plan a trip for the next total solar eclipse, which will take place in South America in 2019. His girlfriend, Gina Crosby, giggled to herself and rolled her eyes.
Having never been to the U.S., she had been particularly excited about totality occurring near Grand Teton National Park this year as not only is alcohol served, unlike in Libya, but also because it provided them with an opportunity to explore the Western United States.
“It was so easy being in Jackson this year,” she said. “We flew right into Vegas and were able to see a lot of amazing of sights roadtripping.”
After the eclipse, Vaughn and Crosby planned to spend three days in the Greater Yellowstone region before heading to the Badlands, Craters of the Moon, Arches and Canyonlands national parks.
JACKSON HOLE MOUNTAIN RESORT — It had been 35 years since California resident Barbara Bessey had last visited the Tetons, but she was happy to return to check off her 11th eclipse viewing.
The first one she saw was in 1991 in Oaxaca, Mexico.
“[Totality] was 6 minutes long and that gave you the opportunity to see all the details,” she said. “It was beautiful.”
She’s traveled the world to see it again, visiting Turkey twice, as well as Belize, Venezuela and South Africa.
This time she traveled with Betchart Expeditions, which took a group through a couple of national parks, museums and, of course, to the top of Rendezvous Peak for the eclipse. It was one of the larger crowds she had been in to view an eclipse.
“Some of the eclipses I’ve been on, it’s only the group I’ve been with,” she said. “Each time I’ve seen one it’s been just a little bit different. You just sort of enjoy it for what it gives you.”
They’d been together for six years, but the wedding had only been in the works for about a month.
Tony Crocker and Liz O’Mara admit it was a bit spur of the moment, but the two eclipse chasers tied the knot after totality. Former Teton County judge Terry Rogers officiated the ceremony at the peak of Rendezvous Mountain.
“I’ve done weddings up here on this mountain before but never centered around an eclipse,” he said.
The two met on an eclipse-themed online site, both sharing an interest in traveling the world to see the celestial events. He’s viewed 11 eclipses — in Hungry, Zimbabwe and Egypt, amongst other locations. And she’s been to Turkey and Libya as part of her journey to check off nine eclipses.
As of Monday, the two had viewed five eclipses together — but O’Mara put the Aug. 21 eclipse on the top of her list.
“It’s the most beautiful eclipse I’ve ever seen,” she said.
GROS VENTRE ROAD — Bruna Pelucchi-Addison and her husband Steve Addison woke up at 4 a.m. in Yellowstone National Park to the sound of cars. They knew they needed to get moving if they wanted to make it to Jackson in time.
“We were scared of all the traffic,” Pelucchi-Addison said. They’d traveled from Michigan to see the event and managed to find a parking spot at the Moose viewing station in Grand Teton National Park.
She saw a total solar eclipse in Germany in 1999. On Monday, they eagerly awaited the total eclipse.
“A partial eclipse is just not the same,” Pelucchi-Addison, born in Italy, said. “Totality is mindblowing. It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
MOOSE — When chasing an eclipse, it’s crucial to have a backup plan.
For Anand Bhatia from California, Grand Teton National Park wasn’t his first choice.
“Kansas City had thunderstorms,” he said. “This was my backup spot.”
Bhatia said he was “lucky” to find a flight into Jackson on Sunday morning. Reclined in a camp chair, with a telescope pointed toward the sun, he seemed pleased with his decision.
A shared but unique experience
Most eyes were pointed in the same direction as totality took over the valley, but those watching experienced the event a little differently.
MOOSE — Overheard during totality: screams, howls and cheering.
“Here it comes!”
“That was weird!”
“This is amazing!”
“Did you see that?”
RENDEZVOUS MOUNTAIN — Steve Muczynski and Carly Slawson traveled with Slawson’s parents from San Diego to see the eclipse over Jackson Hole — and the group was one of the lucky ones to catch the moon’s shadow racing over the valley before totality.
“It got so cold,” Slawson said. “You’re in awe and it’s amazing and when [totality] passed, I realized I couldn’t feel my hands.”
The temperature dropped between 10 to 15 degrees on peak of Rendezvous Mountain, where hundreds had bought tickets up the Aerial Tram to view the event.
“It was like watching the coolest sci-fi movie in real life,” Muczynski said.
Martha Clarkson drove up from Crested Butte to see the eclipse with her family, but she admits a bit of uneasiness settled in during the 2 minutes of totality.
“It was a mixture between excitement and anxiety,” she said. “I definitely felt like I was shivering.”
From Rendezvous, Clarkson watched the valley fall into darkness mid-morning Monday, as pink and orange hues brushed the mountaintops.
“It’s like a sunset,” she said. “The colors just raced across and they filled the whole sky.”
“I wasn’t sure where to look,” said her son, Jamie. “I wanted to see the eclipse, but I wanted to see the horizon.”
The most memorable part for her, however, came right at the very end, when the sun’s rays first burst back onto the landscape — a phenomenon known as the “diamond ring effect.”
“It’s like a starburst,” she said. “It really was perfect. I’m still in awe.”
SLIDE LAKE — Moments before totality, Erie, Colorado, resident Corey Wright comforted his 2-year-old.
“We’re playing a game with the sun,” Wright told his daughter, Emerson. “It’s like hide and seek with the sun. But you'll be safe.”
Emerson was more amused with an airplane in the sky than the darkness.
Erin Wright experienced the event with her toddler in her arms and standing next to her husband, Corey.
“I really feel like I could cry," Wright said. "That was otherworldly.”
GRAND TETON NATIONAL PARK — Kimiko Kano’s eyes overflowed with tears during totality. Even after the sun was out again and the moon began to move away, she couldn’t stop crying.
She camped Friday at the north end of Grand Teton National Park. It was her first time here, but she came to Yellowstone National Park when she was younger.
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life,” Kano said. Her friend, Hoyoul Kang, said they knew people who might’ve just gotten engaged.
They shot off a text saying congratulations, just in case.
“It would have been such a good time to propose,” Kang said. “With the diamond ring from the sun and everything, it would’ve been perfect.”
GROS VENTRE — Alan Byrnes, of Erie, Colorado, made the trip to Slide Lake with his whole family.
“I’ve seen eclipses," Byrnes said with a huge smile on his face. "That was something different. It was really remarkable.”
Byrnes was still taking it all in as the sun came back out.
“You sense a difference in the planets," he said. “That was amazing. I’m so glad we came.”