Solar Eclipse Road Trip

Last week I took to the highway to get myself into the path of totality somewhere out in eastern-ish Texas. Given the distance I would be traveling, I thought it might be prescient to wrap some other destinations into the journey. I also coaxed my long time friend Joe into tagging along for the entirety of the trip.

Day one was an early start; 3:40AM was when we hit the road. The first four hours was pretty familiar territory, I-25 southbound heading towards the Colorado-New Mexico border, and a bit beyond. We diverted from the interstate in Las Vegas, which was new territory for me. We generally headed south-southeast, passing through Roswell, NM (which didn’t really impress me that much), eventually coming to Carlsbad, NM (home of the famous national park with a gigantic cave – alas, we didn’t have time in the itinerary to stop here). Once in Carlsbad, we headed south towards the Texas border.

Our first real destination was Guadalupe Mountains National Park. This is an interesting park because there are few roads that actually enter the park; it is bounded instead by US-62 on the eastern side which is where the majority of visitors enter at two or three different entry points. We stuck to the main visitor center at Pine Springs. Joe was getting over a cold he developed the night before so we stuck to an easy paved trail near the visitor center, as well as a few US-62 pull-offs where you could take some striking photography (once I process those images, I’ll link them in a different post).

With Guadalupe Mountains NP done and the rest of the state on our mind, we set our sights on crossing the butte decorated landscape of West Texas. State road 54 south took us towards Van Horn. Once we got near the small town of Valentine, we took a quick stop on the side of the road to visit the Prada Marfa art exhibit. This was one of those things that I’d probably never visit except for the fact we were literally driving right by it, so why not? Another highlight from the area was the Customs and Border Patrol blimp, which floats probably 500 feet or more above the West Texas sky and does some surveillance which probably erodes everyone’s civil liberties, but i’m not totally sure.

With the Day One itinerary complete, we made our way to Alpine, TX, where we figured out our lodging situation (AirBnB) and got some subpar food (and service) at a sports bar in town.

Day Two was all about Big Bend National Park. This was about an hour south of our AirBnB, just to get to the entrance. The park itself is so large that once you enter the park, its another ~30 minutes to the visitor center in the Chisos Basin. I’m glad we left when we did (6AM, now Central Time), because we got one of the last parking spots in the basin visitor center lot, given the area is a popular attraction.

Joe and I checked out the Window View trail to start and to gauge how he was feeling. With some renewed optimism over his condition, we then tackled the Pinnacles Trail, which feeds the path up to Emery Peak. We came within about 0.75 miles of the summit of Emery Peak but he wasn’t feeling up to summitting, and I didn’t feel great about leaving him behind while I tackled that, so we took some pictures of the area we were in and left. The Pinnacles trail on the whole was great, not too steep, plenty of shade when we started at about 9AM. On the way down (11:30ish?) it was pretty hot, mid-80s, with little shade. We had some lunch at the visitor center and moved on to the other primary attraction (For me) of the park: Santa Elena Canyon. We blew off actually hiking the canyon trail since it was pretty crowded, but we took some respite in hanging out near the Rio Grande river, the border for the US and Mexico. Outside of a few other stops to take some photos, we decided to call it quits for the day and head back up to Alpine.

One of the downsides to this trip was some car trouble I had. I noticed some engine knocking on the way into Texas when I went up hills, but every day it got continually worse, culminating on the drive back from Big Bend – going up a hill, my engine lost a lot of power, I had a flashing check engine light, and we struggled to crest the hill. We had to struggle with this problem on the 8+ hour drive from Alpine to Canton the next day, although it didn’t present as often because Texas got much flatter as we headed east. Luckily, my uncle who was joining us correctly identified it as a ignition coil issue, and a quick trip to the local Autozone meant we could swap the coil out in the driveway of our AirBnB. (Joe’s dad also correctly diagnosed the issue from afar, so credit to him as well.)

Day Three was a drive-across-the-state day, ending up in Canton where we met my sister, my uncle, and his friend, and got some sushi for dinner. Day Four (Sunday), we met up with an old high school friend, fixed my car issue, and hung out at the AirBnB.

Day Five: eclipse day. Weather was partially cooperative that morning, with some scattered cloud bands. We caught the beginning of the eclipse no problem, and then intermittently had visibility until totality rolled around, and right as that happened… cloud cover ruined the show. We caught probably a minute of totality out of four minutes total, with some lucky breaks in the cloud cover. Even with the reduced show time, it was totally worth the journey so far. I’ll have more pictures of the eclipse coming soon, once I process them all. Joe called the event life changing, which I can’t disagree with (although it was my 2nd time seeing a total eclipse, and I generally think the first one had better visibility and a cool vibe in Wyoming).

Day Six was our day to leave. We got an early start to get my sister to the airport, which was on our way out of the Dallas metro area. Joe and I ended up driving through a lot of rain up until we hit Amarillo, TX; about an hour past that city, things cleared up the rest of the way. On the way home, I decided to pull over at Capulin National Monument, which I’ve been itching to get to for some time. Capulin is an old volcano which you can drive to the top of, and you can hike around the rim or even down in to the center. I opted to do the rim hike which was worth it for the striking views of the surrounding area in northern New Mexico. After that quick stop, we booked it back to Colorado since our resolve to do more hours or miles in the car was waning quickly.

My summary of the trip: Plenty of beautiful places in the Southwestern United States. It was well worth seeing the three national park sites we visited, but Big Bend took the cake in terms of scenery and beauty. The eclipse is, and will always be, worth it to see if you can travel for it. My appetite for a good road trip is always there, but the distance can start to weigh on me towards the end.

Google map screenshot of our journey, starting in Colorado, down to the southern part of Texas, over to Canton, and then back to Colorado.
Something like this.

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