Roads, campsites fill as visitors arrive for total eclipse MondayAug 18, 2017 By Katie Roenigk, Staff Writer
Hopeful eclipse-viewers continue to stream into Fremont County this week, filling hotels, campsites and roadways in preparation for Monday's astronomical event.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation is tracking traffic on area highways this week, comparing the numbers to a five-year average each day.
The data shows an increase in traffic in Fremont County, mainly coming from the west and south.
On Wednesday, U.S. Highway 26 west of Dubois saw 21 percent more traffic than normal, with an extra 560 vehicles traveling through that area. There was a 24 percent increase Thursday for 690 additional vehicles west of Dubois.
From the south, U.S. Highway 287 has seen even larger increases, especially at the Colorado line, where there were 44 percent more vehicles - almost 2,000 extra - Thursday. Farther north on U.S. Highway 287 near Sweetwater Station there was a 22 percent increase (253 vehicles) Wednesday and a 45 percent increase (519 vehicles) Thursday.
"People are coming in and deciding to take the scenic route ... rather than jump on the interstate," WYDOT public affairs officer Doug McGee said Friday. "They're coming in on the little roads, (so) smaller communities off the interstate have a great opportunity here. The vehicles ... are going to be passing through those little towns a lot of our traffic doesn't usually go through. What a great chance for everybody to show off Wyoming."
A few extra travelers have come from the north, too, with the highway south of Thermopolis showing a 5 percent increase in traffic Wednesday and a 9 percent increase Thursday.
The numbers aren't as impressive east of Riverton, with U.S. Highway 26 east of Power River only showing a 1.25 percent increase in activity Wednesday and a 3 percent increase Thursday.
"Then east of Shoshoni it's kind of flat lining - a little below average," McGee said.
Casper is in the path of totality for the eclipse, so it's likely people who have reached that city will stay there.
For the state, McGee said Wednesday's count over historic traffic volumes showed an increase of about 30,330 vehicles, with about the same result Thursday.
"And we expect Saturday and Sunday to be even greater numbers," he said, noting that Wyoming anticipates an influx of about 350,000 people statewide over the weekend.
Boysen State Park was getting close to full Friday morning according to public information officer Gary Schoene. Park superintendent John Bass confirmed that a lot of the first-come, first-served established sites have been taken, but he said there is still "tons" of dispersed camping on the west side of the reservoir.
Both officials invited people to visit the park throughout the weekend and on Monday even if they aren't planning to spend the night.
"Just because the camp sites are full doesn't' mean the park is full," Schoene said. "We've established acres and acres of day use areas ... for people to come and just make a day trip into the park and watch the eclipse there."
Programming will be ongoing throughout the weekend, with educational presentations offering information about the science behind the eclipse.
Riverton Chamber of Commerce executive director Jim Davis said area hotels have been "pretty much" full for months leading up to Monday's eclipse.
That doesn't mean there isn't still demand for lodging, though.
"We're still getting a few phone calls from people wanting to know if there's any place left to stay," Davis said.
He has heard of a few rooms opening up due to cancellations, but he said every business has a waiting list, so those vacancies are probably filled right away.
RV parks are booked, too, but other sites have "stepped up" to offer space, Davis said.
For example, the motocross track west of town is hosting RVs, as are the Fremont County Fairgrounds and the 1838 Rendezvous site on South Smith Road.
"I think we've covered it pretty well," Davis said.
He did question whether he should have ordered more eclipse viewing glasses for the occasion. Davis said he initially purchased 10,000 pair for distribution by Chamber members.
"I probably should have geared up and ordered more, but what do you do with them the day after if you have some left?" he asked.
There are still glasses available at area businesses like the Trailhead and Depot restaurants, Porters, Atlantic City Federal Credit Union, Smith's and Safeway, and the Pit Stop gas stations.
And Davis said he is hoarding a few hundred at the Chamber in case of emergencies on the day of the eclipse.
Several organizations also plan to hand out glasses Monday at Boysen State Park.
If no glasses are available, welder's glass may be used to view an eclipse as long as it is No. 14 or higher.
It's also safe to view an eclipse using indirect methods, like a pinhole projector that projects an image of the eclipsed sun onto a white screen. Search online for directions for making a pinhole projector, or go to 216 Idaho Sreet in Shoshoni to make an eclipse viewing box 1-3 p.m. Saturday for $2.
The weather forecast for Monday hadn't changed overnight, meteorologist Paul Skrbac said Friday: The National Weather Service is still predicting 40-50 percent cloud cover Monday in the Wind River Basin.
He noted that two systems will impact Fremont County on Monday - one "monsoonal" southwest flow that will develop Sunday, and a northern branch of storm clouds coming in Monday from the north.
"We're battling those two," Skrbac said.
There is a chance that the northern system skirts north of the Wind River Basin and the southern branch streams along the southern border of the state, Skrbac said. That would create a "little gap" over Fremont County.
"But most of the guidance this morning has a fair amount of clouds over us," he said. "It's not the kind of pattern where you can go, 'Oh, that'll be sunny.'"
There may even been some rain sprinkles Monday morning, and by Monday afternoon Skrbac expects isolated thunderstorms. He advises anyone watching the eclipse from vulnerable, high-altitude areas to take cover to avoid lightning strikes.
It may be some consolation that the weekend is forecast to be dry and warm throughout the state. That means fire safety will be critical NWS science and operations officer Rob Cox said Friday.
"Grasses tend to dry out quickly here," he said. "That increases the fire risk. We need to pay attention to any fire bans out there."
Fire restrictions are in effect for all public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management Lander field office, and there is a fire ban in place in Fremont County. There are no fire restrictions in place on Forest Service lands in Fremont County, but officials encourage forest users to practice good campfire safety by ensuring the fire is cool to the touch before leaving the area.
Cox said temperatures should drop 5-15 degrees when the sun is fully covered by the moon.
"Residents and visitors may want to think about bringing a jacket to the solar eclipse," he said.