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Annular solar eclipse attracts travelers to Mesa Verde National Park

Mechanical and aerospace engineering students from University of Colorado Colorado Springs at Mesa Verde National Park on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023 preparing for the solar eclipse. NASA donated the equipment so they can record for them. (Colette Czarnecki/The Journal)
‘Ring of fire’ leaves spectators awe-struck

Hundreds poured into Mesa Verde National Park early Saturday morning for what is for many a once in a lifetime opportunity: an annular solar eclipse.

The eclipse technically began at 9:13 a.m., when the moon slowly began to pass between the sun and the Earth. Of course, the phenomenon wasn’t visible to the naked eye. The sun’s blinding light would burn the retinas of anyone who dared look at it for more than an instant.

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But with the use of special eclipse viewing glasses that rendered everything but the sun itself pitch black, one could watch the moon, which also appeared dark against the backdrop of the sun, descend over the sun like a black droplet of ink spilling in slow motion over a burning orange canvas.

For 20 minutes, the moon slowly fell lower in the sky until it finally appeared to pass the center of the sun, casting a barely perceptible shadow over the land.

One hundred-plus observers waited atop Park Point, the highest point in Mesa Verde National Park at 8,572 feet elevation where forest rangers keep watch for fires from a lookout tower.

But there was only one blaze burning Saturday morning – the “ring of fire” observable

Adam Clark and Rachel Zima, of Durango, watch the eclipse on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023 in the Connie Gotsch Courtyard at San Juan College. (James Preminger/Special to the Tri-City Record)
The moon passes between earth and the sun during a rare "ring of fire" eclipse of the sun Saturday in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/The Associated Press)

through eclipse glasses, named for the appearance of a burning halo in the sky as the moon reaches its annular peak and partially obscures the sun.

Peak annularity occurred at 10:33 a.m. and lasted approximately three minutes, during which the sun appeared as a vast black hole surrounded by a ring of fire.

Some spectators went to Mesa Verde National Park specifically for the annular eclipse. Others just happened to be in the area when they realized a cosmic show was scheduled for Saturday morning.

Angelica Navarro and her family traveled from Denver to watch the eclipse at the national park, which was barely within the most ideal viewing area in Southwest Colorado.

“We’re using a solar filter to protect the eyes so our retinas don’t burn off,” she said as she watched the moon slowly cover the sun through a telescope.

Navarro has witnessed eclipses before, but this was her first annular eclipse. She said she incorporated her husband’s Navajo traditions and beliefs into the experience.

“For me, I see it as a renewal. Just, like, sacred,” she said. “It’s nothing like we see everyday … In a weird way, it’s a way to connect with the universe.”

Partners Liam Wynne and Jordan Lutz traveled from Colorado Springs for the celestial event.

After the annular peak ended and the moon continued its slow descent through the sky and away from the sun, Wynne said the spectacle was “spectacular.”

People stopped by Mesa Verde National Park on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023 to view the annular solar eclipse. (Colette Czarnecki/The Journal)

He said he enjoyed cheering with the rest of the awe-struck observers as the clock struck 10:33 a.m. and the ring of fire was complete.

Lutz said she was fascinated by the half-moon shapes caused as the moon passed between the sun and the earth. In a counterclockwise motion, the “ring of fire” slowly crept around the silhouette of the moon as it neared the center of the sun.

The annular eclipse was a moment of pure amazement for Wynne, but he didn’t consider it a spiritual experience.

“You get this big ‘wow’ moment,” he said. “The whole reason for coming is getting that ‘wow’ moment, that was pretty cool.”

The couple planned to travel back to Colorado Springs later on Saturday. They said the annular peak was worth the drive, but their adventures are not over.

“Our goal is to hit all the national parks eventually,” Lutz said.

They have visited nearly 30 national parks this year.

Men and women of particularly scientific minds were also atop Park Point for the eclipse.

Mesa Verde National Park visitors viewing the “ring of fire” during the solar eclipse on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Colette Czarnecki/The Journal)

Geologist and polymathic Mic McPherson said as a scientist, he knows exactly how and why eclipses happen. He understands the process, the periodicity and the technicalities of it. But as logical as he thinks about it, he said the experience is still “magical.”

The phenomenon is older than humankind, but relatively few humans have actually experienced it through history, he said.

“In reality, most people never get to see an eclipse. So it’s a special opportunity and it’s just by luck that we happened to be close enough to be able to be here,” he said. “I feel it’s a connection to something that our ancestors who were lucky enough to see it were, no doubt, dumbfounded and awe-struck because they didn’t understand the process.”

He said being within a 120-mile swath across a portion of the planet is the only way anyone can get a direct view of the annular eclipse, and most people on Earth missed the once in a lifetime opportunity.

“I’m 70 years old. I’ve been studying science my entire life. So I have significant understanding in a lot of subjects. I have taught several subjects,” he said. “Therefore, there’s nothing magical about this to me – (but) that doesn’t mean that it isn’t magical.”

Utah couple Andrew and Krista White, who teach sixth grade science and coding, and language arts and history, respectively, said they happened to be in the right place at the right time.

Solar eclipse viewers at Mesa Verde National Park peeking at the “ring of fire” through NASA's solar viewers on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Colette Czarnecki/The Journal)

They are passionate but not fanatic about astronomy, having used to teach it to grade schoolers, Andrew White said. They especially love the power the moon holds over the fascination of youngsters.

“Of all the things we’ve had telescopes on, all the star parties, every time a student or parents see the moon, they freak out,” he said. “There’s craters on there. And I think it’s because we walked on it. I think it’s because they’ve seen people go to it.”

More than quasars, star clusters and star formations, people and particularly children love studying the moon, he said. And there’s no better time to get kids interested in astronomy than during an eclipse.

“It’s like the opening to the dialogue you can have with them about the world. The wonders. We’re all part of that energy,” he said. “I think nowadays especially, it’s a time to open dialogue with kids.”

Some visitors traveled throughout the night to arrive at the park in the early morning, like Alex Coe, a construction inspector from Denver.

“It’s a majestic, cosmic event to experience this as a group of people,” he said. “It’s really cool because you’re never in a group of people excited about stars.”

cburney@durangoherald.com

Colette Czarnecki with The Journal contributed to this story.



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