Total Eclipse on the Prairie

Well, if you’re expecting photos of the sun with the shadow of the moon in front of it, I’m sorry to disappoint you.  I figured every other photographer in the world would be taking that photo, so I zigged when they zagged.

We were really fortunate that our Platte River Prairies were right smack in the middle of the path of totality for this year’s solar eclipse, and despite some high clouds here and there, we ended up with a very nice clear view of the eclipse.  We hosted a viewing event for about 150 of our good friends, and it was a truly magical experience.  I don’t really have a lot to say about the science of the eclipse (I was mostly trying to enjoy the experience, not analyze it) but thought I’d share a few photos of what the experience was like on the ground.

Standing around watching people look at the sun through goofy glasses was an experience in itself…

My brother-in-law, Austin Bontrager is an amateur astronomer and greatly enhanced our experience by giving an introductory presentation and then setting up his telescope with a camera and live feed of the sun we could watch on a big monitor. Seeing the eclipse happen on an image of the sun the size of a basketball was extraordinary – especially the chance to see sun spots and solar flares at the same time.

This kid had the best eclipse mask of the day.

Despite quite a few people at the event, everyone was able to spread out and find their own personal piece of prairie to watch from. It really didn’t feel crowded at all.

As we neared totality, we got the 360 degrees of sunset color we’d heard about. It was truly amazing.

Once the moon had completely covered the sun, it was safe to look at it without protective glasses. We had a little more than 2 minutes before the signal sounded to put our glasses back on, and the first bright beam of sunlight came bursting out again.

The two minutes or so of totality blew by really fast. There wasn’t really much time to pay attention to whether insect sounds changed or evening flowers opened. We were all too busy just soaking in the experience.

We had visitors from around Nebraska, as well as from states like Texas, Minnesota, Colorado, and others. Based on our first experience with a total solar eclipse, Kim and I are already talking about trying to travel somewhere in the patch of totality to see the 2024 eclipse…

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About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.
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15 Responses to Total Eclipse on the Prairie

  1. Paul Brewer says:

    Chris,
    Did you (or others you are in contact with) notice any difference in insect or animal activity there on the prairies?
    Thanks for the great photos!!
    Paul

  2. Great photos. Love the innovation of the young lad!!

  3. Thank you! I really enjoyed your story about the people and the shared experience of the eclipse, and your photos that provide context to the event. Fantastic!

  4. Rae says:

    Charlie and I are now planning 2024 too! It was amazing!

  5. marknupen says:

    Fabulous sequence of pictures. How spectacular a place to view all of that.

    thanks!!!!!

  6. James says:

    Thanks so much for these posts. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy them.

  7. anastaciast says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It was too cloudy in Adams to get much more than a dusky tone. But, the cool thing is that my friend, Barb, who lives near 16th and A saw a cloud of bats! She counted around 50.

  8. kocart says:

    Crickets started chirping, and birds came out to feed. California quail started complaining and perching on high spots. The temperature dropped about ten degrees in the Boise foothills, which did not quite reach totality. I sat all by myself in a hollow while most people went for the highest patch of ground they could find–I have no idea why. The other thing I noticed is that during the eclipse, sunlight filtered through trees and made crescent spots on the ground. So neat.

  9. kocart says:

    Crickets started chirping, and birds came out to feed. California quail started complaining and perching on high spots. The temperature dropped about ten degrees in the Boise foothills, which did not quite reach totality. I sat all by myself in a hollow while most people went for the highest patch of ground they could find–I have no idea why. The other thing I noticed is that during the eclipse, sunlight filtered through trees and made crescent spots on the ground. So neat.

  10. What a great experience! I am very disappointed, because yesterday morning, when they said only those in the path of totality could take their glasses off, I remembered some percent we in Lincoln were supposed to be, and it wasn’t 100%, so I thought we had to keep ours on, and I missed out on the best part!

  11. wyominglife says:

    I decided to forego eclipse photos, too. I am an amateur photographer at best and I didn’t want to spend my 2 plus minutes of totality fussing with my camera. I think the 360 sunset was what I enjoyed the most. It was an amazing and humbling experience.

  12. Jeannie Patton says:

    I love how you approached this, Chris. Zigging when others are zagging is your “thing” and you’re brilliant at it. I especially appreciate the silhouettes during totality — I’ve not seen images like that anywhere else. Thanks.

  13. Beciky Anderson & Bill Minier says:

    Thanks so much for hosting, and documenting, this once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’re so grateful to have been there.

  14. Kathy Olson says:

    Thanks for sharing this. It would be wonderful to see this prairie in normal circumstances let alone during an eclipse! We saw the eclipse in Southern IL and it was fantastic as well. Cicadas did chirp and there was a drop in temp of 10 degrees. Being that it was already 96 degrees out, we didn’t notice it that much.

  15. Uncle Tree says:

    Fabulous fan shots, Chris! :) How fortunate the weather there! In Wilber, Nebraska,
    we were not so lucky, but we weren’t dealt a complete shutout, either. Cheerz! Uncle Tree

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