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Chasing the Sun

After seven years of waiting, I finally got the shot of my dreams.


No, not this one. Keep reading, please.

I remember my first total solar eclipse. I had asked one of my college friends if he wanted to make the pilgrimage down to Missouri from Iowa to try to catch it. I thought it would be memorable, so I also invited my mom.

 

I thought it would be a big moment, and truly it was. I remember learning about solar eclipses in grade school and seeing photos and videos of people experiencing them. I remember thinking “that looks so cool, but I will never get to experience that.”

 

So, when the opportunity came in 2017, I could not pass it up. I was moved. Stunned. Disbelief seems like a strong word, but I also think it is apt. I had seen the sun every day of my life up until the moment it was replaced with a gleaming hole in the sky.

 

It was magnificent. I had the time of my life. What I did not have, was a camera.

 

When I began taking photos in 2020, the solar eclipse of 2024 was always in the back of my mind. I didn’t know where I would be or what I would be doing, but I knew I had to see it. So finally, at long last, I began making plans last summer.

 

I wanted to experience the eclipse, yes, but I did not want to have to deal with throngs of people and traffic. This helped narrow down my possible viewing places to southwestern Texas. I also wanted a scenic location, so I scoped out locations in the National Park Service.

 

That narrowed my destination down to Amistad National Recreation Area.  

 

I knew I was going to need to take time off work, both for the eclipse and traveling back to Denver, so I need to strike a balance between two big drives. My base of operations needed to be close enough to the path of totality I could get there and back in a day, but also close enough to Denver that I could reasonably drive all the way home the next day.

 

Alpine, Texas, checked all the boxes. It was four hours from the path of totality and about twelve hours by car to get there from Denver.

 

Although I live in Denver now, I’m still a Midwesterner at heart. I’m no stranger to long drives. But the drive from Denver to the path of totality looked maybe a little too long. I needed to break it up, and if I was going to do that, why not check out other national parks on the way*?

 

*or slightly off the path, but reasonably close.


Looking at a map, I realized that White Sands National Park, Guadalupe Mountains National Park, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park were all located in the region. If I made a long weekend out of it, I could visit all three.


They would also be, I hoped, a nice surprise for my girlfriend, who would be copiloting this adventure.


Don't ask me about my gas mileage.

We got off to an early start on Saturday with a full day of driving ahead of us. Our destination for the evening was El Paso, by way of White Sands National Park. After having only been to the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado for the first-time last year, I was curious how they would compare.

 

I have to say, although the Great Sand Dunes may be taller, I was blown away by the vastness of White Sands.

 

Shai-Hulud.

The drive from El Paso to Alpine on Sunday would normally have taken three-and-a-half hours if we had taken the quickest route. But if you, like me, were willing to spend an extra 40 minutes driving, you could also stop at the Guadalupe Mountains National Park, near Dell City, Texas.

 

If you did not know Texas had mountains, I assure you, you are in… well, alright(?) company.

 

The Guadalupe Mountains were once part of an ancient coral reef some 265 million years ago. The reef, called the Capital Formation, extends nearly 40 miles from southwestern Texas into New Mexico. Although only 12 miles is actually in the national park, it does contain one of the biggest exposed sections of this system: El Capitan. See if you can guess where it is in this panorama.


You get one guess.

We got into Alpine, Texas, late in the evening; a bad traffic accident added about two hours to the drive. But we still got to sample the local fare, which was excellent.

 

Monday was the day of the eclipse. I wanted to get there at least three hours ahead of time to scout the weather and shooting locations, so that meant leaving Alpine by 6:00 a.m. at the latest. I am not a morning person and I take a while to properly “wake up,” so for me, that meant setting an alarm for 5:00 a.m.

 

But, if I was going to get up that early, I might as well make the most of it.

 

At this time of year, right at the beginning of Milky Way season, the galactic core will have risen reasonably high over the horizon by 5:00 a.m. And Alpine is a small town surrounded by darkness, so… why not also try to shoot the Milky Way while we were there?

 

You’ll have to let me know what you think of this impromptu shot of the Milky Way over Alpine.

After another four hours on the road, we made it to Amistad without issue. However, I did have an issue with the clouds.


I had heard the forecast looked poor in the week leading up to the big day, but it is one thing to know there might be clouds. Actually seeing the sky completely covered – the confirmation that I probably wouldn’t see totality – was different.

 

I was disappointed.

 

Still though, it was a windy day and we got an occasional glimpse of the sun through small gaps in the clouds. As the moon closed in on 100% coverage and as the clouds neared 100% coverage of their own, I got this shot at the lead of this blog post.

 

 

Seconds after I took this photo, we were hit with a wall of clouds. And then… darkness. Not just from the clouds, but from the moon. Totality began, and I was missing it.

 

All I could do was look up and hope.

 

The thing about the totality happening behind the clouds, was that it was impossible to see if the clouds were breaking up. The edges of the clouds lost their definition in the temporary night, and their speed and direction became a mystery.

 

Time stretched on. We would only have totality for 2 minutes and 43 seconds. Still, darkness.

 

Just as I finally began coming to grips with the fact I might miss it… the clouds began thinning. We still could not see the clouds, but we could tell what was happening because a faint, glowing circle materialized in the sky.

 

As the clouds parted, it created an ethereal effect of the circle of the total eclipse seemingly fading into view. From nothingness to completeness.

 

To totality.


I went wild. How couldn’t I? After seven years of waiting, planning, and hoping, I got to experience this feeling again. But this time, I got to share it with everyone.

 

Now I need to figure out how to get to the next one.

Thank you for reading, and thanks for letting me share my experiences with you. If you have ideas for other incredible images to capture (ideally on a budget) shoot me an email and let me know!


As always, fly safe!

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Tyler Meinel
Tyler Meinel
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Spectacular as usual. I love the shot in the clouds.

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Zaakary Barnes
Zaakary Barnes
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Thanks, Tyler! And thanks for joining to comment, too! <3

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I really look forward to these blog posts and my goodness I love this story! Think I might need to order a copy of that eclipse pic.👊

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Zaakary Barnes
Zaakary Barnes
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Thanks, Aunt Stacey! If I ever get good at editing, I am hoping to do a 50/50 of this eclipse of the sun and one of the moon. Will keep you posted!

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Love love love this post Zaak! And the photos? Stunning! Beautiful! Every single one. Remarkable. So very happy for you that you were able to make the journey and share it with all of us ☘️❤️

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Zaakary Barnes
Zaakary Barnes
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Thanks, mom <3

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