Eclipsing my expectations: autumn in Capitol Reef National Park

October 26, 2023  |  Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Preparing for the annular eclipse in 2023

About nine months ago, we learned that an annular eclipse would make a big celestial swath through the United States. We started researching the path to see if we could find a location that wouldn’t be overly crowded and still get us to the centerline. We called our photographer friends and fired them up about the possibility. So, where do we go?

Utah. That was the closest area for most of us. While we’d been to several spots in Utah, we picked Capitol Reef National Park since we’d never been to that park. And the photos I saw online excited me about the possibility of photographing abstracts.

I’d never seen an annular eclipse, and we won’t have one again in North America for a long stretch. I didn’t bother to note the date because I did the math and figured it would be a little dicey on a) whether I’m still on earth, and b) if I am still on earth, am I mobile enough to travel?

So, after having seen the 2017 solar eclipse, I wanted to experience this annular eclipse. During a solar eclipse, the closer you are to the centerline provides the most time during totality. And once you’ve had a taste of that, you want more. More cowbell!

Memories from the solar eclipse in 2017

Person viewing solar eclipse in 2017 with solar glasses

In 2017, my cousin Sharon and her husband Jim hosted me in Lander, Wyoming for the solar eclipse. What an amazing experience to see that glowing light as the moon shrouded the sun completely. And to wake up with good smells emanating from the kitchen. I was in heaven.

Humorous display in Wyoming during solar eclipse

The sun got mooned. One of the locals got into the event with a big sense of humor. Their property is graced with the "moon" rock, and they cleverly built the sun around it for the eclipse. Btw, these three photos are from 2017 and, boy, has cellphone technology improved since then.

Solar eclipse crescent moon shadows through tree leaves

As the solar eclipse progressed in 2017, I was in awe of the moon crescent shapes coming through the openings of the leaves. I tried to recreate the effect this year, but learned that some things are better left to chance. And the awe of wonder.

The planning phase

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this annular eclipse, but Bill kept showing me pictures he’d found online as he performed his research. Those images did look cool. Because of orbits, distances, and things I’d never feel confident explaining, you don’t see the moon during an annular eclipse—just the sun. But the movement of the moon over the sun has the effect of creating a hole and leaving a thin fire ring.

But during the annular eclipse, you must wear solar glasses the entire time and have a solar filter for your camera. We had some planning and purchasing to do.

Small dog during annular eclipse of 2023 with solar eye protection

Our San Diego friends, Dave and Tara, also were in our discussions about the annular eclipse. Our honorary granddog, Raina, read up on the latest in eye protection and rocked the look. I might be a bit biased though.

Finding a location to shoot the annular eclipse

Bill kept talking about how important getting to the center line was. That became the inside joke with our photo-friendship group. We understood that the “ring of fire” appears for those in the path, and the closer you get to the center line, the more symmetrical the ring. For those viewing the annular eclipse outside the path, there isn’t a ring but more of a crescent shape.

Photographers at 2023 annular eclipse

And here we are, Bill and Ann. Super nerdy photography-astro geeks. We completely embarrassed our two Utah photographer friends by having Annular Eclipse shirts. Sorry, guys.

(photo by Eugene Jones)

Scouting for the perfect spot

After all the research and anticipation, we drove to Torrey, Utah, a few days before the event. Our group started seeking where we could get close to that center line. We had to keep in mind that the moon would start its move over the sun at about 9:00 a.m., and the end of the event would be around noon. We were on a mission to find a clearing that allowed us to see an unobstructed sky toward where the sun would be during that time.

On our map, the center line intersected a road over a mountain pass in Dixie National Park. So, we started traveling down Highway 12. We found an overlook, and it checked the boxes off. But, it was also an easy place for everyone wanting to experience the event, and parking was limited. Plus, it was off the center line a bit. We pressed onwards.

We found a couple of other spots along the road. However, we encountered the same potential issue. Parking would be limited, and we didn’t want to come out at 3:00 a.m. in the cold just to secure a spot. Yes, we were at altitude; snow had already dusted the area a few days before. So it would be cold at that hour. Not my fav.

We decided that we’d try a rougher road off the main one. Our theory was that others might not be eager to take their vehicle on a bumpy road. We had piled into a friend’s 4 x 4 with clearance. We got to an area that seemed like it might work. It had a happy vibe about it. But we hesitated about the early shots around 9-10 and whether the pine trees might block our photos. So we kept exploring.

Smiling rock in the forest

I'd be a happy rock too if I was in a forest like this.

The day of the annular eclipse arrives. Finally.

We found a campground area and a rough road branched off from the camping spots. We followed it. Again, it is another 4 x 4 road that you wouldn’t take your sedan down unless you were prepared for a front-end alignment soon. Or it was a rental. Joking, Hertz! Although there was that time in Iceland.

After a lot of bouncing and jostling for 20 minutes, the most fantastic clearing appeared. The field was lined with pines and a few aspens turning gold. No one was there, and even if others made the trek down the rough dirt road, there was plenty of space to have several vehicles and accommodate a small crowd.

On the eclipse day, we headed out early. My imagination made me nervous that we’d see hundreds of people as we approached that last turn toward the clearing. Ah, relief. Although there was another vehicle, and they’d camped there, that was it. We made friends with them because we bonded quickly, having photography and celestial nerd traits in common.

Photographers lined up during 2023 annular eclipse

Here is our motley crew. We are all lined up our cameras with solar filters on, and I'm fussing over the solar glasses. Man, those are hard to put those over regular glasses. I ended up taping them to my glasses. And then realizing, "duh, you can't see your camera, girl." I wish we had a few more of these pics because Jennifer is left out of this one. But then, here's payback for calling us a bunch of goofballs, Jen. Kidding!

(photo by Jennifer Ferris)

Changes during the annular eclipse

The day was not as cold as I thought it might have been. I shed some layers. The puffy jacket got tossed aside. The hoodie jacket was piled on top of the puffy jacket. I wrestled with my Smartwool pull-on sweater until it released me, but it stayed turned inside out. It won that battle, for now.

We were clicking away at the early stages of the moon barely making its way onto the sun's surface. Well, not literally the moon on the sun’s surface, or that’d be disastrous. But that IS what it looked like.

The squirrels started chirping louder as the day seemed more like dusk. The birds were active like they had forgotten to eat, and they began a hurried foraging, flying frantically from the trees to the ground and back. And then, as there was less and less light, they all stopped.

There was no activity. What an odd silence for the middle of the day. Nature decided it was almost bedtime. And I realized I needed those layers on after all. The temperature must have dropped by about 15 degrees, so much so that I had to slip on gloves.

Though this is faint, you can hear the squirrel signalling the rest of the forest that something is up. This is in the beginning phase of the moon moving into position over the sun.

Bam: the ring of fire

And then, the moment we all had waited for: the “ring of fire.” After we all said our “ahhhhs” over the beauty and perfection, it was as though the day went in reverse. The squirrels started making noises again, the birds came out, and the day began again.

Our whole group was happy and satisfied, and we high-fived Bill for being so adamant about being on the center line. It made a difference. And it makes me smile how we all repeatedly asked him if it was “that” important. You can see below that it was with the different stages in my abstract eclipse collage.

graphic grid collage of annular eclipse phases

I had so many photos, and I narrowed them down and decided to go a bit abstract. So this graphic grid fit for what I wanted. I also put a little repeating design that I created from various rings. You can find this in my Just for Fun gallery of images.

But the fun isn't over. There's still Capitol Reef to explore. And it's autumn.

Now, onto Capitol Reef. We didn’t see as much of this vast park in our limited timeframe as I would have liked. So I want to go back. Beyond the standard park loop, you need a car with clearance, as there are miles of dirt roads to explore. We had to ford a stream on one of them. And I could tell the dry roads would be a muddy mess at the wrong time of year with rain. There is a lot of clay in the soil, which spells trouble.

Capitol Reef has a lot up its sleeve. The peculiar geology reminds me of a blend of Sedona, White Pocket in northern Arizona, and Death Valley.

I see the red rocks, canyons, and rock cathedrals of Sedona. In the thick sand, swirls of colors, and crazy rock formations, I see White Pocket. With mountains separated by long stretches of dry, desolate badlands and sparse vegetation, I see Death Valley. Although I’ve not visited Badlands National Park in South Dakota, I’d venture that the eroding Mancos shale hillsides in Capitol Reef would draw some déjà vu vibes.

Capitol Reef National Park offered an adventure for the eyes and the imagination. You can tell by the variety of intimate scenes below and some quirky abstracts I discovered along the way.

Intimate landscapes of Capitol Reef

The Shale Hills cast a blue-gray color towards sunset, complimenting the beginning layer of the colors of autumn. So many textures. And doesn't it just feel like those hills are going to bury the trees?

Waiting for the sun to drop below the sandstone cliff in the background, I almost disappeared into the tall grasses next to the Fremont River to take the next photo you'll see below. But I was committed to the vision of that photo. It was one of those images created in my head I had to execute. They don't all happen that way, but when they do, and turn out the way you envisioned, its magic.

Fremont cottonwood tree close up in autumn

When we visited my grandma and grandpa's farm in upstate New York, there were cottonwood trees lining the front lawn. It was the longest front yard I'd ever seen, and there had to be at least ten cottonwood trees lining the yard from the road to the old farm house. They stood tall, thick, and ancient. Though they've been cut down many years back, I can still hear the gentle clapping of their leaves in the breeze. I forgot about that until I asked myself recently why the cottonwood is my favorite tree. Sound memories are strong ones. And when we saw this Fremont cottonwood breaking out her fall color, I knew what I wanted -- an up-close, personal remembrance. I call this "Autumn Whispers" and you can find this in my Abstract Impressionism gallery.

Barn at Capitol Reef National Park at sunset

An idyllic and fulfilling day is just about over. Before the last of the light left, I saw the barn tucked away in the trees. I hope the rancher is seeing this sunset as he sits down to supper.

Domes of Capitol Reef at sunrise

Deeper into the park, the rocky Domes of Capitol Reef pick up the morning’s sunrise. So much of the landscape here seems like visiting another planet’s surface. And that fits the theme of outer space so appropriately, doesn't it?

Bentonite Hills at Capitol Reef National Park with black rocks

These rocks look like they are on a slow path. Their journey down these Bentonite Hills must be a slow one. If they need rain to move forward, these might just be there the next time I visit. I love the color palette of adobe tones on the soft contours. Notice that the surface looks textured. It is! And its been here since the Jurassic period of time.

Bentonite Hills with rust and mauve colors

Turn around, and everything shifts to a different hue: browns, reds, purples, grays, and greens. There's a lot going on. Even the rocks in this shot are a different color. They too are gravitating to the folds in the hillside.

Bring on the abstract photography!

What do I spy? An abandoned drill rig and truck from the 1940s. It isn’t going anywhere, so I can explore at my own pace. Check out what I found.

(photo by Tory Jackman)

Hot red lipstick in graffiti paint

On the side of that water tank, there she was. "She's Trouble" is just waiting to cause havoc. Watch out, if you let her get close, guys, that lipstick will end up on your shirt, and you'll have some explaining to do. If you are attracted to her, well, you can find her hanging out in the Wabi Sabi Photography gallery. She'll be eager to see you there.

Abstract photographer Ann Newman in Capitol Reef National Park

Looking closely at the abandoned drill rig (though at this point, I'm not -- good catch reader), I noticed a wooden wheel. Not for rolling the truck, but up on the bed of the truck. You can see it here over towards the left of the photo.

(another photo taken by Tory Jackman; follow him for lots of Utah photos on Instagram @toryjackman2)

Close up of wood slat pattern on an antique wheel

This wooden wheel on this abandoned drill rig was most likely used to hoist and lower the drill string into the borehole. I sound like I know what I’m talking about, right? Thank you to the Internet for making me sound like an expert. But I am an expert in patterns that attract my eye, and this wheel had it going on.

Close up of wood slats on antique water wheel

And that wheel had so many textures and patterns from the slats of wood used to create it. So I decided two shots of it were better than one. But honestly, for close up photography, you actually have to shoot several shots to bring all that texture together. The close-up lens I use only captures slices of depth, so it becomes a long, drawn out thing for those waiting on me.

Upside down smile on antique truck meter

Moving over to the sinking drill rig, a faded meter looked at me. I saw a frown at first glance until it hit me that it was a little upside-down smiling face.

So, I made a short inspirational quote to remind myself about the power of perspective. And added it to my collection of quotes. If you've never ventured through that gallery, you'll find some humor, some depth, and all of it is from me. The photography, the writing, the creation of the graphic.

I happen to think these make excellent gifts, just in case you are in need. Hey, it’s going to be Christmas again before you know it. Professionally printed 5” x 7” cards fit on an easel at your desk or lean on a shelf to give a little nudge about perspectives. View them here.

graphic grid collage of annular eclipse phases

Introducing "Shadows of Light", a stunning, astrological collage of annular eclipse photos of the sun and moon. Creative and eye-catching, this piece will make a bold statement in any room. The dramatic black and yellow forms a graphic abstract grid. This stunning piece of art stimulates the senses and lights up a room. Appreciate the beauty of the natural, cosmic phenomenon in vivid detail. Let yourself be swept away into the awe-inspiring beauty of the cosmos.

Capturing the awe-inspiring beauty of the 2023 annular eclipse, "Shadows of Light" will indeed become an eye-catching focal point in your home or office. As eclipses are believed to have spiritual and astrological significance, it's a great way to add fun and meaning to any wall. Go ahead and let "Shadows of Light" bring a touch of celestial beauty and drama to your home or office.

Stay tuned.

If you liked this, there's a solar eclipse happening in April 2024. That one runs through Texas, and yes, we are already planning that trip. I'm excited for new fun images and adventures. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss anything between here and there. And thank you for tuning in. And feel free to leave a comment below.

Posted in Back to Nature.