My trip to Baja California, Mexico in July 1991 to view the total solar eclipse was the best vacation I ever took. Myself, two of my friends and my husband set out from our homes in Cleveland, Ohio on June 27 and made a mad dash for the Mexican border in an R-V camper. We took our vehicle across the Sea of Cortez from the mainland on a ferry. We had reservations for a campground south of La Paz in Buena Vista within ten miles of the projected center line. This was, according to a local bartender, in the middle of no where.
We shared a trailer park with six other groups of campers who had journeyed down Highway 1 from California. The morning of the eclipse we set up in our lot at the campground. The lot next to us was vacant, so we left the beds we used for sleeping under the inky black sky set up for viewing the eclipse during totality.
The morning of the eclipse was hot and bright. There were a few clouds in the sky, but they were no threat. Later that evening I was cursing myself for only using the sunscreen twice during what seemed like a long wait. With our equipment finally set up and everything working properly, at approximately 10:26 the first bite appeared on the sun.
After the sun was 45% covered by the moon, it began to cool, which was a relief to me. The intensity of the sun light was altered. It was not like night was falling, but it was definitely different. As we approached totality and the planets became visible, I found myself shouting, "Venus, Venus! Venus!" and then "Jupiter, Jupiter! Jupiter!" The excitement was growing. I had a few sheets of mylar glued to a cardboard frame which I kept using in addition to the telescope, cameras, etc. "Mars! Mars, Mars!" and "Mercury, Mercury! Mercury!"
I had heard that viewing a total solar eclipse was a religious experience. I read that it changed your life forever. I knew that it was a unique event. I wasn't ready for the intensity of my emotions. I didn't know that I would be jumping up and down like a child, yelling at the top of my lungs--Diamond Ring! DIAMOND RING!!!!"
The sun was eclipsed! The mylar was discarded--I looked around to see the effect of the eclipse. I was standing under a bowl, with light coming from under the rim where the sun was not totally occulted. The effect was like deep twilight--the only animals stirring were the two-legged kind. I ran to my bed and grabbed binoculars. When I saw the prominence on the poles of the sun, I pulled away the binoculars and saw at least one clearly with my naked eyes. I forgot to mention the spectacular corona!
I finally got smart and ran to my telescope--with it's 6-inch mirror that I had made myself. I ripped off the mylar cover which was still stuck on top of it. All I could hear was the clicking of shutters--my companions who seemed to be viewing the whole thing from the finder of a camera. The telescope was not pointing at the sun--but I was instantly grateful for the thousand hours I've spent tracking objects a lot fainter than the eclipsed sun. While I looked through the eyepiece, I place the sun in the frame without difficulty.
The view in my six-inch telescope was fabulous! The prominence were brilliantly glowing magenta red. The detail of them was captured by my telescope and the many, many photos that appear in the astronomy magazines and my astronomer buddies' hands--but nothing compares to the wonderful images burned in my memory from my optic nerve! Nothing matches the feelings that washed over me as I turned to my husband and said, "Alden! Come away from that camera! You won't miss a thing--come here and look through the scope!" The line formed there as I stared at the sun and the moon doing their thing in the sky.
I was staring at the image of those fabulous prominences when Bailey's beads appeared along the disk of the sun. I removed my eye from the eyepiece and looked up to see the second diamond ring I ever witnessed. From there it was all anti-climatic. We watched continuously until the last bite was over. Clouds began to appear in the sky and a few hours later the whole sky was occulted. "Nice clouds!" I said.
Our small community buzzed. The sound of "Dark Side of the Moon" filled the air. The night was a celebration of the wonders of the heaves. Someone said we should cancel church and just have an eclipse every Sunday. That night we observed the wonders of the dark Baja sky. My memory of the emotions that devoured me and the images of that solar eclipse will never leave my consciousness.
Credit to this page: The text is copyrighted 1991 by Dawn Jenkins. This 1991 eclipse picture was taken by Robert Kihm of Cleveland, Ohio. Scanning was done by Atlantic Color, Inc. For more information, please use the contact page.
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Beam me back, Astra!