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Wyoming balloonists going up for solar eclipseWyoming balloonists going up for solar eclipse

Wind River Range, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, near the launch site

Aviation enthusiasts in the Mountain West who are up for a unique solar eclipse experience might consider viewing the Aug. 21 spectacle from Riverton, Wyoming. Balloonist Patricia Newlin is helping organize a weekend of hot air balloon rides among the scenic Wind River Range in the days leading up to the once-in-a-lifetime event.

The sun’s corona, helmet streamers, prominences, polar flumes, and coronal loops can be seen In this total solar eclipse photo provided by NASA. Photo courtesy of S. Habbal, M. Druckmuller, and P. Aniol, NASA.

Weather in the region can change quickly, and the winds can howl (note the name of the nearby mountains.) However, if conditions are benign, Riverton could be an ideal spot for a rare glimpse of the sun’s corona as it peeks out from behind the shadow of the moon.

Newlin said town officials are expecting that Riverton's population of 20,000 is expected to almost triple as the eclipse draws near. Named after the confluence of the Wind River and Little Wind River, Riverton was a popular stop for fur traders to rendezvous and do business.

Newlin and a handful of balloonists planned to book hot air balloon rides exploring the river basin and planned to lift off from soccer fields at Central Wyoming College, not far from Riverton Regional Airport.

“We are only three hours away from the Tetons, Yellowstone, and Jackson Hole to the northwest,” explained Newlin. “On the east, we have Devils Tower and the Blacks Hills” across the border to South Dakota.

Visitors to the area would be well-positioned to visit the breathtaking scenery of Grand Teton National Park; the turnout along Wyoming’s Snake River made famous by photographer Ansel Adams; the hot pots of Yellowstone National Park and Old Faithful geyser; and the antler-decorated town square in the cowboy city of Jackson Hole, where visitors can sit on a saddle as they sip adult beverages at a bar.

“Our problem is that we can’t put up accommodations for pilots coming in unless they have their own set ups,” she explained. “What I can offer them [balloonists] is the propane for their flights and crew members.”

Newlin said that because the total solar eclipse is expected to begin at 11:39 a.m. Aug. 21, “it’s probably going to be too warm to fly during the eclipse itself so we can’t say for sure if we’ll be in the air at that time.” Balloonists typically launch in the cool pre-dawn hours at 6 a.m. during similar summer rallies. Balloon rides should be available for booking Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, before it warms up.

“It’s a one-time event,” said Newlin. “We’re in the path of totality, so we are expecting astronomers from as far away as Korea and Japan.”

Newlin said outdoor enthusiasts interested in transforming the total solar eclipse into a summer vacation can look to Riverton for rafting, horseback riding, dude ranches, and other wilderness options for a complete experience.

“It’s a beautiful area and people coming from big cities will be in awe,” explained Newlin.

AOPA has created a resource page for pilots who want to fly to a location to view the solar eclipse. View an interactive map that plots the path of the eclipse and airports along its path, plus a list of airports (some with viewing events nearby) broken out by state. As more stories of events and viewing tips emerge, AOPA will continue to add to the resource page. Pilots can also share their solar eclipse viewing tips and destination ideas in the AOPA Hangar.

Wyoming’s Teton Range can be seen from the base of Blacktail Butte in this photo courtesy of the National Park Service.
David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: US Travel

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