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Carhenge: Alliance, Nebraska Eclipse 2017

I left Denver at 02:30 and drove north to Alliance, NE to witness the total solar eclipse of the sun August 21, 2017. There is little chance that I'll ever be the same. Here are some portraits of the space tourists I met at Carhenge. I'm looking forward to 2024 and linking back up with these fellow travelers.

By: Nathan Armes + Save to a List

Alliance, Nebraska
42.142210, -102.858151
August 21, 2017

Since the dawn of time; kings, oracles and philosophers have looked to the heavens in awe. It’s a story old as mankind.

Time Shot: 08:18:08

Today, August 21, 2017 — more than 4000 years since the Chinese observed the eclipse of 2136 BC — millions of Americans are flocking to cities and towns along “the path of totality” to witness this celebrated celestial event. This celestial Woodstock of sorts.

“. . . and the Sun has perished out of heaven, and an evil mist hovers over all.” Homer, The Odyssey.

Homer is said to be describing a total solar eclipse of April 16, 1178 BC. But for a few historical texts and records, modern man can only imagine how early societies interpreted this astronomical wonder. The Old Testament credits the Lord God for making the sun go down at noon. Greek poets cast blame on the Olympians, “fear has come upon mankind” they scribed.

Enter modern day Alliance, Nebraska, the home to Carhenge, a replica of the Druids’ most famous and mysterious structure, Stonehenge. Built by Jim Reinders in 1987, it’s what you imagine. A replica of the mythic structure but constructed with old cars, a classic Jeep, a Pinto and other faceless vehicles placed where the towering stones cast shadows thousands of miles away in Southern England. Drawing visitors from near and far, Carhenge is a monument to the country’s weird and wonderful roadside attractions and testament to the great American road trip.

Alliance is a small, dusty Great Plains town of just under 8500 hardy and kind souls, where corn fields and tractors far outnumber hotel rooms but those few hotel rooms had been booked for months, maybe even years before today. At capacity due to the curious pouring into the town in trucks, cars, buses and vans marked with out of state plates.

Alliance is nestled on the western edge of Nebraska’s Sand Hills, since 1891 the residents have lived a quiet life in the Box Butte County town.

Days before the countdown to 11:49:09 AM on August 21 (the magic hour of totality) this small Nebraska town was overrun by space tourists hoping to catch even a glimpse of this once in a lifetime opportunity to see the sun go down at noon.

Clouds be damned. Rain, always useful in a farming town, still damned. The weather gods answered with a partly cloudy but glorious day, a subtle nod to the terrestrial that they are still in charge. Enjoy the gift, remember to wear sunblock.

Time Shot: 08:55:59 and 9:14:56

Time Shot: 09:57:56

Time Shot: 10:16:06

“Come on clouds, go away! I’m missing school for this,” a couple of kids chanted as they skittered about Carhenge. Adults too, openly speculating on the weather. All eyes on the sky, heads in the clouds. The anticipation of totality was palpable, the pulse of excitement was hard to explain for totality veterans but you could see it in their eyes. This dusty town was in for something special.

Church grounds are dotted with campsites, local bars will feature live music into the night. City parks, backyards, mowed oat fields and harvested corn rows host tent camping for these tourists. The Governor of Nebraska, Pete Ricketts, made an appearance, wearing a blue sport coat, creased jeans and cowboy boots per the political uniform of western standard. We all had a front row seat to this high plains spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was.

Time Shot: 10:26:58

Time Shot: 10:30:29

Time Shot: 10:50:18

Time Shot: 11:04:25

Time Shot: 11:28:10

Explaining the science behind a total solar eclipse is hard. Succinctly explaining why sitting in a corn field to witness the 2017 total eclipse of our star is almost as distant and difficult as actually landing on the moon. For two and a half glorious minutes the world around us was set on pause to hear the collective gasp.

“Holy shit,” a family sitting behind me said repeatedly. It was only joining the chorus of cheers, clapping and shouts of approval that rippled through the crowd reminding me of the many concerts I’ve attended in my life. The whole day you could feel the energy that was released at 11:49:09.

Entire families would rise from their picnic blankets and camp chairs and into the eerie darkness of totality as a 360 degree sunset unfolded around them. The dusk like light was warping and bending, racing to reach us, peaking around the moon 238,900 miles away. The temperature dropped, the wind had picked up an hour before. But at the moment of totality it was calm or I didn’t notice or care to be bothered by the dusty air because everything was fresh and pure. If but for a moment everything was clear.

Time Shot: 11:37:26

Time Shot: 11:40:57

Time Shot: 11:42:40

Time Shot: 11:43:20

In a text from a life long friend, he asked how was Nebraska? My reply was simple, “life changing” and it was truth.

The universe has always called the shots. I saw two sunrises and two sunsets today. It’s like eating the best dinner with your best friends, drinking the finest wine with your wife, sipping bourbon around a camp fire and hearing your favorite song at that perfect moment. All the feelings, all at once as if shot by a bazooka. They come at you fast but time slows to a craw as if in a dream.

How was Nebraska? How was the eclipse?

For millions of Americans it will reach deep to hopefully feed a sense of wonder that every generation worries that the upcoming generation will lose. It will feed that sense of feeling small and being humbled by the universe and that is OK. Science predicted today’s total solar eclipse 85 years ago because that is what science does. It’s a perfect union of organized knowledge and testable ideas no matter how crazy they may sound at the time.

Time Shot: 11:45:10

Time Shot: 11:46:17

Time Shot: 11:47:47

Time Shot: 11:48:24

Time Shot: 11:49:09 — Totality

Witnessing a total solar eclipse is not going to help answer all of life’s questions but there is something to be said about the millions of newly minted fellow travelers and space tourists already making plans for 2024. I know I am.

My one tip, see it with friends, family and loved ones. Share the experience with the people you treasure. Because every time you see the sun, moon and the stars (which is hopefully often) you’ll be reminded of the time you all stood and marveled at the universe high above and swirling all around us, everyday and at every moment.

Nathan W. Armes is a photographer based in Denver, Colorado. His adventures can be found on Instagram @nathan_armes.

One last thing, listen to Willie Hawes of Safford, AZ cover Cat Stevens’ “Moon Shadow.” It’s pretty awesome but caution it’s an ear worm that will eclipse all other thoughts. Boom.

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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