May 20th, 2012, marked the date of the first annular solar eclipse visible in the United States in eighteen years. It was visible from Northern California to the upper panhandle of Texas, but it was a small town in Southern Utah by name of Kanarraville that NASA officials identified as the sweet spot for viewing the eclipse in its entirety as the moon passed centrally across the sun, displaying the “ring of fire.” The last time this happened I was nine years old, and the next time it happens I will be well into my forties, so my girlfriend and I decided to make the 400-mile journey from Los Angeles to see the eclipse.
Kanarraville is the epitome of a small midwestern town, and with a population of about three hundred and fifty, there are no gas stations, restaurants, hotels, or markets. We arrived a day early and set up camp a few miles down an unmarked dirt road just outside of town. A few friends of ours who we knew from Salt Lake City had already set up camp, and we were able to meet up with them using our iPhone’s map apps. It was pitch black by the time we arrived; the only thing you could see was the orange glow of the fire and stars in the sky. Living in downtown LA, I always forget that there is an entire universe above my head.
The next day was the day of the eclipse. We cooked up some breakfast over the open fire, then hiked and explored some surrounding canyon areas and headed into town. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I didn’t anticipate the small quiet town of Kanarraville to be bustling like it was. Thousands of tourists came from all over the country to stare at the sun — cars were everywhere, and I felt like I was stuck in traffic back in LA. We pulled into a giant field that was designated as the prime viewing spot for the eclipse. There were vans, tents, barbeque stands, merchant booths, news crews, reporters, and hundreds of stargazers setting up telescopes and cameras in preparation. Kanarraville had turned into a complete stargazing festival.
The eclipse started at 6:33 p.m., just as the sun began moving towards Bumble Bee Mountain. As the time drew closer, I could feel the energy rising, and as soon as the moon began to touch the sun, when you could see the first sliver of shadow cross over, the crowd exploded with cheers. Groups of people were singing and chanting lines from Johnny Cash’s famous tune: “And it burns, burns, burns, that burning ring of fire, the ring of fire.” Everyone in the crowd was so friendly, sharing their telescopes, special glasses, and filters to look at the sun. I was even able to put my camera up to the eyepieces of a few telescopes and shoot photos of the actual sun. From first to last contact, the eclipse lasted about two hours, with the full ring of fire lasting for seven minutes. It was an incredible and unexpected event, one that will certainly stay in my memory for the next eighteen years, until if I’m lucky and the skies are clear, I get to see that burning ring of fire once more.