Monday, October 16, 2023

Ring of fire brings floods of tourists: hundreds of thousands travel across the American West to see an annular eclipse

This weekend, a rare annular eclipse crossed over the Americas. Beginning in Oregon around 9 am local time on October 14, the eclipse cut through the American Southwest and Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico before traveling over Central America, Columbia, and Brazil. States within the path of annularity prepared for an onslaught of ecotourists coming to experience the once-in-a-generation event. In the United States alone, an estimated half a million to two million people were expected to travel for the eclipse.

Travel Oregon, the state’s tourism agency, advertised the many opportunities for businesses along the path. Klamath County organized a week-long Eclipse Fest to celebrate. County officials issued a travel advisory on Saturday and collaborated with more than a dozen federal, state, and tribal agencies to handle a wave of ecotourists that were expected to temporarily double the county’s population.

Remote Modoc County, California, expected tourists to outnumber residents as Californians flocked to the only county in the state in the path of the eclipse. Hotels in the small town of Alturas, population 2,715, booked out for the weekend.

In neighboring Nevada, Great Basin National Park welcomed visitors with guided viewings, astronomy programs, and guest speakers from NASA, while the nearby town of Ely, population 3,924, hosted a 4-day Ring of Fire Eclipse Festival. Meanwhile, the state’s tourism agency directed visitors to the best viewpoints and state energy officials prepared for a temporary shift as the eclipse dampens solar energy production, which accounts for over a third of the power supply for the state.

The Utah Department of Transportation warned visitors and residents alike of heavy traffic, as an expected 300,000 travelers drove across central Utah roads and highways. Thousands of visitors flocked to Bryce Canyon National Park for clear skies to view the eclipse.

While other parks were filled with crowds, the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park was closed in keeping with sacred tradition. For the Navajo people, or Din√©, as they call themselves, solar eclipses are a time for reflection and tranquility. The Navajo practice solemnity, not spectacle, out of reverence for the rebirth of the sun, which they regard as a father figure. Tribal educators instructed their people to pray in their homes and to avoid eating, drinking, sleeping, or looking at the eclipse, following centuries of tribal practice.

Just north of the Navajo Nation, the Bear Ears National Monument, which is co-managed by the Bureau of Land Management and indigenous tribes such as the Hopi and Ute, prepared for as many as 20,000 visitors. The Bear Ears Partnership informed tourists of the different beliefs held by those tribes, who view the area as sacred and encouraged them to visit with respect.

While the West relishes in the increased tax and travel revenues and returns to normal life, the Northeast, Midwest, and South prepare for future crowds of their own. A total eclipse will cut a path from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024. While Indiana gets ready for what is expected to be the single largest tourist event in the state’s history, Ohio anxiously awaits the estimated $23 to 94 million in economic benefits that it hopes to gain from eclipse tourism.

You can read more about preparation efforts in Newton County, Arkansas, here. You can read about eclipse tourism during the last solar eclipse in 2017 here.


Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Here's one more related post--with photos. I wrote this about traveling to Jackson, Wyoming, to experience the 2017 eclipse.

Caitlin Durcan said...

This past weekend I went to South Tahoe, California to run a half marathon. I was unaware when I booked the trip that there was a (partial) solar eclipse happening on Saturday morning. Upon finding this out, the group I was with tried to locate eclipse glasses so we could see the "ring of fire." While looking for glasses we ran into two men who are "eclipse chasers." One is a professional photographer and the other just comes along for the adventure. They told us in detail about all the eclipses they have seen around the country and beyond and how it has become a somewhat regular trip for them. Upon hearing this I did not think of the impact this travel has on small rural communities (not that South Tahoe is rural by any means). Thank you for writing about this topic to bring this issue to light (no pun intended).

Natalie M. said...

Great post! I remember the eclipse in 2021 but unfortunately missed the memo to buy the special glasses to see this one. This blog post reminded me of the podcast from the Brookings Institute about Shamokin, PA. Perhaps if rural economies capitalized on these eclipse sightings it would become a booming tourism industry which would bring economic activity to some rural places! So many Americans love science and enjoy spotting eclipses, comets, the Northern Lights, and shooting stars. I think eclipse tourism could become more popular in the future.