II: Canyon de Chelly and the 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse

Back in 2012 I had the opportunity to join a Kitt Peak National Observatory public tour to view the annular solar eclipse. About 40 people from around the country flew into Tucson to make the drive up to Canyon de Chelly (pronounced de-shay)  in northern Arizona, where we would be able to view the entire eclipse.

To break up the lengthy drive from Tucson to Canyon de Chelly, we stopped in Flagstaff and visited Lowell Observatory along the way. On the way back, we stopped at Meteor Crater. This blog post will only detail Canyon de Chelly.

Canyon de Chelly is located in northeastern Arizona, almost in New Mexico. It is the only National Park that lies on Navajo land, and they do not abide by Daylight Savings Time, which meant we had to be very careful to view the solar eclipse during the correct few minutes.

At the visitor center you can learn about Navajo history and the nation before driving around the park.

Most of the park can only be seen by driving to the various overlooks along the North and South Rim. Tourists are only allowed to descend into the canyon along the White House Trail; an authorized Navajo or guide is required to enter the canyon from other locations. We spent two days and three nights in the small town of Chinle, located just outside the national park. On day one we hiked White House Trail and were treated to an authentic Navajo dinner. During the second day we drove around the park stopping at many of the overlooks before setting up camp to view the solar eclipse. The following pictures are from both days, but not in chronological order.

Canyon Drive

One of the most famous sights in Canyon de Chelly, Spider Rock.

One of the most well-known sights in Canyon de Chelly is the 750+ feet-tall Spider Rock. The Navajo consider Spider Woman to be one of their “most important and honoured Deities.” This stop overlooks the junction of Canyon de Chelly with Monument Canyon.

For a long time this has been one of my favorite images from Canyon de Chelly.
A view along the canyon.
Steep cliffs lining the winding canyon.

White House Trail

After spending about 10 hours driving from Tucson to Canyon de Chelly, we were grateful for the chance to stretch our legs on a short 2.5-mile hike into the canyon. As I mentioned previously, White House Trail is the only hike which you can take into the canyon without a Navajo member or authorized tour guide. At the end of the trail, Navajo members have a mini-market set up to sell locally made arts and crafts. This is a good place to stop for a snack and browse for souvenirs, but if you want to purchase something, make sure you bring cash.

Looking into the canyon before beginning White House Trail.
Another view of the canyon taken from White House Trail.
This cliff face marks one of the first views of the White House Ruins, although you have to be a bit closer to see the actual ruins. You can see the ruins up close a bit further along the trail.

Solar Eclipse 2012

For anyone who does not know, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly in front of the Sun, blocking out its light. A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon is at exactly the right distance from Earth to perfectly cover up the surface of the Sun. Other times, as in 2012, the moon is a bit closer to Earth and only covers up most of the sunlight. This is called an annular eclipse. Because the moon has to be in between the Earth and the Sun for a solar eclipse to occur, they can only occur during a new moon phase. Likewise, lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full and passes directly within the Earth’s shadow.

Credit - http://www.moonconnection.com/images/moon_phases_diagram.jpg
Credit – http://www.moonconnection.com/images/moon_phases_diagram.jpg

After a grand buildup, we had less than a half-hour to view the solar eclipse. We brought binoculars, telescopes and glasses for viewing the eclipse and they all came with special equipment to protect human eyes. The next total solar eclipse to happen over mainland America is in 2017, so get ready! Kitt Peak may offer another special trip for interested viewers.

If you decide to view it on your own, note that strong sunglasses are not enough to protect your eyes from the Sun. Extremely cheap filters for binoculars and cameras can be purchased from Rainbow Symphony, but they were sold out a month or two before the solar eclipse occurred. Another popular and cheap option for solar eclipse viewing is welding glass, but it must be at least shade 12 and preferably shade 14. For more information, read this article from Sky & Telescope magazine.

300mm zoom lens and solar filter from Rainbow Symphony
300mm zoom lens and solar filter from Rainbow Symphony

Although it is out of the way, Canyon de Chelly is easy to explore in a short amount of time. In just two days I feel that we saw most of what we could and I have no regrets. If you ever get a chance to drive this way, also note the many other sites in northern Arizona, such as Flagstaff, Lowell Observatory, Meteor Crater, Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon. They could make up a very interesting road trip!

– Emily

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