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Near-total solar eclipse could draw hundreds to Southwest Colorado

Four Corners and Mesa Verde National Park in path of maximum obscuration
A portion of the Balcony House is seen at Mesa Verde National Park. Mesa Verde will host NASA and University of Colorado astronomers for the annular solar eclipse on Oct. 14. (Durango Herald file)

A near-total solar eclipse – the best part of which will clip Southwest Colorado on Oct. 14 – is expected to draw hundreds of tourists and astronomy experts who will give talks and host observation parties at Mesa Verde National Park.

Area hotels are already reporting being sold out or near capacity leading up to fall event.

Annular vs. total eclipses

The October eclipse is annular, meaning the moon will obscure most, but not all, of the sun. This will create a halo effect in the sky. On the other hand, a total eclipse means the sun is entirely blocked by the moon.

The celestial display will grace the sky the morning of Saturday, Oct. 14, as the moon aligns with the sun. It won’t be a total eclipse; rather, this will be an annular eclipse, in which the moon will cover 90% of the sun’s surface – as viewed from Southwest Colorado – creating a so-called ring of fire.

“We have scientists from the NASA Earth to Sky program coming to the park that will be available for table talks,” said Kristy Sholly, chief of interpretation at Mesa Verde. “We’ll also have lots of stations set up throughout the park for questions and to share the event with visitors.”

The Four Corners will be in the privileged path of the maximum eclipse. While the majority of Colorado will see a partial eclipse of 70% to 85%, towns like Telluride, Durango and Cortez will experience 89% obscurity of the sun.

The path of the annular solar eclipse over North America. (Great American Eclipse, LLC, via NASA)

Sholly said the park has been planning its annular eclipse event for an entire year. Astronomy experts from the University of Colorado Boulder will also be in attendance, offering assistance and educational resources to visitors.

Mesa Verde canceled all scheduled cliff dwelling tours during the morning of the eclipse so staff members can be available to visitors. Sholly said the park will resume tours later in the day.

“We are an International Dark Sky Park, so we are very interested in astronomy and dark sky events,” she said. “I suspect a lot of people from outside the region will be traveling in.”

A sculpture of an ancestral Puebloan climbing a cliff at the Mesa Verde National Park Visitor and Research Center. (The Journal file)
A rainbow arches over Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde National Park. (Courtesy of Stephen M Daniels/Mesa Verde National Park Facebook)

Although the eclipse is three months away, lodging has already become limited. Mesa Verde’s 150-room Far View Lodge is sold out for the night of Oct. 13. The next closest option 8 miles east of the park, Mesa Verde Motel in Mancos, had one room available earlier this week.

“A lot of people who have booked that Friday have mentioned specifically that they’re coming to watch the eclipse,” said Lucy Hedrick, agent at the Mesa Verde Motel in Mancos.

Mancos Mesa is seen from Balcony House at Mesa Verde National Park. (Durango Herald file)

Hotels in Cortez, 10 miles west of the Mesa Verde entrance, are also experiencing increased traffic. The Hampton Inn is completely sold out while others report being near capacity.

“We only have three rooms available on Oct. 13, so pretty much booked out,” said Corey Duncan, front desk agent at the Holiday Inn. “We are usually never booked in the beginning of October, and we get a lot of Mesa Verde visitors.”

For people preparing for the big event, wearing certified eclipse glasses will be essential to prevent eye damage. Sholly said Mesa Verde is already selling glasses approved by the American Astronomical Society.

Tourists look at the Spruce Tree House at Mesa Verde National Park in April 2022. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)
A tour group examines Cliff Palace in 2013. (Durango Herald file)

“We’re actually also creating structures that will provide for safe viewing,” Sholly said. “We bought filters, and we’ll be covering about 10 structures so people can stand under them and safely look up at the event.”

According to the American Astronomical Society, the marketplace becomes flooded by counterfeit eclipse glasses that will not offer sufficient protection. They encourage ordering glasses that are ISO-compliant.

The eclipse will begin at 9:15 a.m. Oct. 14 and will end shortly after noon. The maximum obscurity of the sun will occur around 10:30 a.m.

“We’re just excited for the event and we’re ready for all the visitors to come through,” Sholly said. “We’ll have a schedule when we get closer to the event.”


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