Adventures from Mexican Hat and the Southwest

I started planning this trip about a year ago by finding lodging on the eclipse path, close to the center line. I found the San Juan River Motel in Mexican Hat, UT.  Not exactly a small motel, but not big either. Very simple. Has a restaurant. It’s right on the river.

The plan was to go with my friend from Scottsdale, AZ, who would drive, but two days before my flight he called to inform me that he got Covid. Bummer. So I had to rent a car and go by myself. I ended up with a Chevy Silverado, not my choice, but it was the only decent car the in-town Enterprise office had. Very comfortable, but a pain to park.


I arrived at the motel on Oct 12, Thursday, after a beautiful but pretty long drive through red rock scenery. Went to get dinner and immediately made friends with other people who had come for the eclipse.


Next day I woke up early ready to go scouting for a location. I stepped outside in the twilight, Orion was beautiful, high in the sky. This was the day I was going to go scouting for a location. The first I had in mind was the Mexican Hat Rock, only minutes away from the motel. 


I was there before sunrise and got to talk to the owner of the land, in fact, we talked for at least half an hour. He told me about all the problems he expected to have with eclipse people and how the traffic will be a mess. I went back for breakfast and returned later to get a closer look to the objective. The idea I had was to take a timelapse showing the progression of the eclipse over that hat rock. As I was hiking towards it (it’s a pretty big place), I realized that there is no good angle to get that shot. The max eclipse was going to be at an azimuth of 133 degrees, but if I positioned myself so that I had the rock in that position, another mound would obscure it. So I scrapped that plan. There would have been alternatives which showed a wider view (smaller hat rock), but I felt kind of lukewarm about them. That combined with the thought that I may not even be able to drive to that location, made me look closer to the motel for location.


(All this time, I was in touch with Gowri from AAA who was farther north also looking for a location.)


I found a narrow spot right at the edge of the motel parking lot from where I could see the sun unobstructed starting at least half an hour before the eclipse beginning. I was happy with that. I had already gotten friendly with two experienced eclipse chaser couples, and they were going to shoot from the motel as well.


In the afternoon, I drove to Monument Valley which was going to be closed the day of the eclipse. The Navajo tribe wanted to follow their customs.

On eclipse day we were ready by 8am (eclipse starting at 9:08). I had three things I wanted to shoot (and three cameras).

1 – the time lapse sequence of the eclipse from beginning to end with a fixed camera and 35mm lens. That was going to be stacked on top of a foreground taken separately.  Here I am working on my camera.

2 – a tracked timelapse of the eclipse. I did this with a small 180mm FL telescope on a small tracker in solar tracking mode. The rehearsed daytime polar alignment with the iPhone compass and inclinometer worked very well. You will see that in the final movie.


3 – With my telephoto at 500mm FL, I wanted to take a slow motion movie of the C2 and C3 transitions, perhaps revealing the “beads”. This was an experiment, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It worked, but it’s a bit boring to watch 2 minutes what took 1/5-th of the time. A few single shots taken with a filter would have been a better choice. I also tried to shoot the annularity without a filter, but it was exceedingly bright.

The tremendous traffic did not materialize and most people at the motel left, but I was happy with my decision, especially because of all the equipment I would have had to take in the truck and set up somewhere else.


In the late afternoon, I went to the rock place to shoot a timelapse at sunset. You can see it in the movie and notice the climbers getting down from the top of the rock. At night, I had to opportunity to go with with Keith (one of Gowri’s friends) to the Forest Gump point to shoot the Milky Way.

And before leaving on Sunday morning, I went again to the rock to shoot a sunrise timelapse (no sun, just the sky changing color behind the rock).



My trip continued. I headed to Kanab, UT, a central point for trips to a few very popular national parks. From there, I went to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon one day. The park was closed, that is there were no services, but people were allowed to use it during the day time. As I wanted to shoot the Milky Way, I stayed till complete darkness. All the visitors left, I was alone. No ranger to kick me out.

White knuckles drive back in the dark because of the many “mule deer” (a species of really small deer with big ears). One hit my truck from the side leaving a slight dent. I turned around and saw it running away, probably not very happy. (I still have to deal with the insurance company.)

The park recommends Inspiration Point for stargazing so I went there where a few other people gathered. They did not seem to be familiar with the night sky, so I played guide pointing out the MW, a few constellations. I also used my camera to emphasize the MW core. Someone pointed out a fast moving object in the sky. I thought it may be the ISS, but a quick check showed it was not. It was quite bright and also fuzzy, like a compact Starlink train I saw once. So I think the object must have been a very early Starlink group that had not had time to spread out. All in all, a very satisfying experience talking to folks who like the night sky.

Long drive back the next day to Phoenix by the beautiful Vermillion Cliffs. One day in Scottsdale with my friend, who had recovered. And a direct flight back to JFK.