If you want the best view of October’s solar eclipse, make plans now

A solar eclipse this October will create what could be a stunning ring of fire around the earth’s shadow on the moon, and one of the best places in Colorado to observe the mystical event may be a destination with a mystical attraction of its own, Mesa Verde National Park.

The Four Corners region of southwest Colorado, where Mesa Verde is located, will be in the path of maximum eclipse when it darkens the sky on Oct. 14. For 700 years, Mesa Verde was the home of the ancestral Pueblo people, who mysteriously abandoned their cliff dwellings in the late 1200s. Park officials already are making big plans for the event including presentations by park staff, NASA scientists and other astronomy experts.

“We’re going to have different stations set up where people can view and scientists can talk about what’s happening, and the significance of it,” said Kristy Sholly, the park’s chief of interpretation and visitor services.

Most of Colorado will see a partial eclipse of 70% to 90%. In Denver, for example, the sun will be 78.7% obscured, whereas in Durango and Telluride it will be close to 89%. So to get the full effect, a trip to the Four Corners is the best bet. Fortuitously, the eclipse will occur on a Saturday morning.

While the big event is still three months away, Coloradans who want to witness it at Mesa Verde may want to start making plans now because the path of maximum eclipse will cut a very narrow path across the southwest corner of the state, and there is limited lodging there. In fact, the 150-room Far View Lodge in Mesa Verde park is already sold out for the night of Oct. 13.

There’s another reason to plan well ahead: To view the eclipse without risking eye damage, you’ll need certified eclipse glasses, and it might be a good idea to order them now. According to the American Astronomy Society, it’s easy to buy counterfeit eclipse glasses that will not offer the protection you need. Just because an online seller says they are certified doesn’t necessarily mean they are. The AAS has published a list of manufacturers and importers it has verified to be safe.

While the lodge in Mesa Verde is sold out, campsites remain available in the park. Hotels are available in the town of Cortez, 10 miles west of the entrance to Mesa Verde, but at least one is sold out on Oct. 13. A hotel in Mancos, eight miles east of Mesa Verde, has vacancies but a bed and breakfast there is sold out.

Adam Kennedy, executive director of the Cortez Area Chamber of Commerce, said an archeological conference also will be held that weekend, which could create additional demand for hotel rooms. A woman who owns two hotels in town told him she saw a “major uptick” in reservations last week for the weekend of the eclipse.

“Yes, hotels are seeing a rise in reservations,” Kennedy said. “If people want to come (for the eclipse), they’d better hurry and make their reservations.”

The eclipse will begin at approximately 9:15 a.m. (times will vary two or three minutes, depending on location in Colorado), according to timeanddate.com, a site widely respected by astronomers for time, sun and moon data. The maximum obscurity of the sun will occur around 10:30 a.m., and the eclipse will end shortly after noon.

Mesa Verde park officials will suspend tours of the cliff dwellings during the eclipse so staff can focus on presentations where the eclipse can best be viewed.

“There’s going to be a lot of extra people in the park, like all hands on deck,” Sholly said. “We want to be available with the scientists in the park to present programs. We’re making a big effort to have stations set up everywhere we can do that. We’ve already bought (visual) filters so you can look up at the sky during that time. There will be viewing glasses available for visitors so we can look at the sky safely.”

Park officials will resume tours of the cliff dwellings after the eclipse ends.

With the path of the eclipse traveling from northwest to southeast, three national parks in Utah also will be in the path of maximum eclipse. They are Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands. The path of the eclipse will cross the Pacific Coast at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area and exit the U.S. on the gulf coast at Corpus Christi, Texas.

This eclipse is said to be “annular” — meaning ring-shaped — because of the ring of fire that will appear around the earth’s shadow. In contrast, a total eclipse completely blocks the sun. Whether an eclipse is total or annular is a function of the distance between the moon and the earth, which fluctuates. In April of next year, a total eclipse will cross the U.S. from Texas to Maine, but will not be visible in Colorado.

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