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As I surveyed the dirt roads of the BLM land surrounding the Castle Gardens Petroglyph site, I took note of the variety of numerous camping rigs sprinkled across the land. It was as if Overland Expo was sharing space with a Retro Glamping event, and first-time-ever campers. The total eclipse of 2017 attracted an unprecedented amount of attention. The plentiful public lands in Wyoming made it an ideal target for eclipse chasers. With a population of just over 585,000 people, some news sources speculated that the population number doubled on the day of the eclipse.
Picking out first-time campers was quite easy: no shade, no table, tent set up right next to the road, and car parked partially in the road. Some people didn’t even bring chairs, so they sat on the ground and leaned against their vehicles. Seems it took an eclipse to get people to leave their comfort zone and experience the great outdoors. Hopefully they took note of the gear used by others and will want to pursue natural escapes.
A group of fellow Toyota off-roaders started organizing an eclipse gathering back in 2012. Castle Gardens area was the chosen destination. I received my invite in 2016 and started planning the telescope situation. Despite all the planning and the multiple eclipse photography tutorials and articles I endured, my preparation was still inadequate. I didn’t capture the eclipse quite how I envisioned. Fortunately, I learned my lessons and have 7-years to prepare for the next total eclipse.
I arrived at Castle Gardens on Friday, August 18 found one of the organizers, Bob Devereux, and his wife sitting next to their 80-series Land Cruiser enjoying the setting sun. My friend Stan Gibson was the next to arrive. When the last bit of sunlight vanished, I treated my camp mates to an evening of deep space objects viewing. Using an 130mm aperture apochromatic refractor, we examined galaxies, nebula, and star clusters. We finished with the Andromeda Galaxy—an object so large that it fills even the lowest power eyepiece. I always enjoy sharing views through my telescope with people who have never experienced a telescope in dark skies. Hearing the expressions of amazement make it worth the effort.
The next day, as more friends arrived, I set up the Hydrogen-Alpha dedicated solar telescope (Lunt 60THa). This filtered telescope displays surface detail of the sun, as well as solar flares at the edge of the sun. A set of sun spots across the middle resembled the Caribbean Islands. Two large solar flares, each capable of holding 5 to 6 earths, were visible.
On eclipse day, the human presence was strong. Dead rattlesnake carcasses were scattered across the dirt roads—evidence of the numerous vehicles that drove into the Castle Gardens area the previous night. Reports of a rave party was shared by frustrated amateur astronomers, who lost their dark skies to the glamping and party lights. Roadside rookie campers were subjected to dust as vehicles sped down the dirt roads as though they were shooting a Mad Max scene.
Fortunately, the organizers for the gathering I was with had found us a spot up on a hill next to a cliff. Accessing this area required high clearance. We thought we were safe from the herds of rookie campers. While most vehicles that attempted to come up in our direction were defeated, a little AWD Subaru wagon with paper tags managed to conquer the high clearance road, take a left and drive right into the middle of our campsite. Realizing we were not the droids he was looking for, he turned around. 30 minutes later, he was back, and this time he tried driving through the middle of our campsite. One of the guys sprinted past the Subaru and stopped the lost and confused driver before he damaged his new car and our camping gear.
The cookie-bite look of the sun greeted us after breakfast on eclipse day. It wasn’t long before the morning sunshine was more yellowish-orange than white and people were looking up with their ISO-certified cardboard specs. I was feverishly shooting bracketed photos through 2 DSLR cameras attached to 2 different telescopes. One was equipped with a dark ND filter, the other with a white light solar filter. Totality came too fast. I removed the filters and started capturing the corona and solar flares. After 2 minutes and 20 seconds, totality was over. People were cheering. It was truly a moving experience. Light increased and I tried to capture the diamond ring effect. Turns out, it is better to shoot that through long focal length camera lens than through a telescope. Lesson learned.
To get your copy of the
Summer 2017 Issue:
I'm sitting in a shop outside Bozeman, MT with a long-time friend and a source of inspiration within the overland industry. We chat about the first time we met and how so much has changed, and things that haven't
We've covered Clay Croft and Expedition Overland in previous issues. If you're not familiar with the XO web series, go have a watch, then come on back.
Clay and I met at SEMA Show 2011, after midnight, at the Overland Journal party. I had, quite literally, just watched the first episode of Expedition Overland which launched just a few weeks before.
I recognized Clay immediately and introduced myself as ͟The FJ Cruiser Magazine guy, who really loves your series!
The original series of Expedition Overland featured Clays personal vehicles which were initially modified for exploring Montana backroads. At the time the Clay was in a budding career as a film maker, but was between gigs. That is when XO was born, but I digress.
Back to the shop....
This 'little' shop on the Croft property outside Bozeman is called the X-Hangar. It's a custom designed shop, logistics hub, creative space, and production studio. Also, it's awesome!
Last month I had the opportunity to visit the X-Hangar for the first time since it's completion and Clay was nice enough to give me a personal tour.
Custom bi-fold airplane hangar door is over 14͛ tall and houses 3000 sq. ft. of shop space. All the tools you can imagine, and already plenty of stories. The shop is where rigs are built, modified, repaired, and prepared for expeditions. They're also home to XO's new Series' Oh "Hey There!" and "In The Shop".
Plenty of room for planning, promoting, and various staff to hang their hats. On the day I visited the XO team was busy planning & editing their upcoming South America series. In the outer office, comfy couches + a linear fireplace with a very large display panel are perfect for reviewing daily edits and previewing upcoming releases.
The Logistics Area Clay tells me that when they originally drew out their South America route it was -30 outside the door, so apparently the X-Hangar has great insulation. A large custom table provides room for the entire crew to discuss where the next adventure will take them. I'm also told that dozens of XO hats, shirts, and other swag are packed & sent out from the Logistics Area each week.
The Edit Suite
The suite is my favorite room in the X-Hangar. XO designed it to be as comfortable as possible which helps ensure editing continues uninterrupted for as long as is necessary. The edit room features custom lighting, its sound proof, has professional audio capture, an extra-wide curved screen connected to a top of the line Mac Pro. The goal of this room is to produce the most inspirational and amazing content possible. Apparently it works: I caught a glimpse of epic aerial footage from South America during my tour, alas Clay wouldn͛t reveal any details.
It's been almost six years since I met Clay Croft and became aware of Expedition Overland. I knew from the beginning this team would produce world-class content. I knew they would inspire tens of thousands of enthusiasts to get out and explore. The X-Hangar now allows them to do so with a dedicated facility which results in a world-class production. I have no doubt the future seasons of XO will continue to inspire all of us to get out & explore!
To get your copy of the
Summer 2017 Issue:
After years, why keep coming back? Why come the first time? Will you come again?
Its no secret that the crew at TCT Magazine loves the FJ Summit. We keep coming back. Shane & Angie were at the first FJ Summit in the original Williams FJ and have attended ever since. Director Jonathan Harris also became a TCT editor. Associate Editor Daniel Markofsky leads trails here in his 80 series Land Cruiser.
People, Scenery, Tech, Trails, History, Education, Vacation, Food, Relaxing, Hot Springs, Excitement, Community, Camaraderie, Family.
Prep. I need that lift. Don’t forget armor.
Do I really need sliders, dual batteries and solar? Check.
Axe and shovel. Check.
Gears. Next year, nope, now.
Definitely a roof rack.
CB or HAM?
Every Summiteer goes through this type of list.
Day 1: Breakfast. The steam rises off your fresh local burrito as it peeks out of the foil. Coffee steams in your other hand. You feel the chill, but know the day will warm. You meet the group. You make new friends.
On The Trail.
Its why we are here.
Tire pressure. Check. Debate. Check. Ask. Debate. Add air. Check.
Fuel. Never pass a gas station. Is my tank full. How much is my reserve. How long is the day. How much gas do I need. Do I really need a full tank. I have enough, I think.
How hard is the trail? What is your experience? Let’s check out your rig. What is your tire pressure? Are you scared of heights? Do you have A-Trac? Lockers? Have you ever used them? No, you won’t need them. You will need them.
Having trouble on the trail? Are you in low range? You mean this button? What does that one do? What is it? I don’t know, I just turn them all on. I was told that was what to do. No, I did not air down because I have no way to fill up. To what? 50 PSI like the sidewall says.
ATVs coming up. Side-by-sides coming down. Jeeps ahead. Did you turn? Where is the bathroom? What time do we get back to town. Can I get a spot! How did they get that bulldozer/Subaru/Jeep/Honda up here? Do those people need help? What time is lunch? ATVs coming up. Side-by-sides coming down. Jeeps ahead. Did you turn? Where is the bathroom? What time do we get back to town. Can I get a spot! How did they get that bulldozer/Subaru/Jeep/Honda up here? Do those people need help? What time is lunch?
Lunch. Is it a cold sandwich, handful of chips, grilled chicken, or mac n cheese hot off the manifold.
Did you take in the view? Glad the rain stopped. I don’t need 4-low first gear all the time? Oh, You were on channel 22, that explains it. Car off, hand brake on, manual tranny in gear every time we stop?
Dinner. The food is good and the line is a slow roll down vendor row. Dude! We chatted online, soooo great to meet you! Under the tent you are welcome at any table and anyone is welcome at yours. At the brewery, grill, or grocery you are surrounded by friends. Maybe you pass on that additional margarita as the excitement for the next day appears.
Sleep. Is it a comfortable condo? Hotel room? RTT, camping pad. Maybe stealth on the sleeping platform you built the night before you left. Shhh. 2017 treated Summiteers to a lightning show of biblical proportions, thunderclaps worthy of the Roman Gods, and snorkel eating rain.
Saturday night: Hi remember that trail we ran Thursday? I did all those things my tail leader showed me. It was so much fun! I can’t wait to get home and explore my local trails. Now I finally understand how my FJ/4Runner/Tacoma/Prius works! (ok, not the Prius.)
Sunday: Yep, mine is 6, 8, 9, 16 hours to home.
Oh, me, I’m here another week.
See you in 2018!
To get your copy of the
Summer 2017 Issue: