By Greg Aragon
Well it’s that time again. It’s time for the moon to pass in front of the sun and completely block its solar rays to a portion of the United States. This year’s event will occur on Monday, August 21. It will be the first total eclipse to hit the US since 1979 and will darken skies all the way from Oregon to South Carolina, along a 70-mile-wide stretch of countryside.
The sweet spot, or “path of totality” as astronomers call it, will not only bring darkness; it will also attract millions of star gazers from around the country and world. In fact, while there are about 12 million people living within the total eclipse path, there is another roughly 25 million who live within a 24-hour drive from it. This means a lot of crazy crowds and traffic.
To avoid the multitudes, yet still get close enough to truly experience the eclipse, I am looking into a last-minute trip to Ely, Nevada. This charming and remote town is putting on a giant party for the eclipse, while also celebrating its annual fair and horse racing events.
Located in White Pine County, in east, central Nevada, at the crossroads of U.S. Highways 50, 93 and 6, Ely was founded in the 1870’s as a trading post called Murry Station, and would become one of the country’s major copper mining regions.
In 1906 the town welcomed the Nevada Northern Railway. This new railroad was needed for development of the copper industry and was instrumental in the economic growth of Ely and neighboring towns. Today, the well-preserved short-line railway draws visitors from all over the world to ride on its historic steam and diesel engines.
This year Ely has cooked up something special, as its annual western celebrations coincide with the Great American Solar Eclipse. Festivities planned for August 18 – 21 include a solar eclipse train ride on the historic Nevada Northern Railway, offering a unique glimpse into this rare event.
Another big attraction is the White Pine Horse Races, the biggest event in the county – a tradition that attracts thousands of people from around the region, country and world. Featuring thoroughbreds and quarter horses, the races run August 18 – 20 with parimutuel betting. This will mark the 82nd year of the races.
“White Pine County is a place where tradition is part of day-to-day life, and this weekend is a celebration of our tradition and our community,” says Ely Mayor Melody VanCamp. “Adding the solar eclipse this year just makes the festivities extra special.”
Then there is the White Pine County Fair, which dates back 70 years. This small town fair with big time fun, features great food and entertainment and brings everyone together for classic Americana fun.
“The White Pine County Fair represents rural Nevada’s western history at its finest,” says Tracy Robinson, fair organizer. “The whole community gets involved to put on the best event possible. We’re a tight-knit community and we want to share our authentic traditions by putting on an event that visitors and the community will appreciate.”
What makes this year’s festivities extra special is the solar eclipse, which will be celebrated in Ely onboard the Eclipse Express Train Ride, departing the Nevada Northern Railway museum at 9:15 am on August 21. In Ely, the eclipse will reach 83 percent coverage, and a $39 ticket buys passengers special eclipse glasses making it safe to view the solar event.
The Nevada Northern Railway Museum is an historic passenger railroad featuring train rides pulled by century-old steam engines. A registered National Historic Landmark, the museum consists of the original railway locomotives, rolling stock, track, passenger station, and buildings that served the historic copper mining region of Central Nevada for over a century.
Other fun events planned for eclipse weekend include the Ely Volunteer Firefighter’s Barbecue, an authentic Ranch Rodeo, dinosaur races, a livestock show, and a team roping event.