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Beyond the Clay Hills: The Annular Solar Eclipse

Watching the Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse from Nokai Dome
Friday – Sunday, October 13-15, 2023

After spending an amazing Thursday on Chapin Mesa in Mesa Verde National Park and then briefly stopping to visit Yucca House National Monument early on Friday morning, it was time to drive across the Great Sage Plain into Utah and then head even further west until we crossed Beyond the Clay Hills where we found a great camping spot atop Nokai Dome, which would be a perfect place to sit and watch the Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse on Saturday morning. I had specifically chosen this remote corner of the Red Rock Plateau to view the Annular Solar Eclipse because it’s kind of out-of-the way and I hoped that we would be able to find plenty of solitude. It’s also a part of the Colorado Plateau that I really haven’t spent much time at and I’m hoping to change that and get a little more familiar with this corner of San Juan County. I really don’t think I could have picked a much better spot to watch the eclipse from since we were very close to the centerline of its path and I’m pretty sure there wasn’t anyone else around for miles. I should also mention that the views in all directions from Nokai Dome were pretty spectacular!




When we arrived on Nokai Dome we drove to the end of the old oil exploration road in search of a campsite with a view.

Nokai Dome Road

Nokai Dome Scenery

Nokai Dome View

We passed by this old shack along the road.

Nokai Dome Shack

This old truck cab was also nearby.

Truck Cab

Before we found a campsite I went on a short walk to the highest point of Nokai Dome.

Nokai Dome Highpoint Ledge

There was a good view over to Navajo Mountain from the top.

Nokai Dome Highpoint View

After setting up camp and relaxing for a couple of hours, I drove back over to the base of Skelly Point so I could hike up to the top.

Skelly Point

Enjoying the views as I walked along the rim of Skelly Point.

Along The Rim

From the summit of Skelly Point I had a good view over Monitor Butte to Monument Valley.

Skelly Point Summit

Skelly, 1952

Skelly, 1952

Looking down from The Step into Castle Creek.

Castle Creek

Johnnies Hole

Johnnies Hole

I walked around the perimeter of Skelly Point before heading back down to my Jeep.

Skelly Point Rim

While I was up on Skelly Point I noticed there was now a plane and tent at the nearby airstrip that wasn’t there earlier when we drove by looking for a campsite. We had seen the plane flying over the area earlier in the afternoon but didn’t realized that they had landed, so I drove by for a closer look before returning to camp.


Following the Nokai Dome Road back to camp.

Driving Back To Camp

Nokai Dome Camp

Evening Tent

Looking north across the Red Rock Plateau and Ticaboo Mesa to the Little Rockies.

Nokai Dome Evening View

Although some clouds had moved into the western sky just before sunset and blocked the light, there was a brief explosion of color at dusk.

Nokai Dome Camp

After sleeping in on Saturday morning, we got up when the first light of the day struck Navajo Point at the end of Fiftymile Mountain.

Navajo Point Morning

Warm morning light on distant sandstone hills.

Distant Morning View

Morning Camp View

Morning Camp View

After taking our time getting up and eating breakfast, we soon got prepared to watch and photograph the Annular Solar Eclipse.

Ready for the Eclipse

For the next three hours we sat back and enjoyed the celestial show. As the moon blocked more and more of the sun on its way to creating the Ring of Fire, the temperature must have dropped at least ten degrees and we ended up having to put our jackets back on for a while. Just like during the Total Solar Eclipse back in 2017 the light dimmed and it was completely silent out.


The Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse

Great Western Ring of Fire Eclipse

Annular Solar Eclipse 2023

Ring of Fire Eclipse 2023

It’s always interesting to see the crescent-shaped shadows during the eclipse.

Eclipse Shadow

Once the eclipse was over we decided to pack up camp and head home this afternoon. Although I had originally planned to spend the rest of the weekend hiking and exploring more of the Red Rock Plateau, we felt that we already had a pretty good weekend and were not really feeling motivated to do much more. Although, I will definitely need to return for another trip in the future to get some real exploring in.

On our way back to Clay Hills Pass we did make one final stop to visit the Castle Creek Ruins.

Castle Creek Ruins


Faded Pictograph

Castle Creek Ruins

Other Side

I was a little bit worried about running into ‘eclipse’ traffic this afternoon as we drove back home, and was a bit surprised when we didn’t encounter any traffic the entire way. Actually, traffic in Moab seemed pretty light for a weekend in October, which was odd…

>> Annular Solar Eclipse from Beyond the Clay Hills Photo Gallery



Grand Junction Airshow 2023

One unexpected benefit of coming home a day early is that we got to watch part of the Grand Junction Airshow from our backyard on Sunday afternoon. Once we started hearing the Blue Angles flying across the Grand Valley, I grabbed my camera and long lens and took a couple of photos whenever they would fly closer to our house, so I’m going to tack on a couple of those photos to the end of this Trip Report. Enjoy!

US Navy

Coming This Way

Close Together

Under The Rainbow


Four Jets


Fast Descent

Splitting Up

>> Grand Junction Airshow 2023 Photo Gallery


    JOHN MCCOPPIN III October 17, 2023

    Thank you for sharing those beautiful photos Randy…outstanding! I tried to photograph the eclipse from my home, with mixed results. About 15 minutes before the “Ring of Fire” my camera started displaying an error message and would not allow me to shoot anything for about 30 minutes….I am thinking maybe it overheated…but I look forward to trying again during the Total Eclipse in April, 2024. Always look forward to and enjoy your posts! Tom McCoppin, McQueeney, Texas

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat October 17, 2023

      Thanks Tom! I’m actually going to skip the 2024 eclipse since I caught the one in 2017, so I hope you have better luck photographing it!

  2. Steve Riggs
    Steve Riggs October 17, 2023

    We watched the eclipse from a not busy spot in the Swell, but failed to get any satisfying photos, especially so when compared to your most excellent ones. I agree with your comment about traffic- although it was extra busy around CRNP the afternoon before- we found that the weekend “traffic chaos” did not materialize as predicted.

    JANICE LIEBERMAN October 17, 2023

    Wow – wonderful photos of the eclipse. Thank you for sharing!

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