On October 14, an annular solar eclipse will pass over the Four Corners region, treating Mesa Verde National Park to epic planetary pyrotechnics. Befitting its status as one of only 116 International Dark Sky Parks, the World Heritage Site has spent the past year preparing for when the stars, er, star aligns.

1. Crowd Control

Mesa Verde expects the celestial showcase to draw hundreds of additional visitors to the park, so ranger Eric Sainio suggests arriving at least an hour before the eclipse’s 10:30 a.m. peak. The event will begin around 9 a.m. and last until noon. The centrally located Mesa Verde Museum will likely be the busiest spot, but rangers have set up several viewing stations, including one specifically for latecomers at Morefield Campground near the park entrance.

2. Points Of Views

Solar-filtering glasses typically skyrocket in price—or even sell out—in the weeks leading up to an eclipse. (Fakes can also lead to sun-damaged eyes; visit the American Astronomical Society’s website for a list of reputable vendors.) But parkgoers shouldn’t stress if they can’t snag a pair, Sainio says, because NASA is providing protective specs for Mesa Verde to hand out. “We’ll also be mounting a safe, Mylar film on top of these tentlike structures,” he says, “so if someone doesn’t have eclipse glasses, they can just look straight up at the sun.”

3. Visiting Professors

Unlike total eclipses, annular eclipses create a fiery ring because the moon is too far from the Earth to completely block the sun. To help guests better understand the physics, Mesa Verde is hosting six scientists from NASA who’ll fan out across the park to interact directly with visitors. So crack open your old textbooks and prepare your Ph.D.-level questions ahead of time.

4. Closed Quarters

Mesa Verde’s staff and rangers have preemptively canceled tours of the park’s iconic cliff dwellings that morning in order to focus on managing traffic and answering questions. “If people are expecting to see the eclipse from inside a cliff dwelling, we just won’t be able to pull that off,” Sainio says. “Also, Cliff Palace is facing the wrong way, so the only way you’d be able to see it is to look through sheer rock.”

This article was originally published in 5280 October 2023.
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara O'Neil
Barbara is one of 5280's assistant editors and writes stories for 5280 and 5280.com.