JACKSON, Wyo. — At a recent community concert, the official Jackson Hole eclipse event coordinator set up an eclipse information booth. But she has no information about how many eclipse enthusiasts will be headed her way this weekend.
"I really have no idea," Kathryn Brackenridge said. "I think a lot of that will depend on the weather."
Jackson is one of hundreds of communities along the coast-to-coast "path of totality" Monday. Many of those towns like to think of themselves as Eclipseville or “ground zero.”
In most of the country, including Utah, it will be only a partial eclipse. That's why millions may travel to the 14 states where the real show will happen. Those who do travel will have access to a surprising variety of secondary experiences, some of which are strikingly expensive.
"It's an amazing opportunity for us in Jackson Hole," said Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce.
Nearly every town in the path of totality is planning special events. It's not just eclipse viewing; there are also concerts, local history re-enactments, festivals, street parties and science lectures.
It's a big opportunity in small-town America, but it's coupled with worry.
Twila Blakeman, the mayor of tiny Dubois, Wyoming, worries "we'll have so many people we won't be able to take care of them all."
Unlike many of the states in the path of totality, Wyoming and Idaho offer world-class earthbound scenery to complement the spectacle in the sky. That gives visitors many interesting ways to see the eclipse, and it provides opportunities for businesses that want to sell the experience.
River-running companies are offering eclipse raft trips. Backcountry outfitters are taking eclipse chasers on horseback. That adds up to a little extra worry for search and rescue teams because of the places eclipse tourists will be going.
"(We're expecting) lots of people on the mountains because apparently there's supposed to be the best view from the higher elevations," said Phil Tucker of Teton County Search and Rescue.
Planes and tour buses will take foreign travelers far afield. Tour companies are selling eclipse packages that will include destinations such as the Grand Canyon and Golden Gate Bridge, as well as a visit to total eclipse territory Monday.
"We consider ourselves pretty lucky," said Carl Pelletier, Jackson's public information officer. "A lot of people are coming here from all over the world and spending lots of money to get here."
Speaking of money, on the morning of the eclipse, sky watchers with a bit of loose change can ride the chairlift in Jackson to a big party — an educational party.
"We have a retired astronaut at our main event up on the summit of Snow King (Resort), as well as a couple of professional astronomers," said Samuel Singer, executive director of Wyoming Stargazing.
Singer's organization hopes to eventually build an observatory on the ski hill. Wyoming Stargazing is conducting nearly a dozen events over eclipse weekend, including a warmup party at the top of the Snow King ski lift two days before the main event.
"The price of our pre-eclipse stargazing celebration is $375 per person," he said. "That's a fundraiser for Wyoming Stargazing. The price tag to our main event is $595. We've already sold out for that event — 250 tickets. We underpriced it. We have a waitlist of over 100 people."
The enthusiasm might seem baffling to someone who's never seen a total solar eclipse. But it's a phenomenon that has enthralled and frightened humans for thousands of years.
"There's something etched into our DNA about our curiosity about the sky," Singer said. "So when something happens that doesn't happen every day, that we only will get to see once in a lifetime, it's something that we can't miss."
For those Americans without tons of spare change, well, they can just stand where they are and look up Monday morning — with proper eye protection, of course.
Residents in nearly all 48 contiguous states will see at minimum a partial eclipse — free of charge — courtesy of the solar system.