Konnichiwa from Kyoto!

It’s been a very long day. We booked our ride to SFO early to avoid most of the traffic, so we left the house at 6:30am and got to the airport at 7:15…a bit earlier than necessary for a 10:55am flight! We wandered around and looked at some of the art on display, then spent a couple of hours at the Polaris Lounge.

Our flight to Kansai International Airport (KIX) arrived a few minutes early; the line for immigration and was fairly short, and we’re traveling with carry-on luggage, so we were out of customs with plenty of time to meet our group transfer to Kyoto. Not everyone was as lucky, but we headed to the bus right on time at 4pm…only to be told that there were still a couple of passengers who hadn’t emerged. So we waited. 45 minutes later, we drove off, still without those passengers!

The ride from KIX to Kyoto is nearly two hours long; we stopped at a rest area along the way for a water break. There was a convenience store there, complete with vending machine.

Eventually, we got into Kyoto; it was getting dark, but we could see a few trees still in blossom along the river.

Our group is staying at the Hotel Okura Kyoto for the next three nights. Our room was ready and so were we…but we were hungry, so we asked our guides for recommendations for something simple, small, and close – and it had to be suitable for our no pork/no shellfish restrictions. They suggested Sojibo in the Zest Oike shopping mall in the basement of the hotel (well, it’s really the shopping mall attached to the subway station).

It was harder to find something we could eat than I expected (they cook their duck in lard), but with the help of our allergy cards, a very helpful waiter, and Google and Apple Translate, we succeeded; both of us had soba noodles. Diane had hers with “wild vegetables” and mine was with yam. It would have been easier going to a Western restaurant, but we probably couldn’t have gotten two meals for just over $12!

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a stop at a single Wal-Mart

Ox Ranch is not a place I’d ever have visited if it weren’t for the eclipse.

We were not the usual kind of group that comes to the ranch. Most of their visitors come armed and ready to hunt – not just for the deer and game animals that are all over the area, nor the wild boar which are real pests, but a large variety of exotic animals which the ranch imports as trophies (and which we’d enjoyed photographing).

But it didn’t matter, at least for the couple of days we were there. I had a great time there. The scenery was beautiful, the animals gorgeous, and everyone treated us well. The guides were great at showing us the animals, and the food was delicious and the cabins were comfortable. It was fun to see the equipment at DriveTanks, too.

I don’t think I’ll be back, but I’m glad I went. It was a learning experience of the best kind.

We left the ranch about 9am after one last impressive breakfast and boarded two buses. One bus took the people who were continuing on the post-tour to see the Texas Hill Country (including a visit to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center). We would have been among them if we weren’t planning to leave for Japan in a week, but as it was, we had to get on the bus going directly to the San Antonio Airport.

Well, almost directly; we stopped at one last Wal-Mart to use the facilities and say goodbye once more; Rick Binzel performed his role as greeter one last time, but this time he was joined by the store’s real greeter, who was amused by his antics.

Our time at the airport was not memorable, and neither was the flight – a perfect trip home!

Afternoon Safari

After the eclipse, some people went back to DriveTanks to drive tanks, fire 50-caliber guns, or watch – Diane and I decided to go on another safari. We saw lots and lots of animals.

Nile Lechwe
Barasingha
Whitetail deer
Gemsbok
Red Sheep
Pere David deer
Zebra
Springbok
Giraffe
Red Stag (in velvet)
Black Wildebeest
Eland
Eland Cows
Rhea

After the safari, we walked back to our cabin, but first we stopped to pay our respects to the ranch’s African Spurred Tortoise which lives in front of the main lodge.

This evening, we had our farewell dinner and a show (photos from the trip) and went back to the cabin to pack.

Rick is planning a tour for the August 2026 eclipse in Spain…sounds interesting!

The main event!

Our viewing site was on Prayer Mountain, which seemed appropriate for today’s conditions.

Hoping for good weather

We were equipped with eclipse viewers and glasses; the viewers were easier to use, especially after our leader Fred put them on neckstraps.

We were able to see first contact right on schedule at 12:12pm, but I wasn’t able to take a picture of it because I didn’t have a large enough filter for my camera. The clouds kept coming and going throughout the afternoon – and they were actually our friends, because they let us see and photograph the progress of the eclipse without special gear!

T-20 minutes

As we got closer and closer to totality, the sun was completely obscured at times, and easily visible at others.

T-15 minutes

I was finally able to successfully mate the eclipse viewer to my iPhone at T-10; the sun was in a clear spot, so I needed it.

The clouds came back a couple of minutes later, and things didn’t look good for totality.

T-6

Things started happening quickly at T-2 – the moon’s shadow was visible on the horizon and the light started to get strange. It got a bit cooler, too.

Rick Binzel kept us informed with his bullhorn – one minute to go!

And then the moment arrived…with the diamond ring!

A few seconds later, the chromosphere became easily visible, complete with a small solar flare (which was larger than the Earth) – that’s the image at the top of this blog post.

My camera decided to act up at this point, so I started paying more attention to the eclipse and less to trying to capture it. It was much longer than last year’s eclipse in Australia, and it got a LOT darker than it did last year. We could see lights come on at the ranch’s airstrip, and it was really hard to see very far.

Sky and earth during total eclipse; the Sun is visible at the top of the picture, with Venus at 4pm relative. At the bottom, it is very dark; you can barely see two people a few feet away, and there are some lights from the airstrip runway in the far distance.
Darkness at noon

I spent the rest of the eclipse looking at the Sun and getting a few iPhone pictures.

Sun and Venus
Sun and Venus, T+3:05

The diamond ring appeared on the right side of the Sun to mark the end of totality.

Our leaders (Rick, Fred, and Rick’s wife, Michelle) were very very happy…and so were we.

Another successful eclipse in the books!

We celebrated with the appropriate beverage for the day.

A few people stuck around for the rest of the eclipse, but most of us (including Diane and me) rode back to our cabins to rest up for the afternoon’s adventures.

DriveTanks and the Ox Ranch Lodge

Today was so busy I need to divide it into three blog posts.

We started the day with breakfast at the dining room; it was, like all the meals here, over the top. After breakfast, Diane went off to feed animals while I visited DriveTanks, a living museum of 20th Century military machines, mostly guns and tanks.

You’re able to handle the guns (unloaded) and climb up onto and into the tanks; for an additional fee, you can shoot the guns and drive the tanks. I was happy with the basic package.

I am very dangerous!
A machine gun nest
SS Troop Carrier
SS Troop Carrier Interior
Action Trackchair – “New Way to Fun”
1970’s British Scorpion (From Falklands)
West German Leopard Prototype
Russian T-34 (WWII)
Russian T-34 (WWII) – if it’s not leaking oil, it’s out!
German Stigeeuer
Russian T-34 – it it ain’t leakin’, it’s out of oil!

After the visit, they took us back to the Ox Ranch Lodge to wait for the eclipse; it was loaded with special eclipse delicacies and their usual open bar.

Eclipse Refreshments
Eclipse Cake
Open Bar

The weather forecast had been unfavorable for eclipse viewing all week, but we’d had some sunny intervals while I was at DriveTanks, so Diane and I headed up to the viewing site with hope and trepidation.