Eclipse breaks Craters’ attendance records

Visitors arrive Monday at Craters of the Moon before the solar eclipse. courtesy Craters of the Moon

ARCO — While the traffic tie-ups and campground crowds in most places weren’t as bad as some people feared, Monday’s total eclipse of the sun was big for Craters of the Moon.

“I can tell you we had levels of visitation that were historic,” said Ted Stout, spokesman for the national monument. “We never encountered visitor numbers like we had over the last two days.”

Predictions of hordes of people ended up being overblown for much of the state, but at Craters they came true. Percentage-wise, the increases in traffic in the area were higher there than anywhere else in the state, according to the Idaho Transportation Department’s numbers on Monday. Stout said they had to close the park for a few hours both Sunday and Monday, since traffic had backed up to the point it was unsafe.

“We had to let people out until it kind of cleared out and then we reopened the park again,” he said. “As far as I know it’s never happened at Craters of the Moon before.”

Most of Craters itself was a little outside of the eclipse’s “path of totality” — it did pass over some difficult-to-access corners of the preserve but not over the well-known and frequently visited lava fields that are in the national monument portion — so park staff held a viewing event in nearby Arco with researchers from NASA. A NASA-sponsored team launched a high-altitude balloon with a camera to film the eclipse from the sky.

Stout said there wasn’t any damage recorded to the park’s natural resources or facilities.

“People were fairly well behaved, although some were frustrated about not being able to find a parking space,” he said.

Stout said about 2,000 cars passed through the park’s entrance daily over the past couple of days, compared to a normal summer-day average of 400 to 500 cars. Total visitation numbers for the eclipse were not yet available Tuesday, but Stout said the campground has been pretty much full every night for the past week. Anecdotally, he said, many of them hadn’t planned to spend their time at Craters.

“The story I got from most visitors is that they were in Idaho to see the eclipse and then they noticed that Craters of the Moon is here,” he said.