When we started to search for sites we could drive to for the 2017 total solar eclipse in North America, the first place that popped into my head was Fort Laramie, a little National Historic Site about three-and-a-half hours from our house that we’ve been meaning to visit to get another Junior Ranger badge for B. When I discovered that it was located within the boundaries of the 72-mile band of totality, our (very short) search was over.
We ended up staying in Greeley, Colorado the night before (the closest “big town” that still had hotels reasonably priced….or at all) and leaving VERY early the next morning to make the (what should’ve been) two-and-a-half hour drive north. It ended up taking us a little less than four hours to get there, with only about 20 minutes to spare until totality, but we made it! The Rangers directed us to a parking lot in a giant field just north of the site specifically set up for the eclipse and we were able to witness totality with several thousand other people. I was very impressed by how well-organized and prepared everything was. I ❤️ the National Park Service.
After the main event, we wandered into the fort itself. It was PACKED, so maneuvering in the little visitor center was quite a feat. Fortunately, most of the time the park isn’t like this and was actually quite empty when E and I visited it the first time back in 2006 on a road trip.
We fought our way through the crowds and picked up the Junior Ranger booklet at the desk in the visitor’s center (this one is not available online). They did not have age-specific books as other sites do, and the activities themselves are also not age-specific so this one was definitely more of a challenge for a (just-turned) 7-year-old boy who isn’t reading on his own yet as it was very reading-intensive. The Ranger at the desk did give us very helpful suggestions on where to start and which activities to do where (and which one we couldn’t do – the Captain’s Quarters was under construction during our visit so we skipped that activity).
This booklet is actually shared with Guernsey State Park which has a few interesting landmarks like Oregon Trail ruts. Register Cliff, where settlers carved their names into a cliff, is also located not far away. E and I also saw these back in 2006 and they’re worth the little drive. The activities on the other side of the Junior Ranger book allow you to also work on earning a prize from Wyoming State Parks. We didn’t have time to do this, so I’m not actually sure what the prize is. 🙂
The book starts in the Visitor Center with the museum area that’s located inside and has you reading various parts of Fort Laramie’s history. You then move outside and work your way around the park. The first stop is the old bakery which is only open at certain times of the day/week, but you can answer the question by reading the plaque outside. The rest of the activities are fairly self-explanatory except for “Bats.” We were told to look under the shutters at the Lieutenant Colonel’s Quarters and it took quite a while of searching before we found two tiny bats (one of them was only showing its claws) sleeping under the shutters. This may have been because many of them actually flew away due to how dark it got during the eclipse, but they are there! And very cute….if you’re into that sort of thing. 🙂
The cavalry barracks was probably the most impressive building to me with all of the beds and gear lined up along the walls. It’s obvious that this site is extremely well-cared for and kept up.
When you come to the end of the Fort Laramie side of the book, you’ll need to find a Ranger who can answer questions about the park. As usual, the two we found were happy to help and answered B’s questions very knowledgeably. After having gone around the park for about two hours for the booklet, we headed back to the visitor center and turned it in for B’s badge. The place was still a madhouse so B didn’t actually get to say the oath, but this was kind of a special day so it’s understandable.
In preparation for the eclipse, we had also completed the Junior Ranger Eclipse Explorer Badge at home and had our book ready to turn in. Unfortunately, they hadn’t ordered the badges in time so we were told to send an email with our contact information when we got home. I did that the next day and within a week we had the badge plus an extra Eclipse Explorer book in our mailbox. I also ❤️ the Rangers. If either one of my kids chose to grow up to be one, I would be a very proud mama.
This was definitely one of the more challenging and thorough books, but I think if your child is reading, this one is not too difficult to do, is very educational, and definitely worth the stop!