© 2024 KVNF Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Western Slope Skies - Presidents, Cows, and Eclipses

“Houston, we have a problem!” Well actually, you may have the problem if you haven’t made plans for the total solar eclipse on April 8. A future Western Slope Skies episode will cover more details about the eclipse itself, but today I’m here to give you some travel inspiration. Texas. That’s right, Texas. The central part of the state will experience totality in April and has one of the best chances of having a clear sky to view it. Beyond the basics of logistics, there are some other reasons to consider the Lone Star State for viewing – history. That’s right, history. Of the many National Park Service sites along the path of totality, Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has the greatest connection with our country’s history of looking to the sky and our desires to travel to space.

When you think of LBJ, a lot of things probably come to mind besides the cosmos. Cows. Cows probably come to mind. The famous ranch is still home to a descendent herd of Hereford cattle. But along and within those same cattle pastures near the Johnson family home, there is a protected swath of dark, Texas hill country sky. It was under this sky in October 1957, that then Senate Majority Leader Johnson, his wife Lady Bird, and some local friends ventured outside after learning of the success of the Sputnik launch and orbit. Lady Bird later reflected on the evening “The sky was like velvet and the stars hung close like brilliant diamonds around us. Each of us pondering the future and what it now held. We had lived with the sky all our lives, and suddenly it was as though we had never seen it before”. A powerful evening for all Americans to be sure. Before the evening was over, LBJ launched into action and led the charge in Congress to ensure the United States caught up in the space race. Not long after, Congress established NASA and it was later noted by a historian, that all actions in Congress with regard to space between 1957 and 1961 can be directly attributed to Johnson.

Later, as Vice President and President overseeing some of the Apollo missions, Johnson and his family would welcome famous astronauts such as John Glenn and Gus Grissom to the ranch to take in that very same velvet sky. This history and the events inspired from the ranch are a large reason for its’ certification as an International Dark Sky Park in 2021. There may be no single place in this country more significant to space exploration and night sky preservation than the LBJ ranch, having been witness to so many historical events including the upcoming eclipse.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park and the surrounding Hill Country will be offering many events over eclipse weekend. Be sure to check the attached links for more details. You’ll get to learn about Presidential history, cows, and eclipses all in one special place. But wherever you end up for the eclipse, just make sure it’s not Houston or you really will have a problem as they will only experience about 90% totality.

You’ve been listening to Western Slope Skies, produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society and KVNF Community Radio. This feature was written and voiced by me, Nick Myers.

Links for Reference

Total Solar Eclipse Coming to LBJ! April 8, 2024 - Lyndon B Johnson National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Blanco County – Preparing for the Upcoming Eclipses (blancocountyeclipse.org)

2023 & 2024 Solar Eclipses - Natural Phenomena (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)