After finding a prehistoric solar eclipse petroglyph (left) along the Gila River, I dug deep into the area's history trying to date both the eclipse and the rock art. (see Gila Eclipse) I came to realize Arizona hadn't seen a solar eclipse since June 16, 1806. Having not become a state until 1912, I guess Arizona has never officially seen one. I then searched future events to learn that Arizona will not see its first total solar eclipse until July 17, 2205, becoming the last state to do so.

OK, those last points dealing with Arizona as a state are just interesting little tidbits. However, I was really surprised that the land that is now Arizona, will have gone 399 years between its last and next total solar eclipses.

Long voids like that are inevitable even though eclipses occur quite regularly. Part of the reason is that only a small area situated along the narrow path of the moon's umbral shadow will experience totality. Also, there is no simple cycle to keep eclipses evenly distributed throughout the world. Arizona's experience is a good example. After waiting 399 years for the 2205 eclipse, the state will see another just two years later. For a more balanced look, consider that over the last 2,000 years Arizona has witnessed 25 total solar eclipses. That's an average wait of 80 years between eclipses. This jumps to 286 years considering only those visible from Phoenix.

When I saw the paths of the 1806 and 2205 solar eclipses side by side, I realized how similar they are. This likeness contrasted sharply with the differences between the two worlds in which they occurred. I thought it would be interesting to show this by plotting the eclipse paths onto visually representative maps of their times. Below is Arizona's last eclipse plotted on a map from Zebulon Pike's 1807 expedition into the Southwest. Below that is the 2205 eclipse plotted on Google Maps hybrid satellite view.

Zebulon Pike Expedition Map from

David Rumsey Map Collection

Useful Links At NASA Eclipse Website

World Atlas of Solar Eclipse Paths

Solar Eclipse Search Engine

Catalog of Solar Eclipses

Both eclipse paths enter via the Yuma area, travel up the Gila River, pass through Phoenix and exit near St. Johns and Springerville. It was troublesome plotting that on the older map due to a general lack of detail, inaccurately placed landmarks and major rivers that wandered into areas they have never gone. However, that is the excitement of those times. The land was little known, full of promise and waiting to be explored.

Contrast that with the situation of today. For most areas there are topographic maps available made from high resolution aerial photos. We use GPS devices to know exactly where we are on those maps. Most exciting are the satellite views taken from high above the Earth that are becoming increasingly available for free over the Internet. Onto a Google Maps version of these images from space, you can project any path from 5,000 years worth of eclipses thanks to the NASA Eclipse Website. For someone like me this is truly an incredible time.

Arizona's last total eclipse occurred well before it became a state, but not before it existed as an idea waiting to be filled in with detail much like the old map. The state has come a long way during those last two centuries and now it will have to wait two more centuries for its next total eclipse. I can't begin to imagine what kind of new Arizona will gaze skyward with wonder as the moon once again blots out the sun.


All images are copyrighted by Frank Zullo. Please do not use without written permission.