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JACKSON, Wyo. — Monday's total solar eclipse has triggered an extraordinary explosion of prices for hotel and motel rooms in the "path of totality" across Wyoming and Idaho.
Surprisingly, there might still be places to stay for Utah residents who are considering driving north. But get ready to open your wallet.
Motels and hotels in the Idaho Falls region and around Jackson Hole were pretty much booked up for the eclipse a year or two ago.
"There is a great excitement," said Anna Olson, president and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce. "I mean, we're in the zone of totality. It's an amazing opportunity for us in Jackson Hole."
But the chamber's website — until quite late in the game — has shown dozens of places where a room could still be booked.
At the very modest Golden Eagle Motor Inn, for example, motel rooms were available up until last weekend for around $500 a night. Now they have just a two-bedroom house that sleeps 8 — at $850 per night. A fair price?
"I think so for once-in-a-lifetime," motel clerk Dinah Killian said. "I think there's a whole lot of people getting a whole lot more than we are."
The facts seem to bear out Killian's claim. Some motels and hotels held onto rooms for many months — and kept them off such internet sites as Travelocity, Expedia and Hotels.com — waiting to see how high a price the market would bear.
According to Justin Walters of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce, the market for rooms in moderately priced chain motels seems to have settled on an average rate of about $700 a night, usually with a minimum of three, four or five nights at eclipse time.
But prices at some places are far higher, such as the swanky Hotel Jackson.
"For five nights (closest to the eclipse), it's $1,400 a night," Walters said.
But the Hotel Jackson is always expensive, he notes.
"It is the newest boutique hotel that we have in Jackson," Walters said.
"We're not just selling the room," said Sadek Darwiche, general manager of Hotel Jackson. "We have a variety of activities that are going to be inclusive and complementary."
The hotel's eclipse extras include special menus, a post-eclipse party and a speaker from the National Air and Space Museum, as well as presentations by a yoga and meditation guru.
"(We're) really turning this into an entire event to help our guests really experience the eclipse," Darwiche said.
And then there are the really pricey options. A home in Jackson Hole went for $3,000 a night, according to Walters, and someone rented a ranch — the whole ranch for a whole week — for $53,000.
"Business is business," Olson said. "I mean, when you have a once-in-a-200-year experience happening in your doorstep, it doesn't surprise me that some businesses are making the most of it."
An unusual lodging opportunity awaits eclipse viewers in a huge building at the bottom of the ski lift at Jackson's Snow King Resort.
"This is a hockey rink and convention center," resort general manager Bob Carruth said as he walked into the Snow King Sports and Events Center.
At eclipse time, instead of a venue for hockey or gymnastics, it will be a campground. Eclipse enthusiasts will be able to sleep indoors — in tents.
"Yeah, tents," Carruth said, "obviously without the rain flies and stakes and that kind of stuff."
Business is business. I mean, when you have a once-in-a-200-year experience happening in your doorstep, it doesn't surprise me that some businesses are making the most of it.
–President and CEO of the Jackson Hole Chamber of Commerce Anna Olson
The company provides the canvas, and campers provide their own air mattresses and sleeping bags. The price tag for a 10-by-10 tent is $325 a night, with a two-night minimum. But it's a unique campground with built-in restrooms and showers.
"We won't need port-a-potties, which is the biggest issue, I guess, with this whole eclipse thing," Carruth said.
There's one other way it differs from a typical campground: Campers will have to leave the place — and go outside — to see the eclipse.