Jim wanted to go. I wanted to stay away from the herds gathering for eclipse madness in Wyoming. But the more I thought about it, the more I knew that if we didn’t make the trek to experience totality just three hours away, it would go right up there in my life’s “should haves.” Like the time we were in Vegas and I chose a Rick Springfield musical over watching George Carlin say the seven dirty words live. So I caved.
Totality, Traffic and the Ultimate Celestial Show
I insisted that we stay away from the Interstates and go north on Wyoming backroads. “Only idiots take the path of least resistance!” I argued. “The Interstate is going to be a parking lot. Let’s talk Highway 287.”
At 4am on Monday we headed north from Jerry’s Acres to the outskirts of Casper. Traffic was light and gave us hope that the drive home would be a breeze. We spotted a few RVers camping on BLM land heading north to Casper. I was slightly jealous we left ours behind.
The sky was a crystal clear shade of blue and the air smelled like a blend of faraway wildfire smoke and dry grass. About 30 miles south of Casper saw a rest area with a large, open field. Eclipse chasers streamed in and it seemed like a good enough spot, so we went in. The free viewing area was the right choice. We nabbed a prime spot along the last row of parking spots backed up against a barb wire fence. Our backdrop was open range, big sky and the rising sun. Nobody was going to interfere with scene of a lifetime so we settled in for the duration with Wyatt.
NPR news reports about the eclipse interviewed eclipse chasers who gushed with ecstasy over the joys of totality. “It’s like falling in love,” one said. That seemed a little extreme but soon I would find out if it was true. Meanwhile I was scared to death that my eclipse glasses would fail somehow and blind me for life.
Spectators filled in the dusty dry parking lot, setting up tailgate party snacks and giant telescopes. Jim and I played dominos, snacked and chatted while waiting for the fun to start. At about 10:20 am a kid’s voice rose up above the din of hubbub and said “I see it! I see it! It’s starting!”
I gathered the courage to put on my solar glasses (free, thanks to our local library…don’t you love libraries?). Then I saw the kid was right. A tiny orange orb appeared in my vision as the moon nibbled at the bright round sun in the sky.
Making Sense of the Eclipse
Gradually and slowly over the next hour and some odd minutes, the eclipse took shape. You’ll see more photos when Jim adds them to our gallery
I kept putting on and taking off my eclipse glasses, fearing that I would go blind. The air cooled to a chilly temperature as the moon slowly butted in front of the morning sun. In a flash the warm morning heat was gone so I put my sweater back on. “Things are getting weird!” I though to myself.
I was well caffeinated but it took time for my brain to make sense of it all. The bright daylight was turning into a golden, fall-like orange hue as the blue sky darkened into a twilight shade of indigo. An invisible giant hand in the sky turned on the dimmer switch and then our sunny day turned to a cool night. But it was only 11:30 am! “This must be what it’s like to go through a time warp” I thought.
In the background I could hear the endless din of highway traffic die down to nothing. The number of people who stopped what they were doing on a busy Monday morning to watch this celestial event was impressive, proving that there’s hope for humanity yet.
The moon gradually blotted out the sun, giving it the appearance of a big orange cheese ball. Then, it was dark. I paused and then realized I was still wearing my glasses so I asked Jim “Can I look? Can I look without the glasses?”
“Yes! Do it!” He said from the truck bed where he was snapping photos. People gradually hooted and hollered, cheering for the big show. I faced my fears and removed my eclipse glasses to witness the most beautiful, unbelievable and unforgettable scene of my life.
The sun’s corona surrounded the outer edges of the moon with a dazzling crown of white light so hot that it had a blue tinge, like the color of deep snow. It was hard to decide whether to look at the eclipse itself, the crazy light, textures and shadows on the ground, or to observe what Wyatt was doing. There was so much to see and only one minute and twenty-two seconds in which to soak it all up! It was the shortest and longest minute and twenty seconds of my life.
Some thoughts running through my mind about totality included:
- During an eclipse, ground shadows take on a sharper, crisper appearance.
- Lighting feels artificial, like standing outside Vegas casinos on Fremont Street.
- Our dog Wyatt didn’t act weird or any more anxious than usual. The energy of the crowd got him a bit worked up, but that was it.
- Totality ended much faster than I ever expected.
- Yes, it IS like falling in love. IF you stay to watch the entire event.
- My only regret? We forgot the Bloody Marys!
Impatient Eclipse Watchers Left at Intermission
“Okay kids, stop looking, it’s over” I heard a dad instruct his young kids. I stood transfixed while keeping my safely shielded eyes on the orb. “Oh wow! Omg OH WOW!” were the only words I could form.
We continued watching the show but about ninety percent of the other spectators didn’t. They left at intermission! Within minutes the parking area cleared out to just a few gawkers like us. The sun continued its final performance, a re-emergence that was just as spellbinding as its disappearance.
Meanwhile people all around us packed up their broods. Instead of taking time to explain to the kids about what just happened and maybe encourage them to sit and contemplate the Universe, everyone jumped back into their mini-vans in a fruitless attempt to beat traffic. They failed miserably.
Traffic bottlnecked at the viewing area exits and didn’t ease up until we turned onto the little rural road to Jerry’s Acres. Our three hour morning drive extended to six. We weren’t home until 7 pm. Thankfully most drivers were well-behaved an on alert after a horrific scene. Just south of the viewing area, we watched the body of a dead motorcycle rider being wheeled into a coroner’s van. At ten miles per hour we had plenty of time to contemplate the fragility of life.
“Now all those people can say ‘We can check it off the list,” Jim said as I drove. I felt sad for the many people who missed out on the second act. “They were in such a hurry, they’ll will never really feel the significance of watching an entire eclipse. They were in too much of a rush to sit and think” I said. “How tragic that their kids won’t learn how to observe things like this either.”
We merged into the endless stream of cars going down the highway, then made plans to be in Texas for the next U.S. eclipse on April 8, 2024.