Our alarms went off on Monday at 4 am. The plan was to hit the road early and find ourselves on Interstate 25 heading north toward a rendezvous with Natalie and Kyle in Casper, Wyoming, in plenty of time to set ourselves up to experience a total eclipse of the sun.
Things began auspiciously enough with a 40-mile run down E-470 doing the limit, which was 75 miles per hour. After turning north onto I-25, it took us 90 minutes to cover the roughly 40 miles to Loveland, where our phone navigation persuaded us to "save 11 minutes" and take the exit onto Highway 34.
Things were tense for a while, as we twisted and turned in the country roads northwest of the intersection of Highways 34 and 85 near Greeley, but we eventually ended up on Highway 85, headed north, with a lot of other cars, but moving at a good clip.
The time eventually came to refuel and rejoin I-25 north of Cheyenne, Wyoming—my first visit to that state, by the way—where the traffic (two lanes worth) moved well, with some occasional slowdowns.
This continued until we reached the town of Glendo, which from a distance looked like a huge car dealership because so many vehicles had stopped there to set up and watch the eclipse. As we approached the exit for the town, just about all of our fellow sufferers had moved onto the shoulder to take said exit, I suspect because the eclipse had, technically, started and folks didn't want to miss the show.
As a veteran of at least a half dozen partial eclipses, I pressed on, knowing that watching the moon slowly cover the sun's disk took a far second place to the two-plus minutes of totality we had come for. To that end, I wanted to get to Casper (which was close to the centerline of totality) and share the moment with Huntür, Mathew, Natalie, and Kyle. In any event, I was grateful for the mass exodus from the interstate, because north of Glendo, the interstate started to look the way it should in the middle of nowhere in the middle of an ordinary weekday.
The 80 miles to Casper passed in a blur. Along the way, I passed two State patrol cars positioned in the median of the interstate and said a silent prayer of thanks that the speed limit was 80, which I was traveling somewhat short of, as maintaining 80 mph in the Honda makes the engine scream a bit and this was not a time to be "pushing the envelope," so to speak.
We exchanged texts with Natalie and Kyle, who had overnighted in Billings, Montana, and had (as it turned out) experienced no traffic on the way down. They had arrived in Casper before us and found a place from which to view the eclipse in a Target parking lot.
I don't remember the exact time we arrived in Casper, but we parked next to Natalie and Kyle (42.848085°N / 106.265398°W, or thereabouts), at a point about 7 kilometers from the centerline of totality. We had less than 30 minutes to wait for the main event.
Solar eclipse glasses and binoculars were broken out and everyone looked at the progress of the eclipse. Eventually, during the final few moments before totality, the portion of the sun visible behind the moon had shrunk to a single brilliant point, giving the impression of a diamond ring floating in the sky.
Then that point was gone, and totality began.
I will admit I tried to take a photo with my phone, but the result did not look anything like what I saw, so I just relaxed and lived in the moment, similar to the way I simply took in the launch of STS-106
from the Kennedy Space Center back in September 2000.
The sight of the eclipsed sun took my breath away and I will also admit to experiencing tears of happiness that I was able to see this wonder of nature, and that it so exceeded anything one might see on a video or a photograph. The corona—the sun's luminous plasma atmosphere—could be clearly seen, with what seemed to be outflowing streaks all around the moon and three large areas where the corona seemed concentrated. A glance off to the side revealed the sky had darkened enough for a star to appear. A quick look around, at the horizon, showed it to be pink.
After a couple of minutes, the diamond ring effect reappeared, the sun "rose" from behind the moon, and totality was over. A family from Washington state that had parked near us climbed into their vehicle and drove off within a couple of minutes of the end of totality, presumably to beat the crowd home.
Our little group went into the Target to buy some items we'd need that night at the campground I'd reserved for us a few weeks ago (through recreation.gov) not far from Dutch John, Utah. According to Google, the campground was 4-1/2 hours away by car.
The drive took almost twice as long, but we made it.
To be continued...