This is a bit of a long story, but a fun one. Never in most of our lifetimes has one naturally occurring scientific event captured so much of the country's attention as did the total eclipse from last week. There was so much build-up for the eclipse that it became a must-see event for those who could make the trip to the totality area of it. I myself was one of those who wanted to make the trek. With totality coming through Wyoming and Nebraska and within three hours of Rapid City, there were many options as my wife, myself, and an old Cabela's friend of ours made our plans as well as back-ups areas should the weather not be optimal. Alliance, NE was a first choice despite an estimated 10,000,-15,000 people who would descend on the town. I considered Lusk, WY, but it was closer to the edge of totality and if we were going to do this, we were going to be in the middle for the maximum time. I settled on a small town called Glendo as the middle of totality was just north of it as a second option.
Procuring eclipse glasses became the next issue. Having waited till 3 weeks before to order some good ones through Amazon, I ran into the same problem thousands of others did--glass suppliers did not confirm to the company if their glasses were indeed certified so my order was cancelled. Luckily, work supplied me with a couple of the certified paper ones so at least we were lucky on that aspect. Our friend Greg had ordered his months ago before the craze started so he was ready. Plus he had a pair of certified sun gazing binoculars that brought the sun up close and personal when viewing it through them. Sun spots were clearly visible when gazing up at the sun.
As last Saturday neared, forecasts called for a good chance of cloud cover over Alliance so Glendo was promoted to our first choice due to a prediction of crystal clear skies. As we left early in the morning from Rapid, traffic heading into Wyoming began to pick up excessively as we neared Lusk. Traffic jams are a rarity in Wyoming outside of Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons so it was a bit amusing as we crawled into and out of Lusk and headed southwest to Glendo. With little traffic as we headed south, we thought we were looking pretty good on the return trip. As we neared Glendo, we passed by thousands of people parked along the highway in the in the ditches. Most were from Colorado so we believed most traffic would head south afterwards. The eclipse was just getting started as we parked in a ditch alongside others and we entertained ourselves by viewing the sun through the glasses and binoculars and chatting with others near us. My wife brought along a colander which showed dozens of shadow eclipses as the moon continued to move in front of the sun.
There are few words that I can say to actually describe what it was like when 100% totality happened at approximately 11:45 mountain time. The area resembled twilight as pink and orange hues were on the horizons all around us. The temperature dropped nearly 10 degrees. Jupiter was visible to the right of the sun. The corona around the sun was highly visible and you could see it almost moving as we looked upwards. It's hard to even think of one word to describe it. Awesome, inspiring, wondrous, unforgettable.....those are a few words I can think of. The pictures we got of it weren't the best as we only had our camera phones, but there's plenty of good photos out on the Internet of it to show what it was like to be in totality. Two and half minutes later, the first wisps of the sun returned and the glasses had to go back on immediately. It impressed me right away just how bright the sun actually is, even with less than one percent of it exposed. Totality had passed. We couldn't believe how fast two and a half minutes had gone, but that's the way memorable things happen in life. What an experience it was though!
We waited nearly an hour to give the outgoing traffic a chance to dissipate, which gave us a chance to look at the rest of the eclipse as it passed. That was our first mistake. Little did we know that a single stop sign eight miles away to the north was starting to get backed up as thousands of vehicles began slowing down at it in rapid succession. The road south was already backed up at least a few miles as we took off so we thought we were sitting pretty. One mile down the road and we stopped dead in our tracks! For the next three hours, we crawled along and stopped repeatedly on the highway, wondering what was causing such gridlock. When that stop sign finally came into view, it became clear to us. One stop sign combined with thousands of vehicles leaving at the same time equaled a city-esque traffic jam. Traffic in Lusk was still extremely heavy as well once we got closer to it. By the time we got back to Rapid City, our estimated eight hour trip had turned into just over a thirteen hour one!
In the end, though, despite the great annoyance of gridlock and extended time in the car, it was still worth the experience of being in totality. The images that I have in my memory now will always be there even if the pictures weren't the best. I consider myself extremely lucky to have had the chance to observe was a total eclipse was like and I'll always have that. I do hope that many of you had the chance to see it or even just experience the partial eclipse if you couldn't make it to totality. It truly was one of the most memorable moments in my life.