I can’t sleep. It is 3:30 a.m., 20 minutes before the alarm was set to go off, but I can’t sleep.
Today is the day. The day the moon will pass in front of the sun, blocking out the sun entirely for a full two minutes. It will be a total eclipse passing from coast to coast over the course of 90 minutes. A chance to see the corona surrounding the sun like a golden halo.
It’s dark, but I hear doors slamming in the hallway of the Days Inn that we have spent a mere 4 hours sleeping in our room. Our biggest fear is not making it to the Path of Totality in time to witness this glorious event.
So we push off with our two friends from Chicago, making our way up Highway 85. After much debate about our viewing location, we have decided on Fort Laramie National Historical Park. We quickly eliminated Glendo State Park, when we heard they were expecting over 100,000 people. We considered Guernsey State Park, but with our two dogs in tow, decided it was too hot there with not enough shade.
And so Fort Laramie it is. During the morning drive, things went smoothly, with traffic moving along at a rapid 60 mph. The parade of headlights at 5 a.m. traveling this desolate road in the middle of nowhere, seemd vaguely reminiscent of The Field of Dreams. But this time, nature is providing us with the spectacle that we have come from far and wide to witness. Before we knew it, we arrive in Torrington, stopping at a convenience store at 6 a.m. with a myriad of eclipse chasers, mostly from Colorado.
Things slow down quite a bit once we arrived at the Fort as we wait in a long line of people, following an impromptu dirt path to a field of parked cars. The atmosphere feels like a college football game, with people equipped with lawn chairs, blankets, coolers and food. Everyone seems excited, and this day we will experience the feeling of a win.
What a relief! We made it to the Path of Totality. I feel so excited to know we are here in plenty of time and would see the eclipse.
We stroll around, reading signs, going to the creek, finally parking ourselves under an immense cottonwood tree near the west side of the fort. A refreshing breeze blows through the quadrangle, as we sit with the dogs in the shade.
Then it is 10:42 a.m. Time for the eclipse to begin. I’m surprised, because very few people are here at this side of the fort. It’s like we are having our very own private viewing experience. I had expected to be shoulder to shoulder with thousands of people.
We don our eclipse glasses staring up at the glowing orb in the crystal blue sky. A tiny nibble appears in the upper right of the sun. Then it grows, looking much like a googly eye.
As the minutes elapse, a crescent form appears. My brain, so well trained from staring at the moon, says – yes, the crescent moon. But no, it’s a crescent sun! Wow, that is so cool.
As the moon continues its march creeping in front of the sun, the crescent is shrinking, looking little more than an eyelash. We’re down to less than 10 minutes until Totality, and I’m getting goose bumps thinking about it.
The sky to the west is looking darker and darker, and I feel enveloped by the wave of darkness that is descending upon us as it sweeps across the field. I begin to hear crickets chirping from the nearby river. And then it happens — it’s dark, like dusk right after the sun sets.
A massive roar arises from the crowd. Clapping and cheering! I look up and see the Corona around the sun. A ring of fire is glowing around it. OH MY GOD!
It is magical, awe-inspiring. This moment is like nothing else I have ever experienced on planet earth. WOW! We dance around, whooping. I see Venus pop out, just like at night.
“There’s Venus, there’s another star!”
Before I know it, the two minutes are over and the sun is out again. That quickly, it is all over. I peer up through my eclipse glasses, and it’s just a thin eyelash on the other side, but so bright without my glasses, I can hardly tell.
Now I know what all the hype is about. Now I know why you must go to the Path of Totality. I feel changed forever for the magnificence I have just witnessed. It’s one of the best days of my life.
Only seven more years for another magical moment in the sky.