Totality or Bust: The Great American Eclipse

Diamond ring

Diamond ring

Louise Grabell

After I witnessed the eclipse of July 1991 in Hawaii, I promised myself that if I lived to 2017 I would see The Great American Eclipse. Twenty-six years later—and a bit older—I made my plans: Totality or Bust! I studied maps of the pathway of the moon’s shadow. I looked at the average number of sunny days at various locations. After all, if I was going to travel somewhere, it had better be a sure bet that there would be clear skies. Casper, Wyoming would be the place, and I got to work seeking lodgings for our trip. Not a room to be had in Casper unless I was willing to spend $1100 for the night before the eclipse. Call me cheap, but I figured we would survive one night in our car with pillows and a blanket!

We drove 1167 miles to Casper, Wyoming arriving on Sunday, August 20. We parked in a 24-hour Walmart lot with hundreds of other people who had no lodgings either. Some had campers; some set up tents and a few brave souls hung hammocks between trees in the lot. Everyone became everyone’s friend. There is a certain closeness that permeated this group of strangers all there for the same reason: The Great American Eclipse.

After 10:00 a.m. the next morning, the moon took its first bite out of the sun. The show was on! We saw images of the eclipse cast by the leaves of the trees all over the pavement and blacktop. One woman grabbed a colander from her camper and held it up to the sun, forming perfect little images of the eclipse on the ground. Some people just lay on the ground, quietly watching as the event unfolded. We brought two folding chairs, put on our eclipse glasses, and seated ourselves with the eclipse party in the next parking spot. Around 11:30 a.m. the magic began. The moon was blocking most of the sun by then and the sunlight was clearly dimmer and the air temperature was noticeably colder. All was quiet as everyone was watching, waiting for the moment when we would see the diamond ring effect and totality shortly after. A loud roar from the crowd blasted the atmosphere when the moon did its final job. The sun was blocked but the corona was brilliant, amazing, awesome!

Well, when totality is over, there is only one thing to do—go home, and everyone who traveled to Wyoming to see The Great American Eclipse decided to leave at the same time. There is only one route out of Wyoming—I-25. This created a 250 mile line of bumper-to-bumper traffic. After 13 hours, we arrived at our hotel in Denver at 3:00 a.m. A good sleep and two more days on the road brought us back home. Was it worth it? You better believe it was! In 2024 you’ll find us in Texas for the next Great American Eclipse.