Spectacular! The Great Eclipse of 2017

Midday darkness during totality – with a lit-up horizon all around us.

The fourth time is a charm!

With thousands of others, my wife and I went to Idaho to watch the eclipse. We figured, realistically, that this would probably be our last chance to see this phenomenon.

I’ve had several near misses.

The first time I saw a solar eclipse was June 30, 1954, when the path of the eclipse went right through Minneapolis, Minnesota.

It was a near miss. Our family farm was about 60 miles south of Minneapolis so it was a given that we’d miss the totality. I doubt that taking a drive an hour to the north would have occurred to my parents. Still, I remember getting up early that morning and all of us piling into the car to go out to one of our fields where we’d get an un-obscured look at the celestial event taking place right after sunrise. Frankly, after all these years I don’t remember how much of the actual eclipse we saw, or if we had some sort of eclipse glasses. We probably used photo negatives.

The next eclipse was July 20, 1963. Incidentally, I didn’t have those dates burned into my memory, but that trivia is easily retrieved with an internet search. In Fargo, North Dakota, where we were living, the eclipse wasn’t that close, but I remember being outside with our son, Kevin, then a nine-month old toddler, and seeing images of the eclipse in the multiple pin-hole camera effect from the leaves of a tree in our backyard.

On February 26, 1979, we had another close, but no cigar moment. We were living in Grafton, in northeast North Dakota and the eclipse was just to the north, in Canada. Kevin, then a junior in high school, went with a science class to Winnipeg, Manitoba, at the center of the path of the eclipse. Obviously, this was a simpler time, when going to Canada, and then returning to the U.S., didn’t involve much more than the teacher vouching for the citizenship of his students.

At that time I did a weekly 5-minute live public service program about Social Security on a local radio station, and after I was done I hung on to chat on-air about eclipses with one of the station personalities.

So, with those three near misses, it seemed appropriate to hit the road for Idaho on August 21 to finally see a total eclipse, so I’ll share some of my observations.

First, we knew a lot of people were making an eclipse trip, but the volume of traffic on I-15 at sunrise surprised us, considering it wasn’t even elk season.

We planned to head for the highway rest stop at Dubois, Idaho, figuring other people would be there as well. We weren’t figuring that the rest stop, built large to accommodate lots of big trucks if Monida Pass was blocked by snowstorms, would be Eclipse City. The facility was jammed with motor homes, tents, RVs, cars, trucks and people. We found a parking spot next to a travel trailer from Kalispell. The owners had camped there the previous two nights to make sure they’d have a ringside seat to the eclipse.

Highway rest stop at Dubois ID, aka Eclipse City.

If we thought the rest area was jammed, it was nothing compared to the crush in the rest stop building, where long lines of people waited in line to use the facilities.

As the actual eclipse began and progressed, people settled down to watch, as the moon slowly crossed in front of the sun. As we approached totality we could see the sunlight dimming, and could feel the air temperature dropping. It grew darker and darker, and as the last sliver of sun disappeared behind the moon, people began cheering.

Like many, I was totally blown away by the spectacular sight of the corona around the moon and then the so-called diamond ring effect just at the end of totality. Stunning and spectacular don’t begin to describe it.

Some people say that experiencing a total eclipse is the thrill of a lifetime. I agree and now I regret those near misses.

P.S., I also regret not getting a great photo of the sun in total eclipse, but you’ve probably already seen many of them already.

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