‘The Most Energetic Place’ — Eclipse Viewers Praise Casper
They oohhed, aahhed, and hailed the total eclipse of the sun.
At 11:42 a.m. Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, the temperature dropped, the light turned ghostly, the yellow sun's corona flashed bright pearly white, and thousands erupted in cheers, applause, and screams of delight in downtown Casper.
Some of them came from a few blocks away. Some came from New Mexico. And five came from Austria.
Beginning at 10:22 a.m., they occasionally donned their cardboard eclipse glasses as the moon -- about 240,000 miles away -- modestly touched the surface of the sun -- about 93 million miles away.
Between the glimpses of the sun yielding its shine, viewers walked their dogs, played with their children, ordered food from the vendors, adjusted their cameras, and bought T-shirts and eclipse kitsch for the memories along East Second Street.
Thomas Leistert from Graz, Austria, brought lots of eclipse memories when he and four friends came here.
Leistert has seen eclipses in Venezuela, Austria, Zambia, Libya, Portugal and elsewhere, he said. "Having a solar eclipse is (the most) fascinating ever."
This time, it's Casper.
They came here, he said, because the weather forecast was good, and because they trusted eclipse expert Fred Espenak, who was here for the Astrocon Convention. Espenak is a scientist emeritus at the Goddard Space Flight Center and NASA's eclipse expert.
They also wanted to view it with others nearby to share the changes when the moon blots out the sun, Leistert said.
"The best thing is when it's getting darker and darker," he said. "Then it becomes windy, and amazing, and becomes darker and darker and cold; and it's fantastic."
It was fantastic, too, for Janet and Kevin VanCleave who came from Los Alamos, N.M., and stayed at Saratoga for the hot springs.
The wondered whether they would arrive in Casper on time, Janet said. "As we were driving in, the turn-outs and the rest areas were quite crowded, so we almost didn't come to Casper thinking it would be overrun with people."
But make it they did.
And why here?
"Then it becomes windy, and amazing, and becomes darker and darker and cold; and it's fantastic."
"We heard this was the most energetic place," Janet said.
Like Leistert, the VanCleaves loved the crowd.
"It was fun to be here with a whole lot of other people, to hear the whole crowd respond instead of the two of us saying, 'wow, isn't that cool,'" Janet said.
As the moon made its way across the sun, the VanCleaves made their way through the David Street Station.
They unexpectedly saw three of their Los Alamos neighbors: Jill Beck, her daughter Madeline, and Madeline's boyfriend Theo Petersen.
The three stopped in Casper on the way to Bozeman, Mont., where Madeline and Petersen are students at Montana State University.
"I heard of the festival, and thought that was pretty cool," Petersen said. "And I saw that it was right in the middle of the path (of totality) so we could get the most exposure to the eclipse."
The coincidences of the event, the route through Casper to travel to Bozeman, and the beginning of school helped, too, Madeline said.
They, like the VanCleaves almost didn't make it here, either.
They camped in Cheyenne and began their drive to Casper at 4 a.m. to beat the rush, Madeline said. The rush beat them. The traffic on Interstate 25 was bumper-to-bumper, at times 15 mph, until most of the motorists exited at Glendo.
Their hometown is steeped in science. It's the home of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, an heir of the World War II Manhattan Project and the development of the first atomic bomb.
She and Petersen study applied sciences: medicine for her and mechanical engineering for him.
But they couldn't brush off the emotional effect of the eclipse, either.
"It makes you feel kind of small," Petersen said. "You realize how big the planets are."