And now it has come and gone
The first mentions of the 2017 solar eclipse around Fremont County began to be heard in places the newspaper staff pays attention to about 20 months ago. That seemed a very long way off at the time.
But planners found lots to do in the interim, and momentum, publicity, hype and anticipation grew exponentially until11:40 a.m.Monday, when the moon slipped between Earth and the sun at just the right angle to blot out the star for a couple of minutes.
The obvious question: Was it worth the wait?
The obvious answer: Yes, yes, and yes again.
Surely no one who saw it could feel otherwise.
And surely everyone who saw it shared another feeling as well: If only the blackout period could have lasted a bit longer.
The maddening crowd
Did the predicted 10,000 people show up in Riverton for the eclipse? Did Lander get the same? Exactly how the number of out-of-towners could be calculated accurately is hard to say, but it's clear that Fremont County's temporary population was much, much largeron Mondaythan any normal period of summertime visitations and pass-through tourism could account for.
The scene at Riverton Regional Airport, on North Federal Boulevard in Riverton, in downtown Lander and at Boysen State Park - among many other places - all spoke to the proposition that the towns may well have doubled for a day of two. Even the Crowheart Store, 50 miles from Riverton in rural, remote ranch country, had dozens stopping to watch the sky.
We'll let the experts come up with the figure, but it's safe to say the big crowds did materialize.
Mondaydidn't dawn with clear skies in the Riverton Valley. It was a beautiful morning, and the clouds weren't thick and blanketing, but even their intermittent wisps caused some real worries that the show wouldn't go on quite as advertised.
Then, no more than a minute or two before totality, a perfect, wondrous gap in the overhead drifters appeared at the right place, and most who were watching saw the total eclipse without obstruction. And another thing: When it's dark the thin little clouds seem to melt away. Few people in central Fremont County could have found much to complain about, sky-wise.
Out of luck
Millions of eclipse watchers to the east of us didn't have such luck with the weather. Viewers in Nebraska, Missouri and into the South Atlantic states were disappointed. Some got only a few seconds of totality in full view, others none at all. That can be tough to swallow if you've traveled thousands of miles to see the eclipse. Better luck next time.
Although it looked a little iffy through the morning, Riverton and vicinity lived up to national predictions of being one of the top few places in the nation to see the eclipse. The last-minute timing just added to the drama.
One unofficial way to begin to get a sense of the nationwide appeal of Wyoming's eclipse vantage pointis the number of out-of-state license plates seen around town. A half hour Mondaymorning looking at cars showed at least 30 plates from other states in town, with the gamut spanning coast to coast.
There were lots of out-of-county plates, too. The eclipse crossed over Wyoming, but at its widest the band totality was only about 70 miles wide. Gillette? No dice. Rock Springs, Cody, Laramie? Not in the big shadow. So, from the looks of the license plates, a lot of them came here.
There's an entertaining and informative new book called "American Eclipse," written by David Baron, a Yale physics graduate whose name might be familiar to listeners of public radio. The book concerns a total solar eclipse over the Rocky Mountain region 1878. In addition to a meticulous account of the eclipse, the book also offers an interesting history of the region, including Wyoming, in the time of territorial growth toward statehood.
The author did a nice reading and book signing recently at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver, which was taped by C-SPAN. "American Eclipse" is well-timed and recommended.
The welcome wagon
Riverton can take pride in the effort it put forward for the eclipse. From solar glasses to T-shirts, from special events to special promotions, from lodging to bars and restaurants to campgrounds, we made ready and we made welcome. Local government, local business, local civic organizations and private citizens all played their parts, and the town looked great for the big arrival.
An eclipse to match this one won't come again this century. But we were hereMonday. We were here for this one. We planned, prepared, primped and polished - and then, late on a summer morning in August, we all paused together.
And looked to the skies.
Here's to a good week.