The full solar eclipse--if you saw it, you know it was truly something special. If you didn’t, you missed out on something that’s almost hard to put into words.
After months of planning for, at best, a guesstimate of just how many people really would come to the Guernsey area, the question was answered Sunday as a steady stream of cars, pickups and campers made their way to Guernsey, Hartville, Sunrise and just about every open patch of ground between.
By Sunday evening, the streets and sidewalks were awash with people from somewhere else--young and old, single and groups, families with kids and dogs.
T-shirts flew off the shelves at the visitor’s center and every restaurant and bar in the area was packed most of the evening.
Even Guernsey’s newest hotel, the Cobblestone Inn, resorted to allowing tent campers to cover the grassy area near their parking lot along the North Platte River.
The Vikings’ football field was dotted with tents as was the practice field behind the school. Students and staff became campground hosts, giving directions and talking to people who came to buy one of hundreds of hamburgers cooked out behind the check-iin point in the school’s lunchroom. Several hundred people enjoyed floating the river to pass the time--several locals shuttled people and tubes between the West river bridge and the Register Cliff exit point.
In what was almost a circus-like atmosphere, an area that roughly 1,100 people call home on a daily basis, had gained easily three or four times that many because it happened to be with the “path of totality”, the path that would allow one to see the full effect of the moon passing in perfect alignment between the sun and the earth.
After months of buildup and anticipation, the view did not disappoint--drawing a collective cheer from the groups that had gathered to watch at places near the school, the golf course and surrounding campgrounds, Guernsey State Park, Sunrise and many more between.
Perfect weather made for a perfect view and the full effect was seen as the temperature began to cool and the land became darker. When full coverage was achieved, a bright white light encircled the shoadow of the moon, also known as bailey’s Beads or the Diamond Ring. The planet of Venus was prominent in the sky during the totality phase and a 360 degree sunset was visible at the horizon in every direction.
Too soon, the moon had moved enough to lose the effect and for many, the show was over. It was then that the impact of just how many people had come to the area began to truly be seen and felt
North of Guernsey on Highway 270, traffic began to roll south and was soon backed up the entire four and half miles betwen the U.S. 26 turnoff and Hartville. For the next three hours, it was bumper to bumper all along that stretch, taking as long as 45 minutes to an hour to cover the distance. It was estimated that between 1,300 and 1500 vehicles came down 270 during that stretch, many coming from Sunrise.
Drivers who departed immediately headed south to Colorado reported times as long as an hour to reach the interstate after leaving Guernsey and another hour to reach Wheatland. By late afternoon though, the web cameras along the interstate on the Wyoming Department of Transportation website showed heavy but steadily moving traffic.
The area’s planning efforts paid off as a number of visitors expressed their thanks to the community. A family from Denver praised the town’s preparedness, saying, “Well done--what a great place this is. You guys did a wonderful job of being ready for this. People have been so friendly.” It was a sentiment heard many times over--and one visitor took time to express her thanks in a letter to the editor which may be found on page 7.
It was a sight that had to be seen to appreciate--all of it. The area is not likely to see this kind of event for a very long time, if ever again. For those that were lucky enough to be around for this one, there’s really just one way to describe it--totally amazing.