Some people called it the "Great American Eclipse." Others feared it would be an "eclipsocalypse," meaning there was concern infrastructure would be crippled in areas within the path of totality, where the sun was completely blocked by the moon for a couple of minutes.
Whatever it turned out to be, I was happy to travel and be part of it all in Idaho Falls, Idaho, which was along the path of totality.
I had spent two years living in various parts of Idaho after my first year of college. I lived with Reed and Connie Moser part of that time.
When I spoke with the Mosers about staying with them, they were happy to have me, despite the fact that many other people were planning to do the same. I was informed of concerns that cellphones would go down, the power would go out, grocery stores would be overrun and run low on stock, not to mention tons of anticipated traffic.
I was just excited to go to Idaho (and Utah) and see some people I hadn't seen in a while. Of course, I was also happy to see the eclipse - the first to cross the entirety of the United States since 1918. I knew I'd better take the opportunity to see it.
Making the trip
The trip from Taos to Idaho Falls took a good chunk of time. I split it up over the course of two days and stayed the night in Utah. In all, the trip took about 14 hours the first day and four the second (including all stops).
Sunday (Aug. 20), the day before the eclipse, I drove into Idaho Falls. Fortunately, I didn't encounter horrendous traffic. Sure, it was certainly busier than it normally would be and I hit some pockets where I needed to slow down a bit. For the most part, though, I was able to go pretty close to the 80-mile-per-hour speed limit that was posted most of the way between the northern portion of Utah and Idaho Falls. I was surprised that traffic wasn't worse when I arrived in Idaho Falls.
It turns out the Mosers had a total of 21 people at their house Sunday night. I didn't get to interact with everybody a whole lot, but they all seemed to be kind people.
Total eclipse of the sun
The day all the hype led up to had arrived.
Maybe an hour or so before the eclipse Monday (Aug. 21), everybody staying with the Mosers walked over to Falls Valley Elementary School. The school has a nice field. We settled in for the big event, and so did a small crowd of other people. Others watched from lawns and homes near the school.
Leading up to totality, or when the sun was completely covered by the moon, the excitement seemed to build with the oncoming darkness. Some folks noticed crescent shapes in a nearby tree's shadow, a byproduct of the eclipse, and several people went over there to snap some pictures. "I bet this tree's shadow has never been so popular," I heard one person say.
During the minutes leading up to totality, the sunlight became noticeably dimmer. Streetlights came on. Some people reported seeing a star - or possibly a planet.
I had set up a phone on a tripod (with a taped-together pair of eclipse viewing glasses covering the lens for protection) to livestream the event to The Taos News' Facebook page. That captured the crowd's building excitement leading up to and during the eclipse's totality.
As totality hit Idaho Falls in its trek across the country at 11:33 a.m., the temperature dropped a good bit - from 71 to 59 degrees, according to EastIdahoNews.com records - and the wind picked up. The crowd went wild, screaming, whooping, whistling, exclaiming. Somebody nearby set off fireworks, too, although I didn't actually see them.
All of this excitement was for good reason. In addition to it looking like dawn or dusk in the middle of the day, the eclipse was beautiful. Once the solar eclipse viewing glasses came off, which is safe only during totality, I could see the most incredible ring of celestial light encircling the sun. Words can't properly describe it.
On our way back to the Moser household, though, one of the people who also stayed there made an interesting comparison. She said the splendor and awe-inspiring nature of the eclipse made her think of what it would be like to see God. In several ways, I'm inclined to agree with her.
After less than two minutes of totality, the glasses had to come back on to look at the sun. Daylight returned. Things seemed to return to normal.
Reed Moser, who had been skeptical of whether the eclipse would live up to the hype, conceded that it was pretty impressive. Ever the gracious hosts, both Mosers were happy they opened up their home to others so they could join in those few precious moments and the community that came with the eclipse.
Luckily, the "eclipsocalypse" never seemed to materialize, at least not from my vantage point. I understand traffic became quite snarled right after, but I stayed put in Idaho Falls for a little while. Although I feel for the people who got caught up in the traffic, I can't help but feel it still wasn't as bad as some people were predicting.
If I could see another eclipse, I absolutely would, but I would do some things differently. I would focus more on being in the moment. I would worry less about trying to take pictures of my surroundings and spend that time gazing heavenward, pondering and reflecting.
Maybe God will grant me the ability to see another total solar eclipse or two in this lifetime.
Gearing up for the future
Perhaps my next best chance to see a total solar eclipse - and the next best chance for many Taoseños - will be April 8, 2024. According to NASA, this eclipse will go through Mexico and swing northward through Texas (including Austin and Dallas), Arkansas, following a trajectory through Maine and beyond.
Another solar eclipse to watch will be Aug. 12, 2045. According to NASA, the path of totality will actually come pretty close (relatively speaking) to Northern New Mexico. The total solar eclipse will be visible from just north of Trinidad and Alamosa, Colorado. Also in Colorado, our neighbors in Pueblo and Colorado Springs will be within the 2045 path of totality. Much of Utah (including Provo and Salt Lake City) and many other parts of the country will also be able to see that total solar eclipse.
I'm going to gear up to see at least one of these - both if possible. Maybe I'll see you there.