I knew it was going to be a unique, once-in-a-lifetime event to watch total solar eclipse but until I actually saw it and experienced I didn’t realize just how amazing and awesome it is. It’s definitely a must watch for everyone, even if it means travelling to far off distances. I thought watching 99% of the eclipse would be just as good but let me tell you, that 1% makes all the difference in the world! All the hard work and planning Gaurav, my husband did, was totally worth it and he knew everyone was going to be blown away by the experience.
He initially planned on us watching the eclipse from somewhere near Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks but everything in the area was sold out well in advance. He also realized that it’ll be a very popular location for eclipse watchers and traffic will be BAD to say the least. It was projected as one of the largest temporary migration in American History and we didn’t want to be stuck in traffic for half a day or worse yet, not make it to the totality zone at all. So he started looking for places within the totality zone that will be relative less crowded. After days of reading about places within the totality zone, he settled on a little known place in northwest Nebraska called Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
We started our drive from Sunrise Ranch in Edgemont, South Dakota at 7:15 in the morning because we wanted to beat the traffic to Agate. Without traffic, the drive should have taken about 2 hours but with traffic on that day the drive took almost 3 hours and it was around 10 am by the time we got to Agate. The traffic we encountered was only towards the end because luckily everyone was going toward Lusk in Wyoming or Scottsbluff which is a little more south in Nebraska. The staff at Agate were very organized and knew exactly how to direct cars to parking lots and they did an amazing job given they are not used to so many people. In fact, at one point, Gaurav asked one of the park rangers how many visitors they get on average at Agate and the answer was about 10-15 people per week! Only 10-15 people PER WEEK!!
Once we parked our car, found a nice big grassy area to watch the eclipse from. It was such a perfect place for the event. There were hardly any people there but keep in mind, my definition of “crowded” is very different from those living in Nebraska. Living in NYC, I encounter more people just walking down the street than I did at Agate, even for such a big event. There were a couple hundred people near where we had set up but the area was just so big that no one was on top of each other. There were a few stalls selling brisket, snacks and drinks for the event.
Since this was relatively empty place for such a big event, most people we met were from somewhere near by. As soon as they heard we were from New York, the first question everyone asked us was “Why did you pick this place?” We always chuckled and said it was because not many people would have picked this location so we won’t have to deal with crowds and relatively less traffic. We’ll be able to enjoy the event in luxury. As the eclipse continued, I expected it to get less bright soon after the start. However, I didn’t notice any changes until the eclipse was more than 70%. I also thought that during totality, it would be completely dark. Again, I was wrong. It wasn’t completely dark but it was a strange level of brightness, not exactly dawn but not dusk either. It was something entirely different. As the eclipse continued, you can also hear crickets chirping and it got louder as the eclipse moved toward totality when the chirping was loudest.
The totality lasted for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds but those few mins went by so fast it felt like mere seconds. During that time we did manage to see two planets even thought it wasn’t completely dark. It was, without a doubt, one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced. Going from partial eclipse, to full eclipse, followed by the diamond ring will forever be one of the best experiences of my life. There is such a big difference between 99% eclipse vs 100% eclipse. I never would have guessed it but that last 1% makes all the difference!
After the eclipse, we thought we’ll go on a hike and asked the park ranger about the details. The park ranger did a very good job at discouraging us from going on that hike. She basically said we weren’t going to see any fossils, and “it’s just a walk”. There’s nothing special about this hike. It seemed clear that park rangers were eager to get the crowds go back home now that the eclipse was over. Another park rangers said he picked this location because not many people visit and he likes it. All of a sudden, people are coming from all over the country and he was clearly overwhelmed. We decided to leave and head to Harrison for lunch.
Harrison, Nebraska is a very small town with a population of about 250 people. Everyone knew everyone and all of a sudden a few thousand people are in town to watch the eclipse. The entire town seemed overwhelmed. We went to a local restaurant (can’t remember the name anymore) for lunch. As we were looking at the menu, the waitress came over and told us don’t bother going through the menu because they only have 3 thins left, hamburger, cheese burger, and hot dogs. The restaurant wasn’t prepared for so many tourists and had run out of almost all the food. She also looked very stressed because this was the busiest the restaurant has ever been or ever will be. After lunch, we decided to go back to our Airbnb in Rapid City, SD.
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