The odds had never been high, but still, it seemed possible.
The northern lights had been seen in Casper plenty of times before, so when my husband and I noticed a national news story and map that suggested the lights might dance a little farther south than usual on a recent weekend, we decided to pack a picnic and drive up Casper Mountain to see if we could catch a glimpse.
Those hopes were dashed on the day of, when anyone with a map could see that we were barely but very firmly beyond the outermost band of lights. We were not going to be seeing any aurora borealis, at least not that weekend.
But the plan had been made. Light show or not, sandwiches on the mountain under a dark Wyoming sky sounded like an ideal way to spend an evening. We love living here because of the quick access to the outdoors, and we wanted to take advantage of that a few more times, even as the calendar threatened to bring summer to a close.
Up we drove, until we reached a spot where we could see as much sky as possible. We slammed the doors, talking softly, but we lost our words as we stared up.
The sky was crowded with zillions of dazzling stars. It looked like a handful of sparkling sugar scattered across a dark countertop. There were no dancing lights. But how could there have been room for them? The sky teemed with activity.
We saw Venus, Jupiter and Saturn, three points of light burning against the black. We saw Ursa Major, clawing her way through the heavens, and the Gemini constellation lofted high above. We saw the moon, of course, a waxing crescent silhouetted among the clouds that floated nearby. Through it all, like delicate silvery threads through lush black silk, the Milky Way lit a hazy path across the night. It was an unforgettable moment.
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On our way down the mountain road, we stopped at the overlook to gaze again. A star shot straight over the trees that stood on the mountain above. Then, I turned toward the city.
Its mass of tiny, twinkling lights reflected the view from the sky.
The stars over Casper have seen so much, from our beginnings as a frontier outpost to the bustling, modern city that stretched before me that night. What a journey to watch from above.
As we drove back home, losing elevation as we went, the pinpoints of light that had shone crystal-clear from our mountain vantage point began to blur and soften. I tried to find those same crisp grains of sugar, but the sky had swallowed them whole. We have light pollution, like any city, but it is amazing how quickly that disappears once you go up. I knew that if we traced the mountain road back to our stargazing spot, the yawning sky would once again reveal the gems that glittered in its depths. It was a reassuring thought.
I looked later at the list of celestial objects that had been there but beyond our sight — dwarf planets, Neptune, Uranus, asteroids. I was dumbstruck. The black over our heads and the sweep of lights littered across the landscape below had both seemed full to the brim of shining objects, but of course it was mainly full of emptiness.
There would be room for more — for brighter stars and planets, for the lights to dance, for new stages in our city’s history. We will continue to move together across the sky, inevitably leading to new perspectives. But from where I stood in the middle, on the dusty Wyoming soil, the sky was perfect that night, and the city was too. It was a snapshot in time that I will never forget.
Mandy Lasky, a former Star-Tribune opinion editor, currently works for Make-A-Wish Wyoming in Casper. Her column about life in Casper and Wyoming has appeared on this page since 2016.