At Mike Sedar Park, they called out the temperature as it dropped from 82 degrees to a chilly 66. They counted down the minutes, then the seconds, to the moment that so many had traveled long miles to see.
Giggles and shouts burst from the crowd of a few hundred on Monday as darkness fell. The amateur astronomers scrambled to look for shadow bands on white blankets spread on the grass in the minute before totality.
And then the sun was gone, covered completely by the moon. Glasses came off and a chorus of cheers broke from the crowd. A deep swell of clarity and calm swept over the park as people peered upward. The ribbon of sky nearest the horizon turned a sunset orange. The colors of the landscape deepened. A few stars peeked out.
For a brief moment after the initial cheers, it was quiet. All was well.
Many had spent years planning to visit. Eclipse fanatics from Michigan. Iranian brothers from Canada. A mother and her daughters from the United Kingdom.
Tens of thousands of people from across the globe descended on Casper to view Monday’s total solar eclipse, the first in nearly a century to cut through the entire United States. They varied in language, culture and custom. But on Monday morning in central Wyoming, they all shared a love of the sky.
Traffic snarled the interstates and highways in and out of town. Cars and trucks stacked in highway pullouts. Tents filled residential lawns and the Walmart parking lot. Millions of dollars worth of telescopes faced east.
It was one of the most anticipated days in recent memory for many in the state because of the economic benefit of tens of thousands of visitors. Vendors capitalized on the opportunity to sell everything from eclipse T-shirts to glasses to welded picture frames.
The newly minted David Street Station was the nucleus during the Wyoming Eclipse Festival, and those who chose to observe the total eclipse of the sun at the public plaza were not disappointed.
Revelers were finally able to use their eclipse glasses, a ubiquitous accessory of the festival, as the moon began to cross the sun’s path at 10:22 a.m.
For the next 80 minutes, parents reminded their children to keep their glasses on, then reminded them again. The sun’s crescent grew thinner and thinner. “Is that Pac-Man or Ms. Pac-Man?” someone dad-joked.
A premature round of applause erupted in response to a television camera. Then, it was Casper’s time not to shine. At 11:42 a.m., cheers and hoots welcomed the eclipse. Fireworks popped in the distance. By chance or confusion, a flock of birds flew overhead.
While many in Casper watched the eclipse simply because they live here, others, like Canadian eclipse enthusiast Arash Ahmadi, have been thinking about this day for years.
Eighteen years ago, almost to the day, Ahmadi stood in a park in a small town in central Iran and watched the moon pass in front of the sun.
There was no Google maps then. Planning a spot on the line of totality was a little more complicated. But the sight — the shadow traveling over the land, the midday dusk, the ring of ephemeral light surrounding the moon, the idea of standing in the shadow of a celestial body — stuck with him.
“I made a promise I would watch the 2017 eclipse,” he said Monday, standing in a park in a small town on the other side of the Earth from his first eclipse. Both events are part of the same Saros cycle, which means that Earth was the same distance from the sun and at the same tilt Monday as it was during Ahmadi’s 1999 experience. Like twins.
Ahmadi, now 36, and his brother, Arman, drove to Casper from New Brunswick, Canada, just across the border from Maine. It took them five days to travel the more than 2,400 miles.
They arrived in the Kansas City area Sunday evening, but after reading the local weather forecasts decided to drive through the night to Casper for a better chance of clear skies. Just after 6 a.m., the brothers set up chairs and cameras in Mike Sedar Park and waited. Despite the long drive, they were wide awake.
“You wait for 18 years — you’re not going to be sleepy,” Ahmadi said, just a few moments after the moon started its trek across the sun’s light.
When the moment came, tears ran down Arash’s face. Goosebumps ran up Ahmadi’s arms. The park was plunged into shadow.
“Worth every second of the drive,” said Ahmadi.
The visual element of Monday’s total solar eclipse in Casper was obvious. At David Street Station, Mike Kellerman took care of the sound.
Kellerman, who drove to Casper from San Diego, blew a large Israeli shofar throughout the eclipse.
“If anyone’s familiar with ancient writings, it’s known that in ancient times that the solar eclipse was a sign of warning from the gentile nations of either war or ominous times coming,” Kellerman said. “... So the reason I’m blowing it today is just that. Sign of warning, knowing the times that we’re in. Just trying to wake people up.”
Kellerman has had the large, spiraling trumpet, which is made from the horn of a Yemenite ram, for 11 years. He plays it during every Rosh Hashanah.
“For me, personally, the trumpet is a sign of rapture,” he said. “I’m hoping soon. But no, right now it’s just warning. When it gets to be (the) total eclipse, I’m going to blow it 100 times throughout the eclipse. Hopefully people that walk by and listen just kind of keep that in their mind.
“... I believe America is a divided nation right now, and it saddens me, but I see the war on the horizon in all things, whether it’s missiles or whether it’s internal with people. It’s not the same America it used to be. It’s getting ugly.”
There may be darkness in the world — nuclear threats from North Korea, terrorist attacks in Spain and England, Neo-Nazis in Virginia — but Blair Mohler thought the eclipse brought hope.
The beautiful phenomenon was a much-appreciated distraction, she said. It was the first eclipse to appear only in the U.S. since before the country’s birth. A unifier of sorts.
“It’s an escape. It’s a day of sunshine and good darkness.”
Mohler, who came up from Colorado, joined hundreds of others to watch the eclipse at the Casper Events Center.
Tailgaters relaxed in the parking lot, cooking on portable grills and playing card games. Others tinkered with their telescopes and binoculars.
Gina Dobbs, of the United Kingdom, spread out on a blanket with her two teen daughters, both of whom were scribbling in their journals.
Traveling to Casper wasn’t cheap, but Dobbs didn’t want her family to miss out.
At 10:22 a.m., activities halted as everyone looked up.
“This is it, y’all,” shouted Will Young, who was traveling with the Astronomical Society of Southeast Texas.
Young, who married his wife, Courtney, on Aug. 21, 2010, told her they would be spend their seventh anniversary in Casper for this celestial event.
As the sunlight grew dimmer over the next hour, group members swapped binoculars, took turns at the telescope and updated their social media pages — all while shouting back and forth.
“It’s getting ready to really bite in,” someone said.
“I feel the temperature dropping,” responded another.
“It’s getting darker.”
For months, Casper resident Mark Kalarich wondered where he would go to view the total solar eclipse. He decided to watch from the bike path on top of the hill between Casper College and Mike Sedar Park.
He updated those around him: “One minute to totality in Jackson.”
The astronomers in the park below cheered.
“Howling at the moon,” he chuckled.
He had never seen a total eclipse before, and for the duration of totality he soaked it in. His glance occasionally drifted from the sun and moon down to the astronomers in a park below.
They included William Finn and Tim Campbell, who traveled from the Detroit area to Casper just for the eclipse. Twenty-five hours of driving, plus countless hours of preparation all for their favorite hobby: astronomy.
Just before the eclipse began, Campbell projected an image of the eclipse on the side of a tent. Onlookers took pictures of themselves next to the projection.
During the duration of totality they both stared while their surrounding equipment clicked and shuttered.
“It was totally worth it,” Campbell said.
In the crowd, moments after the moon obscured the sun and all went still, a man shouted “Who turned out the lights?”
People laughed, the impromptu magic broke and chatter began again, in English and Spanish and Japanese. People grinned unabashedly at each other through the noon twilight. They hugged. Fireworks cracked in the distance.
As fast as it left, the moon slid away and light crept back into the park, as if someone were slowly turning the lights back on. The crowd returned to its festivities, though more euphoric than before. Strangers from different states and countries shared food and drinks. They showed each other the photos they had snagged.
They tried to talk about what they had just seen, often finding that the correct words were hard to come by.
A mother tried her best to explain to her daughter what they had witnessed.
When it finished, Emma Meyer, 6, looked at her mom and said: “I was so excited I felt like my brain was cracked open.”
And then the sun came back. Cars began to move again.
All seemed to return to normal, and the 6-year-old asked if she could go to the park.