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A Solar Saga

Well, we saw the eclipse.

Our decision to travel to Nebraska to view the solar eclipse was last-minute, and so not planned as well as it could have been. Even so, we had a good time and managed to squeeze in a couple of additional activities. As mentioned yesterday, we spent Sunday night in Rapid City, South Dakota. After checking in at the hotel, we had just enough time to get to the Reptile Gardens before their final 6:00 admission. Killer, the enormous Nile crocodile I had seen there some 40 years ago, is gone, but in his place is Maniac, a 16-foot saltwater crocodile from Australia. He doesn’t seem as big as Killer, but then, I was only about 10 years old at the time.

Maniac, the Pretty Big Crocodile

On Monday, with 2½ hours between us and our eclipse destination, we got up early and hit the road at 7:00. We had been warned of heavy traffic in the area—one estimate said Nebraska was expecting 500,000 visitors—but traffic was really quite light. As we neared Alliance, we saw several roadside areas, mostly farmland, filled with campers and tents. I suspect that explains the light traffic. Most eclipse-watchers had actually planned ahead and arrived early.

We were prepared to pull off onto a side road, like many others had, but traffic being easy, we headed all the way into town and found a good parking place at a truck stop. Across the parking lot, an older couple got out of an SUV, and the man, dressed in full safari gear and looking for all the world like Marlin Perkins on Wild Kingdom, set up a telescope the size of Andre the Giant’s thighs and was immediately surrounded by kids wanting a peek. As we hunkered down by the minivan, with nothing but our silly-looking eclipse glasses, we were reminded of how poorly prepared we were—we hadn’t even remembered to bring lawn chairs.

But the eclipse came off as advertised. We hadn’t been parked more than 10 minutes when it began, and 1¼ hours later, to the hoots and whistles of the multitude, the sun disappeared for 2½ minutes. During that time, I pondered Anne Graham Lotz’s vaguely-worded warning that the eclipse might be—but who really knows?—signaling God’s judgment, or something—again, who really knows?—on America. No, of course I didn’t. I may be dumb, but I’m not John Hagee stupid. We performed our desultory oohs and ahs, the moon continued its course, the sun was once more revealed, dispelling the fears of the terrified natives, and we mounted up and made our escape ahead of most of the traffic.

And now there really was traffic. I’m guessing it was worse going south, but heading north, every intersection as far as Chadron (60 miles) was manned by Highway Patrol directing traffic.

Driving once more through the Black Hills and prairies of South Dakota, seeing the wide-open spaces populated by beef cattle and sheep, bison, mule deer, pronghorns, and prairie dogs, I was reminded that I don’t think I’ve seen any country more beautiful than western South Dakota. Here, among the sage brush and cactus, is where I lived until I was 13 years old. This is where I shot my first pheasant, grouse, rabbit, and pronghorn. And prairie dogs—hundreds, maybe thousands of them, fell to my deadly aim. This is where I learned to drive in a rusted-out ’65 Mustang, on long, empty country roads where no one cared that I had neither license nor permit. This is where I first experienced genuine church life, and received the seeds of the gospel from Sunday school teachers who faithfully drove as far as 40 miles twice a week.

Following the eclipse in Nebraska, which we left at about noon Central Time, we had 7½ hours of driving ahead of us, plus stops (remember, I was traveling with three ladies, one of them only 8 years old) so time was limited, but we decided to swing in to Mount Rushmore on the way, adding two hours to the trip. I thought about joining in with the zeitgeist and tearing it down, but I was tired, time was limited, and it is awfully big.

An Awfully Big Monument

And the adventure continued. With a new homecoming estimate of 11:30 PM, we thought, What’s the hurry? and decided to make a wrong turn just over the North Dakota border. This took us to Scranton, North Dakota. My first thought, after Uh-oh, was that Scranton isn’t a very Dakota-sounding name; it sounds more New Englandy, which makes perfect sense when you remember—as I’m sure you do—that the Pennsylvania Polka “started in Scranton.” I know, you’re thinking that’s just the wandering of a fatigued mind, but the fact that the next town we passed after figuring out where we were and getting turned in the right direction was—I swear I am not making this up—New England proves me right.

Anyway, we finally pulled into our own beautiful driveway sometime around 1:00 this morning, weary and happy to be home. We slept in this morning, and it’s taken me till this afternoon to rattle off this rambling mess of a post. If you got lost along the way, you know how I feel.

This makes one more state added to my travelogue. I’ve lived in five, visited thirteen (and two Canadian provinces), and passed through three others. That leaves only twenty-nine (or thirty-seven, by former President Obama’s count) left to go.

Nebraska was nice, but I do I have one complaint: In the 4 hours (or so) we spent there, we saw not one single person husking corn. I might just shoot the Nebraska Tourism Commission an angry email.

Posted 2017·08·22 by David Kjos
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