Managing editor, Michael Kramer, is back from a whirlwind vacation. In just three days, he fulfilled two lifelong dreams – witnessing a full solar eclipse and visiting Mount Rushmore (the latter by helicopter)!
“What a difference a day makes…24 little hours.” – Dinah Washington
Last week, I took a three-day vacation. If I said it was a well-planned trip that was skillfully executed, I’d be stretching the truth. Actually, I’d be lying.
The Solar Eclipse of 2017 generated so much anticipation that millions of Americans made vacation plans around the big event, reserving their hotel rooms a year or more in advance in cities that were in the path of totality. I had always wanted to see a full solar eclipse. So in keeping with my wait-until-the-last-minute philosophy of life, I began planning for my trip a whole 10 weeks before August 21.
I knew this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But did I really want to travel for an entire day for two minutes of totality, then come back to Central Florida? And if not, where should I go to view the eclipse and perhaps do something else, as well?
The simple solution to both questions was Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Not only was it directly in the path of totality, it was also a straight 200-mile drive to Mount Rushmore. I had never been to the monument that is certainly one of the unique modern wonders of the world. So I began to make plans for my solo adventure.
Nothing too complicated. I’d fly into Denver the afternoon before the eclipse, rent a car, then drive in the direction of Scottsbluff – roughly three hours. The only hitch was that I had no place to sleep the Sunday night before the eclipse. As I told you… this getaway was not skillfully executed.
Sometimes, however, it’s better to be lucky than competent. After weeks of looking online for accommodations the night of August 20, I visited the AAA headquarters in Lake Mary on August 17. I spoke to a cordial young man named Mike Spohn, who took on the impossible task of trying to get me into a hotel anywhere near Scottsbluff. Within 15 minutes he found a hotel in Cheyenne, Wyoming, almost equidistant between Denver and Scottsbluff!
In the wee small hours of Monday morning, August 21, I drove from Cheyenne to Scottsbluff, arriving around 6:30 a.m. Two hours later I found myself in Gering, Nebraska – a few minutes outside Scottsbluff – at the Legacy of the Plains Museum, located on the Oregon Trail. I drove onto a huge field adjacent to the museum, where I spent the next four hours surrounded by more than 2,000 of my closest and dearest friends, all of whom were perfect strangers. But we were all there to witness an awesome event. And it was everything it was cracked up to be.
“The experience of totality was awesome,” observed Guy Turenne, a professional photographer from Fort Collins, Colorado, who is responsible for the incredible photo of the eclipse that accompanies this blog. Like everyone else around me, Guy was blown away by the thousands of “oohs and aahs and clapping that erupted from the crowd at totality.”
Twenty-four hours later, I took my first-ever helicopter ride through the beautiful Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, where the faces of presidents George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln are carved in Mount Rushmore. As breathtaking as it was to see this iconic memorial in person, the museum itself was also fascinating. While I am a history buff of sorts, I don’t think you need to be steeped in American history to be impressed with this extraordinary human endeavor.
On the plane back to Orlando, I couldn’t help but smile (actually it was more of a smirk), thinking that I had pulled off a dazzling daily double – starting with a solar sensation and finishing up with a visit to one of the most momentous man-made marvels. (Please note the overuse of alliteration.)
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