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'It was incredible': Montanans share experiences after traveling for totality

Posted at 7:10 AM, Apr 09, 2024

Many Montanans traveled hundreds of miles to make sure that they were in the path of totality during Monday's solar eclipse.

While the event ended after less than five minutes at all locations, the travelers said the trips were worth the mileage.

"It was incredible," said Billings resident Helen Hester in a web call interview Monday. "Everything we heard about happened."

Hester used the trip as a two-for-one: getting the chance to visit her new grandson in Atlanta, Georgia, and then driving the more than six hours to Evansville, Indiana. Hester and her husband Dave watched the eclipse at a zoo.

"People cheered, and there was the corona so it was really cool," Hester said. "And the animals reacted well. It was everything I thought it would be and more."

The Hesters' story is one of many examples where Montanans traveled to make sure they were in the path of totality. Belgrade resident Melanie Musson and her family made travel plans to Texas seven years ago after the last eclipse in 2017.

"Seven years ago, when I looked at where the best chance of clear skies, Texas was the place," Musson said. "We got a little nervous looking at the weather forecast."

Musson did begin to fear that the skies would be cloudy at the time of the eclipse, especially when she woke up Monday to gray skies.

"By the time it went into totality, we could see it just perfectly," Musson said. "I mean, it blew us away."

Billings National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Lester said it seemed that practically everywhere along the totality path cleared up in time for the big event.

"Really anywhere from here up to Illinois, I think a lot of folks got a good show," Lester said.

Lester drove more than 20 hours to a small town in Arkansas and said the distance traveled was worth it.

"It's super cool," Lester said. "You stand here and you can feel the air get cooler. We just wanted to find a good spot to pull over with a lot of room."

Lester wasn't the only Montanan in Arkansas. Nearby in Stone County, Arkansas, Lockwood residents Paul and Barb Sunderland visited their daughter Amanda Jordahl. Jordahl just happens to live right on the path of totality, so the couple visited her a couple weeks earlier than they usually do.

"It was just the luck of the draw," Jordahl said. "We just happened to live here."

"She lives here and she said, 'They're going to have the best view of it here,'" Barb responded. "So we just said, 'We'll come early. We can. We're retired.'"

That decision is one the Sunderlands certainly don't regret.

"It's pretty cool," Paul said. "You can actually see sunrise and sunset at the same time."

And while the next one won't be for another 20 years, many families, like the Mussons are already looking ahead to the next one.

"We're already talking about 2044," Musson said. "My kids will be all grown up. I'm like, well we're going to do this for multiple generations."