CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The least populated state in the nation has seen total eclipses before but likely never as many people.
The amount of traffic during Monday’s eclipse suggests Wyoming may have temporarily doubled its population of 585,000 — as some predicted it would.
The Wyoming Department of Transportation counted 536,000 more vehicles than usual on Wyoming’s roads and highways — a 68 percent increase.
“I have no doubt that we had hundreds of thousands of visitors,” department spokesman Doug McGee said Tuesday. “I would guess that yesterday was the most people that ever have been in Wyoming at one time.”
The coast-to-coast total eclipse crossed a strip of Wyoming from the majestic Teton Range to the Torrington feedlots near Nebraska.
If the traffic count did indeed top the estimated 1.1 million vehicles, the state for a time would have surpassed Vermont, Alaska, the Dakotas, Delaware, Montana and Rhode Island to rank 43rd in population.
Traffic began picking up over the weekend and turned into a northbound tidal wave early Monday before the eclipse.
In the Cheyenne area, folks often complain about the traffic in Colorado. Suddenly that traffic was upon them.
The Colorado Front Range has a population of about 5 million — 10 times the number of people in Wyoming. Traffic from that area gave the typically desolate lanes of Interstate 25 the look of an urban freeway.
After the morning eclipse, the southbound lanes got hit with people heading home.
Smartphones used to document the eclipse soon buzzed with calls from friends and family members stuck for hours in bumper-to-bumper traffic in remote areas. Decisions were made: Head home immediately and hope for the best, or wait for traffic to ease up.
Either choice meant slow going. From minutes after the eclipse until well past midnight, traffic was bad from Casper to Loveland, Colorado, according to McGee.
“What really caused a lot of congestion issues, our post-eclipse traffic hit the end-of-workday traffic in Colorado and those combined to create a pretty lengthy logjam,” McGee said.
Few accidents were reported, however, and people lined up at gas stations seemed more cheerful than aggravated.
The bump to tourism — Wyoming’s second-largest industry after fossil-fuel extraction — is being tallied by the Wyoming Office of Tourism, agency spokeswoman Tia Troy said.
“I would say it was a picture perfect day,” Troy said. “It really put Wyoming in this fantastic national and international spotlight.”
Wyoming’s previous total eclipse was in 1918. The next will come in 2106.
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