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Solar eclipse 2017: Anticipation builds as millions pack prime viewing spots

Millions of Americans are traveling to the 'path of totality,' where the moon will completely cover the sun. 

Carbondale, Ill., the home of Southern Illinois University, is promoting itself as the "Crossroads of America." 

A swath of the U.S. from Oregon to South Carolina was drawing a crowd Sunday in anticipation of the nation's first coast-to-coast, total solar eclipse in almost a century.

But just about everyone will be an astronomer for about two minutes on Monday.

Millions of Americans are traveling to the "path of totality." That's the path where the moon will completely cover the sun, and it will first reach the United States in the area of Salem, Ore., and sweep through a myriad of cities and towns on its way to Charleston.

Those peering at the sky from outside the golden path will see a partial eclipse as the moon covers part of the sun's disk.

South Carolina was expecting as many as 2 million visitors to watch the eclipse. It's the prime location for folks along the Eastern Seaboard, home to more than 100 million Americans. Charleston is the last big city that will see the total eclipse.

A Sunday flight from Washington to Charleston was packed with eclipse tourists. Chelsey Barrett of Greenbelt, Md., was traveling with a large family contingent. However, because of the gloomy forecast, they decided to make the three-hour drive to Greenville for a hopefully clear view.

Beach towns such as Edisto Beach, located about an hour southwest of Charleston, were seeing a boom in business. A group of friends from Maryland rented a house there for the week just to watch the eclipse.

"When we learned of the solar eclipse, the middle-age nerds among us were giddy with excitement," said Allison Leaver of Silver Spring, Md. "We couldn't wait for a trip to the beach together and the joy of inflicting true experiential learning on our nine teenagers.

"They're almost as thrilled as we are to be making the pilgrimage south for two minutes of total darkness," Leaver said.

Jenny Kelly, also of Silver Spring, said: "It's a long way to drive for two minutes of astronomical awesomeness."

Weiser, Idaho, was celebrating its lofty status on the "path of totality" with an eclipse festival. Patrick Nauman, festival chairman, said he expected 60,000 visitors for the event. He said he’s met people from New York, Maryland and even France.

“It's pretty awesome that they chose to come to Weiser," Nauman said. "It was pretty incredible to visit with them."

Bostonian Rob Mathis, 29, was spending a long weekend in Nashville with three friends. They were planning on watching the eclipse from the “Love and Unity Under One Sun” festival in North Nashville.

"The reason I wanted to be in a city is it's not just me being excited," Mathis said. "It's everyone around me being excited."

Nebraska was expecting more than 500,000 would-be astronomers from around the world for the two-minute solar extravaganza, the Omaha World-Herald reported. That's a big number for a state with fewer than 2 million residents.

Minneapolis residents Paul and Edie Auguston have been hunkering down in a campground near Alliance, Neb., since Thursday. Paul Auguston sheepishly admitted to the World-Herald that the couple expected a big crowd days in advance of the brief but historic spectacle.

“We thought there’d already be people here, and it was awful to find out that we were the nerdiest of the nerds," he said.

In Oregon, the Western-themed town of Sisters had been excited about the eclipse. Located on the edge of the path of totality, Sisters residents expected to be packed with visitors this weekend for the big event Monday. A wildfire put an end to that, shutting down nearby highways and prompting evacuations.

“A lot of people worked hard to get prepared for the eclipse and a few days ago there was excitement in the air,” said Sisters resident Kristan Collins, watching the fire from the edge of town. “But now that’s turned to a little bit of soberness.”

Contributing: Mike Reicher, The Tennessean, Natalie Shaver, KTVB in Idaho; Zach Urness, Salem, Ore., Statesman Journal