David Baron was shirtless on a beach in Aruba on Feb. 26, 1998, watching the sky go black.
It was the Boulder resident's first total solar eclipse, a celestial event in which the moon passes in front of the sun, transforming day into night for minutes. Baron watched the spectacle through extra-dark eclipse glasses for 174 seconds.
The blue sky was ripped away, and suddenly planets and stars were visible.
"It was mind-bogglingly beautiful, emotionally moving and, I dare say, spiritual," Baron said. "And I'm a science guy. I'm not a woo-woo mystical kind of person."
Those three minutes transformed Baron's life, turning him into an eclipse hunter traversing the globe in search of the moon's shadow. He also decided to write a book to be published when the U.S. saw another coast-to-coast total solar eclipse.
"I've been looking forward to Aug. 21, 2017, ever since," Baron said. "The last 19 years."
His book, "American Eclipse: A Nation's Epic Race to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World," is based on the 1878 total solar eclipse in the Wild West. Baron will speak Thursday at Library 21c.
"It's an opportunity to educate folks not only about astronomy, but also about history," Baron said. "Solar eclipses have been important to American history."
In the late 1800s, the world was only starting to unravel the mysteries of the sun. The U.S. was a rising industrial power, sure, but it wasn't respected in most intellectual fields, he said. His book follows some scientific expeditions racing to see the total solar eclipse.
"This was a chance for American scientists to show what they could do."
Perhaps the most dramatic story involves Pikes Peak and Cleveland Abbe, the first chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service. Abbe climbed to the top of Pikes Peak to view the solar eclipse in July 1878, enduring snowstorms and altitude sickness so severe it nearly killed him, Baron said.
Like the characters he's studied, Baron still is captivated by eclipses. He has seen five and booked a hotel room in Jackson Hole, Wyo., three years ago in preparation for this year's eclipse. He said this opportunity shouldn't be missed.
"Everyone in Colorado Springs should be in Wyoming or Nebraska on Aug. 21," he said.