SALEM (CBS SF) — The much anticipated Great American Eclipse was greeted with a roar Monday from the thousands who had gathered in every field, yard and building in central Oregon has Mother Nature put on a show.

Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses as the moon blotted out the sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century.

It promised to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with millions staking out prime viewing spots and settling into lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured.

The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began racing diagonally across the continent to South Carolina, with darkness lasting only about two to three minutes in any one spot.

“The show has just begun, people! What a gorgeous day! Isn’t this great, people?” Jim Todd, a director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, told a crowd of thousands at an amphitheater in Salem, Oregon, as the moon seemed to take an ever-bigger bite out of the sun and temperature soon dropped noticeably.

With 200 million people within a day’s drive from the path of totality, towns and parks braced for monumental crowds. Clear skies beckoned along most of the route, to the relief of those who feared cloud cover would spoil this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

“It’s like nothing else you will ever see or ever do,” said veteran eclipse-watcher Mike O’Leary of San Diego, who set up his camera along with among hundreds of other amateur astronomers gathered in Casper, Wyoming. “It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things.”

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