Total solar eclipse 2024

April 8, 2024.

viewing the total solar eclipse
Not sunset.

Photo album

Since we foolishly missed the total solar eclipse that came within a few miles of our house in 2017, we began planning to catch the next one. This year’s eclipse crossed many US states, giving us an array of options to choose from. Aaron wanted to find a meet-in-the-middle type spot so we could camp out with his sister and nieces. They’d be coming from North Carolina. He did some weather and geographic research and landed on northern Arkansas.

Planning

From that point, it was up to me and his sister to find a place to camp. Of course, even several months in advance, it was nearly impossible to find a site that wasn’t totally booked and/or charging an outrageous rate. It’s unbelievable what some people will pay to camp. Not I! I checked all the apps, zoomed in and out on the map a bunch of times and ultimately found a private ranch listed on Hipcamp (never used it? Here’s $10) that had room for two camper vans. And it was only $25/night, which is less than what most state and national parks charge! I frantically texted with the owner of the site and then with Aaron’s sister so we could secure our spots. With that big hurdle out of the way, I just had to figure out how to get there.

If you’ve followed the rest of the road trip to this point, you’ll recall that from Oregon we crossed down into California and Nevada, meandered around the southwest and then made a beeline across the midwest. I gave us about two weeks to get from Albuquerque to our campsite on the border of Missouri and Arkansas. That way we had time to enjoy the ride.

Sheep everywhere

We arrived at the ranch, where large, enclosed plots held many sheep. It was lambing season, so there were tons of new babies about. Several more were born while we were there! The owner of the ranch, who ripped around in his four-wheeler wearing a shirt that said “Sheep daddy,” excitedly let us know when the new babies were being born. We delighted in watching the animals is various states of learning how to walk. Then, we stood dumfounded as we saw lambs who were just wobbling to their feet in the morning burst across the fields in a full run by the afternoon.

BABIES!

There were just a few errands to do in town before the main event. After breakfast, we drove in to the local grocery store for last minute supplies. Back at the ranch, we arranged our chairs, poured lemonade and got our eclipse glasses out. We were in position an hour before totality, when the moon was scheduled to begin passing in front of the sun.

Eclipse time

I remembered this part from the two partial eclipses we’d seen in the past. Every few minutes, we put on our glasses and look up. The sun slowly disappeared more and more each time. Within minutes of totality, the air got noticeably cooler and the light got…weird. It’s hard to explain. People describe a “360 degree sunset” but to me it didn’t feel like that at all. The sky doesn’t go to total darkness and the light is not like a normal sunset. I’m no photographer, so I didn’t attempt to capture these fleeting moments with any seriousness. I preferred to experience it and hold on to the memories that way. Truly, an eclipse is something you must experience in person. The pictures are cool but they don’t really paint an accurate picture of what it’s like to be there.

Staring at the sun.

That being said, when totality arrived I didn’t bother taking pictures. I knew we only had a precious 4 minutes to stare at the sun. It was a really surreal moment. I remember the quiet, the chill in the air, the not-quite-right sense of lighting. We all looked to the sky, noting the red blotches on the edge of the sun that turned out to be solar prominences, not solar flares like we’d assumed. It’s been well established that astronomy is my least favorite science so I’m not surprised that I didn’t know that!

Taken at 1:56 pm

In a flash (literally), the sun reappeared from behind the moon’s dark cloak. We rushed to get our glasses back on. In minutes, the light and temperature got back to normal and it was just an ordinary hot, summery afternoon. Later that day we made some crafts, played games and hung out. It was the first time we’d all gotten together in years, so we wanted to spend every minute enjoying the opportunity.

Aftermath

Early the next morning, Aaron’s sister and kiddos had to start the long drive back home. We said our goodbyes, then moved the van to Mammoth Spring State Park. While Aaron got back to work, I took a slow stroll around the water, where I found a ton of birds, a muskrat and the coolest water snakes. I saw the first one as it was swimming across the water’s surface, making a series of beautiful S curves with its long body. Later, along the lakeshore, I saw tiny heads bobbing above the water. I followed the heads below the water, where I saw vertical snake bodies receding into the depths (video)! These were the first water snakes I think I’d ever seen, and I delighted in watching them as they waited patiently for prey. Or, perhaps they were just breathing in the pleasant morning air.

Muskrat at Mammoth Spring

All in all, I think a total solar eclipse should be on everyone’s bucket list. I’m not sure I’d go out of my way to plan to see another one, only because my bucket list is already SO long :). But I couldn’t be happier with how this trip turned out. We got to see the phenomenon, with beautiful weather, on a quiet farm with people we love. We didn’t have to deal with high prices, bad traffic, stressful air travel, nasty weather or any of the other obstacles that plague lots of eclipse-chasers. I’m happy to put this experience in my back pocket and carry on exploring the world and finding new things to learn about.

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