2024 Eclipse vacation

You likely know by now that I traveled to see the “Great American Eclipse” a couple weeks back. If you didn’t, well, you know now.

I planned this trip about a year ago, or at least I started planning it then. I had seen several partial eclipses before going at least as far back as the early 90’s; like many people I figured a total eclipse wouldn’t be very different. However, after the eclipse in 2017 I heard from several trusted sources that this impression was absolutely wrong. I had considered traveling for that one, but I was already doing a lot of other travel that year for various reasons and thought my work was “very important”. Hearing what I missed, I definitely regretted that choice. The next one wouldn’t be for 7 years, so I resolved to make an effort at that time.

2024 seemed like a very long way off back then, but of course most of 2020 through about 2022 kind of blurred together. Other stuff has happened over the last couple years that has changed my perspective a bit too, so on April 8, 2023 I picked out a place I wanted to go and tried to reserve it. It didn’t work.

After a few moments of despair I went to bed, and the next day I tried again, successfully this time. As the time approached I decided to tack on some other stuff before and after the eclipse, and I’m going to go ahead and talk about that here as well. If you want to just hear about the experience of the eclipse though, I will try to remember to turn these words into a link to that section (otherwise just scroll till you see something that looks like it might be it, I’ll do section headings or something).

I’m not a writer and I think this reflects that, but I’ll do my best.

First stop: Fort Wayne

Photo album link

I had chosen a state park in the middle of Nowhere, Ohio (otherwise known as “any part of Ohio”, ha!) and a 4+ hour solo drive didn’t appeal to me. I decided to stop in Fort Wayne on my way there for no particular reason other than being roughly in the middle.

As is often the case with me, my packing wasn’t done until well into the day I wanted to leave. In this case it wasn’t that big a deal as I had nobody and nothing specific waiting for me and only about 2 hours to drive.

I stayed at a hotel that was very much a generic hotel with no noteworthy features. On the drive in, I passed the Sweetwater campus, a large music retailer that I knew about and heard good things about. After checking in and dropping some things off at my room I headed back to check Sweetwater out.

I was expecting it to be basically just a popular music store, on the order of a Guitar Center but maybe a little bigger (since Sweetwater is mainly known online but I expected their main store to be a little more impressive), but I was really blown away by what I saw. It was more like a small campus, I guess is the best way to describe it. There was a small section by the main doors with some company-related historical displays, a small arcade with a couple of games and pool and ping-pong tables, a big cafeteria, at least one concert hall, practice / lesson rooms, recording studios, a medical clinic, salon and spa, and yes a pretty good sized music store. I bought nothing because while the idea of getting a new instrument appealed to me, I had finished packing my car just hours before and didn’t have room where it wouldn’t get damaged without rearranging everything. If I’m ever back in the city though I’ll definitely be stopping in again.

The next morning I packed back up and went into the city for a bit. After lunch and a cider at a crowded pub I went to the Fort Wayne Museum of Art, one of the higher rated attractions. For a small city like Fort Wayne, I honestly wasn’t expecting too much, and kind of as I expected a lot of the galleries were taken up by relatively unknown local artists and local high school art class projects. Not that these can’t be good, of course, but it didn’t quite live up to the art museums I’ve seen in Chicago, Seattle, and DC. They did have a fun display of classic toys.

What was impressive was their glass wing. They have one of the largest collections of Studio Glass around, and it was duly impressive. I recognized works from Chihuly, but only because I saw a ton of them in Seattle. It was impressive enough that I forgot to take pictures of anything except one piece; you can see that one in the link at the start of this section.

Second stop: Mohican State Park

Photo album link

I will discuss everything about the park in this section; while I saw the eclipse at the park, it deserves a dedicated section at least.

Next I was on the road again heading to Mohican State Park. I had picked this place based on three very basic criteria: (1) In the path of the eclipse; (2) Cabins available, not just tent sites (a year out there’s no way to know what the weather will be like); (3) Not too far into the state.

As it is I now know I could’ve stayed longer in Fort Wayne, seen the eclipse, and gotten home earlier and with less driving; but I’m glad I did it the way I did.

Ohio gets a lot of flak from me for being flat, boring, and a pain to drive through, and that was certainly true for most of my trip. However, Mohican State Park is located in one of the northernmost areas that has actual geography that hasn’t been scraped flatter than a pancake by glaciers. You can even tell from satellite images of the state:

There was a little bit of up-and-down back-roads hill driving as I got close. That isn’t something I do often but I was glad to have a chance to practice it a bit somewhere less scary than Pike’s Peak.

I got there fairly late compared to my original plan, I think after 5; the lady at the gate checking people in said they knew they had a few more out-of-state guests on the way and I was one of them.

The campground was busy. I’d say about 90% full, possibly more. Arriving as I did one day before the eclipse though it was clear why – people from out of state, or less favorable locations in the state, wanted to witness it here.

The amenities kind of blew me away. In my younger days I was a bit more adventurous – tent camping in the snow, backpacking on Isle Royale – but I’m not that young any more, so I certainly have mixed feelings about finding out that the majority of the campground had free WiFi. Granted it was kind of bogged down the first couple days I was there, but that’s not something I had ever seen before. There was a pool in the central area, although it looked like they were still preparing that for the summer season (understandable in early April).

The “cabin” that I had rented was more like a small house. I was expecting it to exceed my needs already (I had seen that it could sleep 6 people; I hadn’t been sure a year ago if I would be going by myself or possibly inviting others with), but I wasn’t expecting central air conditioning, forced air heating, everything fully finished, a full kitchen (the only thing it was lacking, and I mean only, would be a dishwasher, but honestly that’s more of a luxury; it had pots, pans, utensils, six full place settings of dishes, cups, and silverware); a bathroom with a shower; and of course, out front towards the river, a fire pit and picnic table. I managed to cook 2 meals a day over the fire, which isn’t something I can usually manage.

There was a river running through the campground. To get to the cabins you had to go over it. It was pretty clear that it was deeper and faster than usual; I had heard that there were flooding concerns in parts of Ohio, and I was a little concerned there might be trouble (since you had to cross the river to get to the cabins, and there was no other road out of that area); but in the end it was fine. The river is called the “Clear Fork River”, but it was definitely not clear while I was there, rather very muddy-colored and opaque.

The first night I walked to the camp store and back just to see what was there. I found they had ice cream, as well as beef apparently grown at a different park. I hadn’t walked in there with the intention of getting either, but of course I walked out with both (along with some post cards that have since reached their recipients and a couple other things).

The first full day I was there was the day of the eclipse. I ended up walking around a ton just within the campground, over 8 miles. Unfortunately that resulted in blisters, so while the park seemed to have some great hiking trails I would’ve liked to have checked out, I had to leave them for some possible future visit.

Predictably, by that evening a lot of people were leaving. Quite a few stayed another day, but the eclipse was Monday and I didn’t leave till Wednesday. By then it was virtually deserted; a few RV’s and trailers, though it didn’t look like they were all occupied. At this time of year, though, that’s pretty much to be expected.

On my second full day there I did get in my car and visit some other parts of the park. The park is centered around a river valley with a gorge, and there are some areas with good overlooks of it. I stopped at a couple of these and took some photos, but this time of year isn’t the best for it; a lot of the trees still haven’t grown their leaves back. I saw what some of these areas look like in the fall on the post cards I bought, and I have to say that seems like the right time to visit. Obviously this trip wasn’t about the fall colors, though. There was also a historic fire tower and a memorial shrine located fairly near the campground; I stopped at both of those.

Later in the evening I cooked the steak, some baked beans, and some onions. The steak and onions came out good, the baked beans not so much. Overall pretty good though. Campfires are my favorite way to cook steak; not because it necessarily tastes any better, it just means that I’ve had enough time to build a fire and am not in a hurry. Also I’m usually more tired than after a typical work day (hunger being the best spice).

One of the nice things about the cabin was its covered porch. The first day I was there I picked up a bunch of kindling; when I was done starting fires for the day I put the rest in there. When it rained overnight I was glad I had, since all the sticks on the ground were soaking but the pile I had brought in was good to go. I guess plentiful kindling is one of the benefits of going “camping” so early in the year; usually if I go on trips like this it’s not till September and everything’s been picked over all summer.

I did not get up to much at the park during my last day there; mostly just packing up and taking a couple more walks around. Unfortunately the camp store was closed; I would’ve liked to have gotten a couple more steaks to bring with me. I suppose it’s one more thing I can do if I ever go back there again. It was raining, too, so that kind of put a damper on things.

Overall I can highly recommend Mohican State Park if you’re looking for camping in that general area. While my experience was clearly pretty far removed from actual camping, it looks like they have extensive trails and backpacking campsites as well. I will certainly be keeping that in mind if that’s something I try again in the near future.

The Eclipse

How do I even describe it?

It was indescribable. I am unable to describe it.

Ok. I’ll give it a shot.

You’ve probably already heard others describe total eclipses. I know I had, and I had usually thought that the descriptions were exaggerated. After the eclipse in 2017, though, I heard about it from a few trusted sources and saw some videos; I realized I’d had missed out because I figured it was important to be at work (it wasn’t) and because I was busy with a lot of travel and other stuff going on (I was, for example that day was the day I finished moving to a new house, and the next week I was in Europe for a week). But after hearing and seeing how it was I decided that I’d go to the next one I could, and that was the one this year. 2024 seemed a long way off then, but the years have really gone by quickly.

Anyway. You’ve probably heard people describe eclipses before, and thought it was exaggerated. I will start by saying it’s true, all of it. It lived up to my expectations, which isn’t something I say very often (not positively, at least).

It starts with nothing. Just a normal day. But you know the moon’s starting to touch the sun, and you’ve got these silly glasses just for looking at it, so you put them on and take a peek – sure enough the sun you see has a bite taken out of it. You check again a while later and it’s a bigger chunk. Eventually you notice the sunlight is getting dimmer; it’s kind of like when there’s clouds in front of the sun, but the shadows it casts are still just as sharp as ever. You think it’s your mind at first but pretty soon it’s clear it isn’t. It gets dimmer, dimmer, kind of but not really like sunset, since again, the shadows are still sharp, they’re not changing direction, and the color of the light isn’t changing, it’s just that there’s less of it. It really isn’t like the sun going down but that’s really the closest thing to it you’ve ever seen. You check the sun again with the funny glasses, and it’s down to a sliver. You notice the crescent-shaped patterns in some of the shadows of the leaves on the trees. It gets darker.

You know what’s coming, or you think you do. You know what time it’s supposed to start because you looked it up a year ago, again a week ago when you were packing, and three more times earlier today. “Totality” is just a couple minutes away and it’s already very dark; the lights on the cabins are coming on because they think it’s evening. But the shadows aren’t like in the evening, and it’s barely 3 in the afternoon. You take a look through the glasses again and the sun’s almost gone. You think it can’t get any darker at this time in the day. You start to feel… something. Something’s not right.

At this point you think it’s pretty cool, but is it all that different from the partial ones you’ve seen before? Only by degree, right? But you know that it’s not over yet.

And then it happens. The world goes dark – you thought it was dark already, but now it’s really dark. Dark like the night. You take the silly glasses off, you’re not going to need them for a couple minutes at least. You hear the cheers – for me, from about half a mile away. It’s literally as dark as night in the middle of the afternoon, but it’s not clouds; the sky is clear. And you look up.

There are lots of pictures of this last eclipse already out there. Most of them are better than what I was able to get, but I did get one pretty good one, which mostly captures what you see:

(The corona is bigger in this picture than I remember seeing in person; again, I took this pretty quickly and didn’t know what I was doing, but it did kind of come out so I’m sharing it).

I said it’s as dark as night, but obviously that’s not a clear description. Night comes gradually along with the changing of the color of the sunlight and its angle. An eclipse comes suddenly, and the sun is actually still there; it’s just not lighting you anymore. You can see its atmosphere, though, and it’s freaky. I heard that there were planets and stars visible, but to be honest I didn’t look for them so I can only kind of recall seeing a few stars.

The feeling I mentioned before is back, and strong. I believe humans didn’t evolve to understand an eclipse; they don’t happen often enough for it to be selected for. Academically you know what’s going on, but it’s so far out of the normal experience that it’s unnerving.

I obviously can’t speak for anyone else here, but I knew exactly what was happening, what to expect, and that it would all be over soon, but even that wasn’t enough to prevent feeling a sense of dread and awe. Someone who didn’t know what was happen would very easily think that this was the end of the world, that the gods had been angered and had blacked out the sun (or maybe set it on fire, if the corona was as active as it was this year; or that the sun had been replaced with the eye of an angry god). I could feel that too. It’s a rare thing, so I allowed myself to feel the dread and experience wondering “what if this really is the end?” for just a moment – but of course I knew better. This eclipse had been predicted centuries ago, and happened right on time. But the fact that you’re living on a sphere, orbiting another sphere, with a third sphere orbiting you, with the bright sphere and the small one just the right combination of sizes and distances that one could just barely block the other, suddenly just isn’t an abstract concept; it’s frightfully real. It was only for a moment, but it was worth thinking about (compared to my normal approach of ignoring feelings if they’re not helpful).

Isaac Asimov wrote a story (“Nightfall”) about a society on a planet that was only dark for one day every 2,000 years. The planet was in a system with 6 different stars, and it was never fully in the dark; but it had a very large moon, and periodically there would be only one star visible and the moon would block it. I have to wonder if Asimov (or Robert Silverberg, who expanded it into a novel) saw a solar eclipse and experienced the same awe that I did, because after seeing it the madness they describe makes a bit more sense. In that story the people never knew darkness and their eclipse lasted half a day, so it’s a big difference from the 3 minutes or so that I (someone who sees night every day) had.

And as suddenly as it started, totality was over. The sun gets a “diamond ring” appearance when it starts peeking over the limb of the moon; one spot bright where it’s visible behind the moon, and a much fainter ring around the moon from the corona. You don’t want to look at it directly anymore, but you can put the glasses back on and check it out. For the next hour or so things get steadily brighter again until it’s back to being a normal day, although after a minute or two you don’t even notice how dim it is anymore.

I really cannot overstate how cool it is. You should not dismiss it as being “just a little darker”. The next one going through a substantial part of the US is in 2045, so you’ve got time to prepare; there’s also one in Australia and New Zealand in 2028, and… well we’ll see, that’s far enough out I’m not going to make any plans yet.

I had set up 3 different cameras (2 old cell phones + current cell phone) to record it, which is part of the reason I was so far away from most of the rest of the people at the park. That might’ve been a mistake, but the choice was really being surrounded by strangers or being by myself – I picked by myself. Anyway, here’s the videos if you want to check them out. By the time all of them were started the eclipse had already started and totality was getting close; I wasn’t going to leave them going for over an hour just to get the very gradual dimming.

First one: shot with my current phone pointing at the river, unfortunately stops right after totality. I used this camera shortly after I realized I’d stopped the video to get that picture of the eclipse, though.

Video 1

Second one: shot with a slightly older phone with a 360 degree camera attached. You might be able to see me in it at some point. If you’re on mobile you can move your phone around to change the point of view, if you’re on desktop you should be able to click and drag

Video 2

Last one was set up and just left, pointing in no particular direction. Recorded on a 10-year-old phone which thought it was the wrong date and time (which actually delayed me posting this because I wanted to figure out how to fix that before uploading it, not that it ultimately mattered). This is probably my favorite one overall even if it’s lower quality.

Video 3

And here’s a small photo album so you can see how I had it all set up, along with the one good picture and two not good ones that I got of the eclipse itself.

Aside: Why Ohio?

As it turns out, Ohio was the place to be for the eclipse. I didn’t pick out out of foresight though.

A year out, Ohio was actually one of the worst-looking places to see the eclipse. Shortly after I booked the cabin, I found out that there were a bunch of maps for typical cloud cover that time of year. If I’d seen them, I might have chosen to fly to Texas instead. I’ve been there once so it wouldn’t be too terrible to go again. Ohio would generally expect heavy cloud cover so I was worried I might not see it very well at all (plus I’d be in Ohio, ew), while Texas is generally expected to have clear skies.

As it turned out there were storms in Texas, and Ohio had some flooding, but besides the higher and faster river I didn’t even notice. The day of the eclipse was pretty clear.

My choice really came down to two preferences: I didn’t want to go too far, and I wanted to experience it somewhere in nature. Indiana would’ve been closer, but I didn’t find any parks that I was sure would be in the path (I’m sure there were some but I didn’t look too far). Ohio, as it turns out, has a pretty good state park system. Overall everything turned out very well.

Third Stop: Toledo

Photo album link

A few weeks before leaving for the trip I started looking for places I could stop on the way there and back, and the two big-ish cities I found were Fort Wayne and Toledo. I’ve driven past Toledo many times and this time I decided I’d stop there for two nights.

It was rainy when I got into town, so I found some indoor activities. I went to another hobby shop, and then a mall, and finally got some groceries. Unfortunately the refrigerator in my hotel room froze everything inside, which was kind of annoying and spoiled some of those groceries. I looked up the manual and tried to set it warmer but that didn’t help.

The next day I chilled a bit before checking out an antique mall nearby. It had a lot of stuff but not very much that I actually cared to get. Apparently lots of video games are antiques now – and some adult magazines? (including issues younger than me, so I guess maybe I’m an antique now too).

After lunch I went to the Toledo Museum of Art. As with the one in Fort Wayne, I figured it as a fairly small city it wouldn’t be too big, but I was wrong. Again it wasn’t quite the same scale as the one in Chicago, but size-wise it was probably almost as big as the one I went to in DC, and it had a lot of cool things. One whole building has the cloister from a medieval abbey; a big open room with a huge piano (apparently a concert space); a couple spaces for rotating exhibits that I skipped; and all kinds of art from recent to ancient Egypt. I don’t know if I’d necessarily recommend going out of your way for it, but if you’re already in Toledo for something or passing by and looking for somewhere to stop, I can definitely recommend it.

And that was it. The next day I finished packing up, I threw out the frozen food from the fridge and loaded the frozen drinks into the cooler, and drove home. It was Friday and I was ready to be back at my own house.


The eclipse was worth it. What everyone says really is true, it is magnificent and awe-inspiring and creeps out your brain just a little bit.

I’m glad I took the extra time off instead of my original plan of going back to work by Thursday. I was feeling kind of burnt out before and having a week to cool off was good. I don’t know what the rest of the year holds yet, but I have plenty more time off left if I need it.

Thanks for reading the lots of words I put here. Let me know if you’ve got any questions. Let me know if you saw this or another eclipse too. Let me know how sorry you am that I spent so much time in Ohio (just kidding, kind of). If you don’t believe me or think I’m being silly, don’t let me know, I already know.