Here at the outpost, we have a keen interest in astronomical events. We stargaze with our telescope. We patiently watch meteor showers. We will make it a point to check out lunar eclipses. When we learned that a total solar eclipse would be crossing nearby, we made immediate plans to get in its path.
In the summer of 2016, we started comparing maps showing the path of totality with locations of state parks and other campgrounds. Our first choice, just down the highway, was booked, so we turned to a campground we had stayed at years before, Oconee State Park in South Carolina.
Oconee was a very nice park and we had good memories of our stay there. We never returned because it is a little too out of the way, making it cumbersome to get to. But on this occasion it was right in the path of totality and they still had a few sites left. We made our reservation and all that remained to do was wait.
Nearly a year later, we were on our way. To avoid any rush, we planned to arrive 2 days before the eclipse and would leave the day after. The trip down was mostly uneventful. We had some heavy traffic and saw the aftermath of a pretty bad accident. We stopped for lunch at a Cracker Barrel which delayed our arrival a bit. We finally pulled in at 5pm and got setup quickly.
Upon first seeing our site, we were a little concerned. It was adjacent to the campground host. And when I say ‘adjacent’, I do not mean ‘next to’. What I mean is that our site was practically within the campground host’s site. If I backed up too far, the back end of our camper would have been under their awning. Despite the odd configuration, we surprisingly liked the site. It was close to the dump station without being right next to it and it was near the other activities.
One nice thing about Oconee is that it has a lot to do. The camp store sells snacks like ice cream. There is a lake to swim in, though we do not swim in natural bodies of water. There is mini-golf, hiking trails, and even a barn with ping-pong tables. We brought our bikes and there were lots of opportunities to ride around.
We were surprised at how quiet it was at the campground. We have stayed at Kings Mountain state park when it was full and it is clear that it is full. It feels crowded and it is loud. Here we sat outside our camper in the afternoon and the loudest noises we heard were from nature.
On Sunday, we took a walk around the lake about the time that the eclipse would be the following day. We tried to scout a good location where we would be able to see everything. We found an out of the way shore that we thought would be perfect. When we returned to our site, however, we realized that we could see everything from right there. We did not need to go anywhere. We tested our eclipse glasses and watched the time and as long as the weather was good, we could enjoy the entire eclipse without leaving our site. Sweet!
The big day arrived on Monday. We set alarms on our phones so that we would not accidentally get distracted and miss some, or all, of the eclipse. You would think that there is no way we would, but we have a history of losing track of time. No worries though. By 12:45 we were outside and all set up. We donned our Oconee Eclipse 2017 tee-shirts that we had purchased the day before and we were ready to go.
We setup our stargazing binoculars on the tripod and laid a white piece of cardboard on the ground. The image of the sun projected onto the cardboard and allowed us to see everything without having to constantly use the glasses. We could even see sunspots. It was good for keeping tabs on the progress, though the glasses provided a much clearer picture. While we tried, it just was not possible to get a picture through the glasses.
As the eclipse progressed, we took note of the fact that light was getting dimmer. It wasn’t just getting darker. It was more like someone had swapped out a 60 watt bulb for a 40 watt bulb. We loved how the dappled light through the trees caused thousands of little eclipses to be projected on the ground and the side of our camper.
One of the most amazing things was that even with just a sliver of the sun visible, it was still clearly daytime. You would think that with most of the sun blocked, it would be almost dark, but it was not. It did not get dark until the actual totality arrived. When that moment of totality hit, it was like a switch being turned off.
This was where things got amazing. We could hear the cheers of everyone in the area as darkness hit. Watching the sun slowly disappear was neat, but the moment when it went to totality cannot be described adequately. ‘A black disk in the sky with an aura of light emanating from around it’, simply does not do it justice. We got some video and pictures, but even those do not convey the emotion of seeing something so rare.
Beyond the eclipse itself, we noticed that the frogs and bugs began their evening songs. We scrambled to get pictures and observe everything we could. Our videos are filled with the sounds of our voices proclaiming how amazing it is.
And, just like that, it was done. As we lined up for another picture, we could see the sun returning. A wave of applause from those in the campground and in the common area rushed through the air as though a concert had just concluded. It was an amazing two and a half minutes where all other concerns of the world were secondary. A large part of humanity was focused on this event and we shared it with them.
As soon as totality ended, we took a walk — it seemed few people were interested in watching the eclipse leave. We could still see the dappled light through the trees, though the crescents were facing the opposite direction. Within another two hours it was all over. The world did not end. It was simply an incredible experience that some only experience once in their lives, if at all.
Upon returning home we began planning where we would go to watch the next eclipse in the US in 2024. The countdown has begun.