In this post, I’m planning to both tell you what my experience viewing the total eclipse this August was like, and convince you to plan to see the one in 2024 if you can (and especially if you didn’t see this one), or another one if you don’t live in the US.
We decided to go see the eclipse fairly early on this year, but it took several months for our plans to coalesce. Initially we were going to go to a state we hadn’t been to before, to up our state count in the family competition and to check out somewhere new. Our leading ideas were Omaha or Nashville.
However, when we talked to some friends about it they suggested maybe we could do a road trip down to Charleston. The idea stuck, even though the people ended up changing. We hadn’t been to Charleston before, and there were a lot of great restaurants we wanted to try there (yes, always a factor). More on that in a future post.
We were able to plan everything early enough to actually get a hotel room. We looked at maps on Sunday night and determined our ideal spot to view the eclipse: Santee National Wildlife Refuge, about an hour northwest of Charleston. It was right in the middle of totality, and better yet, right off I-95. We were deeply concerned about the traffic – we had to drive at least 7.5 hours back to DC after the eclipse, and totality started close to 3 pm. We all, stupidly enough, were planning to go to work the next day.
The morning dawned cloudy and hot. We drove over to Santee, picked up sandwiches, and parked just off the interstate on the side of a road where lots of others had started to park.
We walked into the wildlife refuge, and found a spot on the grass near the visitor’s center. Plenty of people were already there, and many of them had huge telescopes. We were pretty early, and hung out for a while until the partial eclipse started.
Thankfully, the clouds started going away just in time for the partial eclipse. As the sun got more and more covered, we kept peeking up at it through our eclipse glasses. One gentleman with a telescope was letting other people look through it, and so we did. I saw sunspots, which was really cool.
Closer to totality, we decided what we would do is go over to where the car was parked and watch the eclipse from there, to ensure a quick getaway. We could still see fine from there. We even turned the car around in its spot so we wouldn’t waste precious seconds backing out. Like I said, we were paranoid about that traffic.
And after totality, it turned out that all that was a great idea. We left right after the totality ended, and stayed just ahead of the terrible traffic (we watched Google Maps, feeling victorious), and got home earlier than we expected.
Why You Should See a Total Solar Eclipse
But it’s the experience of totality that was the most amazing part of all of this. Friends back home only got a partial eclipse and reported it being fairly cool. But the totality was absolutely awe-inspiring.
As the sun was more and more covered by the moon, the light changed from early afternoon light to more what it looks like in the late afternoon, with an added weird jittery effect to the shadows. I saw pictures later of crescent-shaped shadows, but we didn’t really notice that. As it got right before totality, the sky was pink like at sunset and darkness began to fall.
Looking through eclipse glasses, it went from a little sliver of light, to tiny beads of light, to total blackness. At that point, the glasses come off, and what we saw then was so beautiful and incredible it brought me to tears. I’m sure you’ve seen pictures of the sun in a total eclipse – the sky is dark, and the sun is a black circle surrounding by wispy white light.
But even though I’ve always found those pictures really cool, it was nothing like seeing it in person. I kind of couldn’t believe it was really happening, and was filled with a sensation of awe. It felt so amazing. Wonder poured through me. It was a deeply spiritual experience. It was, truly, the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.
It only lasted slightly less than two minutes. And yet, those couple of minutes were absolutely worth roughly 16 hours of driving. As humans, we can see cool things every day – just look at the internet. But nothing in my life has compared to the wonder of nature, to this natural phenomenon that has been fully explained by science yet still your eyes don’t believe is a real thing that is happening.
And that’s why I hope you can all get a chance to view a total solar eclipse. It is truly astounding. If you only go once, I’d recommend not trying too hard to take pictures (you won’t get good ones without a lot of specialized equipment – above is what my phone could do, which is trash). Just experience it. It’s absolutely worth it.
The next total solar eclipse to be visible in the US will be on April 8, 2024. You can already start planning, if you want – here are some of the best cities for viewing it. I’m already considering Austin.
Have you seen a total solar eclipse?