We’ve gathered expert viewing tips and a selection of nationwide events for the solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.
The Great American Eclipse has the United States in a flurry of excitement. Rightfully so, as it’s the first total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States in over 38 years, and not since 1918 has one gone coast to coast. There’s a catch, though: only 14 states are in the path of totality, where the moon will completely cover the light of the sun, unleashing twilight. The other states, as well as Canada and parts of Central and South America, Europe and Africa, will experience a partial eclipse. The privileged states in the path of totality are making the most of their position with unique offerings. They’re also preparing for a massive influx of eclipse-hungry tourists.
Preparing for Eclipse Tourism
At least 12.25 million people live inside the 60-to-70-mile-wide path of totality that goes through Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North and South Carolina, Oregon, Tennessee and Wyoming. For the solar eclipse, anywhere between 1.85 and 7.4 million are expected to visit, according to Great American Eclipse. If you think traffic on Thanksgiving weekend is bad, it likely won’t compare to what’s going to happen on and around eclipse day.
Oregon is planning for one million visitors. “We know there’s going to be more people in our state than just about any time in history,” Cory Grogan at the Oregon Office of Emergency Management told KGW. Dave Thompson, a spokesman for the Oregon Department of Transportation suggests people prepare as they would for a natural disaster: “Bring extra water, bring food. You need to be prepared to be able to survive on your own for 24 to 48 to 72 hours, just like you would in any sort of emergency.” The 6,000 residents of Madras, one of the 10 best viewing sites, are expecting 100,000 tourists. It’s been suggested that pregnant women with due dates near August 21 leave beforehand just in case they can’t get out.
Another highly rated spot, Weiser, Idaho, has a population of 5,500. It’s expecting up to 60,000 visitors, and inquiries have on occasion been demanding. For example, Kim Wendelsdorf, manager of the Weiser Chamber of Commerce, received a call asking for the phone number of a local parking garage so a spot could be reserved. She told the caller the town doesn’t have a parking garage — its tallest building is four stories. The caller responded by stating a parking garage should be built for the solar eclipse. “I said, ‘No, I’m sorry, but on the 22nd of August we will still be a town of 5,500, and we won’t need a parking garage,’” Wendelsdorf told The Spokesman-Review with a laugh. In addition to Americans, Weiser will welcome visitors from the U.K., Australia, Germany, Japan, Canada and Mexico. “I’m going to be really surprised if every yard in town doesn’t have at least one camper or tent,” resident Patrick Nauman said.
Since the path of totality follows a diagonal track across the United States, there are numerous places to travel to see the Great American Eclipse. But is it really worth the trip?
Viewing the Great American Eclipse
For those planning to view any solar eclipse, the most important thing to know is that you can’t look directly at it because the direct rays of the sun can permanently damage your eyes. The easiest option is to wear eclipse glasses (available online or at local vendors) — your polarized sunglasses are not an acceptable substitute. As Bill Nye told Newsweek, “This eclipse will be so fascinating. I’m telling you, you’ll be amazed. So the danger is, you just stare at it, you get transfixed…people just don’t look away.” But when the moon completely covers the sun — the totality phase — you can take the glasses off, according to Fred Espenak, the NASA astrophysicist known as Mr. Eclipse. “It’s [then] a hundred percent safe to look at the sun,” he told Space.com.
As for whether it’s worth making your way to the path of totality, the consensus is “yes.” Nye believes a total solar eclipse “gives you tremendous insight into your place in the cosmos. So everybody who has an opportunity to see or experience an eclipse…should take it.” Mr. Eclipse agrees: “If there’s any way you can get into the path of totality…do it. Take the day off. Take the kids out of school. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most people to see a total eclipse, and it is one of the grandest sights in all of nature.” And as Nye notes, it’s easily accessible to a great deal of people, given the United States’ excellent infrastructure. A sound word of advice, though, is to avoid areas with light pollution, such as big cities, because it will lessen the view.
In the Path of Totality
The cosmos will be working in everyone’s favor with the Great American Eclipse taking place during summer, when the weather is ideal across the United States for outdoor festivities. Especially since some hotels in the path of totality sold out far in advance, in some cases years, so camping quickly became a go-to route for eclipse hunters. In order to make the solar eclipse more memorable for visitors, those in the path of totality have a variety of unique experiences available.
In Jackson, Wyoming, Green River & Bridge-Teton Outfitters is offering a City Slickers-esque horseback adventure, leading guests into Bridger-Teton National Forest for an unobstructed 360-degree view of the total solar eclipse. An added bonus: learning mountain skills! A family-friendly event is taking place at Finding Your Neverland in Lyons, Oregon: Pirate Adventure Camp. It will feature an archery tournament, axe and knife throwing, a treasure hunt, theatrical performances and more.
As the “point of greatest eclipse,” Hopkinsville, Kentucky, decided to join the comic-convention trend with Eclipse Con. It takes place just before the Great American Eclipse, with celebrities and vendors from cartoons, comics, anime, cosplay and science fiction. And in Nashville, Tennessee, the Grand Ole Opry will have a star-studded concert the night before the solar eclipse, featuring Little Big Town, Wynonna, Darius Rucker and others, plus live music on its plaza stage August 21.
For those desiring an alcoholic beverage (because it’s always five o’clock somewhere), Eclipse the Hops in Oregon’s Willamette Valley will take guests to an eclipse viewing party and craft beer tasting. In Beatrice, Nebraska, Tall Tree Tastings has commemorative eclipse wine — 82117 — available, a perfect accompaniment for a picnic.
Weiser, Idaho, is hosting Eclipse Fest, which includes a wine festival, classic car show, street carnival and golf tournament. On the morning of the solar eclipse, its all-you-can-eat pancake feed should really draw the crowds. Let’s hope, though, that participants don’t fall into a food coma and miss the eclipse altogether.
Regardless of how someone experiences the Great American Eclipse, it’s bound to be memorable. Just remember: you don’t need a ticket, as The Onion teases with its warning of counterfeit tickets being sold. Looking at the sky (with eclipse glasses on!) is completely free. You can also watch a live stream via NASA all day long from anywhere in the world.