Monday, August 21, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse – Hopkinsville, Kentucky

We have always wanted to see a total solar eclipse and this was the year to do it.  The zone of totality stretched from Salem, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina.  However, the spot with the greatest duration of totality of any place on Earth (2 minutes, 40 seconds) is Hopkinsville, Kentucky.
We had made our lodging reservations at the Days Inn Elizabethtown many months ago so we would be certain to have a room.  Because we made lodging arrangements so early before rooms were booked up we were able to get a room with two double beds for $80.  We also arranged for a viewing spot at the Greater Cumberland Baptist Church so we would be sure to have a place to park and a grassy area to put lawn chairs and to view the eclipse.  Our parking spot and a 15X15 grassy area cost $20.
Mary using a pinhole viewer
We left on Sunday morning at 6 am and drove to Finnell Pike to do some outside chores.  We chopped small trees and ran the trimmer with the saw blade to clear brush around the lagoon.  The temperature was miserable in the mid-90s and not much breeze but we were able to clear over a fourth of the area in a couple of hours of intense work.  Because there was so much poison ivy in the brush we had to wear long clothes which made the heat even worse.  By noon we were tired and ready for a shower and lunch.
Ian using eclipse glasses
After a quick McDonalds meal we picked up Emily & Ian to head to Hopkinsville.  From Georgetown, the drive was only a few hours but we made a short side trip to outlet malls near Shelbyville.  Mary & Emily were able to get shoes for $10-$15 each and Ian picked up a Columbia shirt for $6 and a Fossil wallet for $19.  We were at the Day’s Inn in Elizabethtown a little before 6 pm.  Our room was clean and quiet although pretty minimal.  We were there only long enough to go online to find the best eateries in the area.  Among the top picks was Mark’s Feed Store specializing in some great barbecue.  Mary had a brisket salad, Ian and I had brisket sandwiches and Emily had a lemon pepper chicken meal.  While we were all happy with our meals, everyone thought that Em’s fish was the pick of the evening.  We split some buttermilk pie which was quite tasty.  We returned to the room for cribbage before turning in for the night.
Our group at watching as totality approaches
We were awake early on Monday and went to the Day’s Inn office for coffee and tea then checked out to get on the road.  We stopped for breakfast at a McDonalds in Leitchfield, Kentucky then continued on to Hopkinsville.  When we arrived the town was buzzing but wasn’t overly crowded so you couldn’t get around.  There were a lot of street vendors for food, water and souvenirs but there was still parking and a good flow of traffic through the streets.  We went by Kelly Station Park for a brief event cache then went to the Greater Cumberland Baptist Church to set up for the eclipse viewing.
About 50% eclipse
We were greeted by many volunteers from the church who directed us to parking and where we could set up lawn chairs.  A group of amateur astronomers were set up near us and had some serious solar telescopes.  We were able to look at the sun and see tremendous detail before and during the eclipse.  We had pinhole viewers and eclipse glasses but these scopes were great.  A little after noon a tiny bit of the sun was becoming obscured because of the moon and over the next hour the sun got more and more blocked.  There were some odd things that started happening as totality approached.  Colors didn’t render to the eye as they do on most days.  It is impossible to describe but it was almost like looking at old photos where the colors were not quite right.  
As the light dimmed we felt like it was dusk but our shadows weren’t long.  Birds began to roost and the dog day cicadas were singing.  Emily made the most accurate comment when she said that the sky looked like a 360 degree sunset.  Totality was something completely unique.  The sun was completely blacked out by the moon but the corona was exposed.  We were able to safely remove the eclipse glasses and look at the eclipse for over two minutes.  The temperature noticeably dropped from the mid-90s only a few minutes earlier.  There was a stillness as everyone stared upward.  When the moon began to move away and the sun was no longer in totality there were fireworks and people cheering.  Birds flew from their roosts and people put their eclipse glasses back on.  As the sun returned to normal we, like most others, began to pack up and prepare for a tip home.
We remarked at how well prepared Hopkinsville was for the huge influx of the at least 150,000 visitors who came to the town of 30,000.  There were plenty of bathrooms and Porta-Pottys in town.  Many food trucks were there to feed people and the police were out to direct traffic out of town to make sure that visitors got safely on their way.  We were surprised that while heavy, traffic moved quite well. . . until we got out of town on the Pennyrile Parkway.  We traveled about 10 miles per hour for much of our time on the Pennyrile and Western Kentucky Parkways.  At one point we took 6 hours to go 60 miles.  We were hot, tired and frustrated.  There were few places along the rural drive to get off and buy food, use a bathroom or get fuel.  Even if there were places, we would have been reluctant to get off the highway.  Dinner was gas station food near Central City, Kentucky.  The available offerings were very limited but we made the best of it and got back underway.  We were past Elizabethtown before we were able to drive much more than 20 miles per hour on the expressway.  It was around 2 am when we dropped Emily & Ian off in Georgetown and nearly 5 am when we got home ourselves.  We went straight to bed for a quick power nap, awaking around 6:20 to shower, dress for work and return the rental car to the Barboursville Enterprise. 
Even though the drive back home was miserable, the experience was unbelievable.  Seeing a total solar eclipse was indescribable.  We agreed that we would happily do it all over again.  With another eclipse coming through Central Ohio in 2024 we may get our chance to see another eclipse.