Category Archives: Illinois State Park

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 7 – The Eclipse!)

(Continued from Part 6)

This was a typical view of clouds on the 21st.

So, the morning of the 21st, we started getting stuff set up.  There was to be less than 20% cloud cover, a light breeze, and overall a good day for the Eclipse.  The cloud cover was in the form of mostly light cumulus clouds that were sliding from the south-south-west, but had big chunks of blue sky between them.

Our eclipse-viewing set-up.

We had brought a small 90mm refracting telescope that I fabricated a projection screen onto.  Using the 90 degree prism diagonal adapter, the image of the sun was easily visible on the small screen.  I had tested it in Buffalo on both the sun and the moon, so I was sure it would work well for all the lighting conditions of the eclipse, without a sun filter.  Well ahead of time, I took this out to the cleared space just south of our site and set it up.

The projection screen on the telescope, for those of us without the lovely steampunk goggles that allow you to look at the sun …
No, that’s not all dust on the lenses, those are sunspots!

I was really happily surprised that the screen worked as well as it did, as we were able to make out sunspots before the eclipse was even near approaching. I was able to leave the image up for a couple of minutes before the sun would track off and I’d have to readjust the telescope so the image would be visible, but that was no problem (except for a couple of times when a big cloud went over).

Here comes the moon …

Slowly, over the course of an hour, accompanied by drinks and popcorn, we watched the sun slowly disappearing as the moon slid in front of it.  Mostly we watched on the projection screen, but occasionally we’d sneak short looks with the solar glasses, to see it in  as unaided a manner as we could.

(Light) Clouds won’t stop us!

Even when the light clouds passed over, we were still able to see the progress, though the dense clouds were just too much.

Here’s the sun about half-way gone …

Slowly, but steadily, we watched the moon make it’s way across the sun’s face, and were able to look across the campground and watch people enter the park for the viewing they had set up at the visitor center/museum.  There were some people congregating at a campsite farther along our loop, but otherwise, we had the campground area to ourselves. (Which is really how we like it.)

And this is what a half-gone sun looks like without a telescope …

One of the things I was really surprised at was how bright it continued to be, even as the moon was covering up the sun.  It wasn’t until the very last 5-10% of the sun was getting covered that it made very much of a difference.

A tiny sliver of sun left …

But finally, the moment was upon us.  The ‘crescent sun’ kept getting smaller and smaller.

But still plenty of light for reading …

But there was still plenty of light for reading, even if it wasn’t full-strength sun.

But as the last little bits of sun were covered up, it got dramatically darker.

I had also turned the bus’ dashcam on.  Here’s the video of the eclipse from the bus’ point of view (sped up to double-speed).

The eclipsed sun as the camera saw it …

We did try to get a picture of the sun being eclipsed, but due to the humidity in the air, it wasn’t as dramatic as we’d hoped – the light was getting refracted back into the darkened area.  As such, instead of a nice dark area in sky, like we saw with our eyes, the camera picked up a dully glowing donut of sorts.

The crescent sun is on the other side now!

And then, the sun, slowly came back.  We had one diamond show up on the projection screen, but it was gone too fast to get a picture. And then it was like we were back to just standing in the sun, much as we had been waiting for the eclipse.

The sun is almost all the way back …

And slowly the sun came back and it was just like every afternoon we’d had up to that point.  But it was an amazing thing to witness, and surprising as to how long it actually took for the eclipse to be noticeable, and how quickly it returned to normal (at least to our unaided eyes).

(More of the trip in Part  8)

 

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 6)

(Continued from Part 5)

Addendum to Part 5:

So, one of the things that we did after touring the Museum and the reconstructed Forts was to engage in one of the pre-eclipse crafts.  We made colored moon and sun cut-outs to paste over solar viewing glasses (though we had our own glasses, so we just took the cut-outs).

(Lego) Batman!

Then, that evening, they had an outdoor movie the our son and I went to see; Lego Batman.  We biked down with a couple of camp-chairs and a small table, and were some of the first people to stake out seats on the grass.  Not only did we get to see the movie near the riverbank, on an inflatable screen, for free, but they also offered popcorn,Moon Pies, and Sun Drop for refreshments!

It was an awesome end to our day!


 

 

Now on to Part 6:

So, the next day, we ventured out to …

Metropolis! (Illinois, that is.)
Superman Square and surroundings (from Google Maps)

The city limits of Metropolis, Illinois directly abut with Fort Massac State Park, so it wasn’t hard to get into the urban setting.  In fact, this sign is right where East 5th street makes a right angle from where it runs south along the park, and then to the west, right over to Superman Square.

That’s right, Metropolis has been decreed to be the official hometown of Superman. On January 21, 1972, an official release from DC Comics made the proclamation, and that was followed by the Illinois State Legislature passing Resolution 572, which affirmed that Metropolis was the “Hometown of Superman” on June 9 of the same year.  Superman Square runs around the County Clerk’s Office, and from there, looking northeast along Market Street, is a 15 foot tall (painted) bronze statue of Superman.

Superman, ready for the upcoming eclipse with his eclipse glasses on!
Transport!

But, how to get there?  Well, we brought our bikes, and due to the floodplain nature of the area around the Ohio River, the route was overall flat (though the park area is about 20+ feet higher than much of the city along the river), and they have a designated bike route to get from the park over to the square.  So it was just about 2 miles from our site to the square, and taking our time we were still there in half an hour.

Who are these pesky knee-biters? Oh, some Kleinmartins …

So after taking pictures with Superman to prove we were there, we spent a couple of hours looking through the Super Museum, which is right across the square from the Superman Statue.

One of the lead knives used on ‘Adventures of Superman’ with George Reeves.

The Super Museum is pretty amazing (and air-conditioned!), starting off with the gift shop/store where you enter.  For only $5 per person (kids 5&under free), you can get access to see an amazing collection of memorabilia, comics, documents, video clips and documentaries, toys, video games (bring some quarters), and actual TV and movie props from the Superman world that DC has cultivated over the years.

Krypton Power Crystals!
Many, many Superman items …
And control panels …
The boy and Batman pose with Darksieid.

But even after seeing the Supergirl memorabilia room, and Batman and Darkseid, we finally came to the end. We then spent some time in the store, looking at all the stuff they had (they were out of kryptonite chunks, unfortunately).  We ended up with a commemorative magnet (to stick on the steel roof inside the bus), and the last of a commemorative poster that they had in stock.  With these we set off to see one more thing before biking back home.

Lois Lane is ready to take down notes for her story.

Metropolis doesn’t only have a (painted) bronze statue of Superman, but a few blocks northeast up Market Street, they also have a statue of Lois Lane.

To get to Lois, we had to ride through the set-up for a pre-eclipse street festival, that looked (and smelled from the cooking of the food vendors setting up) good and fun.  But, it was so hot and the sky so cloudless, that we thought we’d be better off heading back to the site, where we had shade trees and the woods.

The boy with the heater core fan’s entire output blowing on his back.

And once we got back, it was still pretty hot in and around the bus.  There was hardly a breeze, and even with all the windows and the roof vents open, it was hot.  We’d never encountered this level of heat and humidity (and Buffalo has plenty of humidity, but is pretty breezy), so I hadn’t thought to bring a fan. But I had wired the bus’ 12 volt accessories through a switch so that we could run them off the converter when we were plugged in (or batteries when we’re not) so I started up the big heater core fan and the two defrosting fans.  It worked pretty well.

The Star Wars Theme sounds pretty good on a dobro …

Later, as the sun was going down more, it cooled off as a little breeze started up.  Our son entertained us on his dobro, and I started getting a fire ready for dinner, while my wife made some potato salad and a green salad.

Beans warming up on (the edge of) the fire!

My contribution was to cook some burgers, and heat up some beans (in the can, of course) over the fire. The rotating, adjustable grating worked really well for being able to control the cooking, though

The burgers are about to come off the grill.

we started late and it quickly was pretty dark by the time the burgers were done, so it’s hard to see them well.  After a wonderful dinner, it was off to bed.  The Eclipse was the next day and we wanted to be ready.

(Continued in Part 7)

 

 

 

Our Eclipse Trip (Part 5)

(Continued from Part 4)

The view of woods to our east.

So, waking up at Fort Massac was nice, but warm and humid.  We spent the morning setting up and leveling the bus a bit with some pressure treated lumber under the back wheels.  But the site that we had was awesome.  We were on the edge of woods that spanned some 2 miles behind us, and at the end of a loop, so we had a grassy area next to our site on the south side, with a neighbor to the north.

An old park map showing the loops and historic fort sites.

We were at Site 36, which is on the farther loop from the river, but it ended up being more secluded and quiet, as the end of the first loop had a bike/hiking trail running right behind it.  Just at the end of our loop was a road that went to the old group camping area (no longer used) where we could get right on the bike trails.  (More about those later.)

The bus happily resting at Site 36 in Fort Massac State Park.

So, just on the edge of our site was the firepit, which is probably the most elaborate pit I’ve encountered so far.  Growing up in the Adirondacks, I was used to mortared stone firepits (almost fireplaces) with inset, hinged iron gratings.  Going to the Sprague Brook and Evangola parks, I got used to minimal steel rings with either a hinged steel grating, or one that had four different settings of heights, but never truly left the fire area.  The  firepit that we had at Allegany State Park was the most rustic, with just a ring of stones and no grating (And as such, we picked up a cheap grating at the camp store, which when it dies, we’ll replace with a more durable one – they’re good to have!).

The firepit for our site at Fort Massac.

But the firepit here was impressive.  The grill not only had a really nice handle, but was mounted on a post that allowed the grill to swing around to the back of the firepit, and then continue around to be back over the fire. The mechanism of it also allowed one (who was wearing gloves, so as not to get one’s hands all covered with rust, soot, and grease) to tilt the whole rotating arm so that the grill could be raised or lowered to the desired height above the fire for cooking.  This last was an important item, as I love to cook over the fire. The only downside what just how tall that steel ring was!  You’d have to be right on top of the fire to enjoy it.

Our site in the shade!

But when we arrived, keeping warm was the least of our worries. Temperatures were in the 80’s and 90’s with really high humidity.  Luckily, our site was one of the few with larger trees, so we had shade for most of the day, and with the grassy area nearby, when there was a breeze, we got that too.

When we got in the night before, we had stopped at the Welcome Center/Museum to check in, but it was closed.  After unloading the bikes, I rode over to the Welcome Center (which had AC!), and found out that for this park, we merely had to check in with the Camp Captain.  This was an easy thing, as we had reserved with ReserveAmerica and I had pre-registered and printed that sheet out, so all the data that was needed was right there. We also found out that the last fall, several trees had come down and the maintenance crew had cut and split them, and we could take 10 pieces of wood for free, which made the fire thing a whole lot easier.

Stone bifaces, points, and hand hoes from all across Illinois.

So, after setting everything up, we spent a little time checking out the park.  It was only about half a mile to the Welcome Center/Museum, and we spent a couple of hours looking at the collections. There were rows and rows of stone tools behind glass, and drawers and drawers of them as well.  The collection was from Quentin Richey, who drilled wells for many years, collected the artifacts starting in childhood and continuing over all over the places he worked, especially in Southeastern Illinois.  After his death, his family donated the collection (which had been on display in a local restaurant) to the state, so that more people could enjoy and learn from them.  It is a really impressive collection.

Yep, we found historic lead dice on display.

There were also artifacts from the historic forts that were built on the riverbank, as well as reproduction uniforms, and other items to replicate what everyday and household items from the time would have looked like.

Pioneer household items (actual artifacts and replicas) on display.

 

 

 

The Forts at Fort Massac.

The Fort of Fort Massac is actually two Forts, as mentioned in Part 1 of this adventure.

Southwestern blockhouse, large structure, and northwestern blockhouse, seen across the ditch that would have been between the double palisade walls.

The original French Fort is now merely earthworks, and the historic recreation of the American Fort that was built in 2002 had lost its palisade walls during the intervening years.  But the three blockhouses, two large structures (barracks and storehouses) and one smaller structure were standing, though locked and closed the whole time we were there.

The Eastern view from Fort Massac.

But with the view that one could get over the river, it was easy to see why this location was called ‘The Gibraltar of the Ohio’.  The rise on this side of the bank was easily 30 feet above the river level, and if guns were mounted in the blockhouses, they would have a significant range advantage over any guns mounted on watercraft.   Obviously a good location for maintaining control of who went past on the Ohio.

We also spent a little time biking our way over to the nearby McDonald’s.  This is way off our usual track for camping, but the McDonald’s was the closest source of wifi we could get (even as limited as it was).  We needed that as our son is learning Esperanto from Duolingo, and was on a streak of continuous days that he didn’t want to break.  As such, we went and bought an item from the dollar menu and got a cup of ice each day, while he used his tablet to do his work.  If the wifi was feeling agreeable, I was able to get a weather report, otherwise, I just got frustrated.

But our first day ended well.  We were settled, leveled, provisioned with wood, Duolingoed, and where we needed to be for the Eclipse in a couple of days. It was still hot and humid when we got to bed, but it cooled down overnight.

(Continued in Part 6)