The total solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was the first one that we would be able to get to and view. Buffalo had an annular eclipse (the moon is farther from the Earth, producing a ‘Ring of Fire’) in 1994, but it was too overcast to see, and the previous visible total eclipse was in 1925! So we had planned for this for a couple of years to get the right place to be to see it well.
I had scoped out the Dixon Springs State Park in Illinois as a nearly perfect place to stay. It was about midway between the point of maximum coverage and maximum duration. I emailed back and forth with one of the park officials who identified the best sites to fit our bus, and let me know that the site reservation window would open on January 1, 2017 for the August reservations.
However, when I logged into ReserveAmerica to grab one of the sites, I found them ALL booked. It turns out that the state of Illinois had decided to capitalize on the eclipse for tourism, and had rolled their reservation window back to November and promoted their state sites! Scrambling a bit, I found the Fort Massac State Park, adjacent to Metropolis, Illinois.
Fort Massac was originally founded by the French in 1757 as Fort De L’Ascension, and was rebuilt and renamed Massac during the end of the French and Indian War. While the British nominally owned the territory afterward, the fort itself was burned by the local Cherokee by the time the British got there.
The Americans got into the act when General George Washington ordered the fort reconstructed in 1794, and for the next 20 years it served as a military post, sometimes called the ‘Gibraltar of the Ohio’ due to it’s elevation and view of the river. Notable figures of Merriweather Lewis and William Clark camped at Fort Massac in 1803 as they made preparations for their Corps of Discovery expedition to the newly purchased Louisiana Territory.
Metropolis was laid out as a formal town in 1839, and it was hoped that it would be a transportation and commerce hub. It is now a city of about 6000 people, and is best known as the home of Superman (this is official, both from DC Comics and the Illinois State Legislature!).
As we were to find out, the Fort Massac Visitor Center there is mostly museum! They have a great collection of native american stone artifacts (from all over Illinois), and French and American artifacts recovered from the forts.
But most important for me was the fact that Fort Massac was still within the band of totality for the eclipse, and was only about 16 miles from Dixon Springs, so we wouldn’t lose much (about 10 seconds of totality) from being dead-center along the eclipse line. Within a few minutes, I had a site chosen and booked. We had a place to camp for the eclipse!
Then we had to get there. The longest trip that we’d taken the bus on was from Buffalo to Ohiopyle, PA (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) and back which was a measly 600 miles or so. This was going to be some 1600 miles, so it would be our biggest foray to date.
We had limited time to make the trip, and decided on a few key places to stop on our trip. We had some friends in Cincinnati, OH who we could stop and see, the Embroiderer’s Guild of America Headquarters were in Louisville, KY, as was the Bulleit Bourbon Distillery tour (at the historic Stitzel-Weller Distillery), all on the way to Fort Massac. On the way back, we could stop at Mammoth Caves and Big Bone Lick (where we could camp for the night).
With all this planned out, the next thing was packing and provisioning the bus. And then, of course, setting out on the journey …
(Continued in Part 2)