Eclipse 2024


I don’t know what your level of enthusiasm was for the recent solar eclipse, but it’s been a hot topic among my work colleagues for literally years. To catch yourself up on why, read last week’s KidsOutAndAbout publisher’s note, which I hijacked from Deb.

We had made tentative eclipse Zone of Totality plans and scratched them in favor of other plans over the course of the last year. Of course, both our daughters are out of town, but we invited G to come with us. Wherever we ended up going!

  • The first plan, from just over a year ago, was to go up to Lake Placid and make a lovely weekend of it.
  • Then, after investigating the hotels and finding them completely booked solid or priced up to the hilt, we thought that maybe we’d just drive north early on eclipse morning.
  • Then I started fretting that we’d be stymied by traffic and that we should really get a hotel, while Cute W was concerned that weather conditions would make the whole trip a waste and that in order to be in place, we’d have to sit around waiting in the middle of nowhere.
  • Then I made fully-refundable hotel reservation in Rome, NY, where the drive was short, a hotel was still cheap and available, and we could visit Fort Stanwix nearby.
  • Then I was worried that the hotel would be a disgusting dump and Cute W was worried that viewing conditions wouldn’t be great, so I panic-reserved two other (fully-refundable) hotels to give us options.
  • Then we decided that all of those hotels probably sucked, the weather conditions were iffy, and we might just be better off playing things by ear on April 8 based on traffic reports and cloud cover conditions. I scoped out a few possible locations where we could go. We didn’t need a big community celebration: our priority was a place to camp out where we could finding parking and a bathroom.
  • We decided we’d aim to leave shortly after 5 am, drive northeast to Ticonderoga, then stop for breakfast and decide over breakfast whether we should continue heading north in New York State or head east across Lake Champlain into Vermont.
  • We left at 5:30 am and while we were driving towards Ticonderoga, the bustling traffic made us decide to scrap plans to stop for breakfast in Ticonderoga, and instead we headed directly to a revised destination, Vergennes, VT, which seemed to have clear skies and a cute downtown near a couple of parks.

It worked out great!

We arrived at Vergennes just a few minutes before 8 am, which was perfect because 3 Squares Cafe, highly rated by Yelp, was set to open at 8 am. We found a parking space and were squinting at all of the signs along Main Street, trying to locate the cafe, and then we realized we’d parked pretty much directly in front of it, and someone was turning the “Closed” sign to “Open.” Triumph! We walked in and got in line just before the rush. Within minutes the place was packed, and meanwhile, outside, the traffic was picking up swiftly, with many people stopping at this village and others continuing to Burlington.

It got so busy at the cafe that we ended up squishing together at our table and inviting a couple to share our space. They had also changed their plans recently due to the updated weather report, but they were “eclipse chasers” who had scoured the continent based on cloud cover and where they could find a last-minute place to stay (renting a single-room stay at someone’s residence), and changed flights from their home in Salt Lake City. After this conversation, we were feeling pretty fantastically happy about where we’d landed with our by-the-seat-of-our-pants plan.

After breakfast, we headed to Vergennes Falls Park to set up camp for the day. And when I say “set up camp,” well, we had brought a lot of stuff. Snowshoes, because we’d heard there was still plenty of snow cover (there was not). A tarp and blankets since it’s mud season. Hammocks and pillows for added comfort, picnic provisions and extra water for hanging out as well as in case we got into a huge traffic jam later. Toilet paper in case we’d need to rough it. Books and games to pass the time. Plus a little extra insurance for sunny skies.

Mary really came through. It was a beautiful day, warm and lovely.

After getting ourselves settled, we promptly all took a little time out to rest after getting up so early. I definitely fell asleep, and by the time I’d woken up, the park was swarming with people, the little parking lot completely overrun.

The only slight challenge was that the advertised park restrooms were not available, so pit stops required us to take a walk around the falls and up a hill to the downtown area. Shockingly, some of the small businesses had opted to stay closed on Monday as usual, so the places that were open were fairly overrun. Our hunt for restrooms took us to Lu Lu Ice Cream, which was absolutely fantastic!

I ordered the eclipse-inspired Ain’t No Sunshine (black cocoa chocolate ice cream with a dark chocolate caramel ripple and honeycomb pieces) from my place in the bathroom line, and it was spectacular. I was immediately sorry that I’d only ordered a small scoop (especially next to Cute W and G’s milk shakes), and I totally would have ordered more of the same flavor later, but it was sold out by the time we stopped in post-eclipse. The Dude Abides (a white Russian flavor) was a tasty consolation prize.

We walked around the cute downtown and met a very nice lady at the Vergennes City Hall and Opera House who had stuck around past her usual work schedule to offer up bathrooms to visitors. She also gave us that cute postcard above. Which reminds me, I have to tell you that the vibe was impeccable. The Vergennes locals were patient and welcoming, the visitors were friendly and excited, and it was just a lovely bunch of people everywhere you went. You know how when you go to a big tourist attraction or an extremely popular national park, you’ll get a cross section of the population, but then when you go to more obscure places, it’s just filled with smarter, more interesting, curious people? Eclipse viewers are really delightful people.

After our ice cream and bathroom break, we walked back to the park and played a couple of games (I lost) and prepared for the eclipse (Cute W had a special camera lens and he’d taped eclipse lenses to binoculars, because he is smart) and ate some of our picnic. And then it was Time!

The total solar eclipse was incredible. I don’t know if you saw this comic about how cool a total solar eclipse is compared to a 98% solar eclipse, but it is absolutely, 1000% true. It’s amazing how much a partial solar eclipse still looks very much like a normal day. I mean, when you are looking through your eclipse glasses at the sun, you can see that something is happening, but if you weren’t looking, you wouldn’t necessarily notice. Maybe a little darker and a little cooler, but similar to when a big cloud passes by and blocks the sun.

With the total solar eclipse, it was suddenly much darker and colder, and the birds were circling and the mosquitos were out immediately. At the same time, that’s what I’d actually heard about ahead of time: that it would be dark, the stars would become visible, and the animal life would react. So I’d expected that, and I was actually surprised that it wasn’t super-dark. What surprised me was how otherworldly and beautiful looking at the total solar eclipse was. I would say that in terms of awe, it was a bit like seeing the Northern Lights (yes, I am fortunate to have seen the Northern Lights once while in college in Iowa). But I’ve also seen images and video of the Northern Lights, and I feel like those are pretty similar to how it looked to me in person. After seeing a bunch of eclipse photos since the 8th, I don’t think they remotely capture the way it really looked. I thought these might be the closest, but generally, most of the pictures seem very high contrast black-and-white because of the lighting. While I was looking, it seemed more dramatic, colorful, and vibrant than the images I’ve seen since. So that was amazing.

But meanwhile, I knew that I had only 2 minutes and 20 seconds of totality, and I was so sad that it was such a short time. I wanted to just stare at the sun, I wanted to look through the binoculars, I wanted to look around at the altered world, I wanted to look at Cute W and G to see their expressions. And there wasn’t nearly enough time to take it all in. And at the same time, as soon as the sun came back into view, I felt, weirdly, about as grateful as a person who was been drowning feels upon drawing in their first breath of air. Like I’ve never fully appreciated the sun until that moment. And I think others felt that way, too, because where we were at, that’s when people broke out into spontaneous applause.

Cute W took a bunch of cool photos, but I feel like it’s rude to share them after saying that no photos remotely capture how it looked. His don’t, either, but they are cool enough to get put into a newspaper.

As the world brightened, I was reminded, as I often am, of a quote from Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence: “Americans want to get away from amusement even more quickly than they want to get to it.” So many people who’d been camped out for hours were hustling to their cars while the sun was still just a sliver in the sky. However, we were comfortable and happy to lie on our backs on the blanket and watch the sun come back.

The drive home was not nearly as bad as we feared it would be. Cute W followed Waze off the main route, and then, when it became clear that he wasn’t the only person following Waze’s alternate route, he took an extra turn and headed south again. It took perhaps an extra half hour, and we stopped for dinner along the way.

So: was the time and effort worth it? Absolutely! By the next morning, Cute W was already talking about when and where to see the next total eclipse. Not that we have to see every eclipse, necessarily, but that if it’s someplace we’d like to travel, anyway, why not time it to take in one more natural wonder? So the tentative plan is Australia, Summer 2028!


  1. Claire

    Thanks for sharing your experience. We stayed local, but even so, it was so much better than our experience back in 2017. With the glasses, we could see the progression of the eclipse, and shortly before peak it definitely got dark, comparable to twilight (maybe 15 minutes before sunset), in a way that would never happen at that time of day unless there was a major rainstorm, and this was otherwise a bright sunny day. I felt like the birds became much chattier, the way they do at the end of the day. I’m just so glad it worked out, because back in 2017 when my son was 9, he was so excited, and it ended up being a flop.

  2. Nana in Savannah

    Our experience in Savannah was a partial eclipse where the sun looked like a crescent moon, but it was still beautiful and awesome.

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