Where will you be on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017? It’s the day of the Great American Eclipse and it may be the biggest travel day in United States history. The 60 to 70-mile path of totality will sweep down from Oregon to South Carolina, meaning most people wanting to be in complete darkness for the two minutes when the moon moves between the sun and Earth will need to travel to view it.
GreatAmericanEclipse.com is forecasting “considerable traffic impacts” and “estimate between 1.8 and 7.4 million people will travel to the path of totality.” All these people traveling to view this solar eclipse means congested roadways and booked accommodations.
GreatAmericanEclipse.com has used various software to determine estimates as how many and where people will be viewing this stellar event.
The Great American Eclipse is pretty special because it’s been 99 years since a solar eclipse cast from coast to coast. People will be traveling from abroad to witness the eclipse and travelers have booked hotel rooms sometimes years in advance. I even have family traveling from New York to the Charleston area to chase the solar eclipse.
HipCamp – Last Minute Camping for Eclipse Chasers
But, if you’re one of these eclipse chasers and have not booked your lodging by now, you are not totally out of luck. HipCamp.com has uncovered available camping sites waiting for you. These may be on state or federal land or perhaps a farmer’s field. Camping may be primitive to “glamp-orous” and lakeside to a treehouse. HipCamp sites begin at $25. Visit the designated Great American Eclipse HipCamp page to see a map showing the path of totality and locate a camping spot to view this solar event.
Tourists Headed West: Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878
Although rare in the U.S., solar eclipses happen about every year to year-and-a-half, but may happen in places not easily accessible, such as the middle of an ocean or Antarctica. I recently interviewed Dr. Steve Ruskin, Historian of Astronomy, about solar eclipses and specifically, an 1878 solar eclipse. His latest book, America’s First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever, is a fascinating journey following some of the adventurers who traveled to the Rockies. Apparently, this eclipse of 1878 was kind of a big idea, too.
“Tourists came on the railroad…tourists came all the way out west in 1878 not only to see the Rockies but to see this eclipse over the mountains,” he told me, “Even In 1878 when the only way to get to the Rockies was by train, thousands of tourists, tens of thousands probably came west. Hotels were suddenly overwhelmed to the point where one hotel owner in Colorado Springs ended up renting out all the local livery stables so he could house his guests there instead of horses.”
And that’s not the most interesting place someone could have stayed. He said in Denver after they ran out of hotel rooms, they rented billiard tables and cots in bars and restaurants for people to sleep. Wonder if you can find something like that on AirBnB?
“It was crazy back then and I think we’re probably going to see something similar although on a much bigger scale because people can just hop in their cars and drive. But I think it’s that shadow path, that 70-mile wide band that people are going to want to aim for. I think in some of those areas it will be quite crowded,” he added.
Solar Glasses 1878 Style!
Today, we have fun, funky eyewear to protect our eyes from the solar eclipse but what did they use during the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878?
“They had to use smoked glass,” Dr. Ruskin said. He explained how people used “broken glass and coat it in soot from a candle flame-or an oil lamp and they would cut their fingers.” He added one woman wrote she almost burned her house down. Yikes!
In addition to tourists, astronomers traveled to the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 and like what will most likely happen with the Great American Eclipse, there were many citizen science projects.
“Astronomers couldn’t travel with support crews so they hired locals to help,” he explained, such as running, documenting through photographing, or sketching the sun during totality.
One of those astronomers who traveled was Maria Mitchell who Dr. Ruskin believes her to have “led the first female eclipse expedition in history.”
She was the U.S.’s first astronomy professor and first professional astronomer and taught at Vassar College, an all-female college in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. She and her female students traveled to the Rockies and observed the eclipse in Denver.
When Is the Next Solar Eclipse?
Now, this is not the first time I’ll see a solar eclipse, although I will have about 70 percent totality here in Southwest Florida. I remember being in elementary school and making some kind of box to watch an eclipse. It was 1979 and that one occurred in the Pacific Northwest while other parts of the U.S. could partially view it.
If you miss this one, you can catch the next solar eclipse in the United States on April 8, 2024. Dr. Ruskin said rather than running coast to coast, it will run south to north from Mexico, across Texas northward to Canada.
“People are just as amazed at the site of a solar eclipse now as they were back then,” Dr. Ruskin said.
Dr. Steve Ruskin
America’s First Great Eclipse
Purchase on Amazon. America’s First Great Eclipse: How Scientists, Tourists, and the Rocky Mountain Eclipse of 1878 Changed Astronomy Forever
Catch my interview with Dr. Steve Ruskin on WKDW 97.5 FM.
Will you be traveling for the Great American Eclipse? Are you planning now for the April 8, 2024 solar eclipse?
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