I think, despite several setbacks, this trip might be the best birthday trip Les and I have ever taken. It all started when Les realized that the town my dad lives in was directly in the path of totality. And he planned the whole thing, decided we should take a train (something I’ve always wanted to do), booked the tickets, even called my dad and arranged for us to have a place to stay. It was much more like a birthday present than our trips usually are.
I found the train to be quite relaxing, especially on the trip from Flagstaff to Kansas City. We were on a pretty screwy sleeping schedule since the train was scheduled to leave Flagstaff at about 4:30 in the morning and we were told to get there 45 minutes in advance to get the parking situated.
Pulling away from the Flagstaff station right as it was getting light. Sleeping beforehand didn’t really work, but once we got on the train (about an hour behind schedule because it came in on the second track and they had to let everyone on and off at the street crossing), sleeping was really easy. I was also pleasantly surprised by the amount of legroom.
In addition to more leg room and more comfortable seats than you get in an airplane or car, we also got to watch some amazing scenery, and without the stress of one of us driving.
So the trip from Flagstaff to Kansas City was very nice, and I was completely sold on the whole travel by Amtrak thing. Of course once we got to Kansas City we hit a pretty big set back, no one was there to pick us up. My dad hadn’t answered his phone for a few days, but he had been texting me. So I did a stupid thing, I ignored 30 years of precedent and assumed he would be there. Luckily I have other family in the area, and even though it was 7:30 in the morning, I started making calls. I got a little panicked when the first 2 numbers I called were out of service. But I lucked out on the third and got a hold of my Aunt Sandy who was awake, and my Uncle Robert wasn’t working, so he was able to come get us and they let us sleep on their couch. Considering there wasn’t a hotel room in the entire state because of the eclipse, I’m very, very grateful to them.
Sandy was nice enough to loan us her car on Sunday so we didn’t end up stuck in rural Missouri with nothing to do (that’s how meth habits form), and we were able to visit with my grandmother and go through some old photos with her. We also spent some time exploring Independence since Les had only seen the Mormon history parts before.
Luckily the rental car situation wasn’t quite as bad as the hotel situation for the eclipse, so on Monday we were able to grossly overpay to rent a car for the day. Les was obsessive about the cloud cover, and I was adamant about avoiding crowds. We had originally set out for Marshall, MO, but the clouds moved and we nixed that. The next idea was to try Jefferson City, that way Les could check another capitol off his list. But an overheard conversation in the bathroom when we stopped for breakfast made us think twice (extreme crowds, and the people had just come from there and got stuck in traffic for more than an hour). So we went back to our roots and headed for the back roads, which led us to a conservation area in Moniteau County. The conservation area had 3 parking areas, and they were all full of people. Nothing like what we were hearing about St. Joseph or Jefferson City, but they were all but tailgating, so we turned around and headed back toward Jamestown, population around 368.
One of my first thoughts when we were trying to decide where to watch the eclipse was cemetery, they usually have wide open space so we could have a good view of the sky, and a few trees for shade so we didn’t melt/have a repeat of San Diego. But it was a weird thought and so I didn’t say anything. But we drove past a few of them and Les suggested one that was attached to a large Baptist church. Where we ended up was a cemetery on top of a hill with a rarely used, vacant church building. Only one other car stopped there, and we chatted a bit, but it wasn’t overwhelming.
Watching the eclipse was amazing, and looking at it without the glasses during totality was absolutely incredible. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I got. Watching the sky get darker wasn’t much different than when a cloud rolls past, but it was somewhat different. I didn’t want to change my camera settings, so I tried to capture it mostly on my phone, but that didn’t quite do it justice.
As it got completely dark, the roosters on the farms all around us started going nuts, the cicadas got loud, it got noticeably cooler and it was just awe inspiring. Seeing a 360 degree sunset/rise was incredible, the cloud cover meant we couldn’t see many stars, but we did see Venus. The whole experience was surreal, and I am extremely glad we got to experience it.
Like I mentioned in the caption of Les with his setup, we only had one tripod, and I don’t have the patience to do a ton of image stacking in Photoshop. Also, as much as I love taking photos, I am not a professional. It’s just a hobby and I was completely winging it. So I will just post all the eclipse photos here and you can make of them what you will. Unfortunately we had to get the rental car back on time and couldn’t stick around at the cemetery to watch much past totality, but I did get a couple photos after.
After we returned the rental car, we had a few hours to kill so we wandered around Kansas City for a bit.
The trip back has me torn on train travel again, not only was the car we were in full of loud, inconsiderate people, there were sooooo many delays. I understand delays due to weather, and the rain in Kansas City is probably the heaviest rain I have ever experienced, and I saw the floods the next morning. But what caused the most delays was a full set of private cars that had to be attached in Kansas City and detached in Albuquerque. This process took more than an hour each time, and we weren’t able to make up any time across Kansas, in fact we got even farther behind. When we arrived in Flagstaff at almost 3 in the morning (scheduled for just before 9 the previous night) I mentioned to the conductor that I hoped the company with the private cars payed a lot for the privilege of hooking to the Amtrak. He assured me they did, but that they couldn’t build extra time into the schedule for it. So basically, if you have enough money you can inconvenience everybody relying on that particular form of transportation, I know that is true of most things, a private jet can delay your plane, a wealthy person can shut down a road, but it doesn’t seem to happen as often or be as visible as it was with the train.
Overall it was an amazing experience even if the trip had a few bumps.
PS here’s a photo of my Uncle Robert watching the eclipse with his magnifying glass, we gave him our extra glasses, and he used them some, but he was really excited about using this method. Sandy sent me this photo after and I hope they don’t mind that I’m including it here, I just thought it was cute.