top of page
Top

--> USA

USA Index

New.jpg
Illinois

ILLINOIS

Solar Eclipse at Olney, IL (April 8, 2024)                                                                               April 15, 2024

The sky was almost cloud free and I could see the Sun through the windshield if I arched my neck enough to look up.  I noticed a small dent in the Sun at 5.  Slowly, very so slowly, the dent grew and travelled towards 11. It was the Moon – although you could not see the Moon as such.  We were already in the 100% eclipse zone and could have stopped right there to watch from the roadside.  But we didn’t stop.  We continued to snake our way behind a caravan of cars along backroads of southern Illinois.  Olney City Park was only 15 minutes away.  There was still plenty of time before the empyrean spectacle was to begin.

 

We were supposed to have been 240 miles away in Poplar Bluff, MO.  But the weather forecast had become iffy several days ago.  Therefore, we had driven to southern Illinois instead.  The forecast there was more promising.  Last night we had stayed in Bloomington-Normal.  It was our “base camp” because it had an eclipse coverage of 96% only. The 4% difference is like night and day.  Earlier this morning, we had poured over the map to pick the perfect location for observing the eclipse.  It had to be inside the 100% eclipse belt, not more than 3 hours away, as much cloud free as possible, and unlikely to be overcrowded.  With the friendly assistance from the hotel concierge, we decided on Olney, IL.  It was three hours’ drive from our “base camp” and located  120 miles due east of St. Louise, MO.

 

The drive was surprisingly trouble free.  The dreaded traffic jam remained MIA.  Most people were headed to Mount Vernon, IL, and even more to Carbondale, IL.  They were interested in more than just the eclipse.  We (especially I) wanted a small, quiet gathering in a park.  Olney City Park fit the bill perfectly.  

IMG_4941.jpg
IMG_4947.jpg

Eclipse coverage in Minnesota vs. Olney, IL

The park is the “Home of the White Squirrels”.  But they were MIA too.  Perhaps they were afraid of the eclipse and had taken shelter in the basement.  Or they might have forgotten their special eclipse glasses.  Of course, no other living creature, except for humans, felt the urge to stare at the sun and ruin their eyesight.  

 

Anyway, by the time we arrived, people had already set up their camps.  Everyone was in a festive mood.  Some reclined on folding chairs, others spread out on picnic blankets – all well stocked with coolers, drinks, munchies and what not.  And the kids ran around or played on the playgrounds.  We too, settled down on our folding chairs.  By that time, the Moon had covered roughly half the surface of the Sun – continuing its slow move towards 11.  But it was still sunny, and the weather was gorgeous.  We put our glasses on and stared at the sun waiting for the celestial spectacle to unfold.

 

This was our second total eclipse, the first one was just a few years ago, on August 21, 2017, which we had observed from Lincoln, NE.  The experience was so breathtaking that then and there, we had made plans for this one.  Solar eclipses are not that rare - with one total or annular eclipse happening about every 18 months.  Partial eclipses are even more frequent.  It’s just that most of the earth’s surface is covered with water, where it is unlikely to be seen by people.  The difference between total and annular eclipses comes from the relative distances between the Earth, Sun, and Moon.  In an annular eclipse,  a ring of sunlight remains visible around the Moon, whereas in the latter the entire Sun is blocked.  Total eclipses are rarer than annular ones and we are fortunate to have observed it twice.

 

In case you are interested, the next solar eclipses will be on: Oct 2, 2024 (southern tip of  South America)*; Feb 17, 2026 (Antarctica)*; August 12, 2026 (Spain); Feb 6, 2027 (southern tip of  South America)*; Aug 2, 2027 (Spain, northern Africa, Middle East); Jan 26, 2028 (Spain, Ecuador, Columbia, Brazil, Surinam)*; Jul 22, 2028 (Australia); Jun 1, 2030 (Southern Europe, Russia, China, Japan)*.  Those with an Asterix are annular eclipses and the other total eclipses. 

IMG_4955.jpg
IMG_0273.jpg
All 10.jpg
Aug 12-2026.jpg

Throughout all ancient societies such celestial events had great significance portending divine omen.  The first recorded observation of a total solar eclipse was on October 22, 2134 BCE in China, during the Shang dynasty.  This is documented in the "Shujing" or "Book of Documents," one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature.

 

Back to Olney.  Just as last time, I refrained from taking any photos – I didn’t have any required gadgets anyway.  Besides, it would be a folly to attempt to take pictures that would even come close to all the photographic masterpieces that would soon populate the Internet.  Instead, I focused solely and exclusively on taking in the experience by myself.  And once again, I experienced something rare, and something similar to what I had last experience on August 12, 2017.  To quote from back then…. 

 

“I donned the high-tech glasses and settled down in my chair, gazing straight up at the sun.  The Sun looked like a dim yellow circle, and the Moon creeped upon it.  Slowly, very slowly, the Sun first became a concave half circle, and soon a sickle.  But the Moon was relentless, and suddenly the Sun was gone.  I took my glasses off.

 

I had expected a dark sky with stars twinkling, the birds chirping, and all that.  Instead, I found myself in a twilight world of neither day nor night.  And up in the sky, instead of the Sun, there was a strange circle of corona, flickering with a subdued psychedelic flame – mostly blue, purple and pink.  I kept looking at the faint ring of the cosmic flame, taking in every flicker and every subtle change in hue with all my senses.  I have no recollection of all the exclamations around me because I was not there – I was one with the cosmos.  It lasted for an eternity, and it lasted for a brief moment - and both would be true because time had lost its meaning.  The end came with a sudden burst of a dazzling "diamond ring".  I had to look away instinctively to protect my vision.... and I woke up!"

 

There were some differences though.  This time the corona was not as pronounced, which may come either from distance between the Earth and the Moon, or solar flare activity, or both.  On the other side, this time, both Mercury and Jupiter were visible as bright stars, one on the left and the other on the right side of the Sun-Moon duo. And the final diamond burst, appearing at 4:30, was more dazzling and.   

 

This time we noticed something else – the unusual nature of shadows during the twilight time.  Fortunately, Christine took some pictures that capture how, during the eclipse, the shadows appear blurred at the edges.

IMG_4963.jpg
IMG_4964.jpg

Shadow before (left) and during the eclipse (right).  Photo credit Christine.

The rest was routine.  We took our time to first let most of the folks leave.  Then drove along backroads to Champaign, IL.  We didn’t quite manage to avoid some moderate traffic jams but we in no hurry because we were going to head back to Minnesota next morning. 

 

BTW, during this short journey, we had three memorable dinners.  The first one was in Bloomington-Normal serving Chinese (Sichuan Chinese Normal); the second one serving Indian (Kohinoor Indian Restaurant) in Champaign; and the third one serving Thai  (Thai Orchid Restaurant) Eau Claire.   In every case, not only was the food and the service excellent, the price in each instance was noticeably lower than in Minnesota.  But we’ll stay in Minnesota!              

MINNESOTA North
MINNESOTA

A SHORT WINTER GATEAWAY TO LAKE SUPERIOR (FEBRUARY 2019)                                          March, 2019

February was a bitter cold month, and ended with a polar vortex.  The air temperature had gone down to -26F (-32C), and the wind chill to -50s.   What better thing to do than drive up north? We wanted to see the frozen Lake Superior and take some pictures.  When it gets really cold, the landscape becomes interesting.  Couple of years ago, we had driven up to just north of Duluth (see pictures here).  But this time, we wanted to keep going all the way to Grand Marais and do some snow shoeing as well.  

Measured by the surface area, Lake Superior is the largest fresh water lake in the world.  And its deepest spot is 1,279 feet (400 meters).  Not surprisingly, it doesn’t freeze over easily. The last time it had done so was in 1997; and in 2013 to 90%.  This time, and in spite of the polar vortex, the lake was not completely frozen.

On our way up, we stopped at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park.  It is a favorite resting spot of ours when travelling north for hiking - usually in the fall.  We arrived in the afternoon of a cold, crystal clear, windless, sunny day.  It was winter at its best.  We took a long, solitary walk on the frozen lake, along its bank, and waited for the beautiful sunset.  Then we moved on to Grand Marais. 

IMG_2012.png
IMG_2033a.jpg

Sunset at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park

IMG_2045a.jpg

The Fisherman's Secret has a secret

Grand Marais is right on Lake Superior.  It is not much of a town, with one main street.  Even then, we prefer to go there in the fall, after most tourists have left. You know, this is just me, seeking solitude.   But now in winter, it was almost deserted.  

 

On the first day, we did Pincushion Mountain located just a stone’s throw from the town.  To get there, exit Grand Marais on HWY 61, heading north towards the Canadian border.  But take an immediate left on Gunflint Trail.  And Pincushion Trail will be on your right just after 2.5 miles.  There I was reminded how crazy some Minnesotans are.  The snow shoe trail is now shared with “fat tire bikers”.  It is quite a craze.   We encountered one young biker right at the trail head.  But he was gone in a whiff, not to be seen again.  And we were left alone for rest of the day!

IMG_6392a.jpg
IMG_6394a.jpg
IMG_6387a.jpg

Snowshoeing on Pincushion Mountain Trail 

IMG_2046a.jpg
IMG_2059.jpg

Fat tire biking on snowshoe trail

IMG_2076a.jpg
IMG_2110a.jpg
IMG_2117a.jpg

All good things must come to an end, and so did our trip.  But not before we had a wonderful evening and a nice dinner at the rustic Cascade Lodge Restaurant, right on the outskirt of Grand Marais.  As luck would have it, a live band was playing that evening.  The lead singer sang the story of his 20 years of traveling life.  I was in the mood, and somehow he kept on reminding me of Bob Dylan.  The next morning we drove back to Maplewood.

John Sonofmel performing at Cascade Lodge Restaurant

Cruising down to Grand Marais on a sunny autumn day.  This is from the good old days in 2016, when the town became practically a ghost town, left all to yourself.  Last time we were there was in the fall of 2023.  It was an absolute disaster, overrun with tourists ....

NEBRASKA
NEBRASKA

SOLAR ECLIPSE (at Tierra Briarhurst Park, NE, August 21, 2017)                                                      November, 2018

The sun had long made its appearance.  It was the moon that we were waiting for.  Then up in the heavens, they were going to have their celestial rendezvous.  And down here, at the Tierra Briarhurst Park, a handful of earthlings had gathered to bear witness.

 

Just a day earlier we had driven from Minnesota to Lincoln, NE to meet up with our friends Judy and Merle from Wisconsin.  Lincoln was the closest town in the path of the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017.

 

Earlier in the morning, in the dining hall of Hampton Inn, I had seen groups huddled together deciding where to go.  Most of them were going to a big event just outside of Lincoln, with several NASA astronauts and other experts, complete with all the hoopla of a mass event.  They seemed somewhat stressed out about traffic jam and parking.  Why would I want that kind of headache?

 

Then there was the thing with clouds – some potentially coming our way.  I learned that some hardcores had already left for Missouri long before dawn to guarantee a cloud free sky.  We decided to stick it out.  So here we were, at Tierra Briarhurst Park, a nondescript neighborhood park in Lincoln, making ourselves comfortable, together with a handful of others.

IMG_2445.jpg
20170821_112146.jpg

I did not have my camera with me, even though photography is my hobby. In the runup to the event I had noticed many hobby photographers gearing up with expensive lenses and fancy gadgets. But I had remained cool, and cheap – spending just $10 to get some ISO 12312-2 certified solar eclipse glasses. 

 

As we waited, I was bemused to see the hustle and bustle of the amateur photographers trying out their gadgets.  I had no such worries.  And later, during the 1:35 minute long eclipse, while they fiddled to get the best shot of a lifetime, all I had to do was just let myself go – and be entertained by the most mind-bending experience I ever had.

 

Finally, the moon arrived.  I donned the high-tech glasses and settled down in my chair, gazing straight up at the sun.  The sun looked like a dim yellow circle, and the moon creeped upon it.  Slowly, very slowly, the sun first became a concave half circle, and soon a sickle.  But the moon was relentless, and suddenly nothing was to be seen.  I took my glasses off.

 

I had expected a dark sky with stars twinkling, the birds chirping, and all that.  Instead, I found myself in a twilight world of neither day nor night.  And up in the sky, instead of the sun, there was a strange circle of corona, flickering with a subdued psychedelic flame – mostly blue, purple and pink.  I kept looking at the faint ring of the cosmic flame, taking in every flicker and every subtle change in hue with all my senses.  I have no recollection of all the exclamations around me because I was not there – I was one with the cosmos.  It lasted for an eternity, and it lasted for a brief moment - and both would be true because time had lost its meaning.  The end came with a sudden burst of a dazzling "diamond ring".  I had to look away instinctively to protect my vision.... and I woke up!  

Eclipse 2024.jpg

The next total eclipse on mainland USA is on April 8, 2024.  The path runs along Buffalo/Rochester, NY, Cleveland, OH, Indianapolis, IN and between Dallas/San Antonio, TX.  Don’t miss it if you can help it.  If you watch, don’t settle for anything less than a total eclipse view – the difference is stunning.  And by the way, when you go, just leave your camera at home!

Now off to Rocky Mountain National Park......                                                    Back to Solar Eclipse in Illinois

bottom of page