I booked a hotel in southern North Carolina for Sunday night, and one in North Charleston for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights. I ordered a set of solar filtered glasses to protect our eyes, and solar filters to protect our cameras, hoping everything would arrive in time. As the date of the eclipse drew closer, I began looking for a place to watch the eclipse. There were a number of viewing parties planned in and around Charleston, and I couldn't decide which of them we would go to. But then I saw a note that suggested the Santee State Park, on the shores of Lake Marion, near I-95, closer to the center of the state. Somehow, it seemed like watching the eclipse from a state park would be more comfortable than from a parking lot (where most of the Charleston viewing parties were scheduled). So that became my plan.
As the days counted down to the eclipse, I began to have second thoughts about whether it was really worth the effort and expense, not to mention hassle of dealing with the crowds, to travel this far just to see an eclipse that would only last about two minutes, at least for the totality. But the money was spent, and the schedules adjusted, so off we went. The drive into North Carolina on Sunday wasn't too bad, although there were a couple of pockets of really slow traffic, probably resulting from the increased traffic volume. Even so, we reached our hotel room by early evening, and I figured we only had to drive about two hours in the morning to get to our destination. And so it was. Traffic on Monday morning was surprisingly light, at least until we reached the exit for the Santee State Park. The traffic trying to get to the park was backed up past the interstate, so we changed our plan. The previous exit, on the other side of the lake, provided access to the Santee National Wildlife Refuge, and there hadn't been any visible traffic back-up there. We grabbed some carryout chicken for lunch and headed back to the refuge.
When we reached the entrance to the wildlife refuge, there was a short back-up as the entering cars waited to get directions and information at the gate, but once past that point, there were no delays getting back to the big field that had been mowed for parking. We followed the stream of cars to the field, parked, and got out to wait for the eclipse. There was a festive atmosphere, with people relaxed and happy. It seemed that everyone was glad to have something to talk about other than politics for a change. People set up canopies and chairs, played cards and volleyball. Eventually, it was time for the eclipse to begin, and we all grabbed our solar filtered glasses and watched as the moon slowly began to inch its way in front of the sun.
It surprised me how little change in the brightness there was until very late in the eclipse. I really didn't notice much change in the brightness until we were beyond 80% occluded, but eventually, it did dim a bit, and the light became redder. I also noticed a (very welcome) drop in the temperature as we neared totality. And then, in an instant, it was dark as the moon totally covered the sun. We took off our glasses and were stunned by the view. The sun had become a black disk, with a flare of light around it. I snapped a bunch of photos, but also took some time to just enjoy the spectacular view.
Then, after just a bit more than two minutes, the light suddenly came back as the moon began to inch out of the way. We had to put our glasses back on again, to watch the gradual progression of the moon as the eclipse drew to an end. I took pictures through the entire sequence, and later put together a composite photo showing the sequence:
And when it was all over, and we sat in the car, inching our way out of the wildlife refuge towards the highway, I was glad we had made the effort to be there. It is hard to convey in words just how incredible an experience it was, and I completely understand how a culture without our scientific understanding of the event would attribute any number of superstitious meanings to an eclipse. Even fully prepared for the event, knowing what to expect, I was completely awed by the spectacle. After all of my second guessing, I was thoroughly glad we had come to see it. We're already thinking about where we might see the next one, in April 2024.