Saturday, April 20, 2024

Roadtrip to Totality (Solar Eclipse 2024)

I was lucky enough to essentially live in the path of totality for the solar eclipse in 2017, but when I saw another one would be passing through, I immediately began contemplating a trip to go see it. Then I remembered who I am and realized OF COURSE I was going to go see it!  I looked at a handful of destinations, but when my boyfriend decided to come with me, I decided it would be a road trip south to visit some places he’d never been.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

We left around 9 AM Saturday morning for Des Moines, Iowa. I didn’t have a lot planned for today except places to eat as I knew we would get a late start due to Friday night festivities and we had 6 hours of driving to get in. My dad and brother had recommended Zombie Burger in Des Moines, so that was our first stop. I had the Trailer Trash Zombie burger (topped with American cheese, fried pickles, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds, and ranch), and Aaron had the Planet Terror burger (bbq sauce, bacon, cheddar cheese, caramelized onions, ranch). We also shared a basket of fries. The food was absolutely delicious. I’d give it a 10 out of 10 for taste, but their presentation could use some work. They also have a plethora of different milkshakes, but we didn’t have room for one of those!

We took a little walk around downtown Des Moines to stretch our legs before getting back in the car to continue the drive to Kansas City. After another three hours (and a stop at Wendy’s for the new Dreamsicle frosty!), we made it to Kansas. Again, my only plan was eating! 

We went to Q39, which is a Kansas City barbecue joint, for dinner. I had the smoked brisket poutine and Aaron had the three meat plate with smoked ribs, brisket and chipotle sausage. He also had the macaroni and cheese and we both had the Mexican corn as a side. The poutine was delicious and Aaron really liked the ribs and brisket. The mac & cheese was also really good. Sausage was OK, and the corn was mediocre – it could’ve used some more spice and been less liquidy. 

After eating, we headed to our hotel for the night so Aaron could watch the wrestling event and I could read and watch Triple D. The drive was incredibly windy, but the weather was a nice 75 degrees when we reached Kansas City!

Sunday, April 7, 2024

My goal was to be on the road by 7:45AM, and I think we were pretty close. We had a tour scheduled for 10AM and the drive would take a little under two hours.

We made it to Warm Springs Ranch just in time for our tour. I was surprised to see at least one other group of Minnesotans on the tour, and plenty of other Minnesota plates in the parking lot. 

We took the History and Horses Tour, and I thought it was pretty interesting! The tour was scheduled for 1.5 hours, but took about an hour with photo ops afterwards. It started with free bottles of beer for anyone (21+!) who was interested. They give you an earpiece so you could hear the tour guide which I thought was GENIUS. I've been on so many tours where if you're not near the front, you can't always hear, so this was super smart. The only downside is that it was a little TOO loud for me, but there was no way to adjust the volume. The tour took us through the breeding area, the area where the ultrasounds take place (I can't remember what its called!), out to see two pregnant mares, into the stables where a few horses were present, out to see the rigs that take the horses around the country, and back in to see the baby foals - a couple were only a couple weeks old!

A few interesting things I learned:
  • Warm Springs has 3 groups of horses/handlers out at a time, each for 300 days
  • If they need a vet while on the road, they go to a designated one on the route who calls the vet they use in Columbia, MO
  • The rig drivers are also the horse handlers (or maybe I should reverse that, as in order to be hired as a handler, you have you have to have your CDL license).

From the ranch, we hit the road again with intentions to stop in Columbia, MO for lunch. We were going to go to Zaxby's since Aaron had never been before, but they weren't open (as in the restaurant was just built and therefore not open yet). We went to Sonic instead as he had never eaten there either. I miss Sonic!

Then, we hit the road again for St. Louis. My goal was to get to the hotel to quickly unload our belongings before heading to our tour at Anheuser-Busch. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express - Central West St. Louis. I had booked a king balcony room, but they didn't have any left, so they upgraded us for free to a king balcony suites. The man at the desk said I would be very pleased, and he was right! I don't know how anyone could ever need that much space. The best part was I used IHG points to pay in the first place, so the room was free to start with!

We headed to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery for our 3:00 Finisher Tour. We barely made it because the parking lot was full! Luckily we saw a fellow Minnesotan pull out of a spot and snagged it. Also luckily I bought the tickets ahead of time, because all the tours were sold out for the day when we went in.

The tour lasted about 45 minutes. I'd love to explain what happened on it, but my thing is whiskey, not beer! We did get to pour a beer straight from a tank inside the brewery into the souvenir glass that came with the tour. And you could get another free beer afterwards. 

Our next stop was the Gateway Arch. We got there at about 4:!5 and wandered the grounds and the museum until our tram tour time at 4:50. Again, luckily I pre-bought our tickets as they were all sold out for the day when we arrived. 

The tram was both better and worse than I remembered it as a child. I pictured it being a white "room" with three chairs on each side of it. Turns out it was much smaller than I pictured, and only 5 chairs. Aaron and I both hit our heads going in, and we are not tall people! The upside was that my memory had blocked out the doors - I thought you were just shut in and couldn't see anything. Just thinking about that part made me very claustrophobic. Turns out the doors have windows and you can see inside the arch pretty much the whole way up which made me a whole lot less anxious! Plus, the doors weren't solidly bolted on - like there was space under/above the hinges between the door and the barrel we were willingly trapped in. 

The top was also a lot different than I remembered. The room at the top was pretty small (and arched! - which like, obviously, I just didn't remember that part). The view was great though! There were 8 trams on each side, and with 5 people fitting in each that was a max of 80 people up there at a time - and that filled the room! You had to take turns to see out the windows, and the room is split in half by a rope so you have to stay on the side you came up on.

We had intended to go to Mama's on the Hill for toasted ravioli afterwards, but couldn't find parking! It is located essentially in the middle of a neighborhood that seems to only have street parking. We were bummed because it came highly recommended, but we were also hungry so we decided we'd figure out what the hotel concierge recommended.

He recommended Imo's Pizza, and I could see why! We got a box that came with a thin crust pizza (delicious), toasted ravioli (delicious), cheese bites (delicious), and cinnamon bread (pretty good!). 

I also got to sit outside on the massive balcony and read because the weather was beautiful! 

Monday, April 8, 2024

The day I have been waiting for!! ECLIPSE DAY!!

I wanted to hit the road ASAP, because I knew traffic would be heavy. It was only an 80 minute drive to our destination, but I did not want to risk it! 

Traffic did end up being heavy, and we did have to slow to nearly a stop a couple times, but we still made it in probably 90 minutes. In fact, we were too early to our destination, so we drove around town a bit before heading back to get in.

We went to Cedarhurst Center for the Arts to join their viewing party. My friend in Mt. Vernon had recommended it to me and I figured I'd rather have a plan in place than wing it for this occasion. I knew we would be sitting around for awhile before even the partial eclipse began, so I wanted to make sure we were somewhere that there were things to do.

I asked one of the staff at Cedarhurst who said they had sold 1500 tickets to their event. They have a very large (80 acres) sculpture garden where people were scattered throughout in their lawn chairs. They had lawn games, food trucks, live music, and of course viewing of the museum. Aaron and I walked around the grounds, played giant Connect 4, and got some nachos from one of the food trucks. We were blessed to have great weather! I was SO worried about this since clouds were predicted for the vast majority of the totality path. It was nearly 80 degrees and sunny - I got my first sun burn of the year! 

The fifth grade science teacher came out of me only a couple times as I educated people about the solar eclipse like I was some kind of NASA scientist (in my fourth grade dreams!) I did teach it for five years, so I should have at least a little cred!

Totality was every bit as cool as I remember it being. It was so sweet and heart-warming to witness so many people seeing it for the first time - the entire crowd was oo-ing and ahh-ing and clapping. It's always fun to be a part of something like that - where everyone is on the same page about what it happening and there is that big connection. It just feels so unified and beautiful. Okay, sappy ramblings over.

We waited a little bit after totality to leave as we didn't want to be stuck in the rush leaving and I was hoping to see my friend before hitting the road. Unfortunately timing didn't work out and we didn't want to get too caught up in the traffic. Luckily, my GPS routed us through backroads to get out of Mt. Vernon. The interstate to Effingham wasn't terrible, but it had more traffic than I've ever seen on it (and I've driven that stretch more than most Illinoisans!) We pulled off in Effingham to get a late lunch/early dinner at Cracker Barrel - another first for Aaron!

Getting back on the interstate afterwards was unpleasant. I ended up putting the GPS on at this point to see if there was a better route. We were re-routed through a bunch of backroads until just outside of Bloomington. Even once we got back on the interstate near Bloomington, we were in stop and go traffic until our hotel exit. I knew there would be traffic, but it was so bizarre to me! I've driven these roads SO many times and never hit traffic. Thankfully I had prepared my mind beforehand - no road rage from me! I've toyed with whether we would have been better off staying on the interstate and eating once we got to Cracker Barrel in Bloomington, but I worry we still would have had crazy traffic and we would have been hangry too.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Traffic today was back to normal, which made the five hour drive we still had to go back home much easier. 

I looked up where the next eclipse will go through - Spain in 2026! Spain is in my top 5 places to visit....maybe it's time to start planning my next totality trip???