Question Of The Week

Truck Camping Eclipse Stories Across America

Eighteen Truck Camper Magazine readers share their truck camping eclipse stories and photography.  Some saw it from home while others traveled great distances.  The plans for 2024 have already begun.

This week’s Question of the Week was, “If you saw the eclipse while truck camping, tell us about your eclipse experience.”

Lance, Lisa and Rich Thornton, Eclipse

“Rich and I spent the weekend at the Summergrass Bluegrass Festival in Vista, California.  It was a great weekend of music and jamming followed by the eclipse.  We viewed the eclipse with glasses and shared them with others around us.” – Lisa and Rich Thornton, 2013 Chevy Silverado, 2007 Lance 845

Group Hamilton

“We camped at Sweetbrier Train and RV park near Scio, Oregon.  We were with friends from Germany who brought a beautiful telescope to complement our cameras and drones.  About 200 people shared the experience and we witnessed one of the most remarkable total eclipses.

Several folks were serial eclipse watchers who felt this was a special one!  It was our first, and the most incredible aspects were the darkness, the beautiful solar prominences and diamond ring, and the corona that was so large.

Celestron telescope image

The temperature plummeted, Venus was the first planet that appeared, and there were so many stars as well.  It was really dark!  I highly recommend going to one if the opportunity calls!” – Michael Hamilton, 2014 Tacoma, 2014 Four Wheel Camper Fleet

Welding mask eclipse viewing

“I was at home cleaning the camper from our last trip out and had completely forgotten about the eclipse.  My wife emailed me about it and that set off a flurry of activity for me.

My first thought was to look at it through my welding helmet, which worked fine.  Then I thought about taking pictures through it.  Holding a welding helmet with one hand and trying to maneuver a camera with a telephoto lens with the other wasn’t working too well, so I set and aimed the welding helmet on some planter basket frames in our lily bed.  That’s how I was able to take the pictures you see.

It was somewhat a funny way to get the photos, but they say necessity is the mother of invention.” – Lyle Tremblay, 2006 Bigfoot 9.4SB

“We were visiting our son and family – driveway camping in Troutdale, Oregon.  The eclipse started at 9:06am and ended at 11:38am.

Eclipse glasses with Travel Lite Camper

We had the free eclipse glasses from the library; kind of like the 3D movie glasses.  We also had a welding shield and the neighbors had pinhole cameras.

Eclipse images on the street

We all ended up in the street sharing glasses, viewing equipment and stories!  It was so much fun; an impromptu block party.

We decided not to drive to the path of totality because of the traffic.  Boy were we glad we stayed home.  Roads were still traffic jammed hours and hours after the eclipse ended.

A big thank you to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for providing free, safe eclipse glasses to the libraries across the US.” – Janet and Jim Manis, 2014 Dodge Ram 2500HD, 2015 Travel Lite 960R Illusion

Okanagan Eclipse

“I think we qualify for the Question of the Week, though perhaps not in spirit.  I assume most of your responses will be from folks already on the road who stopped to watch the eclipse.  On the other hand, the ease of truck camping, our experience finding and learning about creative camping options, and the self-contained nature of the unit allowed us to make a quick single purpose trip to see the event.

We live in southeast Iowa, which would only see 93-percent totality, but Missouri would see 100-percent.  I determined that we could be on the centerline in four hours.

Our truck camper is always stocked with clothes, toiletries, dry/non-perishable food, propane, and fully charged batteries.  So, Sunday afternoon, I backed under the camper, loaded it, and my son, daughter and I headed south from Iowa to a spot closest to us on the centerline – Mark Twain National Forest near Guthrie, Missouri.

We arrived as night enveloped the forest, mostly expecting Dry Fork Recreation Area campsites to be full – and they were.  We found a spot to boondock in the forest.  After parking, I looked at how to drive to the centerline on Monday morning, and then realized we were literally 25 feet from the centerline.  We skipped the crowds the next day and watched from the comfort of the truck camper.

I don’t have pictures of the eclipse.  Smartphone cameras and autofocus, coupled with the brightness of the sun even when partially occluded or the use of eclipse glasses over the camera do not make for useful photos.  But, we saw it in person, which was the whole point.

We marveled at the impressive sight and then drove back home.  It hardly qualifies as a trip (we rolled into the driveway at 8:00pm Monday night), but both of my children thanked me for making the trip.  I think it was a 28 hours well spent.” – Jim Brain, 2006 Ford F350, 2006 Okanagan 117DBL

“We were returning from a family camping trip on the eastern shore of Maryland/Delaware.  We stopped in Queenstown, Maryland at Pizzeria and viewed it from the town square just outside the shop.  Fun was had by many as we shared our glasses and pinhole camera boxes.  Great food and hospitality.” – Ken Knopp, 2010 Ford F-350, 2016 Lance 1172

“We went to the totality line for the total solar eclipse.  We were on NF3950 just five miles south of Fox, Oregon on August 18th.  It was way too dusty and all the land was either owned by ranchers or was off limits due to extreme fire hazards.  The yellow grass gone to seed was knee high and would catch fire on anything hot under a vehicle. That’s not to say we didn’t see others who risked parking off-road there.  So our first idea was a bust.

We looked at our eclipse maps to see where else we could still be in totality.  Ten miles away was Long Creek, bigger than the ghost town of Fox.  We stayed our first night boondocking on a hill parking area for a school.  In the morning we got generator gas and filled the diesel.

Then we heard that there was a resident up the street who just put in some RV full hookup spots.  We checked it out.  First it was $150 a night, but the wife took to us and it went down to $100.  We signed on for two nights; August 19th and 20th.  We had a good breakfast in town, supporting the locals.  Then we went exploring for a place to get our pictures.

Back at NF3950, we went all the way out and it branched off several times.  Since the day before, other campers had picked off the questionable spots.  As we left we saw two Forest Service officials kicking up dust to make sure everything being used was not going to burn down the area.  I suspect a lot of them had to move.

Back at our camp it was cocktail time and I did some experimenting with Milky Way pictures to test the lighting.  We discovered a problem with the street lights coming on. No one knew if they were timed or light sensitive.  We had to wait to the eclipse to find out.  Even the Mayor, giving a blow-by-blow account of the coming events, didn’t know.

On Sunday, August 20th, we checked out four areas to shoot the eclipse from and settled on two.  One was on the road out of town towards Galena, along the road in front of a line of Aspen trees, and a 100 year old abandoned two story house.  The other was right where we were parked.  Weather the past few days was spotty with high and wide contrails, and a smokey haze from forest fires.  We crossed our fingers and decided we should just shoot from the back of our camper, right where we were.

Eclipse day we were up early, set out our equipment, and had our coffee and breakfast.  We hooked up the iPad so everyone could see.  The iPad also allows control for the Canon M3 with 1.4 tele-extender on a 300mm L with variable lens shade and mirrored solar filter.  All of this was mounted on a Vixen Polari drive so that it would track the sun.

Cameras set up for the eclipse

The images turned out great.  We even had our camp host become a walking eclipse sign with his shirt.  His straw hat produced a multitude of eclipses between the straw fibers.

camera with special lens

We captured 80 minutes pre and 80 minutes post TSE and then less than two minutes of totality.  The path prediction must have been slightly more south of us.  I also recorded the weather every two seconds on a free standing Kestrel weather station.  I was going to record audio for any animal sounds, but didn’t for one reason or another.

What kind of pictures was I trying to get?  They were certainly not scientifically the most accurate.

Eclipse and tree Noll

I wanted to use the total ones as double exposures of landscapes closed off during the eclipse.  If you think this is cheating, look up the original and then the finished Ansel Adams Moon Rise over Hernandez.  Adams spent more time in the darkroom manipulating his negatives than he did behind the camera.” – Richard Noll, 2001 Dodge Ram 3500, 2015 Arctic Fox 1150

Cap the Dog during the Eclipse

“We didn’t actually camp since it only took about 3.5 to 4 hours to drive to the line of totality (twice as long to return).  We shared a pasture in eastern Wyoming with a bunch of great people (~100), several dogs and a small herd of cows.

Sun and Venus eclipse

During the total eclipse phase, we could see Venus, Mars and Mercury.  The wind, which had been blowing gently all day, stopped.  The cows laid down, and the crowd, especially the kids, cheered.

During the total eclipse phase

It was a totally amazing experience (pun intended).” – Cathie Leslie, 2004 Chevy Silverado 3500, ARE Camper shell

“My wife and I were at the St. Joseph, Missouri airport.  There were about 350 campers, mostly motorhomes and trailers, only four of which were pickup campers.  There were 3,500 day pass vehicles also.

When the eclipse started it sounded fantastic with all of the people cheering.  It was like a tailgate party without the drinking that is found at a sport’s game.  There were golf carts to transport the spectators to and from the vendor area.  It was great sharing an eclipse with all of the other excited people.

Looking around at the sea of people and vehicles was overwhelming.  I am already planning on going to the 2024 eclipse.  Sorry, no pictures, but lots of great memories.  I used my welding helmet to watch.” – Robert Grueschow, 2017 F150 SC, 1990 Sportsman 8SD

“We camped at Jackrabbit Campground (USFS) along the boarder of North Carolina and Georgia on the shore of Lake Chatuge.  This was right in the zone of totality!  We planned this seven months ago and got one of the last reservations available.

As the sun was slowly covered, the temperature dropped.  Sounds died out due to the growing attention given to the darkening sky by all the on-lookers.  A few insects noted the temperature change and came out to annoy us.  Then, right at totality, a huge brief cheer went up around the lake followed by two and half minutes of total silence.

The change was incredible!  Off came the glasses.  The sun’s corona was clearly visible along with a few stars.  The sky was dark except on the horizon with its eerie “not quite real” twilight.  Totally awesome.

The slow darkening of the sky was interesting, but absolutely nothing like the last few seconds before totality and totality itself.  If you didn’t get to experience totality by being just a few miles outside the zone, you missed the event.

Besides standard eclipse glasses, we were well armed to take pictures with telephoto lenses and eclipse filters.  Our only complaint (sarcasm) about the Jackrabbit Campground was that we couldn’t get a shot of our truck camper with the eclipse for the calendar contest since we had to walk 30 yards to the lake shore for wide open view.

We are already planning on 2024.” – David Kiel, 2007 Toyota Tundra, 2012 Phoenix Custom Camper

“My wife, twin 8 year old boys, and 3 year old daughter, and myself camped in Spring City, Tennessee in a field, just yards off of the centerline.  We used ISO approved glasses.  I modified the kids with some paracord so that I could suck it down on their face so we didn’t have operator error.

We experienced 2 minutes and 38 seconds of totality!  During that time the crowd of people cheered and then got silent.  It was a great experience other than the traffic afterwards!” – Kelly Traynham, 2016 Ram 3500, 2017 Northstar 12STC

“OMG!  It was awesome!  I’m so glad I went.  I decided to go almost last minute after doing some research on where to go to view the total eclipse factoring in distance and weather predictions.

I left Boston on Thursday and arrived in Madisonville, Tennessee on Saturday morning.  After scoping out the area and deciding where to view it on Monday, I drove about 1.5 hours north on I-75 and camped at Cove Lake State Park, Tennessee with electric hookups – it was hot, hot, hot.  They were the closest state park with open sites.  On the trip down I boondocked at Bass Pro Shops in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Bristol, Tennessee.

On Monday I was on the road before 6:00am and in Madisonville by 7:30am.  My viewing spot was the Walmart parking lot.  Where else, right?  Free parking, restroom access, air conditioning, WIFI, food, etc.

Walmart Parking Lot eclipse watching

It was a big party with people from all over including Germany, Japan, and India.  Many had cameras and telescopes set up and let anyone take a look through them.  I hung out with people I had just met from Michigan, Indiana, Washington D.C., Maryland, and Ontario.

The Walmart staff said it was like Christmas with the crowds.  People were buying food, water, chairs, shade umbrellas, shelters, hats, sunscreen, etc.  I put the awnings out and we sat in the shade all day getting to know each other while waiting for the big event.  I have pictures of the parking lot, but not of the eclipse as I didn’t have the proper equipment.

Walmart Parking Lot eclipse viewing

The eclipse was so cool!  Everyone had eclipse glasses to view it.  It was surreal when it was starting to get darker and darker.  There were no cars on the road, the streetlights came on, and it got very quiet except for the cicadas in the trees.

Then totality hit.  Off came the glasses and everyone cheered and then oohs and ahhhs from everyone.  It gave me goosebumps.  The corona was beautiful.  We had a 360 degree sunset effect on the horizon.  The temperature dropped.  Then the diamond ring effect happened, the glasses went back on, and it was essentially over.  But it was a fantastic experience.  I can’t wait to do it again in 2024!” – Brett Burguard, 2017 Ford F350, 2012 Northstar 9.5 Igloo

Phoenix Camper Eclipse

“We were camped off of North Creek Road, just northeast of Howe, Idaho.  We were just a tad north of the line.  We chose this area because it is far away from population centers and we expected a less congested experience.

On our way in on Saturday evening we came upon a fellow who had high centered his Honda Element and was stuck.  He had been trying to dig for a few hours and was pretty beat.  Ken has our rig outfitted with rescue equipment.  In a short time he had the snatch strap attached to both vehicles and had the Element pulled out.  All appeared sound with the vehicle so we invited Joe to camp with us.  He had driven all the way from southern California!

Eclipse Honda Element friend

We spent Sunday under the awning of our camper sharing stories and reading the Astronomy magazine he had brought, learning what to expect.  We got eclipse glasses at our local library.  Joe brought his welding helmet.

At first contact we were able to look through our lenses and see the bite at 1:00 on the sun.  I set up my camera to record the shadow as it moved across the wide valley below us.  The temperature dropped significantly.

Eclipse watching Loucks

Then Ken shouted that we had totality!  We could look up and see the corona.  I took a few pictures but just enjoyed the moment – about two minutes.  We could see Bailey’s Beads and then the thickening of the corona at about 7:00 on the sun.  Then, we had to look only with our eclipse glasses again.

We invited Joe into the camper for pancakes with homemade jam before packing up.  We could see campers leaving the area – a cloud of dust on the road.  We waited until it looked like most had left and then we headed up the valley toward home.

It was a sweet experience.  I am glad we decided to go.  And we made a new friend – definitely trail magic that we decided to take the road less traveled!” – Patrice and Ken Loucks, 2013 Toyota Tundra, 2014 Phoenix Custom Camper

Eclipse 2017 t-shirt

“We made our reservations in April at Premier RV park in Salem, Oregon.  I was told the park was sold out (over 200 spaces) but they would put me on the waiting list.  Being number 13 on the list didn’t sound so bad.  The park called in late May and a space became available.  Yes!  I was so excited.  Plus, they did not raise their standard $45 rate.

Bridge over Willamette River, Salem, Oregon

Above: Bridge over Willamette River, Salem, Oregon

We drove down on Saturday.  The City of Salem opened up all city parks for Saturday and Sunday for free camping.  We got a perfect parking space in the River Front park right along the river with great shade trees.  There were bike trails everywhere, so it was an absolutely fun day.

On Sunday we drove five miles to the RV park to stay the two nights we reserved.  Portland to Salem is about an hour drive.  Monday after the eclipse was over the reports were up to six hours of traffic back to Portland.

It was the most beautiful experience to be in that 2 minutes and 3 seconds of total blackout.  Everyone in the RV park was yelling, cheering and clapping at such an awesome sight.

Sun 293 million miles away

Using the eclipse glasses was an absolute must when the moon started its path across the sun at 9:06am.  Totality occurred at 10:18am.  To feel the chill in the air at total blackout was a weird sensation.

Now I’m excited about 2024 eclipse in Texas (blackout 4 minutes 27 seconds) or should we drive to Maine (blackout 3 minutes 30 seconds)? With the excitement of this eclipse it might be time to start booking reservations.” – Roger and Elaine Odahl, 2008 Dodge Ram 3500, 2004 Eagle Cap 950

“I can check that off the bucket list.  I witnessed the eclipse at my friend’s place, Cabooses on the Tuckasegee River, Whittier, North Carolina.  Because a co-worker at a part-time job reneged on a promise to work for me the weekend of the 19th, I couldn’t make Wyoming as planned.  North Carolina developed into a back-up plan.  I’m sure glad it did.  I took my glasses off for the totality and was mesmerized by the spectacle.  I used clip-on eclipse glasses by Solar Eclipse Shield.  I stowed them in the camper for 2024 – Maine or bust.” – Carl Ragland, 2002 Chevrolet 2500 HD, 2004 Alaskan 10-foot Cabover

Group eclipse photo in Tennessee

“Janet Amuchastegui, her son Aaron, grandson Tyson, and I drove 6 hours down I-75 from Monroe, Ohio to the Blue Water Resort campground in Dayton, Tennessee to be in the path of totality.  It was a fabulous, well-run camping site on Chickamauga Lake on the Tennessee River.  An eclipse expert even came in to present a seminar on Sunday evening for us.

The Scopes Trail

On Monday morning I took a bike ride into town and learned that Dayton, Tennessee is famous for the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial”, and saw the courthouse where it took place.

Rhea County Courthouse

At the courthouse there are their statues of William Jennings Bryan and Clarence Darrow, the two nationally famous lawyers who opposed each other in this local case.  The case was between a high school teacher teaching evolution, which was against the law there.  The story has become widely known via the play/movie Inherit the Wind.

Watching the eclipse, Arctic Fox Camper

We all had our solar glasses ready when the eclipse began, and were excited to watch the “bite” out of the sun slowly get bigger and bigger.  When it reached about 75-percent of total, we appreciated that it cooled off noticeably as it was an extremely hot and humid day.  As it continued on, we marveled at the crescent shadows created on the ground under the trees, where the light shone through.  We also used a colander to see all the crescents for each hole.

Colander, many eclipses

When it reached 90-percent, the chorus of crickets and tree frogs and other “forest song” made it seem like nighttime was approaching, and we noticed that it was slightly less bright outside, but still very much “daytime”.  As it reached about 98-percent of total, we could see the moon moving closer.  It finally got cooler and less bright all around us, and our excitement level rose.

We were looking forward to the “diamond ring” at the final moment before totality, but didn’t see it with the eclipse glasses still on.

Then it was total, and we removed our glasses!  What a sight!  The corona was spectacular, and we also saw a red spot at about 5 o’clock which we guessed was a solar flare.  We continued to comment on how cool it all looked and felt.  Then when our 2:21 of totality ended, we did see the “diamond” for an instant as the sun peeked out again – and we had to put back on the glasses.

We continued to watch the moon move away for a while but, once it got hot and humid again, and the crickets ceased their singing, we wanted to get back into our camper and enjoy the air conditioning.  We really gave our air conditioning a workout during our three days there.  It worked flawlessly.

We learned that there will be a total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024 that will cross from Texas to Maine. It turns out that Monroe, Ohio will be in the path of totality, so we won’t need to drive anywhere next time!” – Ken Mercurio, 2017 Ford F350, 2016 Arctic Fox 811

Small telescope projected image on paper

“I was due at my cousin’s in Dillon, Montana the day after the eclipse. I had been hanging out in southeast Idaho so I could be in or near the 100-percent zone for the big day and found a great boondocking spot just outside of the 100-percent zone.

The day of the eclipse someone came in and setup their small telescope.  The telescope projected a sun image onto a piece of paper allowing me to get some good pictures.  I also had a nice conversation with them during the whole event.

Small telescope projected image of the eclipse

I was in a 99-percent area and it only got as dark as it would be at dusk. It got noticeably cooler.  It was a really neat experience.

I’m glad I was in the area.  I left the day after the eclipse, so I didn’t encounter any traffic nightmares.” – Ralph Goff (aka Ramblin’ Ralph), 2006 GMC 2500HD, 2001 Lance 845

“We camped for five days on a relatives property near Silverton, Oregon and enjoyed homemade festivities while waiting for the total eclipse.

We had the approved cardboard glasses to watch the eclipse process and I used one of the lenses to cover my camera lens and take pictures.  It worked like a charm.

It was such an awesome/eerie experience to behold.  We would plan a vacation around a total eclipse in the future.  Travel well before hand and stay after the event a day or two.  We did and had no traffic issues.” – Lori Hall, 2010 Ford F250, 2012 Wolf Creek 840

Eclipse Photo Palomino

“My daughter and I were camping on the Ausable River near Oscoda, Michigan.  The trip was planned several months before I was aware of the eclipse so it was a nice surprise to discover that we would be camping during the event.

We had just enough time to set up and launch the boat.  We were able to watch from the water using cardboard eclipse glasses.  We had an estimated 80% eclipse in our area so it didn’t get too dark, but it did make another wonderful truck camping memory for us!” – Ryan Graves, 2015 Chevrolet 2500HD, 2015 Palomino HS-6601

Windmill Laramie mountains, Wyoming

“The eclipse rocked!  I traveled from Pine, Colorado to central Wyoming in the southern Laramie Mountains to a point that was in the path of totality.  I pinpointed an off-road location near the Little Medicine Bow River by searching maps.  It was about a six hour drive from home.  I took my truck camper knowing I’d be spending a few days on this venture.  Five of us journeyed for this spectacle; four humans and Lui the dog.

Viewing camp Wyoming

We brought some good camera equipment, filters, and certified viewing glasses.  We were away from urban crowds in the beautiful foothills of the Laramie Mountains.

Big Dipper before Eclipse 2017

We spiked camp the afternoon before and had a great night under the big dipper watching shooting stars.

The morning of the eclipse was crystal clear.  We set up our cameras for stills and time lapses, tables with snacks, and chairs.  The skies stayed clear through the eclipse and it was spectacular!  The total eclipse ring was amazing!

Diamond ring moon over sun

I got the shot of the diamond ring as the moon just moved off the sun a hair.  Wow, wow, wow!  I got some great photos, a time lapse, and built an evolving phase montage.

Eclipse 2017 sun moon montage

The traffic out of the area was reported to be a mad house taking twelve hours from Casper to Ft. Collins Colorado, which is a normal three to four hour drive.  Luckily I had the truck camper and just stayed in the mountains near camp another day and missed all the traffic.  I took two more days to truck camp and slowly meander home.

Here’s a link to a video I made of it:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xhvr4O-rF2M” – James McCoy, 2003 Dodge 2500, 1990 Hallmark LaVeta

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