Totality: Our Total Solar Eclipse Experience in Cleveland, Tennessee
Two years ago, Mark began talking about an incredible once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon that would grace the USA with its presence: The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse. We planned vacations around different areas of totality, not sure where we would end up to watch the event. Fate wanted us to be in Cleveland, Tennessee. We can’t argue with fate!
A few months out from the eclipse date of August 21, 2017, the hype began to grow, and we realized that more people than just our nerdy selves were making plans to be in the area of totality. So, what did we find? Sold out hotels or rooms upwards of $800.
Mark, armed with his laptop, had the path of totality open in one browser window and a map of hotels in another. He literally went town by town trying to find us a place to stay. Where did we find a hotel room (at not just a decent price, but a NORMAL price)? In Cleveland, Tennessee, which is around five hours from our home in Mississippi. Road trip!
The people in the Chattanooga/Cleveland area of Tennessee are some of the friendliest people I have ever met in my life. We definitely thought, “Man, this is too good to be true!” I know the south is known for hospitality, but we’re from Mississippi, and we’ve never seen that consistent level of kindness.
Mark’s dad (his parents road-tripped with us) said he felt like he was in the Twilight Zone with so many kind people and our streak of good luck. If you are from Southeast Tennessee, be so proud of the people in your area. The kindness brought tears to my eyes on a couple of occasions. There really is so much good in the world!
The Cleveland Chamber of Commerce/Convention & Visitors Bureau was so hospitable to us, welcoming us with open arms and making sure we attended their eclipse event, the Solar Sip and See at Morris Vineyard, a local winery.
The morning of eclipse day, we visited a local screen printing shop, Brooks Screen Printing, and picked up some fabulous “I Saw the Total Eclipse in Cleveland, Tennessee” shirts. Perfection. Also super-kind people! People asked us for the next two days where we found our shirts. We hope we sent a lot of customers to you, Brooks!
If you’ve ever visited Southeast Tennessee (like Rock City and Lookout Mountain), then you already know how jaw-droppingly gorgeous the countryside is. As we drove out of the town center of Cleveland, the roads became narrow and winding, green hills, pastures, and trees filtering the sunlight claimed our attention.
Following the signs to Morris Vineyard, we finally made it to our final destination. And it was breathtaking. BREATHTAKING! From just behind the winery on top of the hill, we could see row after row of muscadines in the vineyard with trees, hills, and then mountains in the distance.
Not knowing what to expect as far as crowds or traffic, we arrived about two hours before the eclipse event would actually start. We met Melissa, Mary, and Aaron of the Cleveland Chamber, talked with the locals, listened to live bluegrass music, and grabbed a few barbecue sandwiches for lunch.
The time FLEW by, but that’s to be expected when you’re in good company! At about one o’clock, Mark looked up with his solar glasses and exclaims, “IT’S ALREADY STARTED!”
Leaving our picnic table in the shade behind, we made our way behind the winery to an empty spot on top of the hill. No chairs, no blankets, we just plopped ourselves down in the freshly cut grass to begin our ritual of looking skyward every three minutes or so.
The excitement began! I loved hearing other people discover that the eclipse had already begun…always squeals, laughter, and lots of “Oh my gaaaa!”
And then….the clouds came. All morning, there had been very few or no clouds in the sky. 45 minutes away from totality, this gargantuan cloud comes out of nowhere and sits between us and the sun, so thick we couldn’t see even a hint of the sun’s rays.
Did I panic? Oh yeah. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, one that people call “life-changing.” And this cloud was coming to rain on our parade?! Yes, panicked. And angry. But, I told myself that we had plenty of time for the cloud to disappear as quickly as it came.
Guess what. It did. Looking out over the valley, we could see the sun moving in our direction. Finally, the cloud was gone entirely. And just in time!
Our countdown started somewhere around 15 minutes out. When the sun began to look like the Cheshire Cat’s smile, we could feel the excitement on the hill.
The change in temperature put a bit of a chill in the air, and we watched amazed as day turned into night. I was so torn between looking up at the sun and looking at my surroundings. It was all so surreal. The frogs and insects became louder and louder, making 2:30 in the afternoon feel more like 8:00 at night.
The moon slid ever so slightly and covered the entire sun from our view. And this is when I got emotional. We could take our solar glasses off and view the eclipse with our naked eyes. The tears came, but I’m not sure exactly why. Sure, it was overwhelming and definitely something other-worldly. I think I was crying over how lucky we were. To be in the right place at the right time under the right conditions to witness something so incredible.
It looked like a glowing black hole in the sky. Unreal. Venus was shining brightly to the right of the eclipse. I don’t know how I managed it in less than two and a half minutes with tears steadily blocking my view, but I picked up my camera and successfully took a few photos of totality.
And in a snap, we saw the diamond ring shape in the sky as the moon moved off of the sun. The glasses had to go back on, and the Cheshire Cat smile came back. Before, the grin seemed to say, “Here it comes!” and after, the grin said, “How’d ya like THAT?!”
I was happy to learn that there were plenty of tears at the vineyard that day. Totality just brought out this gut, visceral feeling that many of us couldn’t fight. I think that’s totally acceptable when you witness something so beautifully indescribable.
We want to thank the Cleveland Chamber for their hospitality. We could not have asked for a more beautiful setting to witness this historic event, and we can’t wait to visit the area again for some whitewater rafting! You know you’re visiting a great area when their online hashtag is #LetsAdventureYall!
Now, our dilemma is knowing that we’ll never top the experience of a total eclipse! What adventure could be better? But, we’re already planning to see the next one in 2024. Who knows if that will happen? Is it possible that we’ll have perfect luck two eclipses in a row?
If you did not see 100% totality this year, I urge you to make plans for the next one. 99% is not enough. There is a world of difference in that 1%. The best description I’ve found of this difference is from Eddie Mahoney, NASA Ambassador: “The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is like the difference between reading a menu and dining, or between having super bowl tickets and listening to the game on the radio in the parking lot.”
He’s not kidding. Make the time and effort to see the next total eclipse if at all possible.
Did you watch the 2017 solar eclipse? Did you see partial or total? From where? What are your thoughts on totality? Did any of you get emotional like I did? Let us know in the comments below!
Pin it! Share this post on Pinterest!
Jennifer is the founder of Just Chasing Rabbits travel blog. She lives in Mississippi with husband/travel companion, Mark, and three fur babies. After obtaining a BA degree in studio art and working in the field of photography for years, Jenni has combined her love of travel and photography to form this blog. Mark and Jenni share their experiences in hopes of inspiring others to have wonderful adventures and see the world.
You can follow Jenni on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.