The hum of casual conversation will give way to the "oohs" and "aahs" of grownups and gobsmacked 7-year-olds alike—all equally starstruck at the spectacle of the moon wedging itself between the Earth and the Sun. Over a span of almost three minutes, the sky will go dark, the temperature will drop 10 degrees, animals will get a little crazy, and you'll get to witness an event that hasn't happened on the U.S. mainland since 1979 and won't happen again until 2024: a total solar eclipse. And Southern Illinois is the best place in the whole country to see it.
Most of the places celebrating the 2017 Eclipse aren't too far off I-57, the interstate that runs north in a straight shot to Chicago.
If you're interested in the eclipse, you'll want to book now. Though the eclipse isn’t until August 21, available lodging is fading fast. Carbondale has reputable chain hotels, and the region as a whole offers an amazing array of lodgings, including guest houses, cabins, campsites and B&Bs. So if you want to catch the once-in-a-lifetime experience in Southern Illinois, it's best to make your reservations now. That way, you can rest easy and focus on finding the perfect ominous phrase to whisper when you see the world go dark.
Normally, Amtrak makes it easy to travel from Chicago to Carbondale aboard its Saluki and Illini lines. Tickets for those lines have sold out for the eclipse, but there are still other areas in Illinois where you can catch views of the eclipse after a breezy train ride.
Amtrak's Carl Sandburg trains serve several cities in Western Illinois, many of which have almost as much coverage as their counterparts in the state's southern towns. The town of Quincy, for instance, will have up to 97.7% coverage—and will be hosting its own events during the eclipse, including a viewing party on the Mississippi River set to live music.
Same-day trips aboard the Carl Sandburg line are still available, with trains leaving Chicago at 7:35 a.m., arriving in Quincy in time for the eclipse, and departing Quincy Depot at 5:15 p.m. Several hotels in Quincy also provide free shuttle service to and from the eclipse events, allowing you to spend the night and enjoy the town's historic architecture and fine dining.
See Amtrak.com for booking information.
Carbondale Eclipse Marketplace (Carbondale): There are several events happening in and around Carbondale all weekend, including a festival downtown featuring vendors, crafts, and live music. Be sure to lock down accommodations beforehand.
Eclipse Day at Saluki Stadium, Southern Illinois University (Carbondale): With a capacity of up to 10,000, the football stadium located on the SIU campus has a prime view of the eclipse. NASA and Adler Planetarium have collaborated on a program guided by Mat Kaplan, host of Planetary Radio. SIU also hosts events such as an Astronomy, Science and Technology Expo; an Eclipse Comic-Con Event; and the Crossroads Arts and Craft Fair. Tickets to the stadium celebration start at $25 per person, with all proceeds going toward covering the event's costs.
Moonstock Music Festival, Walker's Bluff Winery (Carterville): Ozzy Osbourne's set during the eclipse is only the culmination of this four-day music festival. Other headliners include Black Stone Cherry, Papa Roach, and Five Finger Death Punch.
Solar Celebrations on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail: Several wineries along the trail will be hosting events, including Alto Vineyards in Alto Pass; Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda; and StarView Vineyards in Cobden.
Eclipse Day at Bald Knob Cross of Peace (Alto Pass): Located on the top of a mountain, Bald Knob Cross is one of the highest points in Southern Illinois. That makes it a perfect viewing area for the Solar Eclipse. Tickets for casual viewers start at $50 and include a shuttle from nearby Rendleman Orchards.
The eclipse begins its path through 10 states just south of Portland, OR, winding its way east toward South Carolina. Most of the country will be able to see it clearly, as almost everywhere in the U.S. will catch 80 to 90 percent of the eclipse. But nowhere else comes close to how cool Carbondale will look when it goes completely dark at midday. At 1:20 p.m., Southern Illinois begins the longest period of blackout along the Path of Totality, sitting under the shroud of darkness for 2 minutes and 42 seconds. (In other places near that path, you could see total darkness for just a minute or two.)
To say that folks in Southern Illinois are excited about this eclipse wouldn't really capture the full scale of the anticipation. All in all, the region expects to welcome about 200,000 visitors that weekend. Southern Illinois University's Saluki Stadium serves as Carbondale’s helio-headquarters, with ticketed admission and speakers from NASA and Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. Mat Kaplan of Planetary Radio will host, narrate, and guide you through the experience. (That is, if he can contain his own excitement; this will be the first total eclipse of Kaplan’s nearly 20-year career.) For tickets to the stadium experience—limited to 10,000 attendees—visit the SIU website.
Six miles northeast in Cartersville, Ozzy Osbourne will take the stage at Moonstock, a four-day concert event hosted by Walker’s Bluff, an upscale general store, café, and winery. (Yes, Black Sabbath gave its last concert together earlier this year. But that won’t stop Ozzy from doing his own gigs.) To kick off the set, Ozzy plans to sing "Bark at the Moon" as the eclipse begins. Walker's Bluff has its own way to commemorate the occasion: a new moscato known as Solar Red, featuring an image of Ozzy and the eclipse on its label.
The eclipse is a convenient excuse to visit Carbondale. The small college city of 50,000 is home to a slew of other must-see attractions. Before you leave town, swing by Boo Rochman Memorial Park. Located along a busy street, the park transports you to a fantasy world where a dragon guards a full-size castle filled with secret, maze-like passages and dungeons. The Rochman family built the park to honor their son, Jeremy, an avid Dungeons & Dragons player who died in a car accident at age 19. But you don’t have to be a dungeoneer yourself to appreciate the imaginative playground, which the locals affectionately call "Castle Park." Admission is free, though donations of cash or copper nibs are appreciated.
To the south, sites along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail plan their own eclipse celebrations. Amid the excitement of the eclipse, the region retains its quiet beauty as part of the rolling foothills of the Ozark Mountains. Winding along several backroads, the trail connects 11 wineries throughout the region—many of which will be hosting eclipse-related events. (See below for a list of events happening throughout the region.)
One of the sights along the trail is impossible to miss. Visible within an area of 7,500 square miles, the Bald Knob Cross of Peace is a 111-foot-tall white porcelain monument perched atop a 1,000-foot mountain. On Eclipse Day, you can stand on the cross’s new platform built just in time for the sun show. You'll need a ticket, however, which you can purchase at the Bald Knob Cross website.
Wine aficionados have said that the Shawnee Hills remind them of what Napa was like 35 years ago, before it became overrun with tourists. Wine production started here a little before that time—mostly sweet wines, because that’s what locals wanted. These days, though, the wineries have added to the sweet wines by producing vintages for more demanding palates. Just one example: Owl Creek Vineyard's ChardonOwl, which ages in oak barrels for one year.
Each winery feels different from the next. Blue Sky Vineyard has a Tuscan feel, thanks in large part to the architecture of the tasting room and restaurant. Hedman Vineyard grows peaches, too, and evokes Scandinavia with its offbeat gift shop and a café that serves Swedish dishes and pies. Pomona Winery creates wines from fruits other than grapes; we particularly like the Jonathan Oak Aged Reserve and the Strawberry Dessert Wine. Many of the wineries offer live music on weekends, drawing local talent as well as singers/songwriters from Nashville, St. Louis, and Memphis, all of which are about a three-hour drive away.
But Eclipse Weekend is no ordinary weekend. Alto Vineyards plans to throw a four-day Solar Celebration from August 18–21, making use of its patio and wine deck to host live music, lawn games, and tastings of its award-winning wines. For its part, Blue Sky Vineyard will host a four-day party of its own, including a special-label wine release and live flamenco music.
Also along the trail: Giant City State Park in Makanda. It has a stable known for its trail rides, as well as 20 hiking trails that winds through 12,000-year-old sandstone formations and woods, ferns, and wildflowers. An easy hike gets narrow between the rocks and opens to the quiet forest before it leads back to the parking lot. The park is actually the place where you can see the total eclipse for the longest possible time—a whopping 2 minutes, 42.62 seconds. That's .62 seconds longer than you'll get in Carbondale, making for an extra millisecond you'll treasure forever.
For those who crave a little more adventure, Shawnee National Forest has plenty of excitement beyond leisurely hikes. Shawnee Bluffs Canopy Tour, also in Makanda, has eight total ziplines suspended over the valley, including one line that stretches 1,100 feet.