Friday, August 25, 2017

Coolest Field Trip Ever

Diamond Ring Effect

Our family joined the millions of other people heading to the band of totality for the Great American Eclipse. Traffic was horrendous both there and back, but we'd do it again in a minute. Even though I took pictures, including the one above to remember the day, nothing can compare to the moment the sun was completely covered and things went dark.

We left our home in Central PA early Saturday morning, destination Gatlinburg, Tennessee. On a usual day, the drive would take about 9-10 hours. Before we even got to Virginia we hit slowing traffic. Even using some alternate routes, our trip ended up taking 14 hours. It was especially irritating since we had planned to cook dinner at the house we rented instead of paying to eat out.

Sunday morning we went to an early church service, ate a quick lunch, then JT and I went out to hike the Jump Off trail in Smoky Mountain National Park. The hike was listed as moderate, but it was certainly a challenge for me. This Jump Off is reached by hiking from the Newfound Gap parking area on the Appalachian Trail, about 2 miles, taking the Boulevard Trail, then the Jump Off trail. The trail is a steady 1,275 foot climb over approximately 3 miles to the end of the trail at 6,000 feet. We ran into a couple coming down who said, "It's rough, but it's worth it. I've never seen anything like it!" Boy was he right!

The view was stunning. You could walk right up to the edge of a sheer drop off. When we got to the top, JT says, "Maybe you don't know, but I'm afraid of heights."

So I stood close to the edge to take pictures while he stood back a bit and told me I was standing too close. It felt like a serious role reversal. Another young man was up there taking pictures when we arrived and he said he was waiting on friends behind him to catch up. I was feeling all proud of myself for being a middle-aged, chubby woman able to get up on the mountain, that is, until his friends arrived. One was a 20 something girl, wearing a skirt, and a BABY! Suddenly, I didn't feel quite so amazing. She won that trophy for sure!

The total hike is about 6.25 miles, there and back, and we did it in 4 hours. I felt that was pretty good time considering the difficulty of the trail and the fact that I had a minor ankle injury going into it. We thought that gave us a pretty good idea of our ability and speed for our future hiking.

The next day was the one we were waiting for... eclipse 2017! We were staying in Gatlinburg, but planned to travel to the other side of the mountain to the Oconaluftee visitor center in the North Carolina portion of the Smoky Mountain National Park. The weather forecast was calling for the chance of a thunderstorm during the eclipse hour, so I was feeling a bit worried that our day would be ruined. As we drove through the park, we saw loads of people camped out in every parking area facing the direction the sun would be for the eclipse. We were driving around 10am, eclipse time was 2:30, and every parking lot was full! We chose our location because we would have things to do while waiting and access to restrooms and drinks. We parked in the lot, took a short walk, did a little shopping in the visitor center shop, ate lunch, and set up our cameras.

I used the lens from one of the solar eclipse glasses to cover my camera lens and take pictures leading up to the totality. Not exactly high-tech, but it did the job well. The only problem was that my camera likes to close the lens when it's been inactive for a minute, so someone had to take a picture every 60 seconds to keep the tape out of my retracting lens. I spent the next hour or so tracking the sun with the camera and waiting for the big moment.

At one point I went to the edge of the field to find some trees to look for an effect I had read about online. The shadows of the leaves would have little crescents from the eclipse. A large group of high school students had come in busses to the park. They were all sitting in the shade of the trees. When I found what I was looking for, I showed the kids who were sitting there. They were excited to see it. Suddenly, I was in the role of teacher. I wondered where their teachers were and why they weren't sharing this with the students. Funny how as a homeschool mom, it just seems natural to me to point out the cool things to any available kid.

Finally the moment we were waiting for arrived. We all agreed it was the most incredible thing we ever experienced. The park set off an airhorn when it was safe to remove our glasses during the totality and again when it was time to put them back on. It felt far too short. I wanted to continue to see this amazing moment. As soon as it started to get light out again, people started packing up and leaving. I thought that was funny since the other half of the eclipse would continue for quite some time. We stayed and continued taking pictures for nearly the entire event. Driving back to the cabin, I would open the sun roof on the van and look at the sun with my glasses to see when it was fully over.

As far as our homeschooling goes... did we take this trip as part of our homeschooling plan? Yes and no. EM is studying Earth Science this year and that does include a unit of astronomy. An eclipse fits perfectly for that purpose. But when I planned this trip, I did not plan for it to be part of 'schooling'. Our lives are just geared towards doing things like that because we enjoy learning new things. We like having new experiences. Homeschooling doesn't have to be so structured that every activity that even seems educational gets documented and called schooling. Learning should be a daily activity for every person, homeschooler or not.

1 comment:

Annie said...

That's a gorgeous diamond ring shot!!