On August 21st, the U.S. will bear witness to the first “all-American” total solar eclipse in history. On a narrow path stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, the Moon will align in such a way that it completely blots out the Sun. Day will turn to night. Chickens will go to roost, cows will start heading toward the barn, crickets will chirp their little legs off, and people watching will lose their minds at the sheer wonder of it all. There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse in the continental United States since 1979, and this is the only time ever that such an eclipse has been visible exclusively to the U.S., and U.S. alone. Do not miss you chance to see it.
“For any one specific location, you can expect on average a total solar eclipse every three to four hundred years, perhaps,” says Mitzi Adams, a heliophysicist at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center. She tells me that eclipses are really not that rare, but that most occur over the ocean. “The shadow of the Moon is fairly small because the Moon itself is small, and so the path of totality is narrow. Since Earth is mostly water, most of the time that path falls on water and not on land.”
This year, if you try to catch the show outside the path of totality, you might see a partial eclipse: a slice of the Sun will look like it’s been eaten, and then everything will go back to normal. A total eclipse is not just “a little better” than a partial. It’s a completely different, mind-blowing experience—day-to-night-to-day in a span of a few minutes. You need to be a part of this. But…
It’s not necessarily as easy as getting in your car and driving to the path of totality. Two hundred million people live within driving distance of the path of totality, and they’re all going to be driving to the same place. Traffic, parking, hotels, restaurants—if you can think of an accommodation, it’s going to be packed. Are there enough restrooms for 200 million people? Nope! But in keeping with the all-American theme of the event, members of the military, whether active, reserve, or retired, have one advantage that civilians do not: military bases. Vast swaths of land with on-site hotels, dining, and shopping, and best of all: giant gates with armed guards posted in front. Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines: this land is your land, and promises the single best seats in the world to see the eclipse.
State-by-state, here are the military bases where you can see the show. And if you’re close to the path, here are a few ideas for where you might head to get the best eclipse experience.
Oregon isn’t exactly bursting with bases, but if you are somehow posted here, you’re going to want to head to the northern half of the state—toward Salem, perhaps, or if you can get to the coast, to Newport for a spectacular seaside celestial show.
Mountain Home Air Force Base is so close to the path of totality, and yet so far away. Service members on the base will see an impressive partial eclipse—the Sun will certainly darken—but it won’t go black. It’s worth waking early and fighting traffic. The nearest town that will experience the total eclipse is Idaho City, 90 minutes north, but if you’re really up for a challenge, bring along your mountaineering gear and veer west to Borah Peak. It’s almost dead center of the path of totality, and you’ll be in for a treat above, below, and all around you. Why? Read on!
From a step-out-the-front-door and see it standpoint, F. E. Warren was built a little too far south. On the other hand, you’re well in range of the Grand Tetons, where—and this will blow your mind—from high elevations you can look down on the valley below and see the Moon’s shadow racing across the landscape before plunging the world into darkness. The same thing (perhaps more dramatically) can be seen from Borah Peak in Idaho. Park rangers expect that this will be the busiest day in the history of Grand Teton National Park, so start planning now.
We’re zero out of four for the states on the eclipse path, but airmen stationed at Offutt should make the drive to Lincoln, one of the biggest cities on the path of totality. They’re pulling out all the stops, and parks will be teeming with revelers. It’ll be like Mardi Gras, Nebraska-style. (Which is basically any other Tuesday in New Orleans, but at least they’re trying.)
Only the tiniest part of the path of totality touches Kansas, so to see the total eclipse without the crowds, drove over to MIssouri. That’s where the real party will be. Where, you ask? Read on!
Are you stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base? If so, congratulations! Go to Missions End Club on base, have a few beers (if you’re off duty of course!) and at 11:40 a.m., walk out to the parking lot and prepare your brain for the event of a lifetime! Please send us pictures of the party! Note that the eclipse will only be total in the northern part of the base—plan accordingly. (Are you at Fort Leonard Wood? Don’t feel bad. At least you’re in the Army. Drive up to Whiteman and impress the drunk airmen at Missions End. Remember: all those wings you see above their name tapes are just function badges. Everybody in the Air Force gets one. They are not paratroopers.)
Here’s the bad news: You’re stationed at Fort Campbell, swarming with Sergeants Air Assault and so hot in the summer that even your shadow sweats. Here is the good news: You are at the single best military base in the United States to witness a total solar eclipse! If you are scheduled to be at Air Assault School during the eclipse, you probably won’t enjoy it, but there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be doing flutter kicks outside anyway. Just look up, go to your happy place, and enjoy the best view in the U.S. military.
If you’re stationed at Arnold Air Force Base, you’re probably a genius and have already designed a special rocket engine to fly you to the nearest town where the total eclipse can be enjoyed. That town is Morrison to the northeast, but you’d may as well head northwest to Murfreesboro. It’s an extra ten minutes on the road, but you’ll be in a college town. Wear your uniform to impress the civilians. Somebody will probably buy you lunch. (Or you could drive to Nashville, where I’ll be for the eclipse, and you can buy me lunch.)
Only a sliver of the path of totality touches North Carolina. Sorry Airborne—you’re just going to have to drive from Fort Bragg to South Carolina.
Like North Carolina, only a tiny piece of Georgia will be party to the total eclipse. If you’re at Merrill, you will be close, but Ranger, you are a no-go at this station. The soldiers at Fort Gordon will also be this close, but should probably just take a day of leave and bolt it to Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
The Moon saved the best for last. South Carolina is an eclipse lover’s dream, with the path of totality sweeping across nearly the entire state. This is even better news for service members, who will enjoy the show without fighting crowds. Even better, you have lots of choices: Fort Jackson, Shaw Air Force Base, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, and Joint Base Charleston all made the cut. Parris Island is a bit too far south, though, and I don’t imagine that a field trip is in store for recruits there. Future Marines will be able to enjoy a pretty nice partial eclipse, though.
Is your base in the path of totality? Send me an email and I’ll update the list. Here is an interactive map that will provide eclipse times and durations. One more thing: If the weather gets ugly at your viewing area and clouds steal the big show, don’t worry. Mitzi Adams at NASA says you’ll get your chance again in seven years. “We’ll have another opportunity to see an eclipse in the United States on April 8, 2024, That path of totality will come up through Mexico, will go through Carbondale, Illinois again—they will get the total eclipse this year too—then the path will exit off the coast of Maine.” So start planning now.