“It is the most spectacular thing you will ever see. Once you see it, you will never forget it,” Astronomy magazine senior editor Michael Bakich promises viewers of the first total solar eclipse to cross the United States in 38 years.
To celebrate, Bakich is planning “the biggest event on Earth” in Missouri on Aug. 21. Put his party at St. Joseph’s Rosecrans Memorial Airport on your travel calendar.
Quirky events help make Missouri a viewing destination: “Get Your Eclipse on Route 66” in St. Clair. Renew your vows or get hitched for the first time at former mule capital Lathrop’s corona-lit “double-ring” wedding ceremony. Toast totality in the midday dusk along the Mississippi River with Hemman Winery’s Totality wine.
Experienced travelers will appreciate the practical considerations as well: major airports in Kansas City and St. Louis, longer eclipse durations than at other sites , and highway and hotel infrastructure that can handle hordes of sun-seekers.
The eclipse path almost parallels Interstate 70, which bisects the state. August weather in Missouri is typically clear, but if the big day dawns cloudy, you can scoot quickly to clearer skies.
The line of totality sweeps from St. Joseph, in the northwest corner of the state, to southeast Missouri. Four and a half million people live within a half-day drive.
Kansas City and St. Louis, the state’s two biggest metropolitan areas, along with college town Columbia, will be ready, Bakich said. But some smaller towns may not be. “It’s not like a zombie apocalypse. Zombies don’t need food, healthcare and gasoline,” he said.
St. Louis has been getting calls from London, Germany and Sweden for the last two years and has stocked 400,000 pairs of viewing glasses. Eclipse Task Force volunteer Don Ficken said, “They don’t call us ‘Gateway to the West’ for nothing.”
Because many highways to the eclipse sites radiate from town, he suggests staying a few days in one of St. Louis’ hotels, touring the Arch, zoo and Anheuser-Busch brewery, then finishing with an eclipse day trip.
You can also headquarter in Kansas City, take in a Royals game, enjoy barbecue and ride the downtown streetcars, then scurry north for the celestial spectacle. Hint: Stay north of the Missouri River or in St. Joseph; traffic might get heavy on Aug. 21.
Or book rooms in St. Joseph, another gateway city, birthplace of the Pony Express and jumping-off point for gold rush forty-niners. Bakich expects 100,000 at his bash at the Rosecrans Memorial Airport. It’s just one of five viewing events in town.
Columbia, smack on the eclipse path and halfway across the state, is home to the University of Missouri Tigers so it is used to handling crowds and holding festivals. Its events target both serious and casual viewers.
Camping and/or lodging and special events are slated at the 42 state parks along the eclipse route. Ride a bike in the midday dark in Katy Trail State Park or watch the eclipse next to prehistoric petroglyphs at Washington State Park.
In Missouri or elsewhere, don’t miss what eclipse consultant Kate Russo called an “eerie, awe-inspiring, unsettling, beautiful and often overwhelming” experience.
“Totality is what it’s all about,” said Bakich. “The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is like the difference between watching the Super Bowl from inside the stadium or staying out in the parking lot.”
A dozen eclipse dos and don’ts:
1. Monitor weather conditions. Dress for conditions and drink plenty of water.
2. Allow time for travel and other necessities. You don’t want to be stuck in traffic or a port-a-potty when the show begins.
3. Prepare now. Aug. 21 may be the most requested vacation day in history.
4. Make it an eclipse weekend. Take in related activities in locations touched by the moon’s shadow to get full value from your trip.
5. Stay flexible. Unless you are certain the day will be clear, don’t lock yourself in. If it’s cloudy before the eclipse starts, you’ll want to move to a better location the earlier the better.
6. Record the temperature drop with a video camera. Attach a digital thermometer and watch to a white background. Shoot occasionally from 15 minutes before totality until 15 minutes afterward.
7. Watch for the moon’s shadow. If you’re viewing from a high elevation, you may see it approaching at about 1,500 miles per hour, twice the speed of sound. It may also darken thin cirrus clouds.
8. During totality, take a few seconds to scan the horizon. You’ll see sunset colors all around you. In effect, those locations are where sunset (or sunrise) are happening.
9. Get a filter. Cardboard eclipse glasses with optical Mylar lenses cost about $2 and filter dangerous infrared (heat) and ultraviolet radiation. Another safe filter is a No. 14 welder’s glass, also about $2. No filter? Make a pinhole camera. It can be as simple as two pieces of paper with a tiny hole in one of them.
10. Bring a chair, sunscreen, an umbrella, snacks and drinks. You’ll be standing or sitting outside for hours.
11. Take pictures before and after totality but not during. Record your viewing site and the people you’re with, but don’t fiddle with your camera and forget to look at the eclipse. No picture will match what your eyes will reveal.
12. Experience totality alone. You’ll be with others, but during totality itself, mentally shed your surroundings to focus on the celestial.
Source: Michael Bakich, Missouri Division of Tourism
Events in Missouri
Heading to Missouri for the eclipse? Here are some events you might want to take in:
St. Joseph: Free event Aug. 21 at Rosecrans Memorial Airport, 100B N.W. Rosecrans Road. Astronomers, filtered telescopes, teacher workshops available. Reserve camping/parking at attendstar.com. Local radio stations will simulcast eclipse event info, important because crowds may limit cell and data service.
Lathrop: Events Aug. 18-21 at the town fairground will include a hoedown, chuck wagon, horseshoe pitching, fashion contest, mule show and gospel sing. Officiant will renew old vows or hitch couples with a marriage license and witness in eclipse “double-ring” ceremony. Camping and viewing information/registration at www.lathropeclipse.com
Capitol Viewing, Jefferson City: Join the Missouri State Museum for a safe viewing event on south lawn of statehouse, 201 W. Capitol, Jefferson City. Interpreters and program, 11 a.m.-3 p.m.
CoMo Eclipse: College-town Columbia offers family friendly weekend activities at Cosmo Park, including an outdoor movie, bike trail ride, educational info, live music and food trucks. Scientific exhibits, Aug. 21.
St. Clair: The totality center line crosses Route 66 at St. Clair, where events Aug. 18-21 include a parade, outdoor movies, scavenger hunt, bluegrass festival, car show, viewing stations. The St. Clair Historical Museum, at 560 S. Main St, is open Aug. 20 with an eclipse exhibit and science program.
If you go
THE BEST WAY TO MISSOURI
FROM LAX to St. Louis: American and Southwest offer non-stop service, Southwest offers direct service (stop, no change of planes) and Southwest, American, United and Delta offer connecting service (change of planes). Restricted round-trip airfare from $291, including taxes and fees.
FROM LAX to Kansas City: Delta, Southwest and American offer nonstop service, and American, Southwest, United, Delta and Alaska offer connecting service. Restricted round-trip airfare from $264, including taxes and fees.
WHERE TO STAY
Wayside Motel, 7800 Watson Road, Marlborough; (314) 961-2324. Well-kept 1940s-built red-brick cottages in a St. Louis suburb. Classic tile bathrooms and original carports.
Tiger Hotel, 23 S. 8th St., Columbia;  875-8888. Its glowing red-orange rooftop Tiger sign has long been a community landmark. Doubles from $179.
WHERE TO EAT
Boudreaux's Louisiana Seafood & Steaks, 224 N. 4th St., St. Joseph, Mo.; (816) 387-9911. Great atmosphere and even better Cajun food.
Smokehouse Bar-B-Que’slocations in Gladstone, Kansas City and Independence are favorites for burnt ends and hickory-smoked beef brisket served with fries, Texas toast and coleslaw.
Booches Billiard Hall, 110 S. 9th St., Columbia; (573) 874-9519. Serves the state’s best burger on wax paper, no plates or silverware, in a small pool hall with a cool history.
Flat Branch Pub & Brewing, 115 S. 5th St. Columbia; (573) 499-0400. Trendy microbrewery with delicious food and a pretty patio for outside dining.