Totality 2024: The Solar Eclipse in Paducah, Kentucky, April 28, 2024

After experiencing the solar eclipse that placed Nashville in totality in 2017, Rachael and I began discussing traveling to encounter the next solar eclipse to occur in the United States.

Rachael and I on Eclipse Day in Nashville, August 21, 2017
Our daughter, Evangeline, and cousins watching coverage of the eclipse in Nashville, August 21, 2017
My wife, Rachael, and our daughter, Evangeline, during totality in Nashville, August 21, 2017

After researching the prospects, we quickly found that on April 8, 2024, a path of totality would sweep across the central part of the United States, including areas of Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio (along with states in the Northeast).

Map of Totality, April 8, 2024 []

We discussed several options, and our tentative plan was developed – traveling to Little Rock, Arkansas, for the 2024 eclipse. I set a calendar reminder for approximately one year before the eclipse so we could begin arranging our lodging and logistics.

When the time came, I researched various locations to verify that Little Rock was our best option before booking our trip. However, after creating a spreadsheet of viable locations, we decided to travel to Marion, Illinois. The drive was shorter for us, and Marion was expected to experience over four minutes of totality.

By the time we made our final destination decision, all of the lodging in Marion was fully booked, so we were forced to modify our plan. I was able to find a hotel in Paducah, Kentucky—one hour south of Marion—for the two nights before the eclipse. After booking the hotel, our plan began to take form. We would leave Nashville on Saturday and spend two nights in Paducah before traveling up to Marion on the morning of the eclipse.

We wanted to arrive in the area a couple of days before the eclipse to ensure we did not hit any significant traffic issues during our trip and to give us a day or two to enjoy the area.

The eclipse occurred on a Monday, so Evangeline was already destined to miss at least one day of school to make the trip. We originally intended to drive back to Nashville following the eclipse in Marion – an approximate three-hour drive.

While learning about traveling to an eclipse, it was recommended that we arrange an alternative plan in case the weather was poor in our primary location. I ended up booking a campground in Piedmont, Missouri, to secure a location a bit further southwest. This location was not ideal due to the lengthy drive, but it provided an alternative.

With the plan set in motion, we anticipated our trip for many months. I decided to take up the challenge of photographing the eclipse. I had seen photos from the previous eclipse, and capturing such an ephemeral event appealed to me.

I watched various tutorials, read articles, and scoured lengthy discussions with advice from people with experience photographing an eclipse.

I already owned a Sony Alpha a6400 camera, which would be sufficient to capture the event. However, I needed a telephoto lens, a solar filter, and a better tripod to succeed in my ambitious endeavor.

About a month before the eclipse, I purchased a Sigma 100-400mm telephoto lens and an ND 100000 solar filter, appropriately sized to fit on the lens.

I began experimenting with various settings while photographing the sun outside on our deck around 2:00 p.m. each day, the approximate time that we would experience totality in Marion. I learned about different exposure settings, bracketing for multiple exposures, and adjustments required during the various contact points that represented phase changes during the eclipse.

One of my practice shots during the week prior to the eclipse, taken from my back deck in Nashville, Tennessee

While I wished for a camera with better resolution, I was pleased with the results of my experiments. It also gave me confidence that I could actually capture some shots on the day of the eclipse, pending clear weather.

The week leading up to the eclipse was somewhat stressful as we kept a close eye on the weather forecast. The first reports indicated that it might be cloudy in the central United States on eclipse day.

Knowing that forecasts and models can change, we waited until the day before our trip, and it appeared that it would essentially be a coin flip. Some models indicated it would be partly cloudy, while others said it would be clear. Interestingly, Monday – the day of the eclipse – was sandwiched between two storms, which provided enough variance to cause concern.

We decided that continuing with our plan to go to Marion gave us the best outcome with minimal driving. Our backup location in Missouri was forecasted with the same weather, so we canceled those plans and went all in on Illinois.

A few days before we left, Rachael was reading advice online about traveling to the eclipse, and many people warned about the post-eclipse traffic jams. Our original plan was to drive back to Nashville after the eclipse. However, with this new insight, we discussed possibly staying in the area another night and driving back on Tuesday.

Since the plan at that point was to view the eclipse in Marion, we looked for a hotel Monday night in Marion. Apart from a few low-rated hotels, the only option available was the Holiday Inn Express, which cost a staggering $550 for a single night. Despite the high cost, this was the only option in the area that we saw as feasible without traveling into a potential traffic mess, so we winced a bit and booked it.

The day we left was Alexander’s first baseball game. My parents attended the game and picked up Leona since they agreed to watch her while we were gone.

Unfortunately, Alexander was disagreeable during the opening day festivities at the ballpark. After causing a scene, we came home—already completely spent—and packed up the remaining items in the car to head to Paducah.

We arrived in Paducah around dinner time and ate at the hotel before settling in our room. We rechecked the weather, and it was about the same. I tried to maintain a positive mindset, reminding everyone that even if we do not see the eclipse directly, we will still experience the darkness and other effects caused by totality.

We discussed the possibility of staying in Paducah for the eclipse since the weather forecast was starting to be a bit more favorable for that area. The only tradeoff was the duration of totality – a little over four minutes in Marion vs. about a minute and a half in Paducah. We also discussed the possibility of going to Metropolis, just across the river, as it was in the same area and gave us slightly more totality duration.

On Sunday morning, we began scouting out a few locations in Paducah that might be viable locations to camp out for the eclipse. We went to a business park near our hotel and then to an area of land in a more remote part of town. Both locations were suitable, but we were still uncertain where we would end up.

During our original planning, we had already decided on a location in Marion – a large park with a playground for the kids and bathrooms (since it would be a long day). Unfortunately, neither location that we scouted in Paducah had these features.

We chose to go to Metropolis to take the kids to see the large Superman statue and possibly scout out a location there in case we decided on that area for Eclipse Day.

Alexander and Evangeline with the Superman Statue in Metropolis, Illinois
Greetings From Metropolis

We found a lovely park with a lot of land just outside the downtown area that would work well. There was a playground for the kids, and after seeing this location, it looked like we might actually end up at Metropolis for the eclipse.

While there, we walked around the downtown area where vendors were setting up for the festivities planned later that day. We visited the Superman shop and snapped some photos before returning to the car to travel back to Paducah.

In the afternoon, we went to Atomic City, a family fun center with arcades, bowling, glow golf, laser tag, and go-karts. The kids especially enjoyed the “soft play” area, where they could climb, swing, and slide.

Atomic City in Paducah, Kentucky

That evening, as we looked at the forecast again, it looked like Paducah had a better chance of minimal cloud cover, while Marion still looked like a coin flip. We decided it was better to stay in Paducah to give us a more probable chance of seeing the eclipse rather than take a gamble on Marion, even though the totality lasted longer there. We decided to make the final decision in the morning, but all signs pointed to staying in Paducah.

We went to Walmart to pick up a few items we needed for the next day and purchased an outdoor sports set with a net, ball, horseshoes, etc. We hoped this would keep the kids entertained at the park in case they grew tired of the playground.

During dinner at the hotel that night, Rachael asked the hostess where a good location would be to experience the eclipse in Paducah. She recommended Noble Park. After looking at an aerial map, the park looked perfect – a beautiful setting, several large areas without trees, an expansive playground, and bathrooms.

Our revised plan began to take form.

To ensure we would have enough battery to use the car at the park the next day, I drove the car about 30 minutes to the east to charge it up. Having a climate-controlled area with some entertainment might help pass the time while we waited at the park for the eclipse.

We discussed what time we should arrive at the park. I wanted to ensure we secured a good spot near the playground since that would provide entertainment for the kids most of the day. So, we agreed to arrive at 8:30, hoping to beat the mass influx of people that day.

This plan worked out perfectly. When we arrived at 8:30 on the day of the eclipse, there were only a few cars in the parking lot directly adjacent to the area with a large playground. We easily found a prime spot and began unloading our camping chairs and gear. Within an hour, the parking lot was completely full, and the rest of the park started bustling with activity. By 10:00 or so, we noticed cars were circling, looking for a parking spot. Despite the massive area and multiple parking lots, no spots remained available by 10:30.

Noble Park in Paducah, Kentucky – The morning of the eclipse

It reminded me of a tailgating environment. Each group was setting up chairs, blankets, and some even had small grills where they were preparing food. Kids were playing on the playground, and we settled in for the long day. We were next to a family from Nolensville and another from Minnesota. The leisure time while everyone waited for the main event allowed for brief conversations with our eclipse neighbors.

Around mid-morning, I set up my camera gear and snapped some practice images. I transferred the images to my laptop to verify that everything looked good to go. Despite my preparation, I grew anxious as the eclipse became imminent.

My initial camera setup while it was still very cloudy at the park

There was a Kroger right next to the park, so Rachael walked there to pick up some food for lunch. Fortunately, the Tesla came in handy. We sat in the car with the climate control on and watched episodes of Bluey while we ate our lunch. As the day progressed, it became warmer outside, so the car definitely provided an ideal place to sit and escape the heat.

Cooling off in the car during lunch

After lunch, we decided to take a walk around the park. Rachael had purchased some bread at the store to feed the ducks at the pond in the middle of the park. We walked around to the other side, where the ducks were gathering. The kids had a lot of fun tossing bread and watching the ducks waddle toward their treat. Anticipating that we would be anchored for the next couple of hours, we stopped at the bathrooms on the way back to our spot in the park. The bathrooms were, eh, as you might expect with thousands of people flowing into a central outdoor area for an event.

Feeding the ducks at Noble Park (Yes, I tried to tell them feeding bread to ducks is bad for their health…)
Ice Cream Time

We returned to our area at the park, and the kids began playing on the playground again. About ten minutes before the eclipse started, Alexander showed signs that he obviously needed to use the restroom despite our attempt to ensure everything was taken care of before this time. The lines to the bathroom had grown incredibly long, creating a bit of a crisis if I were to capture the eclipse from start to finish. Fortunately, Rachael took Alexander to the Dairy Queen across the street while I completed my final preparation before the action began (Thanks Rachael!).

First contact occurred a little after 12:45. However, I was the only one in our area that seemed to care. Everyone else was just waiting for totality – understandable.

My Camera Setup: Sony Alpha A6400, Sigma 100-400mm Telephoto Lens, Solar ND 100000 Filter, External LCD Monitor

I began snapping images about every minute or so with a remote trigger.

Since my focus was isolated to the camera, time went by quickly. The kids continued to play on the playground and occasionally came back to our area to peer through the paperboard eclipse glasses to look at the “bite out of the sun.”

“Bite out of the sun,” Shortly after first contact

I worked to reposition the camera every five minutes or so to keep the sun in frame and realized the massive benefit that a tracking mount would have been—not necessary, but much easier.

With approximately ten minutes until totality, we called the kids over so we could all experience it together.

As the sky began to look like dusk, a man pulled out a big white sheet and spread it on the ground nearby. Then, we noticed he was holding a large utensil with several small holes. We immediately ushered the kids over to witness the crescent-shaped light patterns sprinkled all over the sheet. I am very thankful that this gentleman brought these items to showcase some of the interesting effects as the totality drew closer.

The weather, which had been uncomfortably hot and slightly humid, began to cool – almost to a chill – as the sky became a glowing navy and orange color.

People began to quiet themselves with anticipation for what was mere seconds away.


As people gasped in awe at the visual spectacle, I quickly removed the solar filter from the lens and began snapping shots as quickly as I could.

I reminded myself to take a moment to “experience” the event instead of being distracted by trying to “get the shot.” This is something that I had heard from several photographers who had captured eclipses in the past. It is difficult, though. You want to ensure your efforts are not in vain, and you are forced to balance your attention on framing, exposure, and shutter with experiencing the moment.

Taking a moment to enjoy the eclipse with my kids

If I recall correctly, I only looked up with my eyes two or three times as I continued to press my remote shutter. I also interacted with the kids a bit, knowing this was an incredible moment to share with them. I wish I had more time to experience it.

But, as quickly as it came, we soon saw a bright light burst out behind the shadow. The world started to become light again. Eclipse glasses back on. Solar filter back on. Reframe. Shutter. Shutter. Shutter.

People began clamoring about how amazing it was. The park was filled with a mixture of laughter and astonishment.

Shortly after, we noticed shadow bands racing across the grass – a fascinating effect that can only be seen shortly after the third contact.

The children began running back to the playground equipment. Conversations around us transitioned back to leisure talk. People started heading to their cars. The main attraction was over, but this was just half-time for me.

For another hour and fifteen minutes, I sat by the camera, holding the remote shutter, snapping photos and continuing to reframe the shot periodically.

As I worked, Rachael began collecting the outdoor games strewn about on the ground. In hindsight, the kids only played with those things for a total of about five minutes – not worth the $15.

The points between the third contact (leaving totality) and the fourth contact (when the moon no longer obscures the sun) are certainly not as exciting. The lead-up to totality is novel and exciting as the anticipation builds. The moments after totality are just the reverse actions, with the novelty already completely drained.

I faithfully clicked away until the moon exited the stage. I hoped I had captured it well enough. As I played back the moments in my head, I remembered seeing some really amazing previews on my screen while snapping during totality. I hope the focus was sharp.

After the event was concluded, we discussed our next plan. We could see that cars were still lined up trying to exit the park, so there was no reason to hastily pack everything up.

Going nowhere

We decided to wait it out while almost everyone else packed up and secured their spot in the long line of idling vehicles. The kids played with some bubbles. Alexander and I got his baseball gear out of the car and practiced a bit. By 4:15, traffic appeared to be flowing again, so we packed everything into the trunk and started our journey up to Marion, Illinois—where, apparently, they also had clear skies during the eclipse.

As soon as we hit the interstate, we realized we had made the right decision to stay in the area another night. Our lanes heading north were moving without any issues. However, the opposite lanes, heading away from totality, were bumper-to-bumper – and that was still inside the path.

We reached the hotel around 5:30 and decided to walk to Culver’s next door for dinner. Coincidentally, the Tesla supercharger in Marion was right across the street. As we sat down at our table, we peered over and gawked at the number of Tesla cars waiting for the supercharger. The line was wrapped all the way around the parking lot—possibly 20-30 cars. That situation had not improved by the time we were walking back to the hotel. I hoped for a better situation tomorrow morning.

Tesla charging line in Marion, Illinois post-eclipse

When we got to the hotel room, I loaded some shots onto my computer and began editing a few for a couple of people from the park who requested photos. I was amazed at some of the shots I captured. The bracketed exposure was definitely the best tip I could have learned going into the eclipse. That gave me five shots with different exposure intensities every time I hit the shutter button. This allowed me to layer images and play with certain effects that otherwise would not have been possible.

The next morning, as Rachael, Evangeline, and Alexander went to breakfast in the hotel, I drove across the street and left the car to charge. Fortunately, there was only one other Tesla charging, so I was able to pull in immediately. Within an hour, we were all charged up for the trip back home.

The kids wanted to swim in the pool before we left, so we sweated in the overly humid indoor pool room while the kids swam the length of the pool back and forth. When it was time to go, Rachael dressed the kids while I began my morning exercise by moving luggage to the car.

Traffic heading home was no problem. All the eclipse traffic had subsided overnight. Rachael was quick to look for discussions about the traffic, and some people reported that it took eight hours to get back to Nashville from the Paducah area. Not only that but there was a large hail storm that went through northern Tennessee right around the time that we would have likely been driving through. So, it was definitely worth the extra cost to stay the night even though the price was essentially gouging, and Evangeline was forced to miss another day of school.

We arrived back in Nashville around 1:00 or so.

Overall, it was a fantastic trip. I really hope both kids will remember the time we took them to see the eclipse.

Evangeline was alive for the 2017 eclipse that came through Nashville. She has very faint memories of the event since she was only two years old at the time. This one will definitely leave more of a lasting impression. Hopefully, Alexander will remember it as well. He kept on saying it was like a black hole in the sky.

The next solar eclipse in this region will not come until 2045. We joked that we should all travel to see that one as well… with our grandchildren.

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