Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville. Try saying that a few times in a row. Yes, Leroy and I have jumped on the solar eclipse bandwagon and have arrived in Tennessee’s third largest city to witness the virtual blotting out of the sun this afternoon.
Technically, Knoxville lies just outside the total eclipse zone but I figured that 99.91% is still a very good percentage in eclipse terms and will leave us with a tiny sliver of the sun still visible at the peak. The whole experience here is expected to last 2 hours, 53 minutes and 49 seconds with the peak at at 2:34 pm*.
So why Knoxville, you ask? It’s not a city you might suggest for a first visit to Tennessee. Nashville and Memphis are world famous music cities after all. It’s really all down to me and my secret love of unusual or quirky architecture. In Knoxville’s case, the drawcard is the Sunsphere, a gleaming tower built for the 1982 World’s Fair. Like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, built for the 1899 World’s Fair, it was allowed to remain after the exposition was over and is now an instantly recognisable structure on the city’s skyline.
Breakfast in the old city
We ate a hearty breakfast in the old city at OliBea in a calculated attempt to avert the need for lunch. The café’s menu features dishes with evocative Southern ingredients — pickle brined fried chicken biscuit; sweetwater buttermilk cheddar; whipped sorghum and collard greens — and, course, plenty of coffee. Leroy, naturally, got into conversation with the owners, who I assumed were called Oliver and Beatrice (OliBea). I was half right: they are their kids’ names.
Ascending the Sunsphere
From there we headed to the famous Sunsphere in the old World’s Fair grounds. The day was already heating up. We took the lift (sorry, elevator) to the observation deck on the fourth level, where we could see right out over downtown Knoxville, the university, the Tennessee River and even as far as the Smoky Mountains.
We’re actually hoping to get to the Smoky Mountains later this afternoon. Perhaps walk a little of the Appalachian Trail or cool off at the Sinks, a deep swimming hole and waterfall created when loggers blew up a log jam with dynamite. Campfires sadly — although understandably — are banned, thanks to the threat of wildfire.
What we’re less enthusiastic about is a close encounter with a black bear, but we’d definitely like to see one from a distance. If it’s brown, lie down. If it’s black, fight back. Words of advice from a Canadian friend that have stuck with me for two decades, although I’m not too keen on putting them into practice today.
After the Sunsphere, we considered what we could reasonably fit in next. We contemplated dropping in to the Knoxville Museum of Art but unfortunately, being a Monday, it was closed. Next time. Instead, we called in to the blissfully air-conditioned McClung Museum of Natural History & Culture at the university, with its fascinating, eclectic exhibitions on everything from local archaeology and Civil War history to Egyptian treasures and Tennessee birds. I have to admit, though, I didn’t spend much time on the Tennessee Freshwater Mussels exhibit.
Off to the eclipse
And now the big moment has arrived. We’re off to find a good place to view the eclipse amongst the thronging crowds. Travelling virtually has many perks. Unlike real life travel, we can be quite flexible about what we bring. Beanbags, for example. Leroy insisted they would be incredibly comfortable for the duration. I conceded, but made him promise not to rustle around during Peak Eclipse.
The rest of our list is the Rolls Royce of amateur solar eclipse viewing essentials:
- plenty of water and copious quantities of fresh fruit and ice cream
- a collapsible sun shelter thing of the kind people use at the beach
- hats, sunscreen and insect repellent (there will be no dehydration, heatstroke or bites for us today)
- and best of all — legitimate eclipse viewing glasses. Made of black polymer and looking a little less retro than the 3D glasses of yesteryear, they are going to be collector’s items one day**
Wish us luck for a cloud-free experience!
*2.34pm Eastern Daylight Time equates to 7.34pm British Summer Time or 4.34am Tuesday (Australian Eastern Standard Time).
** I doubt it.