Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Michigan residents arrive in Gatesville for total eclipse viewing opportunity


After traveling around the United States for six months in their RV, Mark and Mary Anderson have finally reached the goal of their journey – to catch sight of the Great American Eclipse on April 8.

The Andersons, who are from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area, arrived at their final stop in Gatesville on March 24. Since their travel plans took them to Western states like California and Arizona, Mary said they decided early on that they wanted to come to Texas for the eclipse.

“From what we've seen on internet stories and stuff, Texas is the best viewing chance,” Mary said.  
“Historically, Texas has the sunnier weather than places like Indianapolis that it's going to pass over.”

Although the Andersons began calling to reserve a campsite one year in advance of the eclipse, many places along the path of totality were already booked. Mary said some campgrounds claimed to be sold out for two years or were charging up to $500 per night.

“We did not necessarily need to be right on the line, we just wanted to be as close as possible,” she said. “That’s when we started calling all these different places, and they were either full or wanting too much money.”

During their search for a place to stay, they came across an RV park in Gatesville.

“Then we started reading more about Gatesville,” she said. “Oh, that's a neat place.”  

A total solar eclipse is not a new experience for the Andersons. In 2017, they traveled to White House, Tennessee, a small town outside of Nashville, to witness the most recent total eclipse to cross the U.S.  

“It’s full sun, and then when the moon goes over the sun everything's dark,” Mark said.
“The birds – they're quiet. And then when it comes back, here comes the morning again.”

“Especially when the sun is showing a little bit around the moon, it's just really awesome,” Mary said.

White House, which is similar in size to Gatesville, experienced about 2 minutes and 39 seconds of totality in 2017. The Andersons watched the eclipse from a small local park, where they observed license plates from California, Ohio, Wisconsin, Canada, and many other places. They even met people who drove all night in their cars just to catch a glimpse of the rare occurrence.  

“Then we went to leave, and it was just a huge traffic jam,” she said. “The expressway was just stopped, and we had a reservation that night. We got off the expressway and took some side roads, (but) we didn't get there until midnight when it was only supposed to be a few hours’ drive.”

Mary said it took them 10 hours to drive 200 miles back to their motel in Nashville.

The Andersons said the biggest takeaway from 2017 is to avoid traveling the day of the eclipse. This year, they decided not only to arrive early, but also to stay a few days after the upcoming total eclipse.

“We know what we’re getting into kind of,” Mark said.

Mary said she expects this year’s eclipse to attract even more crowds, especially those that enjoyed the 2017 eclipse, and because there will not be another one to cross North America until 2044.

“I think the 2017 eclipse kind of caught people by surprise,” Mary said.

Mary and Mark’s youngest son and grandson will join them to watch the eclipse closer to April 8. Although the eclipse is the highlight of their stay, they also look forward to exploring Gatesville.

“We wouldn't know Gatesville existed if it wasn't for the fact that the eclipse was going through here,” Mary said. “I’m sure it’s going to bring in a lot of people.”

While the eclipse led the Andersons to Texas, another reason for their travels is to spread awareness about organ donation following the death of their oldest son, Michael Anderson, in 2023. As a registered donor, he has saved three other lives by donating his kidneys and liver.

Through a group called Donate Life Rock Painting, Mary has left painted rocks around the country in Michael’s memory.