‘Our three-year-old can’t get enough’: US families traveling to see the eclipse

<span>A mother and son watch the eclipse in Boston on 21 August 2017.</span><span>Photograph: Angela Rowlings/Boston Herald via Getty Images</span>
A mother and son watch the eclipse in Boston on 21 August 2017.Photograph: Angela Rowlings/Boston Herald via Getty Images

The moon will completely block the face of the sun on Monday and, for a few minutes, people in the US, Mexico and Canada will experience a total solar eclipse.

Related: Total solar eclipse to sweep across Mexico, the US and Canada

The alignment between the sun and the moon has to be precise and this gives rise to a narrow track of totality – roughly 71 miles (115km) across – from which the total eclipse can be seen.

Some schools are closing for the day, with many places holding events in local parks and outdoor spaces. Others plan to travel to more remote locations to watch the solar event unfold.

In Salt Lake City, Utah, Angela Matthes, 37, admits her family’s eclipse trip to a tiger sanctuary was a “lucky find”. Travelling with her husband, Ruedigar, and their four-year-old twins, they can’t wait to start their “epic” stay at the Crown Ridge tiger sanctuary in Ste Genevieve, Missouri.

Due to Matthes and her husband working full-time, they didn’t decide to take a trip until January when most places were “overbooked”.

“With young twins often our planning is a bit hectic, or non-existent,” said Matthes, who is the chief financial officer of a non-profit organisation.

It won’t be their first time seeing an eclipse – in 2023 they saw an annular or ‘ring of fire’ eclipse in Cuba, New Mexico during a “fortuitous” trip with extended family.

Staying at the tiger sanctuary is the twins’ “ultimate, dream vacation” and Matthes is hoping it will be a “formative memory” for them. “The next one in the contiguous US is not until 2044 when they will be grown up.

“Sharing moments of awe and watching them experience wonder and amazement is a great source of joy. These are moments I wouldn’t trade for anything.”

John Stewart, from Olathe in Kansas, watched the last eclipse in Casper, Wyoming, in 2017 and this time is planning to drive to Arkansas Tech University to see the event as a family “for the last time”, as his children are nearly fully grown.

He said: “We are leaving very early in the morning and hopefully getting home before midnight for school on Tuesday. It’s an amazing and unsettling experience.”

Stewart, who will watch the event with his children William, 17, and Morgan, 15, added: “They are very excited to go and hopefully not just because they will miss a day of school. They remember 2017 but are excited to see it as teens. My son is taking his new camera and hoping to get photos for the school yearbook.

“Growing up we never had the chance. I can’t say I’d ever really even considered it until 2017. It’s great that I get to share my love of science and astronomy with them.

“They are both in astronomy class and excited to be able to share what they see.”

For Annie Tomlin, a writer from Connecticut, the eclipse will not just be a special experience to share with her two sons, aged three and six, but an educational opportunity.

“They’re very excited,” she said. “I’ve explained the mechanics of an eclipse, using a light bulb to represent the sun and moving plates around to represent the moon and Earth. Our three-year-old can’t get enough of it. They’re also looking forward to wearing eclipse glasses.

“My six-year-old son wants to be a scientist when he grows up, and he’s been showing interest in the solar system since he was three. He can talk at length about gibbous moons and solar flares. Now he’s interested in learning about eclipses, and he’s been asking questions to which I don’t know the answers – we both learn something.”

Having been put off their original plans to drive to Burlington, Vermont, because of eye-watering hotel prices, the family is now driving to the southern part of the state.

She added: “I feel lucky that we can experience this eclipse together. Of course I hope the kids have a good time, and I hope that it creates a sense of wonder for them.

“My husband and I are looking forward to the adventure of it all, but our excitement is tinged with bittersweetness as well. The total eclipse lasts only a few minutes, so you have to be fully present.

“Similarly, it’s a reminder for us to appreciate the time we have with our sons, eclipse or no eclipse, because they’ll be grown before we know it.”

Related: ‘You see one, you want to see them all’: 105-year-old excited for his 13th solar eclipse

Near Annapolis, Maryland, physicist Patrick O’Shea thinks his eclipse trip to Austin, Texas, to see Vampire Weekend live will be “insane”.

After attending a wedding in Houston on Saturday, O’Shea and his wife, Miriam, will be flying the next day to meet their son Ronan, who is at the University of Texas at Austin, before attending the outdoor concert on Monday.

“It’s all come together,” said O’Shea, 66, who has “always wanted” to see an eclipse but never has. “One of Austin’s nicknames is bat city and when Ronan suggested seeing Vampire Weekend we thought it would be a perfect alignment.” As a physicist, he is also going to try some “little experiments” during the eclipse related to the polarisation of light.

O’Shea is expecting there to be “a lot of emotions and complexity to juggle” when the eclipse happens. “I can be dispassionate as a scientist but passionate as a person. It’s great to do these things with family and Ronan will be able to tell his children and grandchildren about it.

“It’s important for the generations who come after us.”