Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Solstice eclipse

Lunar Eclipse

We are at the Elks lodge in Lake Placid, Florida (map). While our guide said this would be dry camping in the parking lot, when we arrived the lodge showed us a 15-amp power outlet near the edge of the lot we could use for a small donation.

We had to leave our lovely little spot on Lake O Monday afternoon. We were the last stragglers out of the campground, but we left by 3:30 because we did not want to be looking for parking in the dark. I presume someone actually comes around at 5 on Mondays to lock the gate, which reopens sometime Wednesday morning. I had previously gotten another permit good for this week in case we had wanted to return there today.

There were a number of places we might have gone for a couple nights to wait it out, including the Wal-Mart in Okeechobee, but we decided instead to make progress towards this lodge in Lake Placid in the hopes that we could find a restaurant serving Christmas dinner here. Our guide said this lodge allowed stays of up to five nights, and since we wanted to stay through Christmas we decided to find something in between for Monday night.

The most convenient stop on the way here was the Seminole Brighton Casino (map), just a few miles west of our digs at Indian Prairie. After we pulled into the lot I checked in with security, who said we could park for the night around back in the designated bus parking. From the way they answered I got the distinct impression that this was not a normal thing for them and if we had shown up perhaps on a busy day where they had a few buses it would not have been OK. I also got the sense that one night was the limit, although we did not inquire.

We knew the casino had a restaurant with a full menu and were looking forward to a nice sit-down dinner. As it turns out, however, they were replacing the carpet in half the building on Monday and so dinner was served instead in the bingo hall, feeling for all the world like a high school cafeteria. We just could not bring ourselves to order prime rib and tilapia in that venue and settled instead for a pair of sandwiches.

The path to the casino entrance from where they had us park led us past a nondescript white tent, the sort used for outdoor events, with no visible entrance. Security eyed us nervously each time we passed, and I finally surmised that the tent must be chock full of the gaming equipment they had to remove to replace the carpet. All told, not one of our better stops, but it was free parking where and when we needed it.

The big regret, of course, was that we had to move from the completely dark surroundings of our primitive camp on the lake on the very night of the full lunar eclipse. Instead we were in a parking lot under mega-candlepower klieglights. Before we turned in for the night we walked around the lot and scoped out a dark corner where we hoped to see the eclipse starting at about 2:30am.

I am often still up at that hour and so, while Louise caught some shut-eye, I kept poking my head out to check on the moon and whether the sky was clear. At some point I realized that the moon would be directly overhead when the eclipse started at 1:30, and I do mean directly, as in straight up. As the hour approached I slipped open the opaque cover on the roof hatch, and voila, there was the moon in full view. Great, since it was now in the 40s outside, and who wants to traipse across a casino parking lot to stand around in the cold?

From inside the bus, the parking lot lighting was out of sight and presented no problem at all, so I grabbed the Celestron telescope and set it up on our little table just under the hatch. I was able to watch most of the transition from 1:30-2:30 right through the smoked plastic hatch cover, since the sky was clear and the moon was bright. After Louise's alarm went off at 2:30 we had to pop the hatch itself open; as the moon entered totality it was just too dim otherwise. We were treated to a spectacular view through the telescope and our binoculars, and we never had to leave the bus. I stayed in my shirtsleeves and Louise in her robe; it was like having our own private little observatory. We watched about the first half hour of totality and then closed the hatch and called it a night.

I don't attach any spiritual significance to the fact that the eclipse coincided with the winter solstice (well, OK, they were about 15 hours apart). Nevertheless it is remarkable to have happened in our lifetime and we were glad to have seen it live, as it were. And I can't complain about the venue, because at least we had clear skies, unlike many of our friends who had to try to catch glimpses between the clouds.

The casino parking lot was pretty busy Tuesday morning and we decided to get rolling right after breakfast. We arrived in Lake Placid mid-morning and spent half the day parked at the shopping center next door to do laundry. This is a small town, too small even for a Wal-Mart let alone a Lowes or Home Depot. Still, within walking distance of the lodge here are a DoIt Best hardware store, two major supermarkets, a radio Shack, the aforementioned coin laundry, and several restaurants.

One of those restaurants, Heron's Garden, happens to be serving Christmas dinner and, while nothing fancy or special, at least we can walk home after our celebratory wine. We made reservations, as it appears to be the only place open for 30 miles in any direction, unless you count Golden Corral. Last night we walked over to the Tower View restaurant, which turned out to be surprisingly good and moderately priced.

Now that we are squared away with a legal parking space, a power outlet, and Christmas dinner reservations, we are all set until we are ready to roll over to Arcadia on the 26th in advance of the annual bus conversion rally there. Once again I am a scheduled seminar presenter, and we are also looking forward to reconnecting with a number of people.

In other news we were contacted this week by the staff at Passagemaker Magazine, who visit our blog every time I write "Trawler Fest" (hi guys!) They wanted to quote some of what I wrote here about Trawler Fest Fort Lauderdale last year in some promotional material, I presume for the upcoming event at the same venue, and we granted permission after a quick review. It was very professional of them to ask; we've had an incident in the past where an organization which some would perceive to be professional, the Affinity Group (owners of Camping World, Good Sam, Trailer Life, and a host of others) simply plagiarized what they wanted without attribution or even asking.

As this will likely be my last post this week, we want to wish all of our readers a very happy holiday season, whatever you may celebrate at this time of year.

Photo by Rich Anderson, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Merry Christmas, and as always, safe travels!

  2. It was pretty cold over here too. I should have thought to cut a hole in our condo ceiling, but I didn't have enough notice.

  3. Enjoy your days together Louise & Sean.
    The lunar/soltice was special.

    Best regards,

    (Ranch sitting in AZ.)

  4. Beautiful pic and leave it to an engineer to have a view right out his roof! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  5. I just discovered you via a comment you'd left at either Tiny House Blog or Tiny House Design. It was from awhile back. I was reading an older post.

    I am so glad to find this blog. I love buses! It will be fun to follow you in your travels. I own a bus that is parked at a friend's in the Ozarks of Missouri. I lived in it parked for a long time. It's got a great engine, so maybe someday I should take it on the road.

    Happy Holidays!

  6. Great posts. I enjoy your writing and storytelling. Happy Holidays to you there, wherever there is.


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