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The place to be at 7:28 a.m. July 11, 1991 ... the Big Island.

If you're in the right place at the right time on July 11, 1991, you can witness the last solar eclipse to darken any part of the United States in this century (the next one isn't until 2017). The right time is the 4 minutes beginning at 7:28 a.m.; the right place is the Big Island of Hawaii. Island hotels are already either fully booked or have committed large blocks of rooms to tour wholesalers, but if you act now you can still find a good vantage. Touching down just west of Hawaii, the moon's shadow will arc across the earth at more than 1,000 miles an hour, darkening a "path of totality" about 100 miles wide. The shadow will envelop the Big Island (and the rather inaccessible southern tips of Kahoolawe and Maui), cross to Mexico, and end in eastern Brazil. In Hawaii, the whole eclipse show will run from about 6:30 to 8:37 a.m. The southern tip of Baja California and central Mexico will experience more than 6 minutes of darkness at midday, but meteorologists believe that clouds or rain are mere likely to spoil the show there.

Look for group tours--or cancellations

At this point, your best bet for finding lodging is probably a tour package. Work with a travel agent, or see if natural history museums or colleges in your area are sponsoring special tours. Honolulu's Bishop Museum is offering guided tours--week-long programs for $659 to $1,666, depending on accommodations. It also plans shorter trips from Oahu and Maui. On all, you'll watch the eclipse from the smooth pasture of Waikoloa Stables at 1,000 feet. For details or reservations, write to Eclipse, Bishop Museum, Box 19000A, Honolulu 96817, or call (808) 848-4102. One tour operator is offering week-long packages that include air fare from the Mainland, hotel accommodations, transportation, sightseeing, lectures on the eclipse, other eclipse-related activities. Prices, set after July 15, will depend upon where you travel from and what type of hotel you choose. A $500 deposit now will hold rooms and be refundable (minus a $15 handling fee) until prices are set. For a brochure, or to reserve, write or call Momentum Travel, 75-5751 Kuakini Highway, Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740; (800) 346-0276 or (808) 329-0536. If you can't hook up with a tour, your next best option is probably to have your travel agent wait-list you at several hotels. Most will require full payment a year in advance of the event, and as the deadline gets closer, some rooms may open up.

Camping options in parks

You can reserve campground permits or cabins in state or county parks up to a year in advance (people applying in person have priority). Write or call Division of State Parks, Department of Land and Natural Resources, 75 Aupuni Street (961-7200), or Department of Parks and Recreation, Country of Hawaii, 25 Aupuni Street (961-8311), both in Hilo 96720. Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has three campgrounds but takes no reservations for them.

Getting to the Big Island

All inter-island and international airlines we talked to plan to add extra flights as demand warrants. Some are considering charters to Kailua's Keahole Airport. Smaller charter or private planes can also fly to Waimea's airport, which is near town and should offer good viewing. American Hawaii Cruises is considering rescheduling at least one of its two ships to remain at the Big Island through the eclipse; check ship location and surcharge before booking. At our deadline, the only clearing-house for planning help was the Mayor's Office of Information and Complaint, 25 Aupuni St., Hilo 96720; 961-8223.
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Title Annotation:last solar eclipse to darken any part of the U.S. in this century
Date:May 1, 1990
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