Culture / Travel

How a Small Texas Town Is Embracing the Solar Eclipse — Bandera, a Land of Real Cowboys, Rolls Out Music Festivals and More Celestial Fun

The Crowds Are Coming, Clouds Or Not

BY Irene Thomas // 04.05.24

In case you haven’t heard, a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event is set to take place this Monday, April 8. Bandera, Texas has emerged as a hotspot for viewing the total solar eclipse, with projections that a county of 22,000 people could see its population nearly quadruple this weekend with 60,000-plus visitors. Even with the cloud forecasts dicey at best.

Situated in a prime geographic location in the path of the eclipse with a climate ideal for excellent viewing (especially if the clouds cooperate), Bandera is embracing its moment in the sun. Or the blocked sun. There are two different festivals planned. April also means wildflower season (think Texas bluebonnets) and the peak of spring bird migration too, bringing some potential extra perks for eclipse fanatics.

Bandera County covers nearly 800 square miles, and is less than an hours drive Northwest of San Antonio, a little over two hours Southwest of Austin and around four hours from Houston. The City of Bandera (population 915) is the county seat.

Dubbing itself the gateway to Texas Hill Country, Bandera County will experience a generous three to four minutes of totality starting at 1:31 pm during the April 8 solar eclipse. The eclipse is set to occur near the peak of the sun’s 11-year magnetic cycle, which increases the chances of seeing great loops of the sun’s plasma sprouting from the side of the eclipse.

During the total solar eclipse, the moon will cover up to 91 percent of the sun. The moon, Earth and sun will be aligned with the moon in the middle. If the alignment is perfect the moon will block the view of the sun by casting its dark shadow on Earth. If the
alignment is a little off center, the moon may just partially block the view of the sun. It is essential to wear eclipse glasses to protect the eyes.

Lunar eclipses and solar eclipses actually each happen about four to seven times a year, but it is rare to see a solar eclipse since they are only visible from a small area of Earth each time.

The next total solar eclipse will not hit the United States until August 2044, with Montana and North Dakota being the only real prime viewing locations then, and the next coast-to-coast solar eclipse won’t happen to 2045, according to NASA.

Bandera and the Cowboy Way

Bandera calls itself The Cowboy Capital of the World, promoting its authentic Old West ambiance. In the latter part of the 19th century, Bandera sat on the Great Western Cattle Trail, and became a staging area for the cattle drives, sitting along the routes to bring cattle and horses to markets in the Eastern and Northern states.

Bandera Texas solar eclipse
Bandera, Texas bills itself as the Cowboy Capital of Texas and it’s embracing the solar eclipse.

This is a place that treasures its cowboy culture.

A bronze monument honoring the many National Rodeo Champions who hail from Bandera stands on the Courthouse lawn. The area is unique with its blending of Native American, Mexican, Polish and Western cultures giving it a mix really not found elsewhere in Texas.

In addition to planned eclipse festivals, Bandera County brings many other non-solar activities. There are dude ranches and outfitters offering horseback riding and old West entertainment. The Frontier Times Museum and Bandera Natural History are well worth a visit. For outdoor enthusiasts, Bandera County offers many hiking trails, excellent bird watching and stargazing at the Lost Maples State and Hill Country State natural areas.

The Bandera area has varied lodging options. One can book one of the secluded cabins scattered throughout the county to experience starry skies, quiet nights and spectacular Hill Country scenery, stay at a traditional bed and breakfast, choose an inn or embrace the RV and camp life.

Bandera Texas solar eclipse
Bandera is an olf school type of Texas town that embraces the cowboy lifestyle. And the solar eclipse.

One unique way to experience the eclipses will be at the Four Sisters’ Ranch Eclipse UTOPIA festivals. This family friendly fest will combine camping on the grounds with wall-to-wall live music and on-site eclipse viewing for a maximum of 1,500. More information is available here.

The Ground Zero Music fest at Bandera’s Mansfield Park — which runs this Friday April 5 through Tuesday, April 9 — also brings a total solar eclipse experience, with on-site tent and RV camping, 20 bands including local regional and national acts, stunt shows, a kids zone, food and drink vendors and more.

It is recommended that solar eclipse seekers arrive early to enjoy scenic drives in the surrounding Hill Country and stay late to help ease traffic after the eclipse. After all, Bandera is not used to crowds like this. Celestial excitement is something different.

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