Of all the places to watch Monday’s total solar eclipse, Eagle Pass is, astronomically and meteorologically speaking, the best in the country. Located close to the center line of the path of totality, it will fall into shadow for 4 minutes and 23 seconds—about 4 seconds shy of the longest duration anywhere in the United States. The border town’s weather historically has been clear in April, and it’s the first place in the country to experience the eclipse.

Preparing to seize its upcoming moment in the sun—or, rather, out of it—the city of 28,000 in 2022 started planning a major music festival to celebrate the event. Locals listed spare rooms on vacation rental sites, built campgrounds, and printed T-shirts to sell. “I remember one of my coworkers said, ‘This is like our Super Bowl,’ ” said Aide Castaño, the marketing and tourism director for Eagle Pass. Then unauthorized migration spiked later that year and in 2023, turning the town into the public face of a state-versus-federal battle over border enforcement and jurisdiction. Public access to Shelby Park, where city leaders had planned to host the music festival, had been reduced since the launch of Operation Lone Star, Governor Greg Abbott’s border enforcement initiative, but in January, state authorities working under the direction of the governor took full control of the park. Tension rose between Abbott and the Biden administration, as debates over which jurisdiction had authority over the area played out in court. Eagle Pass became the unwitting backdrop for national media photo ops by elected officials and candidates from across the country.

As the flow of migrants—and news crews—to Eagle Pass ebbed this spring, the town refocused on preparing for an influx of visitors and ensuring locals could enjoy what for most will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Zenaida Moreno Rodriguez, who runs the Main Street program in the city’s economic development department, cut to the chase: “We definitely weren’t going to let anything deter us or stop us from giving our community a great time.”

How Eagle Pass is preparing for the eclipse with the backdrop of Operation Lone Star
A poster advertising the total solar eclipse in Eagle Pass. Robyn Ross
How Eagle Pass is preparing for the eclipse with the backdrop of Operation Lone Star
Art contest entries spread out on the floor of Main Street’s Arts and Culture Center in Eagle Pass. Robyn Ross

After state authorities shut the feds and locals out of Shelby Park in January, city officials realized they’d have to cancel or relocate 57 South, the music festival named for the highway connecting Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras. Ticket sales slowed as organizers debated what to do. Then the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas agreed to host 57 South near its Lucky Eagle Casino on the reservation, twenty minutes south of town. With the announcement of the venue change, tickets began to move again; Castaño said she does not know the number sold but said the space can hold a maximum of 10,000. Meanwhile, the city relocated its free eclipse-viewing area—which also had been planned for Shelby Park—to two sports complexes in town. “There’s a saying in Spanish,” Castaño said: “ ‘No pasa nada.’ We’re moving forward.”

The changes will shift some visitors away from downtown merchants who might have benefited from proximity to the Shelby Park festivities. But Alison Ortiz, co-manager of the Downtown Cupcake Shoppe, still plans to double production of treats such as solar eclipse macarons, orange-colored cookies dipped in black chocolate to suggest the moon’s shadow. She said she anticipates significant foot traffic for activities hosted by the city’s Main Street program, which supports economic development in the historic downtown. The events include an eclipse trivia night and an eclipse-themed brunch and painting class.

The city was one of fifteen across the path of totality to receive a grant from the Simons Foundation aimed at helping locals—not just tourists—learn about the science of the eclipse. The New York–based nonprofit usually funds basic science research but has supported numerous community programs related to the April 8 eclipse. With the funds, the city purchased two large telescopes to use with solar filters at public viewings and a dozen smaller ones to bestow on winners of a children’s space-themed art contest at an event called Tacos & Telescopes.

In late March, the 299 contest entries spread like an enormous multicolored rug on the gleaming wood floor of Main Street’s Art & Culture Center, ready to be judged by local dignitaries. Along the walls, replica moon rocks and a large display depicting the solar system were part of an exhibit titled “Explore the Galaxy,” on loan from NASA. Against this backdrop, the mayor’s youth council, a group of middle and high schoolers who offer input on city projects, recorded a public-service video about eclipse eye safety that the city shared on its Facebook page. Council member Adamari Ruiz said her eighth-grade classmates have been full of anticipatory chatter about their parents’ plans to rent out spare rooms or backyards to travelers. Her colleague Isabella Valdés, also in eighth grade, noted, “Now everyone’s coming, but instead of to see the immigrants, they’re coming to see the eclipse.”

Like many towns in the path of totality, Eagle Pass isn’t sure how many eclipse visitors to expect, but Castaño says it is prepared for as many as 17,000, geographer Michael Zeiler’s projection for the area on GreatAmericanEclipse.com. The town’s thirteen hotels are almost completely booked, as are roughly 150 vacation rentals. Locals are turning open space into campgrounds, too: the Downtown Cupcake Shoppe will let visitors pitch tents in a lot next door, and an event venue called the Backyard has registered a dozen guests to camp on its land. (“Girl, I don’t even have showers for them,” said owner Connie Soto.)

Ten miles east of town, Theresa Handrahan and her husband are clearing mesquite and prickly pear on their sixty-acre ranch to create boondock RV sites for more than one hundred guests. Most are dedicated eclipse-chasers from distant lands: Alaska, New Jersey, Florida. Only a few have called with safety concerns—“particularly the Canadians,” Handrahan said. “They don’t understand American politics.”

She sends periodic group emails explaining that, for now, the flow of migrants into Eagle Pass has slowed significantly. “A lot of people want to ask about the border situation, particularly since Eagle Pass has been in the limelight for the last two years,” Handrahan, who works for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, said.

Locals, generally, are a bit weary of talking about the border situation. The eclipse has brought them the chance to focus on science instead. In early April the community was invited to a free conference about astronomy and indigenous perspectives on eclipses that featured scientists from the National Solar Observatory and NASA. The event was organized by Jennifer Miller-Ray, an associate professor of education at Sul Ross State University, which has a campus in Eagle Pass. Miller-Ray, who specializes in STEM literacy, also arranged for experts to attend the public eclipse-watching events, including the one that moved from Shelby Park.  

“We’ve had to overcome so many obstacles—and that’s really what STEM is all about: to learn how to persist,” she added. “One week we’re having a viewing at Shelby Park, and then the next week, you know, there’s tanks, and we have to find a plan B.”

If there’s a better eclipse-viewing location than downtown Eagle Pass, it’s the Radar Base ten miles north, a World War II airfield that later served as a Cold War radar station. The site now includes scattered homes, the Maverick County Memorial International Airport, and Camp Charlie, which holds troops serving in Operation Lone Star. The actual center line of totality—with four more seconds of darkness than downtown Eagle Pass—runs just north of the airport.

Alejandra Martinez, a middle-school science teacher in Eagle Pass, has come to the airport several times to practice setting up a telescope she and colleagues will use to collect data for astrophysicists during totality. On April 8, they’ll arrange their equipment in an open area next to the airport’s tiny terminal, a space they chose partly because it would be removed from the crowds at viewing sites in town.

At least, that’s what Martinez thought. On a recent afternoon, she chatted with two pilots from Wisconsin. “This place is going to be crazy,” they told her. “People will fly in just for the eclipse.” Airport manager Leslie Beattie is unfazed. For the past two years, he said, people have called him from as far away as London, asking if they can park in the terminal’s parking lot during the eclipse (they can) and if the airport has RV hookups (it doesn’t). He decided to treat April 8 like any other day: landings are first come, first served.

“I’ve been in these kind of positions before,” he said. “Not with an eclipse, but with all this stuff that’s going on with the immigrants.” Fourteen governors had flown into Eagle Pass, then “God only knows how many” senators. “I just take one at a time.”

The influx of visitors to the city hasn’t been limited to bigwigs. City officials Rodriguez and Castaño said they had, for a time, received a flood of calls from ordinary people who’d seen Eagle Pass on the news. The callers wondered: Can I come visit? Can you really walk across the bridge to Mexico? Is Eagle Pass the same place as El Paso? It wasn’t uncommon to encounter someone who’d driven from a distant state to satisfy their curiosity. Often, Rodriguez said, the visitors found less chaos and more hospitality than they’d expected.

The town is happy to host such travelers this weekend, Rodriguez said—although she hopes people will converge on her town for the simple reason that it offers a front-row seat to a stunning astronomical event. “Despite what’s out there that we can’t control,” she said, “we want to make sure we’re displaying the message that everybody’s welcome to come to Eagle Pass.”