Brilliant sherbet-drenched sunsets, undulating mountains along the horizon, swaying prairie grasses punctuated with mountains of enormous lava rock. Alpine, Texas, is a remote, high-desert gem, 90 miles north of Big Bend National Park and Mexico. When you take a deep breath at the 4,475 feet elevation, the air is clean and sweet, the mornings and evenings are cool and crisp, and the stars at night are big and bright -- millions of them.
I like Alpine for its beauty, great weather, and friendly people. They say hello as you walk down the sidewalk, and you get those Howdy one-index-finger lifts off the steering wheel as you drive along the West Texas highways.
Alpine, with a population of 6,000, is the perfect getaway. Here are the best things to explore in Alpine.
1. Stroll The Alpine Historic Walking Tour
Don’t be surprised when people speak to you warmly as you stroll the Alpine Historic Walking and Windshield Tour past historic homes, businesses, churches, and parks. You’ll find dynamic art murals, inviting boutiques, enticing art galleries, and bookstores. Most of downtown Alpine was appointed a Designated Cultural Art District in 2011 by the Texas Commission on the Arts. You’ll find a food truck or two, delicious restaurants, and historic hotels. Stay alert to special events like the weekly farmers market, theatrical productions, live music, the annual Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Artwalk Alpine, and the Viva Big Bend music and food festivals.
2. Don’t Miss The Museum Of The Big Bend On The Sul Ross University Campus
See wooden wheeled carts; dioramas of early settlers that capture the history of the cowboys, buffalo soldiers, the railroad, the general store, mining, and the stagecoach, General Pershing’s skirmishes, and border disorder; and learn about the black bear’s habitation and the dinosaurs’ history in the region at this unique museum. J.O. Langford, E. E. Townsend, and Fort Worth newspaper publisher Amon Carter helped Big Bend become a National Park in 1944.
See the annual Trappings of Texas exhibitions that bring together art and Western gear makers, including Frank “Buddy” Wright of Marfa, who makes spurs and cowboy-style bits, Western-style jewelry, conchos, and trim. Current exhibits are Western Art, from the Ken Ratner Collection, and Truth and Beauty, a colorful geological map collection.
3. Watch The Cowboys Play At Kokernot Field
There’s a famous baseball field in Alpine called the Kokernot Field. It’s also been called The Best Little Ballpark in Texas by Sports Illustrated and the Yankee Stadium of Texas by Texas Monthly magazine. Big Bend rancher Herbert Lee Kokernot, Jr. constructed the ballpark in 1947 for his semi-pro baseball team. You’ll see the “06” Kokernot ranch brand in several decorations throughout the stadium along with native stone quarried from the ranch. Satchel Paige’s St. Louis Browns versus the Chicago White Sox exhibition drew over 6,000 attendees in 1951. The stadium seats 1,400. Today, the ball field is home to the Alpine Cowboys of the Pecos Minor League, the Sul Ross State University Lobos, and the Alpine High School Bucks.
4. Hike To The Desk On Hancock Hill
How did the Desk on Hancock Hill, the backdrop to Sul Ross University, get there? Thousands of pilgrims have climbed the hill to find the desk and write messages in the notebook stashed inside the drawer. The notebooks tell life stories and capture the hearts of the many travelers who have made the trek. In 1979, Sul Ross track team member and long-distance runner Jim Kitchen had an idea. He selected a metal desk, and with the help of two buddies, carried the desk up the mountain to a place that overlooked the campus and town.
First, he and his teammates logged their running times in the notebook, then he would jot down his thoughts, and word spread. Journals, confessions, lost love stories, and “we were here” notes filled notebook after notebook. Sul Ross Archives of the Big Bend keeps journals dating back to 1991. Occasionally one beat-up, weathered desk marked with graffiti is replaced with a newer one -- sometimes a chair is added, and replacement notebooks keep up the tradition. Some people get lost searching for the desk. If you find the bicycle tree, you’re close -- and you can consult this official university map (opens as PDF) for guidance.
5. Great Shopping In Alpine
The Gallery on the Square is Big Bend Arts Council’s collaborative show space for members. Murphy Street Mercado offers specialty plants, garden pottery, ristras, and Mexican imports. Out West Feed and Supply is a feed store and farm supply resource that also stocks boots, shoes, Western wear, and much more. Francois Fine Arts Gallery houses student art exhibitions at the university.
Find women’s clothing and fashion accessories at McKinney Outfitters housed in the Lackey-Hord building. Big Bend Saddlery customizes saddles with leatherwork and silverwork, plus offers tack, hats, and Western wear. Shop for Western-themed furniture, artwork, and decor at Texas Ranch House Too. Vaquera Vogue boasts cowgirl chic and bohemian vibes. Get your custom hat at Spradley Hats.
6. Stay In Unforgettable Accommodations
The Holland Hotel, Since 1928
We found lots of history and photographs about the wealthy businessman and cattle raiser John Holland throughout the Texas Historic Landmark hotel that has served Alpine for nearly a century. Designed by architect Henry Trost, the hotel has greeted passengers on the Sunset Limited Amtrak since 1928. Twenty-four guest rooms and suites fully renovated by Greenwich Hospitality Group in 2011 are served by the Century Bar and Grill. Years ago, there used to be a tiny sign on the bedside table along with two pairs of earplugs provided that read: “We think our train is very quaint, but if ears it pains, plug ’em and it cain’t.” The hotel is right across the street from the train tracks and the Amtrak station.
The Maverick Inn, Sister Hotel To The Holland
The Maverick Inn, a restored 1930s West Texas Boutique Motel, has all the luxury amenities. The roadhouse inn features 21 guest rooms and suites with an outdoor pool and patio area, a lovely breakfast, and a restored vintage trailer. Owned by the same group as the Holland Hotel, they share some amenities. A third sister hotel is Hotel Limpia in Fort Davis, which is just over 20 miles northwest of Alpine.
The Big Bend Biker Hotel
The Big Bend Biker Hotel offers 17 lofts in the heart of downtown, along with a restaurant, live music, and Old Gringo Coffee and Cocktails. The best thing about this hotel is the covered indoor motorcycle parking. Make this your home base for exploring the region on your motorcycle. If you stay here, know that there will be late-night noise.
Alpine Bed And Breakfast
In a 124-year-old single-story historical home with four bedrooms three blocks from the heart of Alpine, you’ll find Alpine Bed and Breakfast on an acre of land with over 30 trees. Enjoy luxury accommodations along with a first-class breakfast.
7. Sample Texas Fare
The Century Bar And Grill
In the Holland Hotel, the Century Bar and Grill offers West Texas favorites, whether you’re seated at the chef’s tables with a view of the open kitchen or dine on the hotel courtyard under West Texas skies. The Century offers unique cocktails, craft beers, and small plates that make dinner.
The original Reata Restaurant and full bar serves legendary Texas and Southwestern cuisine with dine-in, patio, take-out, and delivery options. Fort Worth hosts the award-winning Reata sister restaurant.
El Jardin serves homemade, authentic, southern Mexican food made fresh daily. Enjoy patio seating at 5th and Murphy.
Magoo’s offers a great breakfast with eggs, bacon, hash browns, and toast with a cup of coffee that stays full. I enjoyed the Mexican Breakfast Taco with two scrambled eggs and chorizo sausage. You can also get daily lunch and dinner specials. This friendly locals spot is well priced.