The unofficial capital of Far West Texas, Alpine offers an oasis of academia, arts, and cowboy culture splashed across a picturesque valley
By Laurie Davies
In the town of Alpine, time grinds slower than West Texas’ interstate towns where travelers getting from point A to point B just want a good night’s rest at a chain hotel.
At 4,475 feet and surrounded by scenic drives and mountain ranges, the Alpine air is cleaner. So is the shopping experience, especially for the buy-local purist. Tucked 220 miles to the southeast of El Paso, Alpine’s population nudges just north of 6,000. While its tiny dot on the atlas might tempt you to overlook it, here are 10 reasons not to.
1. Stroll through downtown. A trip downtown is a trip down memory lane — to the days when brick-and-mortar shops sold hats, guitars, boots, books and just about everything else a cowboy needed. Today, visit working saddle shops, collect cowboy-chic goods or support local artists at the studios and galleries.
2. Sit down and raise your hand. In 1981, three Sul Ross State University students took higher education to a new level when they hauled a desk — a heavy, six-drawer, metal desk — up to nearby Hancock Hill to have a place to study away from noisy dorm life. Now, 35 years later, that rusty, weathered desk still greets visitors who make the 20-minute hike up the hill. Don’t forget to sign your name in the notebook.
3. Step back in time. Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross campus houses a collection of Native American artifacts and exhibits on cultural history, paleontology and Western art. The Texas pterosaur replica is a full-scale replica of the largest known pterosaur fossil, found at nearby Big Bend National Park.
4. Watch the Cowboys play. Not those Cowboys, silly. The Alpine Cowboys independent baseball team suits up May through July at Kokernot Field, a stone and wrought-iron replica of the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field. The field hosted traveling Negro League teams, led by stars like Satchel Paige, before desegregation. The 1,400-seat Norman Rockwell-esque setting is a must-see space for any baseball fan. Even in the offseason.
5. Visit Big Bend National Park. It’s almost criminal to visit Brewster County without logging time at Big Bend National Park, where day hikes, cycling, scenic drives, birding and river trips await. Spanning 800,000 acres, the park’s elevation plunges from forested mountains to cactus-studded desert floors. Chisos Basin and Rio Grande Village are popular spots, but if you only have a few hours, hike the Window View Trail for a sunset view.
6. Have a Cow. With toppings as varied as curry, ranchero sauce and pickled sweet hot jalapeños, the locally popular Cow Dog food truck assigns new meaning to hotdogging. Order a “Hangover” to cure what ails you or polish off the “El Pastor” with grilled pineapple, red onion, cilantro pesto and lime mayo. Um, yum.
7. Two-Step over to Railroad Blues. A self-described funky live music, beer and wine joint, Railroad Blues hosts live bands on weekends. There’s plenty of Texas two-stepping and outdoor fire pits to keep warm even on cool autumn nights.
8. Drink like the locals. If Railroad Blues’ impressive tap beer selection left you wanting, head over to Big Bend Brewing Company for a tasting or tour. At Big Bend, the most remote microbrewery in the United States, beer is brewed “where solitude goes to be alone.”
9. Drink like the locals, part 2 . As mom-and-pop cups of Joe go, Alpine pours a double shot. There’s the hipster Cedar Coffee Supply with specialty coffee, espresso and its own apparel line. Or, there’s the old service station-turned-coffee shop, Plaine Coffee, which exudes a relaxed vibe and a bonus laundromat. Because who doesn’t enjoy a spin through a latte-laundry cycle?
10. Stay at the Holland. Built in 1912 and designated a Texas Historic Landmark in 1980, the Holland Hotel offers boutique elegance a short walk from shopping, music and barbecue. The old girl got an architectural reboot in 2011 with flat screens, wi-fi and a real, electric elevator. Don’t be shocked if the front desk clerk hands you ear plugs with your room key. The hotel is close — really close — to train tracks.