This map indicates locations for many of the murals around downtown Alpine. Zoom in for more detail, and zoom out to see more locations. See if you can find all of these murals during your visit to Alpine! (Note: the addresses are all correct, but the map may slightly misplace some of the markers.)
Take a stroll downtown and look around. Works of art adorn the walls of many local businesses around Alpine, revealing glimpses of local history and folklore, because after all, a picture, or in this case, an image, is worth a thousand words.
There’s a historic map of the Big Bend region inside the Museum of the Big Bend painted by Enrique Espinoza in 1940.
“View of Alpine” was painted by Jose Moya del Pine in 1940 inside the then-post office (it’s now the Brewster County Tax Appraisal’s office. Local artist Deborah Allison painted a tropical paradise in the Chihuahuan Desert on two sides of the Alpine Medical Center.
At the stoplight on Holland Avenue and 5th Street, two murals are perpendicular to each other. Facing west, on the wall of Kiowa Gallery, is “Big Brewster,” which welcomes visitors with an introduction of Brewster County. Images of defining faces and places such as the CF Ranch (a nod to the ranching heritage), Big Bend National Park that sits south of the county along the Mexico border and a steamroller train to signify the first laid tracks in 1882.
TV actor Dan Blocker smiles in his portrait as he dons a white cowboy hat in the mural. Most known for his role as Hoss Cartwright on Bonzana, Blocker graduated from Sul Ross State Teacher’s College in 1950 where he also played football. Another notable local sports figure, Herbert Kokernot, stands with a member of the Alpine Cowboys baseball team he founded in 1947. Kokernot, an 06 Ranch owner, also built the Kokernot Field on E. Hendryx Dr and Fighting Buck Ave.
Also on the mural, a Sul Ross State University banner hangs above a picturesque postcard that reads “Greetings from Alpine, Texas.” It’s a favorite spot for that Instagram photo.
“I love it,” said Kiowa Gallery’s owner, Keri Blackman. “You come out on a Sunday and there is a group standing there taking pictures of their families.”
The other mural facing south, is one of the three murals Blackman gifted to the city for the 20th anniversary of Artwalk, an annual art festival in downtown Alpine. In 2013, Blackman had an idea to paint a mural in a weekend to give back to the town. The mural, called “Poco a Poquito,” used a traditional Mexican calendar top with a man serenading a woman. Muralist Stylle Read redesigned it to include Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church in the background. The church stands directly south of the mural.
Blackman enlisted the help of Read and local volunteers to paint what would be the first of the six murals. The Mercado Mural came next in 2014 at the Big Bend Wool and Mohair on Murphy Street. Located in the revitalized neighborhood with old and new businesses, four calendar tops were combined to create a market scene.
The Cattle Drive Mural was completed in 2015 and reflects the region’s ranching heritage on the current KishMish Plaza, but the calendar image came from an actual calendar Alpine Lumberyard used to produce when it was there in the 1950s.
Read also worked on previous projects for others in the past. The first thing Read painted in Alpine was the West Texas themed mural near the Crystal Bar entrance. It was then owned by Larry McAllister in the spring of 1989.
Read is also the artist behind “Ode to Reata” at Reata Restaurant that features the house from the West Texas epic “Giant” and actor James Dean on a horse.
Guests at the Quality Inn are greeted with images of Alpine and the origin of the “murder steer” legend in the hotel’s lobby, also painted by Read in 1995.
The goal for future murals is to celebrate Texas-born musicians at Printco with the design as a spinoff of The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album cover. Meaning, there will be a lot of musicians to paint.
Another mural is to honor the Texas Rangers, specifically the late Joaquin Jackson, who was a native of Alpine, at Prescription Shop.
As for Read, he would like to do more historic murals in general.
“I would love to do one of Herbert Kokernot and the story of the old Cowboys and the Kokernot Field,” said Read. “You know, there’s always something. Name the subjects and it’s a possibility.”
Article by Sarah Vasquez
Museum of the Big Bend
Big Bend Parks
Big Bend National Park
Big Bend is grand in scope at over 800,000 acres. Take a ride down in the early morning to explore the diverse biology and geology that make for a variety of scenic trails and incredible vistas. Visitors come from all over the world for hiking, backpacking, camping amongst the high Chisos mountains, down by the banks of the Rio Grande, and across the desert brush. Make all the preparations you need for an expedition down to the park: wear appropriate clothing, carry plenty of water, and call the park for more visitor information at (432) 477-2251, or visit www.nps.gov/bibe/.
Big Bend Ranch State Park
Just west of the national park is Big Bend Ranch State Park, featuring over 300,000 acres of wilderness. A favorite among locals for its miles of rugged and remote backcountry trails, the park is a great venue for mountain biking, horseback riding, and canoe excursions on the Rio Grande. Find out more information by calling the Big Bend Ranch State Park visitor center at (432) 424-3327 or visiting www.tpwd.state.tx.us.
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center
A quick ride north of Alpine is the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center, a facility established by the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institiute. This 500-acre family friendly facility is an interesting blend of informative exhibits and programs, a greenhouse and botanical center, and picturesque hikes featuring spectacular views of the Davis Mountains. The Center is open regularly Monday through Saturday. For more information on exhibits or hiking, visit www.cdri.org or call the Center at (432) 364-2499.
Rocks & Gems
The Alpine area is home to some spectacular stones that are rare and distinctive, including Red Plume, Black Plume and Bouquet Agates. Rock hunters have come to this region for many years to find specimens of these beautiful gemstones, but most of the best hunting places are on private land.
The best opportunities for the public to see and acquire specimens of local rocks are at the annual Alpine Gem & Mineral Show (April 14-16, 2017), and year-round at the Last Frontier Museum in Antelope Lodge and at Ocotillo Enterprises in downtown Alpine.
Those who wish to hunt their own specimens can attend one of Teri Smith’s Rock Hunts. Smith coordinates with several area ranchers for her groups to get official access to areas with abundant specimens of Red Plume, Black Plume and Bouquet Agates. 2017’s Big Bend Agate Roundup is a series of guided rock hunts running through April. Additional hunts are usually scheduled in the Fall.
Agate is a hard, durable mineral made out of quartz (silicon dioxide). It occurs all around the world, in every color, and in many different types of patterns. It is as beautiful as it is versatile: Agate has been used in jewelry and other decorative objects throughout history.
Some of the agate patterns are recognized by name and associated with a particular location. This is the case in the Big Bend region, where Red Plume Agate, Bouquet Agate, Black Plume Agate, and Pom-Pom Agate are just a few of the varieties found.
The Big Bend Region of Texas encompasses both volcanic and sedimentary areas. In much of the Big Bend, the volcanic rock did not explode from erupting volcanos, but instead cooled below the surface of the earth. As the magma cooled, heavier elements like metals sank to the bottom of the magma, and the gasses in the magma rose to the top. Millions of these gas pockets were left unfilled when the magma cooled into basalt, allowing the gasses to escape. The agate primarily forms in these empty gas pockets through precipitation (where silica dissolved in water precipitates out and stays in the empty gas pocket, along with trace minerals that cause the colors and patterns). If there are large cracks in the volcanic basalt, agate can grow in there, as well.
The agate that forms in an empty gas pocket is stronger and more durable than the basalt in which it grew. Eventually, the basalt cracks and breaks into small pieces, eventually turning into soil. This process first exposes and then releases the agate contained within the basalt. When first exposed, the agate is usually in the shape of the gas pocket where it formed. An agate in this form is called a “nodule”. Agate nodules in the Big Bend can vary from the size of an English pea to the size of large watermelon. By the time it’s released, however, it may be broken into pieces which don’t resemble the shape of the original nodule at all.
And agate that forms in cracks or seams can be very large – the Last Frontier Museum in Alpine has a piece of “seam agate” on display that weighs approximately a ton!
Big Bend Agate
In addition to agate, there are other quartz gemstones that occur in the Big Bend. Jasper, chalcedony, and quartz crystals are three of the most collectible, but there’s also petrified wood, and flint and chert. Different publications define each of these categories differently, but the important thing to remember is that they are all hard, durable stones, suitable for use in jewelry and decorative objects.
You can get some agate of your own by purchasing it, or by going on a rockhunting field trip and finding some yourself. You can purchase agate that is “rough” (just as it looked when it was found), cut into a slab, made into a cabochon gemstone, or set into a piece of jewelry.
Finding your own Agate
The land in Texas is all private land, rather than Federal lands, and as such aren’t available for rockhunting unless you have the permission of the landowner. Other than the Stillwell Ranch which allows rockhunting without a guide, the only way to go rockhunting in the Big Bend is to sign up for a rockhunt with Teri Smith. Teri leads rockhunts to five different ranches, each of which has agate that’s unique.
The rockhunting season includes the cooler months from October to April. For details about Teri’s rockhunts, and to sign up for one or more of them, use this link to visit her website at www.terismithrockhunts.com.
Teri’s job as field trip leader is to take people out to the ranches and help them find great agate. If someone is new to rockhunting, she’ll spend quite a bit of time with them, teaching them how to recognize the agate in the field, and how to determine that the agate they’ve found might have the pattern they are looking for inside it. But finding agate is only part of what rockhunts are about. Rockhunts are about adventure, and the thrill of finding your own agate. Teri tries to ensure that everyone knows what to look for and where to look, and goes home with good agate and great memories.
Alpine’s Gem Show
Alpine is host to an annual gem show on the third weekend in April. This show runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free, and there are vendors from the Big Bend, from Mexico, and from the rest of the world offering you fascinating gems, mineral specimens, and jewelry.
The above text is © Teri Smith, 2016