Hancock Hill Trails
Hancock Hill, behind Sul Ross State University, features a small system of hiking trails on University and private property. A few suggested routes are indicated on the Google Map below, including overlooks of the town and the path to “The Desk” (see below). There are multiple small crossing paths and it is easy to get confused as to which is which, so be careful!
To find the trailhead: turn left at the end of Avenue B (SRSU Entrance 4). The trailhead is at the far edge of the old Mountainside dormitory parking lot.
Be sure to bring water and protect yourself from overexposure to the sun. The rails can be rough and rocky, so sturdy footwear is highly recommended. Pets are allowed, but their waste should not be left behind!
Mountain biking is welcome on University property, but NOT on the adjacent private property. Be aware of signs and do not cross fence lines with a bicycle. The trails are considered quite difficult for mountain biking.
In 1981, three Sul Ross students decided they needed a quiet spot away from the dorm to study. Together they carried a desk up Hancock Hill right above Mountainside dormitory. Soon they were spending hours up on the hill studying and enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
One day, one of them left a notebook in one of the desk drawers and when he checked it later, someone had written in it. He replied and soon the tradition of a notebook associated with The Desk was born. 10 years later, the first completed notebooks were brought to the Archives of the Big Bend in the Bryan Wildenthal Memorial Library.
The Desk is located at the eastern edge of Hancock Hill, and is indicated on the Google Map above.
Historic Walking Tour
Pick up a complete brochure of the Historic Walking Tour of downtown Alpine (plus a larger historic windshield tour) from the Alpine Visitor Center at the corner of Avenue E & 3rd Street. You can also download a printable version here (map only).
The tour begins at the Railroad Depot (Holland Avenue & 5th Street) and concludes across Avenue E from the Brewster County Courthouse.
1. The present railroad station is the fourth depot built on this site. It was constructed after a January 1946 ﬁre destroyed the old structure. The previous depot buildings were destroyed by ﬁres in 1888 and 1901.
2. Ritchey Hotel is one of the oldest commercial buildings still standing in Alpine. The adobe portion was built in the 1880s as a hotel. The frame addition was made in 1908.
3. The Valadez Grocery and furniture store was built about 1898.
4. The Alpine Studio, built in 1907 by pioneer photographer John Thain as his studio, was remodeled to Mission style in 1928.
5. The Valadez house was built in 1890 by Trinidad Garcia. It served as a social center until it became the residence of Tomas Valadez in 1926.
6. One of the oldest blocks in Alpine, housing businesses and residences. The west corner building was formerly a frontier saloon.
7. Big Bend Wool & Mohair was in continuous operation for over 60 years after its construction in the 1940s.
8. This property, constructed prior to 1920, was Alpine’s second lumber yard; the original building faced 7th St. and was later turned to face Holland Ave.
9. Motor court, built around 1930. Original wood cabins were covered with stone in the mid-1940s.
10. Alpine’s ﬁrst ﬁre house was built in 1924 to house the town’s new 1923 Ford ﬁre truck.
11. Built in 1924, this was the most modern automobile dealership in West Texas. Renovated in the 1940s.
12. In 1911 this building housed a roller rink. It was the site of the ﬁrst silent picture shows in Alpine.
13. The current Holland Hotel, designed by Trost & Trost and built in 1928, was added to the original Hotel Holland & State National Bank Building on the corner of 6th & Holland. The original, built in 1912 after the ﬁre, rapidly became the business and social center of Alpine. The 3rd story portion on 6th Street was added in 1922.
14. The Lackey-Hord building, built after the 1911 ﬁre to house the Palace Drug Store and other retail enterprises with ofﬁces of doctors and lawyers on the 2nd ﬂoor.
15. This row of store fronts, built after the 1911 ﬁre, housed several mercantile operations; notably it later was home to Forchheimer’s Dry Goods and Morrison’s Variety Store.
16. The corner building, built by Mitchell Werth in 1907, has been used for various retail enterprises. The western portion was built in 1905 as the First National Bank. Burned out in 1907 except for its store front, it was immediately rebuilt. In 1935 it became City Hall and served as such until the early 1960s.
17. Built by State Senator Benjamin F. Berkeley in 1929 as a restaurant in the Mission style, it later served as a pool hall and bowling alley.
18. The Berkeley Building, built in 1921, housed traveling shows and vaudeville acts in early years.
19. Three adjoining storefronts to the east were built soon after the theater.
20. Built in 1929, the two stores at the end of the block housed the Cross & Cross women’s shop and the ﬁrst Safeway in Alpine.
21. Alpine Lumber started in this location in 1904. This facility was built in 1928 & remodeled in the 1960s.
22. Granada Theater, built in 1928, became the major entertainment center of the Big Bend area.
23. The Gage-Van Sickle House was built in 1889.
24. Senator Benjamin F. Berkeley home was built in 1910. The wrought iron fence was originally around the courthouse in 1889.
25. The Methodist Church, an example of Mission Revival style architecture, was built in 1925.
26. The Nolte-Rooney Home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1890 by F. H. Nolte, an early settler in Murphyville (Alpine), of 2 ft. thick adobe bricks made on the site.
27. The Burgess Home was built approximately 1890.
28. The Sunshine House, Alpine’s second public school, was built in 1891. Purchased by the city in 1918, and used at various times as a hospital, Border Patrol station, a girls’ dormitory for Sul Ross, and a Senior Center.
29. The First Baptist Church, built in 1895, was replaced in 1916 by the present church structure.
30. The Burke House, an early adobe residence, was built in 1890 by Dan Carr and later occupied by Burkes for over 50 years.
31. The Masonic Lodge building, built in 1912, housed retail businesses on the ground ﬂoor; the second floor was the lodge hall.
32. These three stores were built in 1928, one of which originally housed Hudson’s Bakery.
33. A dry goods store built by Forest Robinson in 1927. Western Union occupied the center storefront. The southern addition was built in 1929.
34. Alpine’s Post Ofﬁce until September 2000, built in 1939, is typical of WPA architecture. The inside retains most of its original features, including a mural by Moya del Pino.
35. This building was built as M System Grocery in 1948 by Dom Adams.
36. The row of stores known as the Turner Building were built by Otis Turner in 1927 and housed some of the ﬁnest apparel stores in Alpine.
37. These two storefronts were constructed around 1927 by Clarence Hord. The left one housed Hord & Williams Grocers and the right one was occupied by The Model Shop run by Frank McCollum with The Model Cleaners in the back run by Jesse Allen.
38. Built by Fuller in 1928, the building originally housed the post ofﬁce from 1932-1938. City Drug and Highland Drug have both occupied the left side of the building. Dr. Malone Hill purchased the building in 1947. His clinic/hospital was located upstairs.
39. These buildings have stood longer than any other in the downtown area and are among the oldest in Alpine. Construction began on the county courthouse and jail in 1887 when Brewster County broke away from Presidio County.
40. The Christian Church, completed in 1906, had a stone veneer applied in 1940, and an educational annex constructed in 1946.
41. The home of Dean Manufacturing in 1909, this building was purchased by Charles Livingston in 1928 and remodeled into a funeral parlor.
42. The American Legion Building began in 1928 as Allen’s Planery, a planing mill, and was purchased by the Legion in 1935.
43. Built as the home of Otis Morgan in 1929, this building housed the Alpine Public Library from 1950 to 2011. In 1970, the Library expanded to include the Darcy Home (to the south), built in the 1920’s.
44. These two houses, built in the late teens, were purchased in 1945 by Dr. Joel Wright and used as his ofﬁce and hospital.
In a town of 6,000 residents, the music Neil Trammell has seen in Alpine has been amazingly diverse. “If you look, you can find what you want,” said Trammell, singer for local band The Doodlin’ Hogwallops. “Have an open mind and an open ear, you’ll have a good time.”
Prolific music acts such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Del Castillo, Billy Joe Shaver and Kinky Friedman have graced the stage at Railroad Blues. The venue that sits on US-90/Holland Avenue and parallel to the railroad tracks was named by Texas Monthly as one of the “Best Small Town Live Music Clubs in Texas” in 1999.
Out of the almost 20 years he co-owned Railroad Blues, Richard Fallon’s favorite memory was seeing the African reggae band, Tidal Waves. But seeing Ian McLagan, from the British band Small Faces, was another favorite moment for him. McLagan was one of Fallon’s icons during his teen years, so to run sound for him in his bar and share a drink with him was surreal.
In 2013, Railroad Blues entered a new era when it was purchased by Tim Wilson of El Paso, who made sure to keep the spirit of the original Blues by handing the management reins to Mary Jo Martin, a 19-year veteran of the venue.
“The music is still the heart of the Blues,” said Martin. “We are booking a lot of up and coming bands in the Texas Music scene.” When asked about her favorite current acts, she replied, “Shane Smith and The Saints are my absolute favorite, hands down. Their harmonies are spot-on; they give you chills.”
Old Gringo Coffee & Cocktails
One of the most active new venues in Alpine, the Old Gringo hosts weekly Tuesday open mics as well as two or three music performances each week. With the recent addition of a kitchen and executive chef, and the renovation of the building’s second floor into a motorcycle-friendly hotel, the Old Gringo hit the ground running and hasn’t slowed down since!
The Ritchey Saloon
The Hotel Ritchey building is one of the oldest commercial structures standing in Alpine. And thanks to the TLC and hard work of owner Mattie Matthaei, the Ritchey has been lovingly restored and re-opened in 2018 as The Ritchey Saloon, offering fine wines and craft beers, plus gourmet snacks on the weekends.
In good weather, The Ritchey’s courtyard is a prime spot for casual live music, while rain or cold brings intimate performances into the small bar room or upstairs parlor. The Ritchey’s popular Music Sundays series regularly closes out our Alpine weekends in style.
The Holland Hotel
The historic Holland Hotel is Alpine’s classic railroad hotel. The current building was opened in 1928 and designed by famed El Paso architects Trost & Trost. The Holland and its restaurant, The Century Bar & Grill, offer frequent live music in a beautiful enclosed courtyard or the elegant historic lobby, depending on the weather.
At Spicewood, couples two-step while locals acts such as Anthony Ray Wright, The Swifts and Christine Cochran offer a side of music entertainment with the brisket and sausage. Trammell has performed here with his band and as a solo act.
“We’re all friends and we all support each other as much as we can,” said Trammell. That generosity also spreads to the touring acts.
Ole Crystal Bar
A blast from Alpine’s past recently returned when Ole Crystal Bar was reopened in March 2017 under new ownership. Day Manager Richard Cavness remembers growing up in the family-friendly bar during its heyday, known then as simply Crystal Bar.
“It’s always been a good place for live music,” said Cavness. “Everybody used to bring their kids. Everybody would hang out. It was a good time. It was a good time period.” Canvess’ goal for Ole Crystal Bar now is to bring music to Alpine every weekend from experimental grunge to country and all things in between.
Luthier Michael Stevens
Custom guitar maker Michael Stevens has done repairs and custom work for guitar legends with the likes of Asleep at the Wheel’s Ray Benson, Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan. He is most known for creating the Christopher Cross’ double neck guitar and the Guit-steel guitar that features a double neck slide/guitar for Junior Brown. Stevens was recently honored by Fender with a limited edition guitar built as a homage to the first guitar he built at Fender’s Custom Shop in 1987.
Located on the same block as the Granada Theater, RingTail Records is the record store in Far West Texas where you can find a variety of vinyl, cassettes and CDs, and occasionally get a peek at the “secret” murals along the store’s west wall – but only when the “Dog Yard” door is open. What you can’t find in the store can be ordered with the owner Michael McCollum.
Sometimes a musician doesn’t need an official stage to play in Alpine. Trammell has occasionally sung tunes for the little ones at Plaine Coffeeshop. Live music can pop up anywhere from Harry’s Tinaja to the weekly open jam at the American Legion.
From the annual Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering and ArtWalk, music seeps into the town on a fairly regular basis. Every summer, Viva Big Bend music festival brings over 50 bands for a weekend not only to Alpine, but to the surrounding towns: Marfa, Marathon and Fort Davis. Grammy award-winning Los Lonely Boys, Little Joe, Ruben Ramos as well as Texas Tornados and Dale Watson are some of the past festival headliners. Other notable acts to make the trek to play Viva Big Bend include Shakey Graves, Gina Chavez, Grupo Fantasma, Shinyribs and The Peterson Brothers.
With the closest commercial airport at least 3 hours away, getting to Alpine requires a detour from the convenient I-10 highway. One can ride the Amtrak train directly to Alpine though. Alex Pianovich did just that by riding the 26-hour long train ride with his girlfriend from New Orleans a few years ago. The landscape and the climate enchanted the musician, but it was discovering the small town’s deep appreciation for music and art that continuously pulls him back.
His band, Greazy Alice, was a new band when he made that first trip, but the singer knew he wanted to bring his band to perform. When they first played in Alpine, they traveled from Joplin, Missouri. Pianovich’s band members weren’t particularly happy with him for booking a show in the middle of the desert, but he told them to trust him.
“It seems like an anomaly until you go there,” said Pianovich. “How does a town of 6,000 people do it, but then you go there and it makes sense.”
Updated from an original article by Sarah Vasquez
Alpine Cowboys Baseball
It’s been their summer tradition since 2013. Victor and Janice Pepka jump in their RV and travel close to 500 miles (or seven hours) from the small town of Whitney for America’s Favorite Pastime in Alpine. Even though it’s a much shorter distance to watch a Texas Rangers game in nearby Arlington, the Pepkas would rather travel to Far West Texas. To them, watching an Alpine Cowboys baseball game is a special treat.
“This is just fun,” said Janice.
There’s been some embodiment of baseball in Alpine since 1905, but the Cowboys have been a part of the town’s history since 1947 when longtime rancher Herbert Kokernot Jr. built a baseball stadium known as Kokernot Field. Kokernot wanted to replicate his field after Wrigley Field in Chicago and used materials from his ranch to add that personal touch. After all, his father told him, if he was going to use their 06 brand on the field, he had better do it right. Rocks from the ranch were used to build the walls. The brand adorns the doors and gates and is used as the team’s logo. Kokernot erected lights a couple of years later in 1958.
Located north of downtown, Kokernot Field has been called the “best little ballpark in Texas” by Sports Illustrated. Four flags – an American flag, a Texas flag and two Alpine Cowboys flags – stand tall above the words “Kokernot Field – Home of the Cowboys” at the entrance. There’s a car entrance on the first base line where the cars used to pull into the stadium to watch the game. Walking up the ramp to the stands, the field welcomes the crowd with a view of the surrounding mountains that define West Texas.
“This is out in the middle of nowhere,” said Kristin Lacy Cavness, Cowboys’ current general manager.
Cavness is Kokernot’s great granddaughter. Growing up on the 06 Ranch, Cavness got to see her great-grandfather quite a bit, so baseball has always been a part of her life.
“He had a love for baseball,” said Cavness.
It was that love that inspired him to renovate the stadium of the Alpine Cats, the town’s former semi-professional baseball team, into what would become Kokernot Field and to bring back the team as the Alpine Cowboys in 1947 until it folded in 1961. The Cowboys returned 48 years later in 2009 in a failed attempt as a for-profit professional baseball team before their successful relaunch as a nonprofit in 2011.
“Most of the stockholders were interested in keeping baseball in Alpine that my great-grandfather had done back in the day,” said Cavness.
Cavness became very passionate about it as well and as a result, they formed a nonprofit organization in 2011 called Big Bend Community Baseball and Softball. Part of their mission is to restore Kokernot Field. Since the return in 2009, the deep green seats and bright red gates at the stadium and parking lot were painted as part of the restoration. The original wood installed around the high stadium windows were replaced for the first time since 1947. The newest and most obvious addition to Kokernot Field is the 36-foot modern scoreboard that stands behind left field. As part of a beautification project, fans can purchase personalized paver bricks with one of three brands: Sul Ross’ SR, Alpine Bucks’ A or Cowboys’ 06 that will be placed in front of the stadium.
The non-profit also allows the Alpine Cowboys to keep playing and for the field to be used for baseball games and clinics throughout the year by Alpine ISD, Sul Ross State University and other programs in the Big Bend region.
The Cowboys play in the Pecos League, a professional baseball club which is not affiliated with the Major or Minor Baseball League. As the only Pecos League team in Texas, they play against opponents from New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Colorado and California. Former Cowboy Austin Prott is the Field Manager and Cavness volunteers 100 percent of her time for her general manager role.
“It’s nice to give back,” said Cavness. “They’re using our tradition and our family name and our brand and that’s why I’m so passionate about it. To continue on that legacy.”
The season typically starts in late May and continues until the end of July (unless they make the playoffs). The players are recruited from all over the United States and some have come as far as Japan and Puerto Rico.
“They have to be Cowboys,” said Cavness. “And by that, they have to be outstanding young gentlemen who have great respect for our tradition and for our community.”
Local families host the players in their homes during the season. As a thank you, the families are given season tickets and are recognized during a game.
Games typically start at 7 pm, and as the bright sun sets for the evening, the summer air cools. Visiting fans welcome the weather change, even if it requires a sweater.
“We love the climate out here,” said Janice.
She also enjoys buying a Nolan Ryan all-beef hot dog from the concession stands. Fans can purchase most food and drinks that are normally found at a baseball game from Frito pies to burritos with Come & Take It BBQ brisket.
“Cowboy games are just special for visiting people to do,” said Victor. “It’s hometown-like.”
“They’ve attended more Cowboy games than most Alpine people,” said retired Sul Ross Professor Sam Davis.
But Davis himself has also been a regular fixture at Kokernot Field. The baseball fan has by his estimate only missed 10 games since the team returned in 2009, and has been a season ticket holder every year. A perk of having season tickets is that he can reserve his seat before the season starts. He picks the same seat in the middle section that gives him the perfect view of the pitcher.
“I can criticize the umpire from here,” Davis joked. “I can see better than he can.”
It’s not hard to notice Davis with the white binder on his lap. Throughout the game, he tracks every play from both teams on scorecards. He uses a pencil with a long twistable eraser, because he “makes mistakes,” and he keeps the pages from the games in a larger notebook at home. This is simply a pastime for Davis.
“It makes the games more interesting,” said Davis.
Cowgirl Rubi Losoya keeps the crowd moving with mini-games such as the dizzy bat spin and beach ball bounce in between innings. She runs around the stands to collect money in a cowboy hat whenever a player makes a home run. That money goes directly to the player. This all adds to the small town fun at the baseball game.
“It’s just neat to be part of a historical baseball park,” said Cavness.
Article and photos by Sarah Vasquez
The Alpine Downtown Association has created a walking tour of Alpine’s downtown murals (above). Click here to download a printable PDF file.
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.
More recently, a group of businesses and building owners have partnered together for “Alpine Alley Art”. An alley runs east-west through downtown Alpine between Holland Avenue and Avenue E. The block between 5th and 6th Streets is quickly being filled with multiple murals, including a desert nature scene by Pauline Hernandez with ceramic details, a celebration of Big Bend’s Dark Skies by Carolyn Macartney and Liz Sibley, a mountain landscape by Juliana Johnson and more!
At Kokernot Park, Alpine’s premier municipal park, the Sul Ross Art Club produced a pop-inspired design by Alpine artist Amanda Calhoun on a water tank at the park’s southeast corner.
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.
Davis Mountains State Park
Majestic, remote and full of adventure the Davis Mountains State Park high in the mountains of West Texas is a beautiful and historic park. Formed by volcanoes and sculpted by wind and water, the Davis Mountains rise more than 8,300 feet above sea level out of the expansive Chihuahuan Desert.
The state park is 4 miles from the town of Fort Davis at the southeast edge of the mountains. Fort Davis is just 25 miles north of Alpine making it a great day trip.Visitors can enjoy over 20 miles of hiking trails, backpack, mountain bike, ride your own horse, take a scenic drive through the mountains, go camping, stargaze, geocache and study nature.
The Davis Mountains State Park is also home to Indian Lodge. Originally a 16-room hotel when constructed in the 1930’s this unique adobe-style hotel now was 39 rooms, a restaurant, swimming pool (for Lodge guests only) and meeting rooms.
You can also stay at one of the many campsites or rent a group picnic area your next gathering. Find more information by calling (432) 426-3337 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 and year-round at Ocotillo Enterprises in downtown Alpine.
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.
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.
Alpine’s Gem Show
Alpine is host to an annual gem show on the third weekend in April, held at the Alpine Civic Center. 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