Attractions

Alpine is at the center of a vast, diverse community, connected by the most scenic routes in the state. Reach out to the national and state parks that celebrate the natural beauty of west Texas, or take a quick jaunt to sample the other cities of the region, each with a flavor all their own.

Alpine Murals

Poco a Poquito, Artwalk mural by Stylle Read and community volunteers

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.

Big Brewster mural by Stylle Read

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.

Mercado Artwalk mural by Stylle Read and community volunteers

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.

Cattle Artwalk mural by Stylle Read

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

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

Live Music

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.”

Photo by Michael Howard

Railroad Blues
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.”

Photo by Dana Jones

The Granada Theatre
Further down the road, the historic Granada Theater allows for a larger crowd to take in the more heavy-hitting acts with space permitting, and more room to dance. People have filled the room at capacity to see acts like Joe Ely of the Flatlanders fame, Randy Rogers Band and Asleep at the Wheel.

Come and Take It BBQ
At Come and Take It BBQ, 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 at Come and Take It BBQ 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.

Transpecos Guitars
Another place to stop for guitar repairs as well as for vintage and new guitars for sale is Transpecos Guitars. The shop has served the Big Bend region since 2002, but temporarily closed its doors after the passing of the shop owner and beloved musician Mark Pollock in 2015. Pollock shared the stage with Stevie Ray Vaughn, Doyle Bramhall of the Nightcrawlers and Freddie King and fixed many guitars along the way. The shop reopened a few months later in its new downtown location during the summer of 2016.

TransPecos Guitars

RingTail Records
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.

RingTail Records

Other Venues
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. One could get a glance of Bake Turner’s 1968 Superbowl ring as he strums his guitar on the Holland Hotel patio. Live music can pop up anywhere from Harry’s Tinaja to the Big Bend Brewery Co taproom.

Music Events
From the annual Texas 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.

The Texas Tornados at Viva Big Bend. Photo by J. Griffis Smith.

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.”

Article by Sarah Vasquez

Museum of the Big Bend

Located on the beautiful campus of Sul Ross State University, the Museum of the Big Bend is a must-see for each visitor to the area. It is a wonderful repository of information on the entire Big Bend region with exhibits highlighting the natural and cultural history of the area. Admission is free, but donations are greatly appreciated. Open Tuesday through Sunday. Visit www.sulross.edu/museum/ or call (432) 837-8143 for more information.

Big Bend Parks

Rafting the Rio Grande courtesy of TXDoT

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 courtesy of Texas Mountain Trail

Big Bend Ranch courtesy of Texas Mountain Trail

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.

McDonald Observatory

Trek north, through Fort Davis, to the famous astronomical research facility, the McDonald Observatory. Informative and detailed tours teach guests about heavenly bodies and the tools used to study them. Plan ahead to attend their famous Star Parties, where visitors get closeup views of the dark skies of West Texas through some of the largest telescopes in the world. Visit mcdonaldobservatory.org or call 432-426-3640 for more information.

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 Basics

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.

Bouquet Agate - Photo by Steve Ivie

Bouquet Agate – Photo by Steve Ivie / Rockhounding USA

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.

Red Plume Agate - photo by Steve Ivie

Red Plume Agate – photo © Steve Ivie / Rockhounding USA

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.

Bouquet Agate – Photo by Brad Tanas

Bouquet Agate – Photo by Brad Tanas

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