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The Key to West Texas

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Adventure awaits in Alpine, Texas.

Story and photos by Hannah Phillips

Perfectly situated about half an hour between Marfa, Marathon and Alpine, Texas, is more than just a pit stop on Highway 90; it’s the key to West Texas. Two national parks are within a three-hour drive, Big Bend to the south and the majestic Guadalupe Mountains, the highest peaks in Texas, to the north. Day trips and adventures abound in the region, and Alpine provides the perfect hub if you plan to sample them all. The town of 6,000 offers plenty to see and do without venturing outside the city limits. We’ve rounded up all the reasons not to skip it on your next West Texas escape.  

Hike Hancock Hill and visit Sul Ross State University.

On the approach into Alpine, Richard Linklater fans will relish the drive down Highway 67, where the Boyhood lead character approaches Sul Ross State University in the final scenes of the film. The turn down Highway 90 leads into the heart of downtown, outlined by the picturesque Paisano Peak in the distance. The beautiful red-brick campus of Sul Ross State University lies just beyond the Welcome to Alpine sign. Part of the Texas State University System, Sul Ross was founded in 1917 and named for a former governor of Texas, Lawrence Sullivan Ross.

The campus sprawls across Hancock Hill, where a 20-minute hike provides a spectacular panorama of Alpine and the surrounding area. Be sure to peruse and sign the guest book at The Desk, dragged by three Sul Ross students to the top of the hill in 1981. It’s a spot that’s become a favorite destination ever since.

On campus, the Museum of the Big Bend houses permanent exhibits of the region’s natural and human history, including an impressive cartography collection and a rotating selection of Western art. Should you opt for a day trip to the national park (about 85 miles south of Alpine down Highway 118), the museum will set the tone for your Big Bend adventure.

Enjoy happy hour at the Holland Hotel.

Get to know the locals at the Century Bar & Grill, nestled inside the historic Holland Hotel. If this is your first stop after the six-hour trek down Interstate 10 or a welcome reward after a day of hiking, look no further than the cucumber martini for a well-deserved way to wind down. Bar bites and bigger bites on the bar menu are 20 percent off during happy hour, and guests can enjoy their nibbles inside or on the dog-friendly patio in the hotel’s enclosed courtyard.

Built in 1928 by local rancher JR Holland and designed by architect Henry Trost, the hotel is one of four historic Trost hotels in the Big Bend region, along with Hotel Paisano in Marfa, the Gage Hotel in Marathon and Hotel El Capitan in Van Horn. Trost’s El Paso-based firm designed more than 500 buildings throughout the Southwest, mostly between 1899 and 1933, and the hotels are some of the best examples of his favored Spanish-colonial style.

Roll and stroll through town with a walking tour.

One of the best places in town for a hearty home-cooked meal is Judy’s Bread & Breakfast. The diner-style menu features classic cowboy omelets and salads, but save room for one of Judy’s enormous cinnamon rolls. Grab one to go for a stroll through town, then admire Alpine’s architectural history, along with its many murals, galleries and knick-knack shops on the Walking and Windshield Tour. Guides are available at Judy’s and the Holland Hotel, as well as the Visitors Center. Or opt to set your own pace down Holland Avenue and across the railroad tracks along Murphy Street. Front Street Books is a must-stop shop for bibliophiles, selling both new and used fiction and a selection of West Texas lore.

Kick back at the Big Bend Brewery.

A full morning of exploration calls for day drinking at the Big Bend Brewing Co. Locals and tourists alike congregate in the taproom on the outskirts of town on the road to Marfa. The brewery was founded in 2012 and recently expanded production to a bigger facility in San Antonio. The taproom is open Thursday through Monday. Bring your dog and sample a flight on the patio.

Root for the home team at Kokernot Field.

On summer nights, step back in time with a baseball game at Kokernot Field, known as the Yankee Stadium of Texas, and home to the Alpine 06 Cowboys. Local ranch king Herbert Kokernot Jr., built the park for his semiprofessional team in 1947, and the native-stone exterior and wrought-iron gates still bear the 06 emblems of his Kokernot Ranch. When the Cowboys signed on to the Boston Red Sox farm system in 1959, Alpine became the smallest town in America with a professional baseball team. But today’s 06 Cowboys play in the independent Pecos League. Check the Cowboys summer schedule to catch the team at home in classic uniforms.

For more summer events in Alpine, check out the Viva Big Bend Music Festival July 26 through 29, and the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo at Sul Ross State University’s S.A.L.E. Arena Aug. 10 and 11.

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