Alpine, Texas has the distinction of being the biggest town in the biggest county in the second biggest state (and before Alaska was granted statehood, the biggest state). It's located in far West Texas, in an area that's rather remote, and very easily overlooked simply because it's so far from and of the state's major cities. Yet this overlooked corner of Texas offers some of the state's best natural beauty, tallest mountains, and the state's largest national park, Big Bend.
Alpine is the county seat of Brewster County, one of the largest counties in the nation. In fact, Brewster County is so big that its area of just under 6,000 square miles is larger than that of three individual states – Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Delaware – and it's bigger than the combined area of Rhode Island and Delaware. Yet with all that land, Brewster County has fewer than 9,000 residents, and over half of those live in the county's lone incorporated city, Alpine.
Getting to Alpine
The closest commercial airports to the area are in Midland, Del Rio, and El Paso. Of these, El Paso is the largest, with the most air service, but is also farthest away. Midland's airport offers service from Southwest, American Eagle, and Continental Express, and is just over a two hour drive away. Del Rio's airport has a very limited number of flights on Continental Connection to Houston, where connections are available through Continental's hub. Del Rio and El Paso's airports are both about a four hour drive from Alpine.
You can also get to Alpine by train. Amtrak's Sunset Limited stops in the city six times a week (three times in each direction) on its runs between New Orleans and Los Angeles. The Amtrak station is located in the center of Alpine, within an easy walking distance of several hotels and restaurants. However, car rentals are not readily available in Alpine, which greatly reduces the usefulness of arriving in the area by train.
Alpine is one of the highest towns in Texas in elevation. At 4,475 feet, and surrounded by mountains, Alpine enjoys some of the mildest summers in the state. High temperatures in Alpine in July and August are often in the upper 80s and lower 90s at a time when much of West Texas is experiencing daytime highs above 100°F. And, as soon as the sun sets in the evenings, the temperature tends to drop very quickly to the upper 60s or lower. These mild (for Texas summer) temperatures, combined with the area's low humidity, and cool evenings, make the area a very pleasant destination in the summer. Winter temperatures are also fairly moderate, with occasional snowfall.
Things to Do
Alpine is a good, central location to stay when visiting the region. To the south is Big Bend National Park, and to the north you'll find the scenic Davis Mountains. To the west is Marfa, a town with a thriving arts community and its famous mystery lights. And to the east is the town of Marathon, also considered a gateway to Big Bend.
The biggest attraction of this region is its natural beauty. The Davis Mountains are the second highest range of mountains in Texas. The mountains tend to generate their own weather patterns, and as a result, the region receives far more rain than most of the rest of West Texas, leaving the mountain areas much greener than the surrounding desert. There's a lot of wildlife in the area, several of the best state parks in Texas (Davis Mountains and Balmorhea are both particularly good, and there's also the more rustic and undeveloped Big Bend Ranch), historic sites like the Fort Davis National Historic Site, and for astronomy buffs, the McDonald Observatory and its evening star viewing parties. If you enjoy camping, campsites are available at all of the state parks, Big Bend, and several other wilderness management areas.
You'll also find some interesting shopping in Alpine, Marfa, and Fort Davis. All of these towns are relatively untouched by big chain stores like Wal-Mart, and have thriving local businesses. Alpine and Marfa both have art galleries featuring the work of local artists. There are also a variety of stores selling Mexican imports such as furniture and housewares at very reasonable prices.
Alpine is also a town that loves a good festival. Throughout the year there are festivals and outdoor events to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the local arts community, and the rodeo. There's also a summer outdoor theatre series presented by the theatre department at Sul Ross State University.
Finally, for foodies, there's a surprising abundance of great restaurants in the area. Alpine, Marfa, and Marathon offer some true fine dining experiences, but you'll also find a variety of excellent choices that are completely unpretentious serving some of the best Tex Mex, barbecue, and steaks you'll find anywhere at very affordable prices in spartan dining rooms.