My nomadic life began on September 30th with my solo road trip from Austin to west Texas and other than some internet issues all went basically as planned. I chose Alpine Texas as the first stop on my nomadic life adventure for several reasons.
Alpine TX – great home base for exploring west Texas
- On my previous road trip to west Texas I only stopped in Alpine for a few hours so I wanted to get to know Alpine.
- Although I am taking a long-term road trip around the USA and Canada, I am not crazy about driving all day. The road trip from Austin to Alpine only takes around 6 hours.
- Alpine is a great base to explore west Texas – Marfa, Fort Davis, Marathon, Balmorhea, Big Bend National Park, Big Bend State Park, and Terlingua are all great day trips from Alpine Texas.
- Accommodation in Alpine tends to be more plentiful and less expensive than other nearby towns.
Since I am working while traveling I am booking a whole house or apartment through Airbnb (click for your free $20 credit on Airbnb) because I want privacy and room to work. Prior to this trip I always booked just a room so that I could save some money. The other benefit of booking just a room on Airbnb is to stay with local people so that I can enjoy some conversation with them and get tips about the area. This was especially helpful on my first solo trip to Barcelona and on my trip to Mexico City alone.
In Alpine I had the best of both worlds – I enjoyed my own private home but my Airbnb host Suzanne lived right next door. She gave me tips about places to eat, enjoy live music, and where to get free/fast internet when I had internet problems the first few days in Alpine. Suzanne was a great host and I enjoyed our conversations, and her beautiful garden.
Things to see and do in Alpine Texas
I loved that I could walk to downtown Alpine from my Airbnb home located just south of the railroad tracks. Alpine is a small college town with a population of around 6,000 people. Super friendly people. Just hang out at Harry’s Tinaja, on 412 E Holland, for a beer or a glass of wine and you will feel right at home in no time.
My favorite place to eat in Alpine is Reata Restaurant located at 203 North Fifth. I enjoyed everything that I tried at Reata – especially the bacon wrapped shrimp with onion jam and pico de gallo. The combination of flavors is superb! Never would I have guessed that I would enjoy eating onion jam – trust me on this one – delicious!
Check out the farmer’s markets if you are in Alpine on a Saturday. I enjoyed chatting with the vendors and other visitors to the market. I bought a big bag of basil, tomatoes, homemade ginger cookies, apple filled croissant, and a beautiful, colorful knit cap from Cleo, along with a painting from one of her kids. Cleo and I chatted for ages and I felt like I was catching up with an old friend.
Open from 9 AM to 2 PM at:
Hotel Ritchey on 5th St and Murphy St
Big Bend Thrift Store on 5th St and Ave A
Early October brought some welcome rain to most parts of west Texas. In Alpine I visited the Museum of the Big Bend at Sul Ross University on one rainy afternoon. For information on current and upcoming exhibits check out Museum of the Big Bend website here. I enjoyed the Tom Lea retrospective (ongoing until March 31, 2016)
I also attended a play at Sul Ross University Marshall Auditorium. Check the Sul Ross events calendar for upcoming performances.
- Admission to the Museum of the Big Bend is free
- Hours are Tues – Sat 9 – 5 and Sunday 1 – 5 (closed Monday)
Stroll around town on the historic walking tour – you can get a map from the Alpine Visitor’s Center at 106 N 3rd Street or have a look at the map online at HistoricAlpine.org
Visit some of the art galleries or enjoy some outdoor art – there are several murals around downtown Alpine. A name you will see on a few of the murals is Stylle Read, and he was working on a new mural called Cattle Drive while I was visiting Alpine.
Visit Kokernot Park on the north side of town or Baines Park at Gallego between South 4th and 5th Street
Alpine is the perfect home base to explore west Texas – here are some of the best day trips from Alpine Texas.
Balmorhea State Park – San Solomon Springs pool
In early October the days were still quite hot so I took the opportunity to enjoy swimming at Balmorhea San Solomon Springs pool. I daydreamed about swimming in this enormous spring fed swimming pool since my December 2010 road trip to west Texas. Balmorhea park is definitely worth the one hour drive from Alpine for a dip in the 74 degree pool.
- Balmorhea State Park is 56 north of Alpine on Hwy TX-118 and TX-17
- More info about Balmorhea State Park at Texas Parks & Wildlife
Fort Davis and McDonald Observatory
Fort Davis is a 25 minute drive from Alpine TX and McDonald Observatory is another 20 minutes away. You can visit McDonald Observatory during the daytime and take in a tour or solar viewing. Or visit at night for the Star Party and Twilight program – get all the details at McDonald Observatory website.
I attended a star party in December 2010 but the night sky was cloudy. During my stay I kept checking the forecast for a good night to visit, alas the October skies were mostly cloudy in the evenings. There was a blanket of fog over Alpine on several mornings while I was there, perhaps a side effect of El Niño, I was told fog is uncharacteristic in Alpine.
Star party at McDonald Observatory is still on my list for my next visit to west Texas.
- Fort Davis is 24 miles north of Alpine on Hwy TX-118
Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens
Four miles south of Fort Davis on Hwy 118 you can enjoy some hiking, visit the botanical gardens with over 175 species of cacti and succulents on display, learn about mining and minerals at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute mining exhibit. I spent a whole afternoon at the gardens and could easily have stayed the day.
Bring a picnic lunch if you want to spend a day exploring the gardens and hiking trails. Or drive four miles to Fort Davis for lunch. Stone Village Market is a small grocery store with a great deli and made to order sandwiches. I had a vegetable sandwich – layered with seven different veggies and so delicious!
- Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens is 20 miles north of Alpine on Hwy TX-118
Terlingua Ghost Town – solo road trip stopover
Terlingua is a place I have only stopped by on my way to or from Big Bend National Park. On this road trip I stopped in Terlingua for lunch at High Sierra Bar & Grill on my way to the park. The food was good so I returned to the High Sierra in Terlingua again on my way back to Big Bend after enjoying a half-day tour on the Rio Grande.
The vibe at High Sierra Bar & Grill, and in Terlingua in general, is chill and relaxed. I enjoyed great service both times I visited and I took note of the band tearing down their gear on Saturday afternoon – chatting with the bartender I understand there was a good party going on Friday night. There is definitely a groovy little music scene going on in Terlingua. Perhaps I will make it to the 22nd annual Terlingua Music Bash?
I still haven’t fallen in love with Terlingua, like so many people tell me they do, but I am flirting with the place – can’t get it out of my mind. I must return to Terlingua, spend some time with Terlingua, nurture our relationship, and see if the magic spell is cast upon me.
- Terlingua is 84 miles south of Alpine on Hwy TX 118
Marfa Texas – way out there Far West Texas
Where for art thou Marfa? I loved Marfa Texas the first time I visited, around Christmas time December 2010. I stayed at El Paisano Hotel, where Giant was filmed in 1956. I slept in the Elizabeth Taylor suite because I wanted to spoil myself a little (I was used to staying in hostels back then) and it was the only room available on short notice during the busy Christmas season. It was fate.
My visit to Marfa in October 2015 felt a little like reuniting with a lover that had lost his appeal. I wanted it to work out but I was just not that into Marfa anymore. I am way too un-hipster to fit in with the Marfa scene. I suppose Marfa was a bit hipster 5 years ago, but now it is a slice of hipster heaven. This hippie chick did not feel the love anymore. Maybe it’s because Alpine TX already stole my heart?
Marfa is definitely worth a visit and really you need to spend more than an afternoon to get to know a place, or in my case to get reacquainted with the place. I do expect to visit Marfa when I am in west Texas again, we’re not through yet.
- Marfa is 26 miles west of Alpine on Hwy US 90.
Head west from Marfa on highway 90 for around 33 miles and you can check out the Prada Marfa art installation just past Valentine Texas.
Marathon Texas – gateway to Big Bend National Park
On my first solo road trip to west Texas I stayed at the whimsical Eve’s Garden Organic Bed & Breakfast in Marathon Texas for 3 nights. I was treated like family and invited to their Christmas dinner celebration.
Marathon is located on Hwy 385 around 40 miles north of Big Bend National Park. On my way to Las Cruces New Mexico I stopped in Marathon so I could visit Eve’s Garden to say hello and check out the changes since 2010.
- Marathon is 30 miles east of Alpine on Hwy US-90
Big Bend National Park – best hiking in Texas
I opted to stay in Big Bend National Park and the only lodging option within Big Bend is the Chisos Mountain Lodge – expensive but great location. If you like to camp there are more options and the best place to check out your options is the National Park Service website.
The hiking at Big Bend National Park is superb. There are a variety of hiking options at Big Bend, choose from mountain, river, or desert hikes. Besides hiking there are opportunities for horseback riding, river trips, birdwatching, stargazing, scenic drives, and fishing. The absence of city lights makes Big Bend a terrific place to view the Milky Way.
- Big Bend National Park is located 72 miles southeast of Alpine on Hwy US-90 and US-385
My long-term solo road trip began with beautiful moments revisiting some of my favorite places in west Texas. This nomadic life experiment is going well so far. Check back for more of my nomadic adventures coming soon!