With the onslaught of Instagram and smart phone cameras rivaling expensive DSLRs, we’ve all become self-made professional photographers. Ansel Adams, don’t roll those eyes. In Alpine, Texas, pro and amateur lens-bearers alike find plenty of subject matter to keep them shooting for days. The sun shines a unique gleam over the Texas mountains here. The sky’s a different blue. Crisper. And the clouds float about like giant puffs of cotton casting their shadow on the Chihuahuan Desert below. Spindly ocotillo serpent toward the sun, creating contrast with the surrounding short desert grasses and distant mountains. Vibrant murals, vintage signs, and interesting architecture weave throughout the city, beckoning snapshots.

Alan Wintz

Alpine lends itself to photography, so much so that the city now hosts an annual photo contest where visitors and locals submit their views of the area in exchange for cash prizes. The deadline for the 2018 #AlpineTXPhoto Contest is Sept. 30. You can submit up to five images online and there’s no fee to enter. Each year, a professional photographer judges the competition and chooses winners for the five cash prizes that range from $50 to $500.

This year’s judge is Jennifer Boomer, who is a contributor to HGTV’s Fixer UpperTexas Monthly, and The Wall Street Journal. 2017 #AlpineTxPhoto judge Terry Cockerham gives great photography tips like the rule of thirds and shutter speed control. Keep in mind, this is an annual competition, so no matter when you’re visiting Alpine, challenge yourself to get creative in the way you look at the city through your lens.

Favorite subjects to photograph in and around Alpine include: Hancock Hill, Sul Ross State University, surrounding roads and mountains, the abundance of murals scattered throughout, storefronts and signs, windmills, cactus, and sunsets. Freeze frame twirling dancers at Railroad Blues, zoom in on Reata’s Chocolate Chunk Bread Pudding Tamale, or capture a running horse at the Big Bend Ranch Rodeo (Aug. 10-11).

Voni Glaves

Birding and wildlife watching is also a favorite pastime—and photo subject—in Alpine. Professionally guided birding and photography tours and workshops are available from the expert Lee Hoy at Big Bend Birding & Photo Tours, but you can also encounter feathered (and furry) friends exploring on your own at some of the following nature hot spots.

Hang out in the new bird blind at the nearby Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center to spot many bird species including Black-chinned hummingbirds. Volcanic rock, oak trees, and Blue Mountain set the backdrop here for all kinds of winged creatures. Just past the center, the Davis Mountains State Park is another great place to observe birds like Montezuma quail, Bell’s vireo, black-headed grosbeak and acorn woodpeckers. This Texas state park has been named a “Globally Important Bird Area” by the American Bird Conservancy as it’s home to more than 260 species of birds including quite rare breeds.

Lee Hoy, Big Bend Birding & Photo Tours

For a true immersion in nature, head south of Alpine on State Highway 118 for about 26 miles to Elephant Mountain Wildlife Management Area. One hundred sixty species of birds, including scaled quail, have been documented on this property, so definitely pack your binoculars. The Wildlife Viewing Site is open May 1 through August 30 annually and it’s here where you can spot desert bighorn, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, desert mule deer, spadefoot toads, and whiptail lizards. And, the occasional rattlesnake, so be sure to watch where you’re stepping.

You’ll be surprised to find all the water at Post Park (Fort Peña Colorado Park), south of Marathon on Avenue D. It’s no surprise to all the birds and wildlife that discovered it long ago and still flock to it—and so should you.

Lee Hoy, Big Bend Birding & Photo Tours

Grab some giant cinnamon rolls at Judy’s Bread and Breakfast in Alpine then head to Big Bend Ranch State Park or Big Bend National Park (a little over an hour south). Birding in Big Bend draws travelers from around the globe, as its combo of mountain, desert, and river ecosystems attract more than 450 species of birds. Rarities you have a chance to spy here include the Lucifer hummingbird, Mexican jay, Mexican mallard, and Colima warbler.

Be sure to check out the Fossil Discovery Exhibit in Big Bend National Park to learn about the dinosaurs that once roamed this area, including the giant Quetzalcoatlus northropi, a large pterosaur with a wingspan up to 39 feet. That’s one big bird.

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, a trip to Alpine is priceless.

By Brenda Kissko for Visit Alpine