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Deep in the heart of West Texas lie two small towns with major appeal: Alpine and Marfa. Less than 30 miles apart and a world away from what you’re used to, these sister cities in the Big Bend region have about as many similarities as they do differences.

The stars at night are big and bright. As participants of the Greater Big Bend Dark Sky Reserve, Marfa and Alpine boast incredible opportunities for star gazing, even inside city limits. A short drive outside of either town will present you with more stars than you thought possible. A little further down the road and you’ll arrive at the McDonald Observatory, where world-renowned astronomers will unravel the mysteries of the night sky and point out planets, constellations, and nebulas visible to the naked eye. Be sure to book ahead for one of their wildly popular star parties or a tour of their incredible telescopes.

Starry sky above Prada Marfa.

The prairie sky is wide and high. Marfa and Alpine are part of the high desert plains, and sit at an elevation around and above 4,500 feet. That means the biggest, most colorful sunsets and uninterrupted landscape for miles in every direction. Here in West Texas the outdoors really are the place to be. Watching clouds on take new shapes becomes a pastime.

Sunrise from Hancock Hill. Photo by Ben Panter

Take a hike up Hancock Hill in Alpine, which has a trailhead near the beautiful Sul Ross University campus. The reward at the top is a view of of Alpine and the Davis Mountains to the north. In Marfa, a sunset drive down Pinto Canyon Road, a seldom traveled ranch road, will take you through uninterrupted views from horizon to horizon and into the Chinati Mountains.

Head any direction and a scenic highway drive will connect you to one of the neighboring towns with personalities all their own. If you plan to visit Big Bend National Park, the drive along River Road is a roller coaster of views that will take your breath away. 118 south offers the quickest access to the park, and will take you past Elephant Mountain, a sky island with a unique ecosystem of wildlife including big horned sheep.

Sunset from Pinto Canyon Road.Photo by Sarah M. Vasquez

The land and sky are not the only outstanding experience Marfa and Alpine have to offer. Both cities have tons of independently owned shops and restaurants. You’ll find food trailers and fine dining, TexMex and international cuisine. There are bookstores, art galleries, vintage clothes, and fine jewelry. Chances are you won’t find the same thing twice.

West Texas encompasses an incredibly rich history. Geologic time scale is on full display in the mountains that surround the area. Archeological evidence of early Native people exists in the state and national parks. Stories from early settlers of the area have become legend. Cavalry forts, military bases, Buffalo Soldiers, army airfields, and German POWs have all had a home in this region.

While in Alpine check out the Museum of the Big Bend on the Sul Ross campus where you’ll find a little bit of everything about the region. In Marfa, don’t miss The Marfa and Presidio County Museum, which has an incredible photo archive and collection of historic objects.

The Presidio County Courthouse in Marfa.

Marfa is world-renowned for being home to artist Donald Judd, where his influence can still be felt today. To find out exactly how Judd came to land in Marfa, the effect he’s had on the art world, and view his large scale works of art, be sure to reserve a tour at Judd Foundation and Chinati Foundation.

In Alpine the arts play a big role in the culture as well, with a small but vibrant scene of visual artists and musicians. Visitors can explore downtown murals and galleries during the day, and relax to the sounds of local bands most evenings. 

“Big Brewster” mural. Photo by J. Griffis Smith

November’s ArtWalk celebration and the Lone Star Cowboy Poetry Gathering in February bring crowds to Alpine each year, while in September Marfa hosts the Trans-Pecos Festival of Music and Love, with well-known country and rock musicians playing an eclectic outdoor campground called El Cosmico. And every July the Viva Big Bend music festival brings the entire region together with more than 60 performances on stages in Marfa, Alpine, Fort Davis, Marathon, and Terlingua!

Dancers at Alpine’s Railroad Blues during Viva Big Bend. Photo by Michael Howard

Marfa and Alpine are too close to be different and too far out to be similar. You might be a little more Alpine or a little more Marfa, but they both have a lot to offer while you’re deep in the heart of West Texas.

Hear more about Alpine in the below video:

Hear more about Marfa in the below video:

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