When I rolled into Alpine Texas, one hot day, after spending some time in and around Big Bend National Park, I didn't really expect much. My only plan was to get a good night's sleep and check out the town the following day. That was before I saw a couple of horses tethered to a hitching post at what appeared to be a small beer bar near the outskirts of town.
I parked at the curb, went inside, retreated to a table against a wall displaying a Lone Star beer sign, and ordered a Miller Lite. I felt out of place, like a cheesehead straight from Wisconsin (which I was), but I sensed that Harry's Tinaja was one of those "aha" discoveries I'm always on the lookout for, and I wasn't about to let it escape my experience. The owner, Harry Mois, a stocky, congenial man, made it a point to welcome me personally. I stayed a while longer than I'd planned. Harry's filled with customers; the tangy smell of BBQ wafted in from the beer garden, and live music stirred up some good old camaraderie (some of it mine). By late evening, I'd developed a slight buzz.
The next morning, following a sound sleep at The Holland Hotel, I ate breakfast at Alicia's Burrito Place, a small dine-in or drive-up-window cafe that was recommended but a little tricky to locate. The effort of finding it paid off with the tastiest chorizo sausage/potato breakfast ever served up to this Midwest gal.
Later, after picking up a map at the Alpine Visitors' Center (106 N 3rd), I considered taking the Alpine Historic Walking Tour. Short in length but long in history, this tour covers a block of 44 buildings that once housed pool halls, traveling shows, and vaudeville acts alongside the firehouse, courthouse, and jail.
With my time limited, I opted, instead, to see some local art. I found the Deborah Allison Studio – and a bewildering array of paintings, sketches, charcoals, portraits, even a colored pencil drawing of a backhoe – in a detached garage in back of The Cheshire Cat Antiques aka the Irene Peters House aka . . . Somehow, the whole eccentric scene struck me as just right for Alpine Texas.
I meandered down to Murphy Street Raspa Company and took time out for a refreshing "desert dessert" – just in case you don't know, "raspa" is shaved ice. Housed in an old, old building, Murphy Street Raspa Company had two former lives, as a furniture factory and a grocery store, before current owners Cristina and Victor Noriega purchased, renovated, and renamed the building in 2008. It's a quirky kind of place. I'd never heard of "chamoy," one of the Noriega's specialty sauces. When I asked about it, the reply went something like this: "Look, you may not like it (chamoy), but you may end up loving it and wanting to marry it and have kids and grow old together." I still didn't know what chamoy was, but who could resist trying it after an answer like that.
Back in my rental car while driving along to the other end of town, a very imposing building on a hill caught my attention. The building, I found out later, was Sul Ross State University – named after Lawrence Sullivan Ross, soldier, statesman, university president, and governor of Texas from 1887 to 1891. I'm not a baseball fan so I passed by the university's Kokernot Park, a classic baseball field built in 1947 and modeled as a miniature of Wrigley Field. I did learn that some famous ball players have played there – Satchel Paige and Gaylord Perry to name but two. I understand that the university is also home to a lively theater program with venues in a 1930s amphitheater and a newer outdoor theater. I do regret that I didn't check out these facilities, but, at the time, I was thinking of enjoying the atmosphere back at Harry's Tinaja.
When I arrived at Harry's, about 4pm, the place was already filled with locals, businessmen from nearby cities like El Paso and Fort Davis, bikers, ranchers, oilmen, tourists, and students from Sul Ross. Harry was outside where two guitarists were setting up to play, but when he saw me, he strode over to talk. The chatter flowed with amusing anecdotes and more meaningful things, like why a bra was gun-stapled to the ceiling. I learned that the "tinaja" part of Harry's Tinaja has multiple meanings in Spanish – watering hole, earthen jar, vessel, cistern. In Harry's case "watering hole" was the right fit.
I truly loved Alpine and would like to have stayed on longer, say until the following year for the Big Bend Balloon Bash, which is held every Labor Day, but, alas, I had to be in El Paso to catch a plane home to Wisconsin. It was time for goodbyes. Harry kindly picked up my tab, and I promised to send him some Wisconsin cheese.
>> Alpine is considered the gateway to the Big Bend, named for region of southwest Texas outlined by the curve of the Rio Grande. Its backcountry roads and trails offer up everything from harsh desert landscapes to lush streamside woodlands in a million plus acres of public land including Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park.