New Hancock Hill and Murphy Street signs provide info for tourists and locals

ALPINE –– Alpine’s visitors and residents may have noticed two new additions to popular spots around town: informational signs about the history of Murphy Street and the trails on Hancock Hill behind Sul Ross State University. The signs are recently completed projects by the City of Alpine in partnership with Brewster County (Murphy Street) and Sul Ross State University (Hancock Hill).

The Hancock Hill sign includes maps of suggested trail routes, including the path to The Desk, a well-known curiosity: a full-sized metal office desk placed at the top of the hill with a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. The sign also offers basic information about the trails, some notes on the history of The Desk and a QR code for smartphones to access a Google map of the trails. Printed trail maps are also available at the Alpine Visitor Center.

The Hancock Hill trailhead was the gathering place last week of representatives of the City of Alpine and the university, who partnered to complete the sign project. Those present included President Pete P. Gallego, City Councilmember Jerry Johnson, Alpine Public Works Director Eddie Molinar, Tourism Director Chris Ruggia, Dr. Kevin Urbanczyk, and the guest of honor, Jim Kitchen.

Kitchen was one of three Sul Ross students who, 40 years ago, carried the first desk up the hill to make their own private “office” space both for study and for meditation on the beauty of the desert mountains around Alpine.

“Carrying the desk was the easy part,” said Kitchen. “The real work was making the trails.” He then acknowledged the painstaking, years-long efforts by Dr. Urbanczyk to develop a sustainable network of trails on Hancock Hill for walking and mountain biking.

President Gallego, who himself was a classmate of Kitchen’s as a Sul Ross undergraduate, said, “Forty years ago, you had no idea what you were going to start. You probably thought you were going to get in trouble, but what a favor you did for the university.” Both men agreed that Hancock Hill is a special site, “a sacred place for so many people,” as Mr. Kitchen put it.

The sign projects are the work of City of Alpine Tourism Director Chris Ruggia, who brought the concept for the signs to the partner institutions, managed the projects and provided the graphic design for both signs. Ruggia shepherded the sign content through approvals by all partners, oversaw the fabrication and then coordinated with Public Works Director Eddie Molinar, whose team installed both signs as well as enhanced the site around the Hancock Hill trailhead, including minor fence repair, installing parking stop blocks and a dispenser for dog waste bags, and smoothing the ground around the sign for ease of walking.

The Murphy Street sign, located at the corner of 5th and Murphy Streets, was the result of a partnership between the City of Alpine and Brewster County, which has installed similar interpretive signs on roadsides all over the county. The sign includes historic photos of the existing buildings along Murphy Street and text by archaeologist David Keller of the Center for Big Bend Studies at SRSU. Brewster County’s extensive signage program includes 20 panels on topics covering history, prehistory, geology and more.