by Rainey Miller

Photography by Bryan Hodges

The Tetons, unapologetic in their sharpness, their size, rise boldly like carnivorous snowslicked teeth from the horizon. You could cut your hand on such a jagged jawline, and yet - maybe because of - their wildness, you always feel compelled to go closer.

They hold no pretense. We were here, they say, long before you were, and we will be even after you're gone. They are indifferent like deities.

But you can still walk up the side of one if you so choose, and this is what reminds you that a mountain is, in the end, just a big pile of dirt and rocks.

And a song, also, is nothing more than vibrations; water, merely an aggregation of molecules; love, a flood of oxytocin...

Oh, mountains. They are much more than a geologic flaw.

The beauty, the wildness, the terror of the edge; fenceless and classless, beckoning and equally steep to all, stepladders to the sky - don't do them the injustice of calling them piles of dirt.

I've tried to get a photo that shows the full extent of the landscape in Alpine, but I can't. Therefore I think words will paint a better picture.

First, the mountains here are not like the Tetons. They are broader, flatter, more gentle; the tiny black specks dotting the surface are yuccas and rocks. No knife-edge crags and spikes here, but rather smooth undulations rolling up and down until you've got the edge of a giant clay bowl shaped by a child. They are small but numerous.

Don't take this to mean that the mountains here are less beautiful, because they are every bit as gorgeous as anything up north. It's a different type of beauty, you understand. Apples to oranges.

With snow, they look a bit like Oreo pudding, dusted black and white and brown. Lovely.

Without it, the way they look depends on the time of day - morning tints them golden-green, with pastel pinks and blues, while in the evening they are a deep purplish color. These hills surround the town.

Heading out, the mountains vary wildly in both shape and height; they range from broad plateaus to massive striated cliffs to weird, solitary peaks that look like Spinosaurus sails. From far away they're light blue like a giant wave about to crash. Then, as you move closer, they darken.

I never feel such peace as when I sit next to a mountain. I don't know why that is, but there's something about it that makes me forget all my troubles. I suspect that one day I'll wind up in Wyoming or Montana, but West Texas is so dear to me...the Chihuahuan Desert, despite its dry air and thorns, is dramatically beautiful as well as harsh. Like a woman who wears no makeup, showing her real mouth but also baring real fangs, nature does not care if you like it or not; it is what it is.

Here we are, the mountains say. We were here before you were and we will be for much, much longer...stare at us, climb us, wish us away, it does not matter - we will be here long after you're gone.

After doing housekeeping jobs in several national parks, Rainey earned her Master of Agriculture degree at Sul Ross University in Alpine, Texas, and has an upcoming internship involving caring for wolves, bears, and big cats. She hopes to one day work in the field of conservation. Rainey is the former editor of the Sul Ross Skyline magazine and the illustrator of a soon-to-be-published ethnobotany book about native Texas plants. She sells mugs with her artwork on them at the farmers’ market in Alpine. Rainey is the prose editor and assistant art editor of Big Bend Literary Magazine.

A native Texan, Bryan Hodges currently lives in Tyler with his wife Francie. They enjoy traveling and hiking throughout the American Southwest. Bryan has been exploring Big Bend with his camera for over 30 years. His work has appeared in several regional publications and calendars including Texas Highways Magazine, Blue Ridge Country, The Appalachian Trail Conference, Austin-American Statesman, Bat Conservation International, The National Park Service’s National Natural Landmarks, and The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.