Zooming through Zion National Park

After a long night at Angel’s Window at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we woke up latish, and headed to the Zion National Park–the second National Park on our trip.  The drive from Kanab, UT is about an hour, but summer is the busiest season for Zion, so we had to park (nearby parking is $10-$20) and then ride to specific Park destinations on one of their shuttles.

At 147,000 acres, the Zion is a moderate size for a National Park (Big Bend is about five times larger), but access is mostly restricted along one major roadway.  Given that it is the third most visited National Park in the Nation, at 4.5 million visitors, it ranks behind the Smoky Mountains (1) and The Grand Canyon (2) in annual visitors.  With that many people and one major roadway, the going was slow.  The shuttle trip from the Main Visitor Center to our destination was about 30-40 minutes on a crowded bus.

We began at The Temple of Sinawava, which allowed us to access the River Side Walk. This hike lead us to The Narrows, which is a popular trail that goes through water.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail

We didn’t plan to go through (much) water, but we were eager to see the water and terrain.  We occasionally stopped to hop along rocks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena

…”LEAP” for a photo op…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena, Ryan Brim, Anne Jamarik

…and enjoy the water that trickled down the mountains and into the stream.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Hanging Gardens

On our way back to the shuttle stop, we were “attacked” by a hungry squirrel.

The squirrels must be used to being fed by visitors, because this squirrel was fairly bold, and assertively looked for food, going so far as to burrow inside our bag.

From the shuttle, we headed to the Park’s seventh stop, Weeping Rock Trail. The trail was short but had an extreme incline to the viewing area where the water “weeps” from the mountain above. The view was beautiful, but difficult to capture by camera.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Weeping Wall

From our viewing area–an alcove in the side of the mountain–we sat for several minutes, enjoying the cooler temperatures behind our weeping wall.

We boarded the shuttle again for a short ride to stop six, where we got off to walk The Grotto, a short trail to the Lodge at stop five. This was our least favorite hike, although we did get to see a deer that seemed unperturbed by our presence.

We stopped at the Lodge for lunch in the Red Rock Café, which overlooks a large picnic/park area below.  Scores of people filled the area, lounging on the grass or sitting at picnic tables, enjoying the shade. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our burgers, before heading to Emerald Pool Trail.

The Emerald Pool Trail consists of three sections: the lower, middle, and upper trail. We traveled all the way to the upper Emerald Pool Trail, which is approximately 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 350 feet.  It was definitely worth the trek: the pools of water and views were beautiful.

Finally, we headed back to the visitor center at the first stop to hike the Watchman Trail for sunset. The Watchman was a fairly moderate hike up and around a mountain that lead to a peak to view the sunset. After seeing part of the sunset and taking photos…

…we gave up and headed back down the trail, exhausted from a day of many hikes.

It was the first time to visit Zion National Park for all the LEAP members and it did not let us down!


Roaming the North Rim: Day Five in Arizona

The first three days of our trip to Arizona involved a rigorous schedule, but we were fueled by the excitement of visiting the Grand Canyon.  That excitement continued today, our fourth day of the trip, as we prepared to see the Desert Watchtower on the South Rim, have lunch at the Cameron Trading Post, and then make a longish drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We began by driving to the far end of the Grand Canyon to see the Desert View Watchtower. Once reaching the tower, we instantly took notice of the interesting and beautiful architectural style of Mary Colter, the woman who has often been deemed “the architect of the southwest”. It almost looks like it was meant to be there, as if nature itself had erected the structure in time.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

The tower was built in 1932 and has served visitors of the canyon since, providing them with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon and winding Colorado river below.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

On the first floor there is a large, open area that had several vendors selling jewelry. As the LEAP ambassadors climbed to the second and third floors they viewed the Native American paintings along the walls.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

Once reaching the forth floor everyone took to the outlook windows to enjoy the unique view of the breath taking beauty that is the Grand Canyon.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

The Desert View Watchtower was a great start to the busy day ahead, and toward the end of our tour, we were joined by photographer Mark Burns, who was doing photography in the park.

This would be everyone’s last view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon (for now) as we made our way to the north rim, and it was far from a disappointment.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower, Mark Burns

Although we still had much to do, we also had to eat.   The Cameron Trading Post in Cameron, AZ was established in 1911, making it older than the establishment of the nearby Grand Canyon as a National Park and even the National Park Service. This historical site is where we ate on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trading post is more than a Native American food restaurant and oversized gift shop, however. There is also a motel, RV park, and authentic hand-crafted Native American art shop, though we were there for one reason: food. Our dishes arrived not long after we ordered them, though the restaurant was busy: Navajo French Dip, Green Chile Stew, Navajo Taco, and Navajo Fry Bread covered in honey.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Cameron Trading Post

We only had a few minutes to look around the enormous gift shop before we had to get back on the road to make it to the North Rim before sunset, so once again, we all loaded in the cars and drove the scenic route to the less visited side of the Grand Canyon.

We arrived at the entrance about an hour before sunset…

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

….and we maximized our time by exploring Bright Angel Point, a short (.5 miles) but scenic .5 mile hike. Though not long, the Bright Angel Point Trail had large changes in elevation and offered several incredible vantage points of the vast canyon…

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

….and at sunset, the colors in the layer of the rock revealed themselves, especially the reds.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

The views were incredible, and we also took advantage of the many rock outcroppings to gain even better views!

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

…and to pose for photos.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

It was a beautiful hike, and a good introduction to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  It was the first time that any of us had been there and we were duly impressed.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

Following our hike that finished at sunset, we still had a long day ahead of us.  Our plan was to assist Mark Burns with some basic photography (mostly carrying equipment) as he continued work on photos for his Grand Canyon Exhibit, which will open at the George Bush Presidential Library in 2019.

Burns’s objective on this evening was to shoot the Milky Way over “Angel’s Window” in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  To that end, we were with him from approximately 9:30pm until 1:30am.  Although summer, it occasionally got cold on this rim promontory, with the temperatures dipping to the low 50s.  This wasn’t freezing, but it could be chilly.

We learned a lot by watching, and we enjoyed the immense beauty of the night sky.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

We observed about a dozen shooting stars, and we practiced shooting in the dark.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

Although this proved difficult, it gave us much to think about.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

It was approximately 1:18am, when Mark got the shot he wanted, and it was a good one (attend his opening exhibition to see it!).

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

With that, we left for Kanab, Utah, where we would be spending the “night.”  Given that it was two hours and fifteen minutes away, it was more like we were spending the morning there.  But with a big day at Zion the next day, we were eager to get whatever sleep we could, so we finally settled into the hotel around 5am, for a couple of hours of sleep with pleasant, star-filled dreams.

Ambling Across Arizona

By: Anne Jamarik and Maggie Denena

Today, LEAP Center students hiked up to Devil’s Bridge in Sedona, Arizona. With narrow spaces and lots of steep “steps”, the hike up was slightly more challenging than our previous hike, but we knew the payoff would be worth it. The trail was steep but offered shady spots that we took advantage of when we would stop to admire the red rock of the canyon (and catch our breaths). The narrow path was lined with prickly pear cacti, tall century plants and hikers sitting to get some water and rest for a moment. Once we made it to the top of the bridge, we knew all the climbing had been worth it. The views from Devil’s Bridge were breathtaking.SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge


Just as we began feeling brave, we met a man who asked us to take a photo of him doing a handstand on top of the narrow bridge, putting us all to shame.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge

While on the bridge, we made a small cairn, which, according to Professor Yawn, officially made us hikers.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge, Maggie Denena, Anne Jamarik


After admiring the views from Devil’s Bridge, we began the trek down, but not without a few pitstops. We went down and caught a quick glimpse of the bridge from below.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Sedona, Devil's Bridge, Maggie DenenaThe trip down seemed much easier as we were all still so amazed at what we had just experienced.


After a quick bite to eat at The Wildflower Bread Company in Flagstaff, Arizona, the LEAP center explored the town square. The square on Friday evenings is vibrant with people shopping and eating at the unique food joints.


We visited a cool little bookstore where there was a live performance from a local band while the small crowd sang along to a song about mermaids.

After our group slowly made our way around the store reading the back of books and discussing ones we’ve read, we headed to a local favorite co-op art gallery and window shopped. Unfortunately, the gallery was closed, but we were still able to admire the beautiful works of art within. Next, we headed to a mystical store called Crystal Magic, where we all shared a few laughs about the shops interesting perspective. We continued our way around the square admiring local cuisine and the different types of people around each corner. Finally, we made our way through their local mall, which offered fashion of all types and a fun candy shop. I had never tried chocolate covered orange peels and surprisingly liked them! One thing I thought was interesting about Flagstaff was how active the square was on a Friday night, there were people everywhere! It really added to the fun and easy-going vibe of the town. I thought it was neat how all the restaurants were locally owned, each offering their own unique menu.  Flagstaff is a town I would enjoy visiting again and hopefully trying out a few of the favorite food joints.

New Leadership Texas: 2018

DAY 1 – Thursday, by Victoria McClendon-Leggett

Our first event of the 6-day forum was a workshop run by Dr. Teri Varner, Associate Professor at St. Edwards University. The workshop focused on making impactful introductions for speakers. I found it extremely helpful as a LEAP Ambassador because the steady stream of speakers and guests that we regularly bring to campus need introductions to the groups they’re brought in to speak to. This was our first workshop because of the fact that every forum participant was required to interview and then use that information to introduce at least one of the speakers during the week.

Then was the panel titled “Women in Politics.” The panelists were Dr. Susan Heinzelman, the Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Texas, Maggie Buchanan, President of Maggie Jo Consulting, and Kimberly Inez McGuire, Senior Program Director at Conway Strategic. Also included in this panel was none other than Nancy Bocskor, the President of the Nancy Bocskor Company.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas, Nancy Bocskor

Nancy has been a guest speaker for the LEAP Center many times, and was a FIR (Faculty in Residence) for the Forum. The women in this panel focused on their experiences in politics, and the challenges and triumphs that came with those experiences.

DAY 2 – Friday

Our first event of the day was a panel titled “Why YOU Should Consider Running for Office,” and it featured Gina Hinojosa, a Texas State Representative, Delia Garza, an Austin City Council Member, and Sheryl Cole, a Texas State Representative Candidate. Also included in this panel was another one of the LEAP Center’s previous guest speakers, the Chairman of the Railroad Commission, Christi Craddick (who gave a wonderful talk to SHSU women in January!). The four women talked about their respective journeys before, during, and after getting elected to their respected offices. The panelists also shared many of the difficulties they faced in getting to where they are now.

The next workshop was titled “Networking and Making Connections,” and was led by Karen Landolt, a professor for the McCombs School of Business at The University of Texas at Austin.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas, Karen Landolt

Ms. Lundolt talked about the importance of using weak ties like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Weak ties are connections that you’re able to make over social media with people that you wouldn’t have been able to connect with otherwise, and they’re becoming increasingly important in the 21st century.

After lunch, we had a short walk across campus to the Texas Union through the hill country heat. We were headed to hear from the Forum’s keynote speaker, Representative Mary Gonzalez.


She shared with us her education, how she got her start in Texas politics, the daily problems that face her constituents and what she is doing to try and help them, and the different challenges that she faces as a woman in a field dominated by men. After the keynote address, we posed for a quick group photo with her…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas, Nancy Bocskor

…and then we were welcomed to a spread of fruit and sweets in the next room as a part of a reception that the Forum hosted for us and Representative Gonzalez.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas,

Day 3, Saturday

Our third day began with a workshop that explored our different leadership styles. Susan Billmaier is a Program Officer at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, and she specializes in workshops that support and encourage personal journeys, leadership styles, diversity and inclusion, and conflict resolution. By the end of the session we found ourselves divided into four different groups, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and we all thoroughly enjoyed getting to know more about each other in this type of setting.

After a small coffee break, the Community Advocate Panel began. This panel was geared towards getting young women to become more active on a local level. The three panelists were all active in the Austin area. The panel shifted towards the panelists giving advice to all the young women of the forum. The main message that all three panelists could agree on was to stay true to yourself and your cultural identity.

The next workshop was titled “Texas Civic Health Index Report and Civic Reflection.” The goal of this workshop was to get the students involved in interactive civics exercises. We took a quiz to determine our level of civic engagement and compared our responses with our peers. We then discussed the factors that may contribute to some of us being more civically engaged than others. We learned that education is one of the main factors that impacts civic engagement.

Our last workshop of day 3 focused on Unconscious Bias. The workshop was run by Yulanda McCarty-Harris, and it focused on recognizing unconscious bias, who has unconscious bias, and how to combat it. Ms. McCarty-Harris was incredibly animated and everyone was engaged and interested. The second part of the Unconscious Bias workshop was a panel that featured Courtney Chavez, Dr.Ted Gordon, and Lana Petru. They all gave their insights as to what our society can do to combat unconscious bias.

DAY 4 – Sunday

Our first session of the day was “Political Fundraising” by Nancy Bocskor.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas, Chairman Christi Craddick, Nancy Bocskor
Chairman Christi Craddick, Victoria McClendon-Leggett, and Nancy Bocskor

She gave a rousing speech on her experiences as a democracy coach around the world. She shared with us the same fundraising principles that she’s taught to people in all 50 states and in 27 different countries across the world. We learned how to utilize any organizations that we may be involved in, and that people we know are twice as likely to donate to any cause that we ask them over strangers.

Our second session of the day was a panel titled “How Tech is Shaping Politics,” and it featured three panelists that were experts in the field of technology and politics. They talked about how they use technology in their careers, and the different ways that technology can help and hinder political action.

“Managing your Message” was a session led by Jenifer Sarver, a professor in the Moody College of Communications at The University of Texas. Her presentation focused on effective communication. We touched on how to present yourself, considering your audience rather than simply the message that you want to convey, and working to establish your credibility. She also stressed the importance of using visual aids when attempting to get your message across.

DAY 5 – Monday

Our fifth day began with us grabbing a quick breakfast and loading up on a charter bus to head to Austin City Hall for a tour. We learned about the building’s architecture and how it was created to have a low impact on the environment. We also observed all the art pieces inside the building and we learned that they were all done by local artists. At the end of the year, Austinites are able to cast a vote to pick their favorite piece, and the City of Austin purchases that piece and adds it to its collection. We paused for a group picture up on one of the terraces of the building before heading back inside for a panel titled “Women in City Leadership.” The panel consisted of women that work in various city government positions within the City of Austin. They gave us advice on finding mentors, balancing our families and careers, and finding our passions after graduating college. When the panel ended, we were presented with certificates of congratulations from the City of Austin for completing the NEW Leadership program.

After our time at Austin City Hall, we stopped by Scholz Garden for lunch.


It was a German Restaurant where we were served some delicious fajitas. A few of us finished early and went outside to pose for a few photos with our newfound friends while we waited for the charter bus to come pick us back up to head to the State Capitol Building.

When we arrived at the Capitol, it was many of the NEW Leadership participants’ first time there. We took a special tour that focused on the women that helped shape our state’s history. For instance, we learned about a woman named Obedience Fort Smith who followed her son to Texas and owned 3,368 acres in what is now of the City of Houston. Tranquility Park, a park commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing is a part of the land that was presented to her in 1845.

We then heard from four different women involved in Texas Politics. We heard from Donna Howard, a Texas State Representative, and then Lauren Hadley who is the Director of Constituent Services for Representative Howard. Then we heard from Terri Williams, Vice-President of Government Relations for the American Heart Association, and Linda Battles, Deputy Commissioner for Agency Operations and Communications for the Texas Higher Education Board. They shared with us their struggles and triumphs they’ve experienced throughout their years in the political sphere.

After a group photo in the capital…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, New Leadership Texas

…we headed back to our dorm rooms on UT’s campus. We changed out of our business casual attire for once and were able to just comfortably lounge while we worked on our political action projects that were due to be presented the next day.

DAY 6 – Tuesday

In the morning we began our day by presenting our Political Action Project that we had been working on periodically throughout the week. The project was a mock hearing on House Bill 316 (a reformation on Texas’s Law of Parties). Some students played the role of representatives that were either for or against the bill, some students were reporters asking questions of the representatives about the bill, and some students played the role of family members and friends offering testimony about how Texas’s Law of Parties had impacted their lives. The mock bill passed, and those of us that had been in opposition good-naturedly recognized our defeat.

After presenting our political action project, we heard from Lizzie Robbins, the State Program Manager for IGNITE Texas. IGNITE is an organization designed to teach young women to be civically engaged and step into public service. She gave us information on how to start IGNITE chapters on our own college campuses. We also learned that online students still can be active in the organization by joining the chapter on the college campus that is closest to them.

After lunch and a debrief it was time for us all to head home. Some of us had much longer drives than others, and after hearing from 52 speakers and sitting for 35 different panels and sessions throughout the week, we were all a bit worn out. It was a bittersweet ending to the week. We were all going to miss each other and the supportive and positive environment we had all created, but we also all wanted to see our own friends, families, and beds. We all exchanged hugs and contact information and said our goodbyes. There was laughter and tears, but also the realization that many of us had created lifelong friends this week, and that NEW Leadership Texas really had opened doors for many of us.