Brian- Sunday Sunrise Tour
The sun slowly peeked its rays through the cypress trees, and the glow from the horizon steadily became warmer and stronger. As the light spread across the land below, the Leap Ambassadors began waking up from their groggy states–as did the wildlife that surrounded them. It was the LEAPsters’ second sunrise at Caddo Lake. This time, Mr. Burns and the others sat in the still water, waiting for the golden-hour (actually about 20 minutes) of warm lighting.
Suddenly, red, orange, and purple flooded the sky.
The perfect lighting was upon us. Mark reached for his Nikon and began to shoot.
As the sun emerged from the horizon, Mark continued to shoot…
…and we joined in, pausing to enjoy the prettiest of the tours on which we had gone.
Mark then directed the captain to a new destination…
…one we had seen several times with productive results. Once we arrived at the spot, the area’s salvinia invasion was noticeably present. Benign as these water herbs may seem, they pose a true threat to the ecosystem of the lake. This floating fern has endlessly propagated itself throughout the lake causing many problems over the past years. Stealing precious oxygen from the waters, making boat travel impossible in some areas, and having them at every corner has created an overall nuisance for the prosperity of the locals. Wes, enthusiastically explained how local and state entities are currently attempting to develop an effective method to eradicate this pest. Although it is our hope to see this threat neutralized the next time we visit Caddo Lake, it seems that a successful extermination strategy has yet to surface.
However, Caddo Lake perseveres, and is in fact, teeming with life of all shapes and sizes, even wing spans!
As we were wrapping up our tour, we pleaded to our captain to take us to a location where we could catch one last glimpse at the wildlife. It didn’t take much pondering before Wes quickly turned his boat and lead us to the perfect location.
Crossing an archway of cypress, the woods resembled an aviary sanctuary. A blue heron soaring over the water one second, a white egret creeping through trees the next, or the vanishing sight of flying black-bellied whistling ducks, made for sights begging to get photographed. With cameras to spare, everyone was quick to photograph or record this bountiful wildlife.
Wes also provided more of his knowledge of the lake, showing the students lily pads, and the way that they react to water.
We really can’t say enough good things about Wes or his Caddo Lake Tour Co. We heartily recommend his tours to anyone contemplating a Caddo Lake visit.
After a couple hours of floating on the river…
…we stopped our photography, enjoyed the ride…
…and we returned to terra firma and drove to our next shooting location: the Caddo Lake State Park.
Although Burns was not going to shoot any film this time, but instead be filmed as he walked us through the process to prepare a shot with his 4X5 camera. He explained that, on average, this procedure lasts around 15 minutes.
Every component should be set with extreme caution as it is imperative that the camera stand absolutely still. With a self-deprecating smile, Burns told us how after tedious preparation of this same camera for a photo session of Reliant Stadium, it all went to waste when his leg got tangled with the camera, knocking everything into a state of disarray. As Burns had no film or intentions to photograph anything, he was comfortable letting us approach the camera to look through the view-finder.
Under the hood of the camera, we all took turns to look at this upside-down, inverted image of the scene created by the optics. Walking through every step in how the camera functions and how to set it, Mark Burns held the attention of the Leap Ambassadors captive. Even, Sierra was fascinated, as she approached the camera to record the aperture in motion.
Finally, it was time to depart from Caddo Lake.
After carrying the bags of camera gadgets and lenses, we said farewell to Mark. Although our scouting trip at Caddo Lake was temporarily over, we looked forward to seeing Mr. Burns again soon. He had opened up a whole new world to us. One in which we did not just gaze at the wonders the world had to offer, but were able to capture it.
We were sad to leave this magical place, but we had to perk up as our adventures was far from over!
Kaitlyn- The Grove
This trip has been full of many new and exciting experiences. Our next stop was no exception. We traveled a short distance from Marshall to Jefferson to visit the Grove, also known as the Stilley-Young House. Registered in the National Registry of Historic Places and recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark, the Grove was built in 1861 as a wedding gift for Frank and Minerva Stilley. Small, this home had the exterior of a Greek Revival architecture, while the interior was in a French Creole style.
However, it was not necessarily the architecture, or its age that lead us here. No, it was something much more than that. You see, the Grove was one of the top Haunted Houses in the Lone Star State. For the first time in LEAP history, the ambassadors were going on a historic home/ghost tour!
Our tour began on the front porch, where Mr. Mitchel Whitington, the current owner of the house, greeted us. He briefly introduced us to the history of the different generations of families that had lived at the Grove. Everyone waited outside semi-impatiently. We were about to enter in a widely-rumored haunted house. It didn’t help that it was scorching hot outside and we were dripping in sweat. Thankfully, after putting our medical booties on, we were moved out of the East Texas heat and into the formal dining room and parlor of the home. Not only did the tour guide describe the history of the Grove’s numerous owners, but he also discussed interesting ghost stories during the first stop of our tour. Although any mention of ghosts made some LEAP Ambassadors uneasy, the tour guide tried to put us at ease by explaining that all the ghosts in the home so far have been friendly.
Since the home is over 150 years old, it’s history is rich and fairly-well documented. Throughout its entire life, the home only had two major renovations completed throughout which helped preserve the original style of the home. Each room of the home, was particular to a family member. Throughout the tour Mr. Whitington enthusiastically told us the ghost stories and tales which allowed visitors to gain a sense of understanding about the homeowners who had cherished their home so much that they still returned to this day (now as ghosts) to make sure that their beloved home was still in good hands.
We toured the informal dining room, family room, and utility room before finishing our tour in the kitchen addition. Interestingly enough, the house surprised us with two different items. One of them being an art piece by George Rodrigue, the Blue Dog. This particular Blue Dog was depicted in a dark, gloomy forest to go along with the theme of the haunted house. The second item was a statuette nicknamed the “Bird Girl”. The Bird Girl was first introduced to the LEAP ambassadors, Brian Aldaco and Kaitlyn Tyra, when they read the book “Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil” as preparation for their Savannah trip. Rumored to only be 4 original statues created, finding even a replica was astounding.
It’s safe to say the Ambassadors had never visited a haunted historic home before and certainly not one that was recognized in by magazines such as Texas Highways, or the Dallas Morning News! Although some enjoyed the tour more than others, we left with much to talk about and an appetite ready to be fulfilled by lunch!
Christina- Downtown Jefferson and the General Store
Just before heading home we decided to visit the City of Jefferson, Texas. Jefferson is a small town perfect for a leisure-filled weekend. Its architecture is, in places, similar to New Orleans, with its shops, antiques, and family-owned restaurants. Our lunch stop was Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar, which is known for its diverse options of Cornbread Sandwiches. My sandwich was called “The Irish” and contained corned beef, tomatoes and onions in between two slices of cornbread. We couldn’t leave without trying one of the many pies listed on the menu. We ordered chocolate pecan pie, very berry pie, and bread pudding all with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly, Chocolate Pecan won the most votes in favorite flavor.
It’s also worth noting, that we saw a Charlie Chaplin image, of note because Brian dresses as Chaplin each year for Halloween. Aldaco good-naturedly posed with the sign, contorting himself to cover “restrooms.”
We also decided to stop at the Jefferson General Store before getting back to Huntsville. The General store sold many old school items including Candy, socks, shirts, toys, home décor, and many other objects. Some of us bought candy to cure our aching sweet tooth, while others bought toys. Overall, our stop in Jefferson was a success and finally it was time to go to our own small town of Huntsville.