Going West Day 2: Passing Through El Paso

Ever walked through luxurious halls of a mansion and hiked through the desert mountains of the southwest? Such were the experiences of the LEAP Ambassadors, on the second day of their Western US trip.  On this second day, the picturesque paintings from the El Paso International Museum of Art and the El Paso Museum of Art were beautifully paired with the scenic vista from Franklin Mountains State Park.

El Paso International Museum of Art

Our morning began with a visit to the El Paso International Museum of Art, a non-profit dedicated to displaying pieces of art from artists around the world.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

The museum was originally a mansion that was donated to the city by the owner, Iva Turney, after her husband passed away.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

The home was donated under the condition that it be turned into the first museum in El Paso. Now, the museum has several permanent collections. One of our favorites was the American West Gallery which had bronze statuettes of cowboys, conquistadors, and a very peculiar Don Quixote sculpted by SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art, Rogelio Madero de la Peña.

Another fun exhibit that we viewed was the Mexican Revolution gallery. This room showcased weapons, letters, pictures, and other artifacts from that time. In this gallery there was also art by Bill Rakocy depicting the era’s infamous Pancho Villa.

Pancho Villa

Apart from the permanent exhibits, there were also temporary ones. One exhibit had statues that were made of wood and bronze. One titled Tree to Tango was the group’s favorite of that collection and reminded us of the art of Huntsville’s Scott McCarley.

We were grateful to have viewed the art of the International Museum of Art and decided it was a good first stop for the art El Paso had to offer.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

El Paso Museum of Art

Our day of exploring El Paso continued with the El Paso Museum of Art. We have been lucky enough to see James Surls in many of our destinations and continue to enjoy seeing this Sam Houston talent around the nation. This museum has one of the biggest Surls we have ever seen. Of course we had to take a picture!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, James Surls

The museum had other familiar names such as Luis Jimenez…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Luis Jimenez

…more Luis Jimenez, which we had previously seen at the Moody Gallery in Houston

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Luis Jimenez

…Tom Lea…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

…Jim Love, and many others. Among some of the special pieces that we viewed was Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Gilbert Stuart

…and a Dale Chihuly vase. As a special treat, the museum also had a temporary exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd Wright

During this exhibit we got to view the designs for his Taliesin West home, which we are planning to visit on this trip!

But there were new names to learn during this museum visit as well. Brian’s favorite artist, for example, was Harry Geffert who had a sculpture called Mantime. His metal sculpture was shaped into a man on a carriage hauling a ball with trees and people. This piece represented the struggle of man and nature. We also learned about James Drake’s Cinco de Mayo, which was an altered piece of Francisco de Goya’s Third of May, and whose artwork has been featured in Betty Moody’s art gallery.

Our last stop in the museum was the Tom Lea exhibit which highlighted some of his early work and some of his famous post office murals.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

A couple of the ambassadors had the privilege of seeing his work at the Smithsonian Art Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Ellen Noel Art Museum in Odessa, Texas. It was a treat to see more of Tom Lea’s works and to view artwork from other artists that we have seen in former trips!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

On our departure from the Museum…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art

…we headed to the downtown square, where we saw an alligator fountain by Luis Jimenez…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Luis Jimenez

…a fountain that is an homage to El Paso’s past, when the City kept live alligators in the middle of the plaza!  That past was as recent as the 1970s, before problems with the alligators’ upkeep prompted a more figurative representation of alligators.

Carnitas Queretaro

After our visit to El Paso’s Art Museum, we were excited to try Brian and Christina’s pick for lunch: Carnitas Queretaro Mexican Restaurant. The restaurant is ranked by Trip Advisor as one of the best spots for Mexican food in El Paso. We started our meal with sopecitos, miniature versions of the traditional sopes. Made from a circle of masa with pinched sides, fried, and covered with beans and cheese, it was a wonderful savory treat! Christina even ordered the regular sized sopes for lunch. Everyone in our group ordered different meals for lunch, ranging from carnitas tacos to adobada. The meals were filling and perfect for our day in El Paso.

Franklin Mountains State Park

Having recharged with our delicious Mexican dinner, we decided to head closer to the border to Franklin Mountains State Park. Although our intention was to hike up the mountain, we were instructed that there was not enough sunlight to make it up the mountain before night time.

However, this setback did not deter us from seeking hilly thrills. Famous to the state park is the Wyler Aerial Tramway.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We hopped, well slowly crept, into the gondola and began the 2,600 feet ascent towards Ranger Peak. As we reached the top, we felt the pressure from the 5,632 feet altitude with our popping ears and trembling limbs. We reached the top and were immediately at awe by the colors, ridges, and dessert beauty of the Franklin Mountains.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

This allure prompted us to exploit the dimming sunlight in order to go for a short hike down the mountain.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

The trail was narrow and composed of unstable gravel and sharp siltstone.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We made our descent carefully and slowly. On occasion, we would take a few seconds to appreciate the awesome views of El Paso and Juarez from the height of the mountain.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

The view was made more stunning once night had fallen.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We finished our hike and reached the gondola. While we went down the slope, it almost felt like we were floating over the twinkling lights of El Paso.

Having completed an amazing day in this exciting border town, we headed to our hotel and prepare for our departure in the morning.

Author: mikeyawn

Mike Yawn teaches at Sam Houston State University. In the past few years, he has taught courses on Politics & Film, Public Policy, the Presidency, Media & Politics, Congress, Statistics, Research & Writing, Field Research, and Public Opinion. He has published academic papers in the Journal of Politics, Political Behavior, Social Security Quarterly, Film & History, American Politics Review, and contributed a chapter to the textbook Politics and Film. He also contributes columns, news analysis, and news stories to news stories, having contributed more than 50 pieces in the past year. Yawn is also active in his local community, serving on the board of directors of the local YMCA and Friends of the Wynne. Previously, he served on the Huntsville's Promise and Stan Musial World Series Boards of Directors. In 2007-2008, Yawn was one of eight scholars across the nation named as a Carnegie Civic Engagement Scholar by the Carnegie Foundation.

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