A Day of Sunshine in the Valley of the Sun

After arriving in Phoenix the evening before, LEAP Ambassadors awoke eagerly to explore a new city in the Grand Canyon State. Our second day in the “Valley of the Sun” included copious amounts of outdoor activity, Vitamin D, and adventurous excursions!

Hike

The day’s first activity began with a challenging hike to the second highest peak in Phoenix, also known as Piestewa Peak. The Summit trail was only 2.4 miles long, but the 1,165 foot elevation made the trek tough. We began the journey with a full tank of motivation and A LOT of water and a selfie!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

As we climbed up the mountain, the incline got steeper, the sun stronger, and the pathways tighter. Thankfully we occasionally stopped to admire the breathtaking views and to catch our breath along the way.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

The breaks also allowed us to explore juts off the mountain side. We even made friends with a mountain chipmunk! Although it was a treacherous climb…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

…we conquered the summit and reached the top!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

The views were breathtaking and well worth the energy expended on the journey up. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take group selfies and some individual pictures as evidence of our victory.

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We soon began our journey down the mountain…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

…and felt a sense of pride as we reached the car, reflecting on the beauty of what we saw.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

It was a terrific way to start our last full day in Phoenix.

Phoenix Art Museum

After refueling and cleaning up at the hotel, we headed out for our next adventure of the day, the Phoenix Art Museum. Upon arriving we were greeted by a giant red tyrannosaurus rex!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

Fortunately, it was just a sculpture by Sui Jianguo named Jurassic Age and we were able to head inside to explore the museum. We immediately noticed hundreds of butterflies adorning the walls. 25,000 black paper moths and butterflies were part of the museum’s installation art called Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

During our visit at the museum, we saw art from some of our favorite artists including Alexander Calder…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Alexander Calder

James Turrell, and Maya Lin.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Maya Lin

Amidst our favorites, we also learned about new artists including Shiela Pepe…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

and Phillip Curtis. Shiela Pepe’s exhibit titled Hot Mess Formalism was a mixture of installation art and paintings. Known for using fabrics, derby rope, knit, crocheted paracord, chainmaille, and hardware to create large works of art such as Not So Good for Emperors. Phillip Curtis’s art was featured in the New Deal and American Regionalism gallery with artists such as John Stewart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood depicting a sad time for America and harsher lifestyles.

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Another exhibit, the Border Crossing featured art from Diego Rivera, Debra Butterfield…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Deborah Butterfield

…Freida Kahlo…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Frida Kahlo

…Brian’s favorite piece Pixels by Oscar Munoz and Georgia O’Keefe.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Georgia O'Keefe

Some of our favorite art from the museum included Mass by Cornelia Parker, and You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kasuama. Kasuama’s artwork is an interactive experience for all who enter the dark room. Made of mixed media with LED lights, visitors are absorbed by darkness but then consumed by the colorful array of lights hanging throughout the ceiling. The twinkling lights dangle and mix with the visitors, but do not help guide visitors to the exit. We admired the “fireflies” before stumbling out of the special exhibit.

After finishing with the installation art, we realized the sun would soon be setting and hurried off to Papago Park for sunset!

Papago Park

Even though we had gone through one of the most vigorous hikes in LEAP history earlier in the day, we still had energy to explore Papago Park. The sun was nearly set when we arrived to the park’s main formation, Hole in the Rock. When we got to the top of the formation, the views were still unforgettable.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

From the top of the formation the entirety of the Phoenix metropolitan area was visible with all its bright, shining lights.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

With such a sight, we set out to photograph the beauty of the nightscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

After snapping a few photos and watching the sun sink below the horizon, we packed our gear and headed back to the car.

Evening Adventures

We did what our mothers told us not to do: we spoiled our dinner and stopped for ice cream in Old Town Scottsdale at an ice cream stand called Shakes & Cones…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Shakes & Cones

…where we treated ourselves to some soft serve. After our busy day, the sugar was a welcome treat! We indulged in ice cream cones, ranging from peanut dipped cones, Oreo dipped cones, and one smothered with hot fudge.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Shakes & Cones

After finishing our dessert, we took a short walk to the nearby city park. There, we took a photo with one of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures, the seventh that LEAP has visited!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Robert Indiana, LOVE

We even found a Louise Nevelson sculpture titled Windows to the West in the park. Also scattered throughout the park were yarn-bombed merry-go-rounds, where we all took turns getting dizzy before driving to our dinner spot.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Yarnbombing

Slightly full from our late lunch and sweet treat earlier, we ordered hummus, gyros, and the kafta burger. Our meals were both filling and tasty.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Pita Jungle

With the end of dinner, we closed another day of our Western Tour. Filled with sunshine and memorable experiences, we departed back to the hotel to get ready for the next full day ahead–and, of course, the year ahead, as well!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Mill Ave

 

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.

Going West, Day One: Johnson City and Kerrville, TX

The LEAP Ambassadors welcomed the new year by setting a first in LEAP history: a trip to the southwest. Along the way will be vigorous hikes, tasty Mexican food, and hundreds of miles on the road as we make our way to the Grand Canyon. On our first day, however, we decided to take a break from driving by visiting Kerrville’s Museum of Western Art as well as the home of President Lyndon Baines Johnson.

LBJ Boyhood Home

Our day begun with a 6:30 AM departure from Huntsville. The plan was to make it to El Paso by that night but break up driving with a little sight seeing. We were, as expected, a bit sleepy, However, fatigue was replaced with excitement as we contemplated the adventures that were to come. First on this itinerary of fun was the boyhood home of President Johnson in Johnson City, Texas.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

As many know, President Lyndon Johnson had a modest childhood. The home where he lived had only three rooms and no electricity.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

While growing up, President Johnson was introduced to politics by his father, State Representative Sam Johnson. Representative Johnson frequently held constituent meetings on his front porch. During the tour we learned how young President Johnson would sneak out of his room, crawl through the foundation of the home, and eavesdrop on his father’s conversations.

We learned how the statesmanship of his father and the teachings of his mother, Rebekah Baines Johnson, taught him the skills that he would later employ to serve the United States as president. One example of Rebekah Johnson’s lessons to her children hung in the living room. It was a portrait that at first glance looks like a skull.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

However, if you take a closer look you will see how, in fact, it is the image of a woman looking into a vanity mirror. This taught the Johnson children to always be careful when judging people, for the surface image may not always reflect the true motives of a person.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

LBJ’s Boyhood Home also had a nice Visitor’s Center, where you could learn much about Johnson’s life in and out of the White House.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

We learned many things, and made additional connections to things we had already learned.  For example, we’ll be going to Canyonlands National Park on this trip and, as it turns out, LBJ was the President who designated this area as a National Park!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

We also got to see a Model T Ford, which LBJ’s family used to travel when he was a child.  This was nice, because two years ago Ryan and Brian traveled to Detroit with author Jeff Guinn, where they got to research Thomas Edison and his Model T (and even ride in one!).

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

After this education on Johnson’s life, we were set to learn more about his presidency!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Boyhood Home, Western Travel

The Texas White House

Eager to learn more about LBJ, we drove 14 miles to the “Texas White House,” President Lyndon B. Johnson’s ranch near Stonewall, Texas.  LBJ spent more than 460 days on the ranch during his presidency. Our tour guide pointed out that that was roughly 25% of his presidency!

For us, the tour began in the Visitor’s Center, which in addition to gifts, offer exhibits as well.  The hit exhibit was the rotary phone section, which my fellow ambassadors met with great interest!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Western Travel

We also had the chance to pose as Presidents!

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For President Johnson, the visits to the ranch were not filled with leisure. Each visit he would bring various members of his staff or invite foreign dignitaries to meet with him. He even held cabinet meetings on his lawn. Nicknamed the cabinet tree, this back yard setting mirrored that of his father’s front porch meetings when President Johnson was a boy.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Western Travel

We began the tour learning about the layout of the ranch and how it was adapted to meet the needs of the President. For example, a building was moved from one location on the ranch to another so it could meet the needs of the Secret Service’s operation center. After a few additions and remodels to the home, the Texas White House itself grew to more than 8,400 square feet and included a nice swimming pool!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Western Travel

This was a sharp contrast with the small home from his childhood.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Western Travel

LBJ loved his ranch, but he also loved his job as President. The home was fitted to make sure all his needs were met. LBJ was known for talking on the phone. So much so, every room in his home had at least one phone in it. His need to stay communicated was so great that even his dining table had a phone attached right next him!

Our tour of the home took us through the kitchen, living room, sitting room, LBJ’s bedroom, and Mrs. Johnson’s bedroom. After learning about LBJ’s policies and accomplishments as President at his boyhood home, it was fun to learn about his personality and wit. Our tour guide was also great about expressing Mrs. Johnson’s personality as well. We unfortunately were not allowed to take photographs in the Texas White House, but we encourage all to visit and see many fun artifacts from Johnson’s presidency. Some LEAPster’s favorite parts of the Johnson’s home were drawings from LBJ’s grandchildren hung in his room and Mrs. Johnson’s yellow sitting room!

We finished our tour by visiting Air Force One.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Air Force One Half

Unfortunately, the real Air Force One was too heavy for LBJ’s runway so he would fly into Austin or San Antonio before taking his smaller jet out to the ranch.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Air Force One Half

We posed for a quick photo before heading off to lunch!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Lyndon Johnson Western White House, Air Force One Half

Lunch at Fredericksburg

Not far from the Historical Park where the Texas White House is located, is the attractive town of Fredericksburg. What makes it so attractive is its German-built community where food and culture resemble that of the first settlers’ homeland.  Appropriately, we chose to stop by the town and eat at the Old German Bakery and Restaurant. With sauerkraut and schnitzels in abundance, we all dined in the delicious plates offered by the restaurant.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Fredericksburg, Old German Bakery

Arguably, the most german plate ordered was the schnitzel burger that was served to Christina. As we soothed our hunger, we decided it was time to hit the road again.

Kerrville Museum of Western Art

For our last stop on our way to El Paso we decided to visit the Museum of Western Art in Kerrville, Texas. The museum’s mission is to educate visitors about western art and culture. The museum opened in 1983 and was originally known as the Cowboy Artist of America Museum, before changing it to the “Museum of Western Art.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Kerrville, Museum of Western Art, Fritz White

When we arrived we were greeted by a tour guide named Bill. Bill showed us the four galleries currently on display. While we searched for our favorites we explored the Artist of the Month exhibit. January’s artist is Travis Keese who is known for his wild life paintings and a 125 x 23 Mural in Port Arthur. We also looked through the December Artist of the Month, Edith and John Maksey (husband and wife) exhibit, which included paintings inspired by Texas, Mexico, and the south west.

While we looked through the main gallery of the museum, we noticed an artist that we had seen much of during the earlier part of the day. Non-surprisingly, the Texas White House of President Johnson was filled with western decorations and art. Melvin Warren was one the artists whose works hung in the walls of the home and one who was also featured in the museum.

Although we couldn’t take any photos inside, we were able to take a photo with the bronze sculptures outside. Our favorite sculpture was Fred Fellows’s An Honest Day’s Work” bronze sculpture. We arranged ourselves in front of the sculpture an posed for a photo.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Kerrville, Museum of Western Art, Fred Fellows

Having completed the activities for the first day, we hopped onto our SUV and prepared for the journey to El Paso. Many adventures are yet to come as we continue through our trip. Stay tuned for more as we make our way west into western art and culture.