Westward Ho: Tucson, Arizona

Having left El Paso early in the morning,  we continued our road trip through the southwest.  On the third day of the trip, we were given a flavor of this desert landscape through Saguaro National Park and by tasting its most notorious wildlife later in the same evening.

Saguaro National Park

After spending our morning riding and playing games in the car…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Tucson AZ

…we were full of energy and eager to visit with Mark Burns again to continue working on our documentary!  But, first, owing to the long car ride that completely spanned New Mexico, we stopped for a picnic lunch at one of the coolest rest stops in the country.

SHSU, LEAP Center, AZ

With our bodies replenished , we headed toward Saguaro National Park, just outside of Tucson, where we planned to meet Mark Burns.

Mark is very familiar with the park having photographed it during his National Parks photography project and visited multiple times afterward. He gave us some suggested lookouts to visit and we brainstormed where we could get the best shots. We began our visit with a trip to Valley View Overlook, a short half mile stroll to a scenic lookout over the National Park.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson

Besides, Mark’s expertise, we had our organizational president and the TSUS Student Regent, Kaitlyn Tyra, to look over us.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Kaitlyn Tyra

We read about the native cacti and wild plant life that grew throughout the Saguaro desert before soaking in the views of the overlook.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson

We took a few minutes to take photos…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

…climbed around on rocks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

…before heading back and onto the next excursion with Burns.

Our second stop with Mr. Burns took us to a cul-de-sac with pueblo style picnic tables and benches (done by the CCC).

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

Mr. Burns decided it would be a good place to shoot a panoramic photograph. He then went to his SUV where he opened a large, rectangular black box.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

Inside was an elongated rectangle with a triangular body whose head had the lens of the camera. This elongated rectangle was the home of 120 film used for the panoramic photo. As Mr. Burns explained, this special camera captured the scene by exposing four frames at the same time in a single shot. This created the long frame necessary to appreciate the entire landscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

After he grabbed his camera, we positioned ourselves to start filming and photographing his work. Mr. Burns explained the process of shooting a panoramic photo with a film camera and showed us the filter he often uses on landscape panoramas.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

The filter darkens the sky while brightening the ground to balance out the contrast between the dark ground and bright sky.

This process took a while, but it was a fun learning experience, with all of us involved.

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Once the photograph was complete, we caravanned to our third and final stop of the day with Mark Burns. The third hike was similar to our first in that it included a half mile trip to see the beautiful, untouched beauty of the park. This particular trail included prehistoric Indian petroglyphs. We hiked up to see the ancient rock drawing and were met with beautiful mountains in every direction.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns, Indian Petroglyphs

This was our first visit to Saguaro National Park and it couldn’t have started off better than it did with sight-seeing suggestions from Mark Burns! While we hiked to visit the petroglyphs, Mark Burns was busy setting up for another panoramic photograph.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

We made it back before he finished and took the opportunity to observe and photograph his work!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

After we left Mr. Burns, we decided we had enough daylight to hike a 2.5-mile loop named Gould Mine.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

The trail offered many pretty views…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

…and some interesting cacti.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

However, about two-thirds of the way through the trail the sun set.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

Although we were wrong about how much daylight we had left to complete the trail, we still managed to go though it safely and with excitement. Before we lost the sun, we managed to capture some amazing photos of the sky…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Ryan Brim

…and landscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Brian Aldaco

We were even able to find the perfectly-shaped cactus before it was too dark.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Gould Mine Trail

Even though the last portion of the trail was traversed without sunlight, visibility was possible through our flashlights that provided safe travels through the trail. We made it back to the car soon enough with a slight detour that shaved time off our trip. After that hike, we were ready for dinner in Phoenix.

Dinner at Rustler’s Rooste

To end the day, we had dinner at Rustler’s Rooste. As we walked up to the restaurant door we noticed that the guests were greeted by a long-horned steer that introduced guests to the western theme of the restaurant. Inside, a country band could be heard paired with thumps of boots on the floor boards at a two-step rhythm. Were there a Texas flag displayed at the center of the dance floor, we would have felt right at home. Rustler’s Rooste did offer its own western feel different from Texas, one that we very much enjoyed.

When we sat down Professor Yawn told us we were free to pick what we wanted but he recommended the “Cowboy Stuff.” This plate included shrimp, barbecue chicken, beans, fries fruit, ribs, and much more food that could feed a whole wild west settlement. The menu had the plate servings marked well as it noted that it could be served for “two or a bunch more.” Accordingly, we ordered for a “bunch more” so that all six of us could eat. Before dinner arrived, the ambassadors went outside to check out the restaurant’s famous view and get their first glimpse of Phoenix!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Phoenix, Arizona, Rustler's Rooste

When we came back to our seats, it was with great surprise that we found rattlesnakes in our tables! They were however served in a plate an fired to an exquisite crisp.  This cooked reptile was also paired with another iconic symbol of the west, cacti fried to the same golden brown as the rattlesnake. Fortunately, the exotically delicious appetizers were not enough to fill us and keep us from enjoying our main course.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Phoenix, Arizona, Rustler's Rooste

Our meal was extremely filling and satisfying after a long day of hiking!

The ambassadors felt accomplished as they returned to their hotel that evening. We had now had a true taste of Arizona after we experienced one of its natural treasures by hiking in Saguaro National Park. Additionally, our adventurous palates led us to try some of the southwest most tasty treats. We are looking forward to the rest of our stay in the Grand Canyon State.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Saguaro National Park, Arizona, Tucson, Mark Burns

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.

LEAP Hosts Author James Reston, Jr.

The LEAP Ambassadors are hosting journalist James Reston, Jr. this week.  In the spirit of the LEAP’s interdisciplinary mission, Reston will speak to Dr. Melissa Mednicov’s “Modern Art” class, to an audience at Brazos Bookstore (in Houston), to a group of students in a studio production, and at our heART of Huntsville program.

His appearance is timed with the release of his latest book, “A Rift in the Earth,” which the New York Times called “superb” and Ken Burns called “extraordinary.”  The book addresses the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the controversy over Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial Wall.

Prior to his main events on campus, he enjoyed a dinner with the LEAP Ambassadors at 1836…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, James Reston Jr

…where he discussed his cameo in “Frost/Nixon,” which was based on his book, his work on Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre, and other interesting topics.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, James Reston Jr

From Balmorhea to Stonehenge

Big Bend Day 5

On day 5 of our West Trip Tour, we gave one last look at Marfa to say our goodbye before proceeding our journey home.  We had a chance to visit the Chinati Foundation again, and we posed for some photos amidst his minimalist art…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa TX, Chinati Foundation

…with Beatriz, in particular, getting into the spirit of things…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa TX, Chinati Foundation

We made a quick stop at Ft. Davis, where we stopped for some well-deserved ice cream at Herbert’s Caboose Ice Cream Shop. It was an interesting ice cream stop since it was in an actual old, green caboose.

Balmorhea State Park, by Beatriz Martinez

Moving on from our small stop at Ft. Davis, we headed over to the Balmorhea State Park. A 3.5-million-gallon freshwater pool, this natural spring was first created by FDR’S New Deal during the Great Depression in order to create new jobs. It was a one of a kind opportunity to swim, not only “like a fish,” but also among them.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Balmorhea State Park

With the goal of finding a turtle or two, we jumped in.

https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/balmorhea

Everyone got to show off their varying swimming skills, from Brian and Christina not straying from the pool’s edge… to Kaitlyn and Beatriz jumping from diving board into 30 ft. deep water.

It was a fun place, and a different experience.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Balmorhea State Park

Ellen Noel Museum, Kaitlyn Tyra

After the Balmorhea State Park, we hurried off to the Ellen Noel Museum of Art in Odessa where a special exhibit on Andy Warhol was being displayed. The museum featured a gallery of permanent pieces, a sculpture garden, and two rotating exhibits. The first gallery we viewed was a special exhibit by Herb Williams.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ellen Noel Art Museum, Odessa TX, Herb Williams

The exhibit we saw utilized crayons as the medium. Immediately as one walks into the gallery room, they recognize the fragrant aroma of new crayons. Herb Williams’ goal in choosing crayons was to provide creativity and imagination to children, but also to bring back the childhood memories and likeness often forgotten among adults as a potential creative outlet.

Herb Williams used crayons to remake famous pieces of art. “H is for Hokusai”…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ellen Noel Art Museum, Odessa TX, Herb Williams

…“I is for Indiana”…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Ellen Noel Art Museum, Odessa TX, Herb Williams

“O is for O’Keefe”, and “W for Warhol” all were included in the series. Each piece of art was created using crayons to illustrate the color and texture. Of course, the Ambassadors could not pass up the opportunity to take a picture with William’s remake of Robert Indiana’s LOVE. We admired the unique art and moved into the Andy Warhol exhibit.

A temporary exhibit at the Noel Museum of Art, the Andy Warhol exhibit took visitors from the beginning of his art career throughout the end showing the variation of Warhol’s style and art. Interestingly, we learned that Andy Warhol’s real name included an extra letter (Warhola) which he eventually dropped to create his “persona”. Of course, we saw Warhol’s famous Campbell’s soup can paintings, Marilyn Monroe portraits, and Elvis Presley portraits. We also saw some of Warhol’s more thoughtful works, such as his modernization of Venus from Boticelli’s “Birth of Venus” painting.

Warhol’s ideology of painting images that “meant nothing” gave his art style and made a statement in the art community. More than thirty years after his death, Warhol’s impact and influence is still visible in much of today’s art. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to photograph the exhibit, but we did enjoy Warhol’s artwork.

Next, we wandered outside to the sculpture garden. Numerous sculptures were displayed, but we immediately recognized three Jesus Moroles granite sculptures. One sculpture, “Musical Steele” made music similar to a xylophone. We made our own music by running our car keys up and down the sculpture. Another unique Moroles sculpture was titled “The Portal”, this piece was built onto the exterior wall of the art museum and was different from a traditional Moroles sculpture because it was not freestanding. We admired each sculpture before departing to our next destination!

 Stonehenge, by Brian Aldaco

After viewing one of art history’s most enigmatic artist, we visited one of history’s most enigmatic ruins: Stonehenge. Now although we did not travel to the United Kingdom, we were able to find a replica in Odessa, Texas.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Odessa TX, Stonehenge

This rendition of the famous ruins is located on the campus of the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. Although we are uncertain as to why someone would want a replica of Stonehenge, it provided us with a side adventure as we neared the end of our West Texas Tour.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Odessa TX, Stonehenge

While climbing on the stones, which are apparently 14% shorter than the original ruins, we decided it was prime time to take some photographs.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Odessa TX, Stonehenge

Along the way to Perini Ranch Steakhouse, we took a little stop in Midland. As we got off the freeway we steered into a quiet neighborhood. With houses of no extravagant facades but merely the marks of middle-class America, we neared a home who’s previous owner would have seemed unexpected.

Located on “Easter” Street due to its pastel houses, we found the George W. Bush Childhood Home a perfect location to take a photo-op.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Midland TX, George W. Bush Home

Although we were not able to take a tour of the home, we did feel proud to visit the previous home of this Texas-raised president after visiting the home of a Texas-born Vice President a few days before.

 Dinner at Perini Ranch Steakhouse, by Christina Perez

Our last stop of the day was the one we anticipated the most. Hungry and ready to get out of the car, we arrived in Buffalo Gap and headed for Perini Ranch Steakhouse. Kaitlyn had been here before after a moot court trip but for the rest of us it was sure to be a treat. We started with two appetizers: the quail legs and Jalapeno bites. Braitlyn (Brian and Kaitlyn) ordered the Ribeye with potatoes, Professor Yawn ordered the ribs, Beatriz tried the filet, and Christina ordered the award-winning burger. We all attempt to be adventurous with the menu items and usually enjoy it, but dessert was a different story. We tried the Jalapeno cheese cake which was not our favorite. We each had a bite and made a sour face. Don’t worry, the Leap ambassadors will not be deterred from trying new things in the future, even if it does cause us to make sour faces! With that last positive thought we retired for the day to prepare for tomorrow.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Odessa TX, Stonehenge