Guadalupe Mountain National Park

The LEAP Center has embarked on trips to more than a dozen National Parks, and while these parks have been across the US, we’ve never visited Guadalupe Mountain National Park, which is located in far west Texas.

The Park isn’t the most spectacular destination in the National Park system, but it does contain a unique ecosystem as well as the tallest peak in Texas.  Guadalupe Peak, sometimes known as Signal Peak, stands 8,751 feet tall.  Granted, that’s not that tall as far as mountains go, but it’s what we’ve got.

More spectacular than Guadalupe Peak, however, is “El Capitan,” a remarkable sheer bluff adjacent to its taller peak.  What El Capitan lacks in height, however, it makes up for in its photogenic qualities.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, El Capitan

While we stopped for photos of both, we hiked neither.  The “top of Texas” hike is about 11 miles, and with only a few hours, such a time-eating hike was not on the agenda.  Rather, we decided to explore the five-mile hike to and from “Devil’s Hall.”

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

It should be noted that although this hike is listed in the Park’s literature as a 4.2 mile hike, the round trip showed up as about 5.3 miles, according to our fitbits.

The trail begins alongside a creek and, after about a mile, the trail merges with the creek.  The literature describes this as a “tough” hike consisting of crawling over rocks, which is a bit of an exaggeration.  It’s essentially walking through a pebbly, rocky, and occasionally boulder-y creek, and that does sometime involve scooting up rocks or diverting to avoid steeper climbs, but it’s not a difficult trek.  Although we did get fitbit credit for “climbing” 65 floors, the elevation increasee is gradual and occurs early on, and we never felt winded.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

The limited elevation also means there are few overlooks.  We managed to see some nice views along the trail, occasionally climbing on boulders to get a better view, it’s mostly a pleasant hike alongside a large-ish yet dry creek or a very, very small “canyon.”

The payoff comes after 2 miles, when the persistent trekkers arrive at the “hiker’s staircase.”  While it was dry when we arrived, it was still a very interesting formation, resembling a staircase carved out by a skilled craftsman.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Hiker's Staircase

In actuality, it’s a staircase for a modest waterfall, with a tank at the bottom for the water to pool when its fall was complete.

It is over this staircase that hikers must continue to arrive at Devil’s Hall, which is another 250 yards or so.  The Hall itself is around a corner, so visitors are on it before they realize.  There is a helpful sign for the confused hiker.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Devil's Hall

While not as narrow as many of the parks to which we’ve traveled, the Hall is a picturesque pass, and it offers the hiker a sense of completion.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park, Devil's Hall

While the Park is inhabited by javelina, elk, deer, eagles, gray fox, coyote, cougars, falcons, and eagles, we saw little of these.  We saw a hungry and lonely deer….

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

…and we heard two birds, without seeing them (we did see a hawk while driving into the Park).

This modest incursion into Guadalupe Mountain National Park was a pleasant introduction to one of the more isolated parks in the lower 48.

shsu, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Guadalupe Mountain National Park

Our hope is to return within the year to hike to the “top of Texas,” but, first, we have planned trips to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Shenandoah National Park, and, for now, this introductory teaser will have to tide us over.

 

 

A Literary Night Out at Brazos Bookstore

by Victoria McClendon-Leggett

We arrived at Brazos Bookstore in Houston early and had time to leisurely scan through a few books….

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

…before authors Barbara Shapiro and Tim Johnston showed up.

They arrived in a happy mood, introducing themselves and talking a bit about their latest books. For Johnston, this was The Current, a novel centered around a car accident which is conceptually similar to his previous  work, Descent. Shapiro’s latest work is The Collector’s Apprentice, a novel set in 1922 that deals with art theft, mystery, and “a bit of romance.” After speaking briefly about their newest works, they talked a little about themselves and their careers. Johnston shared with us that he has an MFA, but was working as a carpenter prior to writing his first breakout book…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

and Shapiro who has a PhD in Sociology told us that she quit a high-pressure job to pursue writing novels after a conversation with her mother.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

The two got along very well, and seemed to enjoy each other’s company and the crowd.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

Shapiro is a planner, outlining her novels extensively and even creating a color-coded notecard system.  Johnston described himself as a “pantser,” which is an author who flies by the seat of his pants.  He begins the novel with an event and characters, and then works through things to see how they turn out.

They were also different presenters.  Shapiro was very demonstrative…

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…expansively emphasizing her points with hand gestures and facial expressions.

Meanwhile, Johnston was a minimalist…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

…more introspective and displaying an economy of movement.

But the two meshed well.  When Shapiro described her publication history, noting that her first several books didn’t sell, she was thankful for her husband, and emphasized that beginning writers need a partner who “has a salary and benefits.”  Johnston quietly said, “Ah, I need a partner with a salary and benefits.”

Alas, both a highly successful now, making quite a nice living from the royalties on their books, although Tim Johnston still teaches Creative Writing at the University of Memphis.

After the discussion we had a chance to get a few books signed by the two authors who were also kind enough to pose for a group photo with us!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

indeed, with the event being so much fun, the book store manager asked the entire audience to pose for a photo with the authors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Brazos Bookstore, Barbara Shapiro, Tim Johnston, THe Collectors Apprentice, The Current

With Shapiro’s book being (partly) set in France, we headed a few streets over to dinner at nearby Sweet Paris Crêperie, which offers excellent service, good crepes, and amazing milk shakes.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

We filed in and ordered our crêpes at the register, and they were brought to us at our table as they were ready. There was a variety of sweet and savory crêpes available at the restaurant, but as it was well into dinnertime everyone among us decided to go with savory.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

Makayla tried ham and gruyere, and I had the Alaskan crêpes, which were stuffed with smoked salmon, pickled red onions, capers, and scrambled eggs, and were topped with dill sour cream and scallions. For dessert, we ordered milkshakes to go.

SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Sweet Paris Crepes

The best flavor by far was Makayla’s Nutella graham cracker shake or the Reese’s shake, enjoyed by Professor Yawn and Stephanie.

With sweet treats in hand, we headed back to Huntsville a little bit smarter and a lot more full.