Festivities of the Political Variety

It was exciting for all of the LEAP Ambassadors to be back in Austin again. Even though we were here for the Texas Tribune Festival, we still had so many fond memories of our adventures, friends, and learning opportunities made while working at the Capitol. It was a place that had taught us about politics, the legislative process, and of course the great state of Texas.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Capitol

After a summer away from the capitol, we decided to visit some old friends, co-workers and possibly even future job opportunities. A lot had changed since we had been gone, especially us. As we stepped into rotunda, we were no longer the inexperienced interns, but hardened veterans yearning for more.

And yet some things had stayed the same.  All of our Legislative Session coworkers happily greeted us back into our old offices. There are many of the LEAP Ambassadors who hope to work in the Capitol again, and it was nice to re-acquaint ourselves with friends. This is even more important this year because Professor Yawn will get to watch 7 out of the 9 ambassadors walk the stage (he’s sad to see us go even if he won’t admit it) and LEAP into our futures!

One new thing, though, is that we ran into Karl Rove while in the Capitol!

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Capitol, Karl Rove

For political junkies, it was a real treat, one that would be bookended by seeing Senator Al Franken later in the evening.

Lunch at Leaf

Lunch was in a healthy, green restaurant called Leaf, which specializes in making made-to-order giant bowls of salads. Most of their produce is local and their portion size is huge! We were all happy to be able to go there because we had heard many great reviews of this restaurant and it sure did not disappoint. We left with great big smiles on our faces and recharged to continue with our day.

Time with Art, Part 1

After a quick trip to our hotel rooms to freshen up and change into more comfortable clothes, we headed to see some wonderful art by artist Daniel Arredondo. Mr. Arredondo grew up in East Austin and always knew he wanted to be an artist. Now, he fulfills his dream by telling his interesting, and sometimes personal, stories through his artwork. Many of his paintings show landscapes, but the recurring motif of his pieces is “Beneath the Surface”.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Daniel Arredondo

He explained this with an example of his trees and how the roots of trees represent the places where we come from and how the darker spots beneath the surfaces are our most treasured secrets. Just recently, he began a new project. For many years, he collected cigar boxes until he accumulated over a thousand of them! He decided to repurpose these boxes by painting on the bottom part.

Amazed by all the wonderful and unique art, we appreciated every piece in his studio. Later, he surprised us by asking us to pick our favorite small painting as a small gift to us. It was such a wonderful gesture that we treasured. Some ambassadors purchased additional paintings. Mr. Arredondo was so hospitable and cheerful.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Daniel Arredondo

We certainly enjoyed his studio, his art, and the interesting conversations!

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Daniel Arredondo

Time with Art, Part 2

Mr. Arredondo had previously informed other artists in the building that we would be dropping by, and each artist and art dealer welcomed us.

Some of the most interesting galleries included the Flatbed Press & Gallery, Gallery Shoal Creek, and Austin Books Arts Center.  Artistic highlights included seeing the steps behind the making of Luis Jimenez’s “Self Portrait”.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Luis Jimenez

It was exciting to see the developing stages of a print and to compare each step with the finished product.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Luis Jimenez

Just down the hallway, Gallery Shoal Creek Art Gallery displayed beautiful artwork as well. Ranging from Japanese influenced art to contemporary collages; my favorites were vintage books transformed into art. The artist Karen Hawkins expanded the book’s physical properties by manipulating, folding, cutting, and designing each book into a work of art. Each piece was intricately designed and unique.

In the same building, Austin Books Arts Center was a fun find for the LEAP Ambassadors. We learned how to use a book press, about the classes the books center offers, and the other workshop services the Center offers. We only wish we would have discovered it during our Austin Internships. One of the volunteers was even nice enough to give us a brief tour of the studio before taking a selfie with us.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Austin Book Arts Center

Al Franken

Excited to begin our Tribune Festival adventure, we attended the opening keynote “One on One with Al Franken” that focused on his latest book, “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate.” We navigated through the UT Campus to find the Hogg Memorial Auditorium. But as we neared our first event’s location, a chill of fear ran through our skin. Although the line on the entrance was small, festival staff stood at the doorway menacingly assigning numbers to those entering: 12, 13, 14. Professor Yawn enters the door way. 15, 16, 17. Most of the group is in, but not Kaitlyn. 18. She’s in now. 19. 20! That is it! No more admission!

The conversation between the Tribunes’ Evan Smith and Senator Franken was filled with amusing anecdotes and political commentary that made for an interesting session.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Texas Tribune Festival, Al Franken, Evan Smith

As to be expected, the Saturday-Night-Live-writer-turned-senator knew how to captivate his audience’s attention. Going through the comedic highlights of his book, Senator Franken commented on the nation’s political atmosphere.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Texas Tribune Festival, Al Franken, Evan Smith

Knowing his audience well, he knew exactly which political figures to bring into the conversation, and most importantly, which to direct his jokes at.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Texas Tribune Festival, Al Franken, Evan Smith

The session soon ended and we joined the throng of exiting festival guests. After regrouping with the rest of the group who had just arrived from Huntsville (Staci, Victoria, and Chase), we decided to visit some of the Festival’s first day attractions at the Opening Night Party.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Texas Tribune Festival, Evan Smith

Dinner at the Clay Pit

After the Friday group joined us in town we headed to dinner to one of our favorite restaurants, Clay Pit.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Clay Pit

It was not our first time at Clay Pit (except for Chase) and while we waited to be seated, everyone had already picked what they wanted to eat for dinner. The restaurant is known for its delicious traditional Indian food, and for appetizers we ordered variety of Naan with a side of hummus. I had the Goan Yellow Curry, Karla and Chase shared Lamb Rogenjosh, and Beatriz and Christina shared the Mughali Chicken, to name just a few.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Austin, Clay Pit, Staci Antu

After planning for our second day and a late dinner we headed back to the hotel to get some rest before our second day at the Texas Tribune Festival.

Eastbound through Eastland

Big Bend Day 6

Eastland, TX, by Brian Aldaco

As we headed out on the last leg of our journey, we were lured in by the charm of a small, charismatic town along the way. If you are traveling from Abilene to Dallas on highway 20, as we were, you will surely come across the little town of Eastland, TX. As we entered the city, Professor Yawn was quick at pointing out the multiple murals scattered around the town. He then explained how the city is filled with murals which are done by community members and students from the local high school, to represent history’s most famous painters and culturally educate Eastland’s citizens.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Eastland TX, Jackson Pollock

In total, there are 30 such murals in the city. Among the artists represented on the city’s walls were Dr. Seuss, Michelangelo, Diego Rivera, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Jasper Johns. As we searched through Eastland’s streets, we felt accomplished when we were able to recognize the artist that were being represented by the murals. (All this time of visiting art museums has paid off!).

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Eastland TX, Gustav Klimt

Since we did not have as much time as we would have liked, we were only able to only spot 21 murals on our artistic scavenger hunt. However, this was an amazing feat for us and we appreciated the pieces of art that we were able to find.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Eastland TX, Andy Warhol

But this art hunt was not the only thing that made our Eastland visit memorable. Before initiating our activity, we visited the town’s courthouse in the heart of downtown. Professor Yawn, a near expert in Texas stories, educated us on a brief history of Eastland. Upon construction of the town’s courthouse in 1897, a time capsule was inserted in the building’s cornerstone. Intrigued by the alleged immortality of the horned toad (it is said that it can survive for years in hibernation) the towns people included one of these mystical creatures in the time capsule. Nearly 30 years later when the city was working on maintenance of the courthouse in 1928, they decided to take a look at their reptilian friend. The legend goes, that as they opened the capsule, they saw the “dead” toad reviving before their very eyes with a clear sounding “Ribbit”! The powers of the horned toad were proven true!

Due to its impressive feat of indestructibility, the toad was celebrated by town and baptized Old Rip, after Washington Irving’s character Rip Van Winkle. Old Rip’s celebrity status escalated to such a degree that the toad toured the nation and was even received by President Calvin Coolidge. Sadly, the cherished lizard perished of pneumonia in 1929. But the city never forgot this amazing creature. Now, Old Rip’s eternal home is a lizard size coffin behind a glass window of the courthouse, where any community member or tourist can pay tribute to this exceptional city treasure.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Eastland TX, Ol' RipOld Rip has never been forgotten and he has  many statues that are proudly displayed throughout the city as a homage to him.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Eastland TX, Ol' Rip

Twisted Root in Dallas, by Kaitlyn Tyra

The last part of the West Texas Tour included a fair amount of driving. However, we broke up the long journey with various stops along the way. One of which being a late lunch at the Twisted Root Burger Co. A unique burger joint, the menu included milkshakes, twisted burgers, and a variety of sides.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Twisted Root, Milkshake

Twisted Root is known for their homemade root beer which was sweet and flavorful. We sampled the root beer, the Fat Elvis milkshake, and the Oreo Cookie milkshake before our meals were served. We each sampled a different burger: the freshman 15, the spicy goat, the verde, the enough said, and the big tex burger.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Twisted Root, Milkshake

The burgers were delicious and massive which left us feeling full as we departed for the Dallas Art Museum.

Dallas Museum of Art, by Christina Perez

Before heading back to Huntsville, we took one last LEAP into art. During the trip, we discussed different artists whom the LEAP ambassadors could name. Some of us can name about 35 different artists now!

When we arrived at the Dallas Museum of Art, we were anxious to see what great art pieces that we would get to see.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Dallas Museum of Art, Mark di Suvero

The museum had the “Visions of America” exhibit, which included three centuries of American art, culled from the National Gallery of Art, which is located in Washington, DC.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Dallas Museum of Art, Claes Oldenburg

This exhibit was from the National Gallery of art, which is located in DC. The Leap ambassadors will be traveling to DC in October, so this was a sneak peek to our art exploration that would later take place in Washington.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Dallas Museum of Art,

We all left the museum with an increased knowledge of art…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Dallas Museum of Art, Pablo Picasso

…and a couple of new big names!

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Dallas Museum of Art, Roy Lichtenstein

After a long journey, our West Texas Tour Trip was finally over. Now all the LEAP ambassadors learned and experimented with photography alongside Mark Burns, gained knowledge of art, and traveled to places were not many people had before. It was finally time to go home not only to Huntsville, but also to Sam Houston State University for the first day of school.

 

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

Big Bend and Minimalist Art

Reaching New Heights: West Texas Tour Day 4

The LEAPsters are still on the road and, today, we experienced a mix of natural beauty and minimalist art, which is sometimes beautiful and sometimes curious!

The Chinati Foundation

By Brian Aldaco

After a quick coffee break and crepés at Cedar Coffee Supply, we started our drive towards Marfa,Texas. where we began our tour of the Chinati Foundation. The Chinati Foundation, named after the nearby Chinati mountains, houses the works of Donald Judd and a few of his contemporaries. Judd, the acclaimed minimalist, refurbished a decommissioned cavalry base in town as an art foundation. He created the foundation to give his works the home they deserved. Judd believed in having control of the environment, the architecture, and the perfect lighting when showcasing his works. Unsatisfied with common art museum and gallery practices where he had little of this control, he created this foundation. Now, in this small community of about 2,000, there are 13 permanent installations by Donald Judd and other like-minded artists.

The first installation that we viewed was by Donald Judd. 100 untitled works in mill aluminum is a collection of 100 “specific objects,” as Judd liked to name his sculptures, of aluminum panels formed into rectangular prisms. All 100 pieces have dimensions of 41 x 51 x 72 inches and are housed within two old military warehouses that Judd refurbished to allow natural light to illuminate his metallic pieces. His pieces, just like the works of all the artists in the foundation, are highly conceptual. With some of his pieces seeming like they floated off the ground, while others, with their mirror-like walls, seemed to disappear against the background.

Our tour guide Glenn was very nice to our group, composed only of the three LEAPsters and Professor Yawn, and he agreed to compress the normal five hour tour to about two and a half hours. Therefore, we sped through the works of Carl Andre, Richard Long, and Dan Flavin.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Dan Flavin

This last artist’s works were among the favorites in the group. With no real title, The Marfa Project, as it has come to be known, are Flavian florescent lights that are housed within six abandoned barracks of the base.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Dan Flavin

Each barrack has a different arrangement of these lights, with different colors radiating from within as well.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Dan Flavin

Flavin arranges the lights to provide the viewer a participatory role in his art, as guests enter halls from which his light emanates, and become one with the florescent radiance.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Dan Flavin

 

Near the barracks, our tour guide showed us a sculpture of Claes Oldenburg. In his Oldenburgian style, this particular work was an enlarged horse shoe. As it turns out, Oldenburg created this sculpture to pay tribute to the last cavalry horse that was housed in the base.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Claes Oldenburg

Another favorite in the foundation was an installation by Ilya Kabakov. For his installation, titled School No. 6, he refurbished an abandoned barrack to resemble an abandoned Soviet era classroom. The interior of the installation is made to look old and dusty. In fact, during the reconstruction of the barrack, the designers added features that made the building look more weathered and old. Inside, the “classrooms” were riddled with Soviet newspapers, desks, Russian children’s books, old instruments, and other Soviet artifacts that he considered would belong in a classroom. One feature of this installation that interested us the most was how Kabakov created anecdotes and fictional characters for his installation. When inside, certain artifacts have stories attached to them. An old rag, for example, may include story alongside it of how a mischievous boy, after using the rag to clean off old paint from his desk, throws it around at his classmates during recess. Although these are fictional, just like the entire installation, it showcases the playful imagination of Kabakov.

After touring the The Arena, a gymnasium that was repurposed and designed by Judd to house a courtyard, kitchen, and dining tables (designed by Judd), we headed towards an installation by Robert Irwin.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Robert Irwin

For his installation, he took an abandoned medical building to play with the light and darkness of the interior. Using sheets and tinted windows, he creates a gradual change from darkness to light inside the building. In LEAP terms, one side represented a cheerful, light-filled Beatriz, while the other side represented a dark, somber Christina.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, Robert Irwin

But with a happier tone, we toured the last installation of the tour, which was located outside of the grounds of the foundation.

This last installation was created by John Chamberlain. Located in downtown Marfa, the warehouse contains twenty-five of his works. If you are not familiar with his conceptual art, his sculptures are created from car-scraps that he unites to form a single unit.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, John Chamberlain

As described by our tour guide, “he creates 3D renditions of abstract-expressionism.”

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Marfa, Chinati Foundation, John Chamberlain

Since this was our last installation of the tour, we said our farewells to Glenn, and promised that we would come back in the near future.

Lunch at Squeeze
By Christina Perez

Before heading into Big Bend National Park, we decided to try one of Marfa’s most well known restaurants. Squeeze Marfa is a Swiss café located in the heart of town. It started out as a juice bar but now has sandwiches, soups, and smoothies. It’s well know for its chocolate since it is the sole US distributer of Vollenweider chocolate. Professor Yawn ordered the Squeezadilla which had swiss cheese, gouda cheese, and ham on pita bread, and after having a bite of it, we all decided that it was the best plate in plate. Each of us tried new things like Brian’s Apple Zing smoothie or my Strawberry Banana Cabana smoothie. For anyone considering a visit to Marfa, Squeeze is definitely worth the try!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Marfa TX

After taking a stroll through downtown, taking a few group pictures, and visiting the famous Hotel Paisano, which once housed the star-filled cast of the 1956 film Giant…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Marfa TX, Hotel Paisano, Giant, James Dean

…we drove back east to Alpine to pick up our fellow LEAPster, Kaitlyn Tyra.

Big Bend
By Kaitlyn Tyra

After flying into Alpine and spending two days at Sul Ross State University for the Texas State University System Board of Regents Meeting, I was lucky enough to join my fellow Ambassadors and Professor Yawn for the second half of the West Texas Tour. My first activity of the trip was hiking at Big Bend National Park!

Although the rest of the group visited Big Bend the day before, we all eagerly loaded up and prepared for an exciting afternoon of hiking. Our drive from Alpine to Big Bend National Park was roughly two hours. This gave us plenty of time to prepare our backpacks, fuel our bodies with healthy snacks, and rest our feet for the adventurous hike ahead.

Our first hike of the afternoon was to Balanced Rock. I was excited to embark on the short hike after seeing many photos of the famous landmark, including Mark Burns’ photography. The hike was only a 2.2 mile round trip. We walked along the gravel-filled, sandy pathway…

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Balanced Rock

…admiring the desert landscape that surrounded us until we climbed a few steps up to Balanced Rock.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Balanced Rock

The view was amazing and we took many pictures to try to capture the beauty before hiking down to our car!

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Balanced Rock

Once we arrived safely at the van, we hopped back in and drove (30 minutes!) to our second hike.

Lost Mine Trail was a much longer hike. 4.8 miles round trip and 1100 feet in elevation, the hike was challenging and rewarding.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Lost Mine Trail

We walked along paths, climbed up man-made steps, and even over rocks that were naturally part of the pathway.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Lost Mine Trail

The trip up the mountain side took us around an hour and a half, but we enjoyed admiring the views of the nearby mountains and watching rain fall in the distance.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Lost Mine Trail

Once at the top of the mountain, we could see miles of Big Bend rolling hills and appreciate our hard work hiking up the mountain side.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Lost Mine Trail

With the setting sun and storms nearing, we cheerfully hurried down the mountain singing songs (literally!) of happiness because of all we experienced at Big Bend.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Lost Mine Trail

It was an adventurous day with a few scraps here and there, but a success nonetheless! The LEAPsters loaded up and departed on our journey back to Alpine once again.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Big Bend National Park, Balanced Rock

Big Bend or Bust

Christina: Museum of Big Bend

All of the LEAPsters were excited for the day to begin. We had finally reached Alpine, Tx and not so far away from that was the Big Bend Canyon. Before heading to Big Bend National Park, however, we decided to do some research on the history and life found there. What better way to do so than visiting the experts at the Museum of Big Bend located within the Sul Ross State University?

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend

The Museum included a lot of helpful information about the history of the Park. One of the many facts that we learned about and found the most interesting, especially because the three of us had been a part of the Sam Houston Austin Internship (SHAIP), was that the bill that funded the park was introduced during the 43rd legislative session in 1933. Among the other things the museum had to teach us, ranged from wildlife, historic events dating back to the natives and Spanish Conquistadors…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend

and even about the past West Texas language.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend

The museum also had an additional exhibit of photos called the Big Bend and the Terlingua Project by the Dallas native, Terry Cockerham.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend, Terry Cockerham

With over 40 different black and white photographs, Cockerham captured and showcased the beauty that could be found at Big Bend Park.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend, Terry Cockerham

Also on display, was something that we really loved. It was an exhibition of over 20 different older cameras.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Sam Houston State University, Alpine TX, Sul Ross State University, Museum of the Big Bend, Terry Cockerham

We left the museum feeling more prepared to explore Big Bend National Park.

Beatriz: Guzzi Up

For our lunch, we decided to head downtown. Nestled among the older buildings was an old gas station that had been refurbished into an Italian restaurant called Guzzi Up.  Famished and with an appetite for something other than Mexican food, we went in for a scrumptious meal. To start, we got some meatballs, which we all had the pleasure of sharing.  Professor Yawn ordered a Potato and Sausage soup and a salad. The LEAPsters decided that they needed some carbs in them in order to last throughout the hike at Big Bend. We ordered a large Meatza pizza, that satisfied their appetite immensely. As soon as we were done and after wandering around Alpine’s historic downtown, the LEAPsters headed to their next stop.

Brian: The Hike at Big Bend

With looming clouds, and dusty wind gusts sweeping through the streets of Alpine, we started our 2 hour drive down to Big Bend National Park. Nothing would stop us from witnessing the natural beauty of this Texas landscape, not even a little rain. As we neared the park, with hills full of greenery looming beyond the road, the breathtaking site made us grateful that we had decided to attend this trip.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park

If familiar with Big Bend, you already know that exploration within the park is impossible without a map. Luckily as co-pilot to Professor Yawn, was our very own expert navigator, Christina Perez. We decided that our first hike would be down Boquillas Canyon Trail. Quickly, Christina opened her map and directed Professor Yawn down the 53-mile winding path that took us to the trail.

With clouds still menacing, we arrived at the trail, that ran parallel to the river, so we got plenty of pictures of this iconic border line.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park

We were excited to explore the trail and see where it led. As we got deeper into it, we were soon immersed into the bottom of a towering ravine. An ominous raven crowed as we continued our hike. However, this certain foreshadow of doom in the literary world, proved to be just another sound in the song of the Big Bend wild.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Boquillas Canyon

Although we were not scared away by this crowing bird, we soon found that the trail had no easy access past the mouth of the ravine.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park

A little dismayed that we could not continue our exploration, we followed the trail back to our van and looked for a new path to explore.

We soon decided that we would view the North Window.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, North Window

After taking a few selfies and photo-ops with the Window in the background…

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, North Window

…we made our way to the last hike of the evening. The dirt road leading up to the Grapevine Hills Trail (home to the Balanced Rock) is an adventure in itself.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Grapevine Trail

With road runners darting across, rabbits hoping along the road, and millipedes creeping all over…

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park

there was enough wildlife attractions to keep us enthralled with the park’s beauty.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the trail. The Grapevine Hills Trail proved to have its breathtaking sights.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Grapevine Hills

Every turn resulted in the discovery of a new scenic vista.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Grapevine Hills

With a vast land of hills, greenery, and dessert, the trek up the trail moved like a breeze.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Grapevine Hills

As we arrived at its peak, we were mystified by the marvel of the Balanced Rock.

SHSU, Sam Houston State University, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, Big Bend National Park, Grapevine Hills, Balanced Rock

Captivated by its magical balance, we stayed there for a few minutes to appreciate the surrealness of the landscape. The other worldly landscape, however, was slowly covered in darkness. As the sun crept behind the horizon, we started our slow descent down the trial. Although it was dark, our phones provided enough light to have safe footing, and we eventually found our van. As we drove through the nightly road, our adventures continued as the desert was teeming with life. Without a doubt, the wildlife was as ever-captivating in the night as it was throughout the day. In total, we saw about 3 deer, 9 rabbits, 3 jack rabbits, 1 white velvet ant, a plethora of field mice, a near million millipedes, 2 rattle snakes (from the safety of our van), 1 ominous crow, and 1 jolly mule.

Big Bend National Park

As we exited the park, dark and lonely as it was, we were excited for our return to Big Bend. Now all that there was left was good night sleep and for the new day to begin.