Searching Seminole Canyon

There aren’t any quick trips to Big Bend, because it is so distant from virtually anywhere else in Texas.  But in the LEAP spirit of making the most of wherever we are, we wanted to make our return trip from Big Bend as fruitful as possible.

For the way home, that included making a quick stop in Marathon to see “Target Marathon,” a bookend to our “Prada Marfa” experience.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marathon Texas, Target Marathon

The Target Marathon had its own charm, but we partial to the Prada Marfa.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Prada Marfa, Big Bend, Marfa Texas

Our more substantial destination on the way home, however, Seminole Canyon State Park, which is located near Del Rio, Texas.

Our first stop was near the Visitor’s Center, which includes trails to the Canyon bottom.   These trails are off-limits to casual hikers such as us; they are reserved for scheduled tours led by Rangers, who guide hikers down to ancient ruins, where petroglyphs and other items of archaeological and historical interest can be found.

Our goal was to see the canyon from the rim (which is permitted)…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

…and to see the Shaman sculpture created by Bill Worrell.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

Following our adventures near the Shaman…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park, Bill Worrell

…we headed out for our formal hike.

The rim trail goes on for miles, but our goal was to hike about an 1 and 1/2 miles one way, and to turn around and come back.  We had specific canyon views in mind, but we also wanted to see wildlife.  We achieved both our goals!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

As with most hikes, sunset (or sunrise) is a great time to see animals, and we saw everything from jackrabbits to a seven-legged tarantula…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

We stopped along the way to take a few “LEAPster” photo’s and enjoyed the scenery.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

The canyon is very interesting because it had been inhabited by Native Americas for over 12,000 years, when the terrain was scattered with lush vegetation in the canyons and grasslands in the upper regions that was rich with ice aged species of elephants, mammoths and bison. Researchers have concluded that about 5,000 years ago the Seminole Canyon region underwent extreme climate change, causing the arid and rocky landscape that we see today.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

Thankfully, we had a chance to see up close!  We even went into an alcove that may have been used for shelter hundreds of years ago.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

The trail also offers several canyon views of note…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

…a photogenic bridge…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

…and, at least at our time of day, a nice sunset.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Seminole Canyon State Park

It was a fitting coda to a four-day trip filled with hikes, exploration, and small-town charms.

Having a Ball in Marfa

Although Chinati makes up a large part of the entertain and educational life of Marfa, there is much more to explore.

One of the sites for exploration is Marfa Ballroom, and it contained several exhibits that left a lasting impression on us.

The first one was an untitled piece by Tara Donovan, and resembled hills made of plastic cups of various sizes. The cups were not connected by anything, so it appears they were all hand placed.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom, Tara Donovan

Upon first glance, it actually looked like styrofoam.  But the true nature of the exhibit was more clear from different angles.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom, Tara Donovan

Intriguingly, much of what we saw looked different depending on the perspective.  This piece, for example….

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

…looks different based on the perspective…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom, Tara Donovan

…and we worked hard to photograph the art from different perspectives.

The second major exhibit was outside in the courtyard, and they were holes of various sizes.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

The exhibit was a bit vague and we all felt that the artist was doing quite a bit of projecting, but the holes were complemented with sound effects and collectively they represented the “deceitful means” (curator’s words) the US Border Patrol uses to “trap” immigrants traveling across the desert.

On a more practical level, we learned the holes were interactive, so Maggie immediately went to work!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

Back inside the museum, we encountered an intriguing two-piece set.  The first thing we saw was a rather indistinct photograph, which left us wondering if the photographer had full control of her camera’s focusing capacity.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

But then we saw a piece of glass nearby (seen above on the right side and below close up).

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

The “glass” was made from sand melted in the Atacama Desert in Chile, and then it was used to take the photograph above–thus explaining the apparent lack of clarity in the image.

Another interesting piece was VIRUS, or the Visible Integral-Field Replicable Unit Spectrographs, which was from the Hobby-Eberly Telescope Dark Energy Experiment.  It is designed for people to look through at opposite ends and the Spectrograph allows the viewer to see an intriguing composite of their own face and the person’s face that is opposite them in the lens.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

The final piece we got to see was a green, fluorescent light that shined around a one-way mirror in front of a mirror, projecting what seemed like a hallway of green florescent lights. This reminded us all of the light pieces by Flavin we had seen earlier so we all enjoyed it a lot.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Marfa Ballroom

For lunch in Marfa, after touring the Chianti Foundation, we stopped at Squeeze Marfa Swiss Café for sandwiches. It was a neat little shop where the nice lady who took your order seemed to process each order one item at a time….so you might plan on being at the counter for a while.

But the food was worth it, and we all ordered an interesting drink along with our meals. I ordered a Basil Lemonade, Anne tried the Peach Pear Divine smoothie, Peyton had a Belgian Chocolate Frappe, and Professor Yawn ordered a Napoli Italian Soda.

After lunch we continued exploring the little town. We visited the Prisittio Hotel where James Dean, (ect) stayed while they shot one of the greatest western films, The Giant. The hotel has a section filled with pictures of the famous actors on set as well as a very big gift shop area with everything from nice clothes to kitchen accessories. We began back down the block and came across an Andy Warhol exhibit in a closed art exhibit hall… we may or may not have crawled to the ground to peak under the blinds and catch a glimpse of the exhibit (it was worth it).

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Andy Warhol

Marfa is an interesting little town full of quirks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas

….more quirks….

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas

…..more quirks….

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas, Andy Warhol

…and lots of small-town charm.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas




Marvelous, Minimalist Marfa!

After a twenty-hour day at Big Bend, we were ready for more education, but this time in Marfa, Texas, home of mysterious lights and much minimalist art and hipster vibes.

These adventures began with the Chinati Foundation–a non-profit focused on the minimalist art of Donald Judd and his contemporaries.  He purchased a former military base–Fort Russell–and turned it into a major art installation.

Our tour–led by a somewhat bored tour guide–began with Judd’s works.  These works were housed in two old artillery sheds and consisted of 100 untitled pieces made of aluminum.  Each cube had the same outer dimensions, but each had a different interior configuration.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

From some angles with the right light, some of the pieces looked as though they were made from glass.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Minimalist Art, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas

You don’t have to a fan of minimalist art to be be intrigued by Judd’s art, but you do need an open mind.  It’s almost impossible to examine the 100 pieces without asking, “But is it art?”

Actually, it is art, and the installation goes a long way to reinforcing Judd’s purpose in founding Chinati.  He believed that having Museum curators slice his art into smaller pieces (or subdividing it) and then placing it in a corner of a museum gallery next to pieces by artists of their choosing didn’t appropriately convey the artist’s intent.  So…he bought 340 acres, on which he could install his pieces in the format and configuration of his choosing.  They definitely had an impact different than what have been experienced by seeing a single aluminum piece next to, say, a work by George Segal in a large museum.

The site was also ideal for the works of Dan Flavin, commissioned specifically for Chinati.  Using six old barracks buildings, Flavin created art from flourescent bulbs of varying colors which, when seen from various perspectives, blend into unique color combinations.  When entering the north barrack wing, for example, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

From the south barrack’s wing, however, we saw this:

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

What we also saw a lot of was this…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Dan Flavin

…us posing in the sometimes beautiful, sometimes eerie, always intriguing art works by Flavin.

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As a group, the Flavin pieces were the most popular, although individuals in our group have a soft spot for the pop art of Claes Oldenburg (not a minimalist!)…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Claes Oldenburg

…which was created to honor Louie, the last surviving horse of the fort’s cavalry unit.  This art work also served as a memorial, in that replaced the deteriorated memorial previously on site for Louie.

We also had warm feelings for Chinati’s most recent installation, a large work by Robert Irwin.  His installation was actually an entire building, horseshoe shaped, with a courtyard.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

The building’s interior consists of two sides: the left side is dark, with black walls, windows that open at eye level–designed to provide the look of Dutch landscapes–and a black screen that provides compartmentalized interiors.

The building transitions on the horizontal leg of the horseshoe, moving from the “dark side” to the “light side.”

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa, Chinati, Robert Irwin

This is a supremely interesting effect, providing both visual stimuli and a provocative metaphorical sense of moving from dark to light.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Indeed, halfway through the building this effect is captured by dark and light doors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

And from there, visitors enjoy the ‘optimist’s side,” filled with light and interiors of white, making for some happy tourists.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, Robert Irwin

Our happiness transformed to curiosity as we moved to downtown Marfa, where the “Chamberlain” wing of Chinati is housed.

There are 22 of Chamberlain’s curiosities in this building.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati Foundation, Marfa Texas, John Chamberlain

His works are primarily cars that have been compressed and placed…

At the front of the building, there is a large “couch” of sorts, and it was an installation we were allowed to touch and, in fact, sit on!  ALthough comfortable, we didn’t sit on it long, because one of Chamberlain’s movies, “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez” was playing, and it was supremely strange.

On a more quotidian note, we did find a sand patch that was part of the building’s original structure, and we were able to add our own art.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Donald Judd, Chinati, Marfa Texas, LEAP at SHSU

The half-day tour was enthralling.  It was our first experience with minimalist art and provided an eye-opening and even uplifting experience!

SHSU, LEAP Center, Marfa Texas


Big Bend Bound: Via San Antonio

By Maggie Denena,

The LEAP Center arrived in San Antonio around noon today and stopped for lunch at a local treasure, Mi Tierra. After navigating through the city to a public parking lot, we made our way around the block to the Historic Downtown Market, where Hispanic heritage runs thick. We checked into Mi Tierra with a 30 minute wait list, so we made the most of it by visiting the local shops and stands.

There were quite a few interesting characters, including but not limited to a dancing lady…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Mi Tierra, Market Square

…and a Hispanic Elvis, plus the local food stands smelled amazing. Finally, we made our way back to Professor Yawn in the restaurant lobby just in time: our wait buzzer went off and we were ready to be seated. The restaurant was very colorful, with lights and banners running along the ceiling and walls.


Once we sat down, we all spent a quiet few minutes looking though the menu—everything sounded so good it was hard to make a decision. Professor Yawn ordered queso flameado and guacamole for the table. The queso flameadio was so thick we had cheese-pull competitions, and the guacamole was some of the best I’ve ever had. I ordered the lunch special, enchiladas, but I was so full from our appetizers that I was only able to finish one of the two on my plate. I now understand why the restaurant was so packed!

After we had all that we could possibly eat, we headed out for another stroll through the market, where we found a mechanical bull.  Of course, I couldn’t resist! 

SHSU, LEAP Center, Mi Tierra, Market Square, Maggie Denena

After my impromptu rodeo, we headed to our next stop, which was the McNay Art Museum.
By Peyton Reed

The first interesting thing I noticed about the McNay Museum is the location. The museum was designed as a large house, with each room holding various paintings that flowed together seamlessly, arranged by various characteristics such as color, technique, period and artist. The winding path to get to the entrance of the museum passed by several sculptures by Robert Indiana, George Rickey, and Alexander Liberman, to name a few.

 The featured exhibition is titled “Immersed,” an interactive and compelling exhibit featuring pieces from Andy Warhol, Chris Sauter, and Yayoi Kusama.

The first piece we saw was the piece by Chris Sauter. Walking in to the enclosed space, circle cutouts allow some light to pour into a small living room set up. In the chairs are circle cluster figures, entitled “dopamine molecules” by Sauter, which he made from the wood he cut out of the walls.

SHSU, LEAP Center, McNay Art Museum, Chris Sauter


The Shadow Monster by Phillip Worthington was a playful exhibit. Pool noodles, hula hoops and spinning flower props allowed for interesting additions to our figures as a projector casted outlines of the observer on to the wall with fun twists. Our shadows morphed as we moved, forming eyes, tails and ears and transforming us into magical creatures.

One of the interactive pieces in the museum was a light board with different colored pegs. We did our best to spell out SHSU with the letters.

SHSU, LEAP Center, McNay Art Museum

We took a similar marketing strategy to the sequin boards, also at the patrons disposal, making for a truly immersive experience.

My favorite piece was the Yayoi Kusama piece. We were allowed into an enclosed room lighted by hundreds of hanging candle fixtures.  The walls of the room were covered in mirrors, giving the viewer the perception that the space was infinite.

 Exploring the museum’s permanent collection was also an extremely satisfying experience.

Claude Monet’s “Waterlilies” was my favorite painting among the collection. I was struck by the size of it alone. Since this was my first experience at an art museum, it was amazing to see paintings by Van Gogh, Picasso, and Monet, some of the most well-known and talented artists of all time, all in one place. Another favorite sculpture piece was by Alexander Calder, an artist who specializes in Kinetic art sculptures.

SHSU, LEAP Center, McNay Art Museum, Alexander Calder

 Overall, exploring the McNay museum was an enriching experience that helped me gain a little more familiarity with art.

Zooming through Zion National Park

After a long night at Angel’s Window at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, we woke up latish, and headed to the Zion National Park–the second National Park on our trip.  The drive from Kanab, UT is about an hour, but summer is the busiest season for Zion, so we had to park (nearby parking is $10-$20) and then ride to specific Park destinations on one of their shuttles.

At 147,000 acres, the Zion is a moderate size for a National Park (Big Bend is about five times larger), but access is mostly restricted along one major roadway.  Given that it is the third most visited National Park in the Nation, at 4.5 million visitors, it ranks behind the Smoky Mountains (1) and The Grand Canyon (2) in annual visitors.  With that many people and one major roadway, the going was slow.  The shuttle trip from the Main Visitor Center to our destination was about 30-40 minutes on a crowded bus.

We began at The Temple of Sinawava, which allowed us to access the River Side Walk. This hike lead us to The Narrows, which is a popular trail that goes through water.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail

We didn’t plan to go through (much) water, but we were eager to see the water and terrain.  We occasionally stopped to hop along rocks…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena

…”LEAP” for a photo op…

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, The Narrows Trail, Maggie Denena, Ryan Brim, Anne Jamarik

…and enjoy the water that trickled down the mountains and into the stream.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Hanging Gardens

On our way back to the shuttle stop, we were “attacked” by a hungry squirrel.

The squirrels must be used to being fed by visitors, because this squirrel was fairly bold, and assertively looked for food, going so far as to burrow inside our bag.

From the shuttle, we headed to the Park’s seventh stop, Weeping Rock Trail. The trail was short but had an extreme incline to the viewing area where the water “weeps” from the mountain above. The view was beautiful, but difficult to capture by camera.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Zion, Weeping Wall

From our viewing area–an alcove in the side of the mountain–we sat for several minutes, enjoying the cooler temperatures behind our weeping wall.

We boarded the shuttle again for a short ride to stop six, where we got off to walk The Grotto, a short trail to the Lodge at stop five. This was our least favorite hike, although we did get to see a deer that seemed unperturbed by our presence.

We stopped at the Lodge for lunch in the Red Rock Café, which overlooks a large picnic/park area below.  Scores of people filled the area, lounging on the grass or sitting at picnic tables, enjoying the shade. Meanwhile, we enjoyed our burgers, before heading to Emerald Pool Trail.

The Emerald Pool Trail consists of three sections: the lower, middle, and upper trail. We traveled all the way to the upper Emerald Pool Trail, which is approximately 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 350 feet.  It was definitely worth the trek: the pools of water and views were beautiful.

Finally, we headed back to the visitor center at the first stop to hike the Watchman Trail for sunset. The Watchman was a fairly moderate hike up and around a mountain that lead to a peak to view the sunset. After seeing part of the sunset and taking photos…

…we gave up and headed back down the trail, exhausted from a day of many hikes.

It was the first time to visit Zion National Park for all the LEAP members and it did not let us down!


Roaming the North Rim: Day Five in Arizona

The first three days of our trip to Arizona involved a rigorous schedule, but we were fueled by the excitement of visiting the Grand Canyon.  That excitement continued today, our fourth day of the trip, as we prepared to see the Desert Watchtower on the South Rim, have lunch at the Cameron Trading Post, and then make a longish drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We began by driving to the far end of the Grand Canyon to see the Desert View Watchtower. Once reaching the tower, we instantly took notice of the interesting and beautiful architectural style of Mary Colter, the woman who has often been deemed “the architect of the southwest”. It almost looks like it was meant to be there, as if nature itself had erected the structure in time.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

The tower was built in 1932 and has served visitors of the canyon since, providing them with spectacular views of the Grand Canyon and winding Colorado river below.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

On the first floor there is a large, open area that had several vendors selling jewelry. As the LEAP ambassadors climbed to the second and third floors they viewed the Native American paintings along the walls.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

Once reaching the forth floor everyone took to the outlook windows to enjoy the unique view of the breath taking beauty that is the Grand Canyon.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower

The Desert View Watchtower was a great start to the busy day ahead, and toward the end of our tour, we were joined by photographer Mark Burns, who was doing photography in the park.

This would be everyone’s last view of the south rim of the Grand Canyon (for now) as we made our way to the north rim, and it was far from a disappointment.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Grand Canyon, Watchtower, Mark Burns

Although we still had much to do, we also had to eat.   The Cameron Trading Post in Cameron, AZ was established in 1911, making it older than the establishment of the nearby Grand Canyon as a National Park and even the National Park Service. This historical site is where we ate on our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The trading post is more than a Native American food restaurant and oversized gift shop, however. There is also a motel, RV park, and authentic hand-crafted Native American art shop, though we were there for one reason: food. Our dishes arrived not long after we ordered them, though the restaurant was busy: Navajo French Dip, Green Chile Stew, Navajo Taco, and Navajo Fry Bread covered in honey.

SHSU, LEAP Center, Cameron Trading Post

We only had a few minutes to look around the enormous gift shop before we had to get back on the road to make it to the North Rim before sunset, so once again, we all loaded in the cars and drove the scenic route to the less visited side of the Grand Canyon.

We arrived at the entrance about an hour before sunset…

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

….and we maximized our time by exploring Bright Angel Point, a short (.5 miles) but scenic .5 mile hike. Though not long, the Bright Angel Point Trail had large changes in elevation and offered several incredible vantage points of the vast canyon…

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

….and at sunset, the colors in the layer of the rock revealed themselves, especially the reds.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

The views were incredible, and we also took advantage of the many rock outcroppings to gain even better views!

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

…and to pose for photos.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

It was a beautiful hike, and a good introduction to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  It was the first time that any of us had been there and we were duly impressed.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim Grand Canyon, Angel's, Bright Angel Point

Following our hike that finished at sunset, we still had a long day ahead of us.  Our plan was to assist Mark Burns with some basic photography (mostly carrying equipment) as he continued work on photos for his Grand Canyon Exhibit, which will open at the George Bush Presidential Library in 2019.

Burns’s objective on this evening was to shoot the Milky Way over “Angel’s Window” in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.  To that end, we were with him from approximately 9:30pm until 1:30am.  Although summer, it occasionally got cold on this rim promontory, with the temperatures dipping to the low 50s.  This wasn’t freezing, but it could be chilly.

We learned a lot by watching, and we enjoyed the immense beauty of the night sky.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

We observed about a dozen shooting stars, and we practiced shooting in the dark.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

Although this proved difficult, it gave us much to think about.

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

It was approximately 1:18am, when Mark got the shot he wanted, and it was a good one (attend his opening exhibition to see it!).

SHSU, LEAP Center, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Angel's Window, Mark Burns, Milky Way

With that, we left for Kanab, Utah, where we would be spending the “night.”  Given that it was two hours and fifteen minutes away, it was more like we were spending the morning there.  But with a big day at Zion the next day, we were eager to get whatever sleep we could, so we finally settled into the hotel around 5am, for a couple of hours of sleep with pleasant, star-filled dreams.