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.