Westward Ho!

The LEAPsters are continuing their West Texas Tour. On their second day, they had a taste from the old east, from the forgotten south, and the life-flourishing natural paradise of one of Texas’ greatest state parks.

Japanese Tea Garden

The light peaked in the horizon as we walked up to the beautiful Japanese Tea Garden in San Antonio. Mark Burns had a few ideas on shots he wanted to take. He began by doing what any professional photographer does; he scouted out the most photogenic part of the garden. As we scouted the perimeter of the park, with Brian trying to use a new DSLR stabilizer…

San Antonio TX, San Antonio Tea Garden, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

…Burns’ eyes caught a glimpse of a breathtaking waterfall that sits in the back of the gardens.

San Antonio TX, San Antonio Tea Garden, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

He explained that he would have to set the camera to have a 30 second exposure in order to take a good photo. This would allow him to capture a ghostly waterfall and a glistening rock in the picture. After that, he decided to take some portraits of us.

San Antonio TX, San Antonio Tea Garden, Mark Burns, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

The Japanese Tea Garden was a great addition to the documentary.

We said goodbye to Mark with a hint of melancholy. And as we said our farewells, we wished him luck on his next adventure: the solar eclipse which he will be photographing. With the early morning start, we decided to take a coffee break at one of San Antonio’s Local Coffee coffee shops. With a relaxing black tea for some and tasty macrons for others, we chowed down on our breakfast and headed back to our hotel with a satisfied belly.

Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine

After a little down time in our rooms, we climbed back to our van and turned our compass towards Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine. In reality, our decision to lunch at this location was not based on any recommendation. We had no idea of the restaurant’s reputation or whether it was home to authentic Mexican cuisine. In short, we had no idea if the food was any good. You may wonder why then we chose this restaurant. The answer is simple. Brian Aldaco, feeling drawn to the restaurant’s peculiar name, wanted to see if Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine had any resemblance to his family’s Mexican cuisine.

With latin music in the background, we all shared a pleasant conversation on how much we were enjoying the trip. Looking through the menu we noticed that there were plenty of tasty plates to choose from. Christina and Brian chose the Tacos de la Calle plate, while Beatriz decided on the Chile Relleno. Professor Yawn, whether this would have been his preference or not, grubbed on some Tacos Gringos after Christina chose his platter for him. After finishing our meals, we decided that Aldaco’s Mexican Cuisine was worth trying. And even though Brian remarked that it was not like mother’s cooking, his tacos were still tasty and a good excuse to come back to Aldaco’s.

The Road to Seminole

Our next destination after San Antonio was Seminole Canyon. With a 200 mile trip ahead, we planned some stops along the road to take a few breaths of South Texas fresh air. Our first stop was at Uvalde, TX, about 85 miles west of San Antonio. There, we found the home of John Nance Garner, Vice President to FDR.

Uvalde TX, John Nance Gardner, Cactus Jack, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, LEAP Center

Vice President Garner was the first Texan to serve as VP, but “Cactus Jack” started his political career in Uvalde County as county judge. After taking our photo in front of his home, we continued on the road. However, as we exited the town, we found the cemetery where Vice President Garner is buried.

Uvalde TX, John Nance Gardner, Cactus Jack, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, LEAP Center

Our second stop was in Brackettville, about 50 miles down the road from Uvalde. In this small community of 1,674 residents lies Alamo Village, where John Wayne filmed The Alamo in 1960.  The set he built was apparently the largest movie-set in the world at its time. But as we neared the gates of this once flourishing attraction, what we found were locked gates and a solitary, dusty road.

LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU, Alamo Village, Brackettville, The Alamo, John Wayne

As it turns out, Alamo Village closed its gates to the public in 2009 after almost 50 years of attracting tourists from all over the country. Sadly, no traces of the set were visible from the entrance. After a photo-op in front of the Alamo Village sign, traced with vintage lettering, we climbed onto our van and continued our trip.

Before arriving to Seminole Canyon, we were compelled to stop at Del Rio, the birthplace of Christina.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Christina Perez, Del Rio TX

We were so inclined to celebrate her birthplace, that we even visited the hospital where she was born. After snacking on some chips and sandwiches, we were ready to make the last stretch to the state park.

Seminole Canyon

A couple of minutes later, we arrived at the Seminole Canyon State Park. Unlike to the other state parks we had been to, Seminole was sprinkled with small cacti and desert life versus the usual gargantuan pine forests. However, it did hold its own charming appeal. Part of its beauty was held within its canyons and its various trails.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Seminole Canyon

Another interesting part are the many caves that line the canyons. There was one in particular where we climbed along the side of a canyon to go into a possible cliff dwelling.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Seminole Canyon, Beatriz Martinez

It was a treacherous climb, but with teamwork, we made it.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Seminole Canyon

The views were beautiful!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Seminole Canyon, Brian Aldaco

Although we were disappointed to not see more wildlife within the state park, we were captivated with smaller life forms such as the millipedes and the giant ants creeping around. Taking advantage of the little bit of sunset that we had to our disposition, we took a couple of more photos before making the 45-minute trek back to the car.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Seminole Canyon

Before leaving Seminole State Park, we decided to pay a visit to The Maker of Peace by Bill Worrell. A statue over 10 feet tall of a deer-humanoid shaman, it is believed that this art piece depicts the Lower Pecos features. In so doing, the statue had motifs related to the whitetail deer native to the area, a spear with a dart and a Langtry point as well as an atlatl which embodies the survival of the people. Finally, the bird in flight was on its right hand, which was a portrayal of the human soul. With the final blessing from The Maker of Peace, we hit the road for Alpine, TX.

We arrived at our hotel at 12:30 am after a 6:00 am start in the morning. It was understandable that we were all tired and ready for rest. We got into our hotel rooms to prepare for the long, vigorous day of hiking at Big Bend. Tomorrow will be full of adventure, so for the fans out there, stay tuned for more glimpses of our West Texas Tour.

Texas Icons

Houston and San Antonio, by Brian Aldaco

With an initial rocky start of forgetting to pick up Brian from Willis, and having to turn back at Conroe which caused a delay of 25 minutes to our trip, we finally headed for Big Bend. To mark the first day of our West Texas Tour, we joined Mark Burns in Houston’s Hermann Park. What brings us to Hermann Park when our destination is Big Bend Canyon, you ask? In the middle of the entrance rotunda of the park, as some may remember from our previous Hermann Park visit, stands a statue of a horse-mounted General Sam Houston (created by Enrico Carracchio) that greets all visitors into the park.

Sam Houston, Mark Burns, SHSU, Hermann Park, Houston TX, LEAP Ambassadors

To honor the statue of this great Texas hero, Mr. Burns decided to photograph its grandeur.

Standing a few feet behind the camera-wielding Burns, we captured his photographic process through still and motion photography.

Sam Houston, Mark Burns, SHSU, Hermann Park, Houston TX, LEAP Ambassadors

This we will do along the trip as we continue to record Mr. Burns at his craft for his documentary.

Sam Houston, Mark Burns, SHSU, Hermann Park, Houston TX, LEAP Ambassadors

During his photo session, he explained to us how he framed the shot, pointing out different factors in the scene that could beautify his subject.

Sam Houston, Mark Burns, SHSU, Hermann Park, Houston TX, LEAP Ambassadors

He also mentioned how he was waiting for the perfect lighting conditions in the cloudy sky.

Sam Houston, Mark Burns, SHSU, Hermann Park, Houston TX, LEAP Ambassadors

After a few shots, we cleared the area, but not before taking some striking footage of Mark Burns. Mr. Burns soon finished his photoshoot in Hermann Park, and after showing some of his impressive photographic instruments, we climbed into our vans and headed towards San Antonio.

Along the way, however, we decided to soothe our grumbling stomachs with a short stop in Columbus, Texas. This quiet, quaint town, located about an hour west of Houston, is home to Keyser Market. Among other things, it is also home to an architecturally impressive courthouse. Even though we were unable to explore much of the town, we did enjoy a delicious sausage and chicken meal from Keyser. With our hunger satisfied, we got back on the road.

Soon, the country-land of vast pastures gave way to a network of highways; we had made it into San Antonio. On our first stop was the McNay Art Museum, located on the northeastern side of town.

McNay Museum, San Antonio TX, George Rickey, LEAP Center, SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors

Before we began our trip, we learned that the McNay had recently acquired a Robert Indiana LOVE sculpture. Excited, we entered the museum with the plan to pose by this LEAP favorite artwork. But more on that later.

As always, we went through the museum’s exhibits identifying artists that we were familiar with. In the first room of artworks we were amazed with an art piece by Alexander Calder. Snake on a Table, is a bronze, snake-like sculpture designed by Calder that balances on a table top while standing upright. The physics that makes this possible are incomprehensible to us as the snake balanced precariously on the edge of the round table. Nonetheless, the beauty in balance was just as inspiring. In the room, we also noticed pieces from other LEAP favorites such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, and Diego Rivera.

McNay Museum, San Antonio TX, LEAP Center, SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, Diego Rivera

We also saw work by a recent LEAP favorite, Jim Love…

McNay Museum, San Antonio TX, LEAP Center, SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, Jim Love

…a Houston artist introduced to us by Betty Moody.

Moving on to the next room, we noticed two Pablo Picassos, Crouching Woman and Portrait of Sylvette. Acknowledging the impressive pieces, we decided to commemorate the artworks by LEAPosing for a photograph.

McNay Museum, San Antonio TX, LEAP Center, SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, Picasso

Every artwork had its own beauty, but the two that called our attention were a Pablo Picasso from his “blue period” and a non-minimalist Piet Mondrian. These artworks that differed immensely from their typical paintings, demonstrated the versatility of the artists. As LEAP offers eclectic opportunities to its students, we like to think that we are also versatile. Weather our varying talents include photography, you will have to judge our photos throughout the trip to answer this question.

In the meantime, we continued to explore the museum’s awe-inspiring collection. Before heading off to the sculpture garden on the grounds, we took a quick look at the south-western exhibit. We found the warm colors in the pieces to be soothing. Within the exhibit, we also marveled at a few artworks by Georgia O’Keeffe.

With the indoors artwork all viewed, we wondered onto the sculpture garden in search of LOVE, or at least Robert Indiana’s sculpture of LOVE. We explored the grounds and noticed some impressive sculptures that captivated our imagination. One sculpture by Joel Shapiro captured our attention with its gravity-defying qualities. However, we still had not found the sculpture that prompted our visit to the museum. It was with great dismay that after walking through the entire garden and coming back to where we started, we found a rectangular cover made up of panels. With trepidation, we neared the plaque at the foot of the enclosure. The plaque read “Robert Indiana, LOVE.” We learned that the museum is in the process of installing a new exhibit. To prevent certain sculptures from being damaged during the installation, some outdoor artworks had been covered, consequently denying the view of the public. With sadness, and feeling little love, we still posed in front of the covered sculpture with the determination to leave with a photo.

McNay Museum, San Antonio TX, LEAP Center, SHSU, LEAP Ambassadors, Robert Indiana, LOVE
LEAP Ambassadors, Saddened by the McNay’s Presentation of Robert Indiana’s “LOVE”

As we were sure that no one was left behind (including Brian), we climbed into our van, eager to continue our adventure.

The Alamo, The Saga, and Mi Tierra, by Christina

After exploring some San Antonio art and scouting out potential photography areas–including the Alam0…

San Antonio, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, The Alamo

…we headed to dinner at the Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia. Since there were many Hispanic/Mexican among the group, we wanted to make it as authentic as possible. That is how we ended up in the Mexican Historic Downtown Market. As we walked into Mi Tierra, we could see colorful piñatas hanging from the ceiling and with each room that we passed the walls differed in colors. It was hard to decide on what to eat because everything sounded delicious. Brian ordered The Sonora Special, which included beef tips with ranchero salsa smothered on top. Brian is (or so he likes to think) our authentic Mexican food specialist. The others chose a wide variety of Mexican dishes including the Mole and guisado. While we waited for the food, we even had some mariachi sing the “Caminos of Guanajuato”, For dessert, we all shared some exquisite flan and it was scrumptious!

After dinner, we arrived at the San Fernando cathedral for “The Saga”, which is a light show that electrified the audience with its mesmerizing scenes. It told the story of San Antonio from the Alamo to the present day. To accompany the lights in the storytelling, there was also a collage of songs to represent the different changes of time.

San Antonio, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, The Saga

The show lasted about 25 minutes. We decided to walk off our food and since Beatriz had never been to the river walk, we decided to take a stroll along the river walk.  Finally, after getting lost a couple of times, we headed back home for some rest and to get ready for the early start tomorrow.

Downtown Beautification: A Partnership with Huntsville Main Street

On a glorious Saturday morning, the LEAP Ambassadors gladly spent their day at the John Henry Rather Park in Huntsville, helping to beautify their community. It all began with the Main Street Director, Ms. Debbie Charbonneau who, as part of the Main Street program, helps restore and promote downtown Huntsville.

Main Street hosts numerous events throughout the year, such as Fair on the Square, Scare on the Square, Downtown Farmers Market and more, all to attract tourists to historic downtown.

With all hands on deck, the LEAP Ambassadors assisted in the maintenance needed to be done to preserve and improve these areas. With a few materials–buckets, rags, spray paint, and eight Ambassadors–the park’s dusty and worn planters were given a new life.

Main Street Huntsville, LEAP Center, SHSU, Rather Park

Undoubtedly, the team work and the lovely temperature in the low 80 degrees expedited the process;

Main Street Huntsville, LEAP Center, SHSU, Rather Park

while some Ambassadors wiped clean the dusty and flaky surfaces, others tackled the painting process.

Main Street Huntsville, LEAP Center, SHSU, Rather Park

Not to mention that with the help and support of both Ms. Debbie Charbonneau and Mrs. Linda McKenzie, our team were able to help the planters turn over a new leaf.

Although the project was small, it certainly created a big impact and the downtown streets never looked better with their new additions.

Main Street Huntsville, LEAP Center, SHSU, Rather Park

After our work was completed, we stopped by the local restaurant, Farm House Sweets & Eats. There, we chit-chatted and enjoyed our delicious handcrafted meals and, of course, ordered some mouthwatering fried pie for dessert!

LEAP Welcomes Students Back With Ice Cream and Fun

Written by Staci Antu

The LEAP ambassadors welcomed the fall semester by throwing a party–but not the normal party college students have the reputation for sponsoring. Rather, it was an ice cream mixer filled with delicious ice cream, scrumptious cookies, cold sweet tea, and many different prizes, just what everyone needed some to sweeten up their day, especially with Hurricane Harvey still affecting many of SHSU’s students.. Our annual prize wheel included school supplies, t-shirts, political science bags filled with candy, and sun visors.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ice-Cream Mixer

As college kids of course, all prizes would be useful and therefore the wheel was very popular!

Many students, freshman and senior, came not only for the goodies but also to get the inside scoop on what the Center for Law, Engagement, and Politics is and does, as well as to participate in the Pre-Law Society meeting happening right after. The ice cream mixer gave everyone time to mingle with LEAP Ambassadors and Pre-Law Society members.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ice-Cream Mixer

It was also an evening of catching up with school friends after a long summer break. Roughly around 60 students throughout the night stopped by!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ice-Cream Mixer

However, it wasn’t only the students that were drawn in by the promise for ice cream. Many of professors and staff stopped by to grab a bowl of ice cream as they waited for the elevator.

Right afterwards, we all headed downstairs for the first pre-law meeting of this year. The meeting was a short one, designed simply to cover what the Pre-Law society had in store for its members and to encourage for the students to sign up for the Mock LSAT happening in September 30th. It was great to be able to greet old friends and meet new faces. The LEAP ambassadors are looking forward to this upcoming fall semester, hopefully with more sweet things to come!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Ice-Cream Mixer

Fun From Mississippi to Missouri

Gulf Coast Parasailing, by Makayla Mason

As LEAP Ambassadors, we contribute to the travel costs of our own trips.  This contribution is an investment in our own education, and while part of our money goes for trip t-shirts, conference registration and museums, our money also goes to fun activities that we engaged in on trips.  And that applied today, when we had a chance to go parasailing!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU
Makayla, Christina, and Beatriz Prepare for their Turns!

Only one member of our group had ever experienced parasailing and the rest of us were excited to embark on this new adventure. While making our way to deep waters (in every sense of the phrase), one of our tour guides helped the first pair into their harnesses. First up were Christina and Makayla, followed by Ryan and Beatriz, and ending with Mike and Stephanie. With the sun shining down on us, we were anxious for the adrenaline rush the thrill of parasailing elicited. The release from the boat was very smooth…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…and as we climbed higher into the Biloxi sky we began to understand why people love to parasail. It was a very peaceful 10 minutes, with a breeze and even sightings of dolphins!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

While a pair was up in the sky, the other four took advantage and enjoyed the boat ride filled with music and the occasional splash of salty water.  Probably the happiest of the para-sailors were Beatriz and Ryan, both of whom were productive while air-sailing.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

Ryan filmed the entire 10-minute ride…

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

…while Beatriz waved her arms and kicked her feet in excitement!

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

The view from the sky was amazing, with the boat looking tiny.

Parasailing, Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, SHSU

It’s amazing to have these opportunities as undergraduates, and we had a great time in our rarefied adventure!

Hibachi Dinner, by Makayla Mason

For dinner, we decided on going to Kyoto Japanese Cuisine. Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi style dinner so we happily made our way to the flat top grill. We made our decisions quickly with Beatriz and Makayla sharing the Hibachi Chicken and Shrimp, Ryan and Christina shared the Rock’N Roll Sushi and noodles, and Stephanie and Mike split the Hibachi Chicken and Lobster. We told our Chef, who was a very humorous man, that Beatriz had never experienced a Hibachi Grill, so he invited her up to cook for us. Beatriz did not last long as our Chef. We experienced an onion train with fire, steam, and sound effects, and then we watched our dinner being skillfully cooked. Beatrix also tried lobster for the first time, she enjoyed it! We left Kyoto with full stomachs ready to dance it all off at the conference’s “Missouri Night” gathering.

Missouri Kick-Off Party, by Christina Perez

After dinner, we headed to the 2018 Missouri Kick-off reception. Each year, the state who is hosting the following year (in this case,  2018’s Conference) gives a preview of the conference by hosting a night full of their state favorites.  Although the states work together, there is no doubt they are a bit competitive, and the states try to provide as much fun as possible to “show off” their state.

When we arrived, we were greeted with goody bags which contained goodies from Missouri companies, and an entry way that was clearly Missouri made!

Southern Legislative Conference, STL MO, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

We took a group photo and headed for the dance floor. Although some of us were too shy to show off our groovy moves (Ryan), others did not waste a minute. We danced to hit songs from famous artists such as Michael Jackson, Gloria Gaynor, The Isley Brothers, and many more–alongside legislators from 15 states, including at least one Speaker of the House! Makayla expressed her enthusiasm of how she had enjoyed dancing to one of her favorite songs, Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson.  Interestingly, for the first time ever, the LEAP Center Ambassadors are on tape “dancing”….

But this was not the last time!  As a special treat, we also danced in a conga line while holding onto the mascot for the St. Louis Blues.

According to Missouri’s Speaker of the House (Todd Richardson), the purpose of the event was to allow everyone a great time, and we think the “show-me” state did its job well!

See you next year St. Louis!

More Gulf Coast Fun, Night 2, Biloxi

Biking in Biloxi, by Beatriz Martinez

In order to work off the food, the Leap Ambassadors parted ways to see the seashore while exercising. Professor Yawn and Ryan went on a gator excursion, where they fed gators and got to “pet” them. The girls, however, went a much simpler route by doing a variety of safer alternatives.

The first of which was, of course, shopping.  Being at Beau Rivage, we decided to, briefly, get a glimpse at the casino. Being that not all of us were of age, we moved on to the shops and away from the casinos.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Along the way we happened to chance upon a face painter and of course Christina and Beatriz got their face painted.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Later, after touring the rest of Beau Rivage, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our next excursion.

Part of the city of Biloxi’s recreational/ tourism efforts were incorporated in a bicycling program that you could use in order to cycle across most of the city of Biloxi. The three of us: Makayla, Christina, and I, took advantage of this opportunity and used it to ride 4 miles along the beach.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Beau Rivage

Part of Biloxi’s charm are the sea-themed sculptures along the shore.  Made from trees damaged in Hurricane Katrina, the community brought in artists to turn the dead trees into beautiful art.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Tree Sculptures

It’s a classic case of making lemonade from lemons, and we enjoyed the sculptures (Galveston adopted this program after Ike).

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, tree sculptures

After more than 1 hour on the road, we headed back to the hotel to prepare for another night of fun.

Family Night, by Makayla Mason

With a beautiful sunset and perfect weather luring us into the Southern Legislative Conference’s Family Night, there was excitement in the air. To start the night with a hit, Jackson State University made a grand entrance.

Biloxi MS, Southern Legislative Conference, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU,, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band

The crowd was cheered with approval as we all enjoyed their enthusiastic dances and electric music.

Southern Legislative Conference, Jackson State University Sonic Boom Band, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Ocean Springs MS

Their whole program was exciting and wonderful.

And the music and moves were great!

Speaking of moves, a certain couple–Christine and Aaron from the Lift School of Acrobatics–had some very flexible ones.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Arron and Christine, Lift School of Acrobatics

Their balance, elegance, and strength were amazing!

For the rest of the night, we enjoyed a picnic-on-the-beach style dinner with many items to choose from such as hamburgers, corndogs, nachos, cotton candy, and s’mores!

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU

While enjoying our tasty dinner, we enjoyed live music by Steve Azar.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

Steve Azar, a Mississippi man, fully hit the country scene in 2002. His song “I Don’t Have To Be Me til’ Monday” was the first single to reach #2 on the national country radio charts.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

We were lucky enough to sing along with him as he played that very same song that is still popular on the radio today.

Southern Legislative Conference, Ocean Springs MS, LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Steve Azar

As the night grew late, we played a few beach side games. We even played a tournament of bean-bag toss.

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Playing Horseshoes in the dark was interesting. Half the fun was trying to find where the horseshoes had buried themselves after we had thrown them. Makayla was the only one to get a ringer but Ryan had a few close throws.

We were sad to leave the Fun Zone, but it was off to get sleep for the next day’s adventures.

Gulf Coast Fun, Day 2 in Biloxi

Lighthouse Tour, by Christina Perez

Biloxi, Mississippi is known for its delicious seafood, beautiful sunsets, and of course its lighthouse. The Biloxi Lighthouse is the signature monument that has withstood many sunny days and several stormy nights, as the city grew around it. It all began in 1847, when the US Congress authorized funds for a lighthouse to be built in Biloxi. By 1848, it was ready for operation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Today, the Leap Ambassadors climbed its 57 spiral steps to the top that many keepers have had the task of climbing.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

Inside of the lighthouse are the water marks of where the high waters of certain storms reached.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The most damaging of all was that of Hurricane Katrina, whose waters went up to 21.5 meters above sea level. Although the high waters and high-speed winds damaged most of the city, the lighthouse stood firm, a (literal) beacon of hope through all the disaster.  As we reached the lantern room, we could see the mesmerizing glass lens that had illuminated the town through every situation imaginable.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

The tour guide shared many fun facts about it and the lighthouse in general. Through the windows we could see miles and miles of sand, as well as people enjoying a day at the beach.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Lighthouse

We also had a chance to explore Biloxi’s interesting Visitor’s Center, which has art…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…exhibits…

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

…and a nice porch for observation and relaxation.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Biloxi Visitor Center

Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint, by Makayla Mason

For lunch, we decided to go to Sal & Mookie’s New York Pizza & Ice Cream Joint. A family style diner, it had a character all of its own. As a starter, we snacked on Hummus with Brick Oven Flatbed as well as Portobello Fries. Both were delicious. After thoroughly contemplating the menu, we finally decided on two of Sal’s Selection Pizzas: the Rockaway Beach and the Gambino. After trying each, the savory Gambino was the resulting table favorite. Following soon after was our dessert.  We ordered Crème Brûlée for those who have never tried it before. We also ordered the Grand Central Station. What pulled up to our table was 10 scoops of 10 different flavored ice cream balls with 10 different toppings. Afterwards, we had to ask ourselves “Did we conquer it, or did it conquer us?”

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Biloxi MS, Sal & Mookie's

Gator Ranch, by Ryan Brim

As some of us spent time roaming the beaches, riding bikes along the coast, combing the beach, and relaxing this afternoon, two of us rode a bus to Moss Point, a town about 30 minutes away, to go on an airboat tour excursion at Gulf Coast Gator Ranch & Tours.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

The airboat tour of Gator Ranch was less a gator-spotting adventure, and more of what can be described as the nautical version of an ATV driving through mud.

The trip was not a complete loss for those who wished to see an alligator while out on the murky waters.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

We saw what our tour guide estimated to be a three-year-old gator, which was around three feet long. He (our tour guide, not the gator) also said that female alligators grow up to nine feet long, and that male alligators will continue to grow their whole lives.

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

The fact that we only saw one or two gators was fine, though, because after we finished our thrill-filled boat ride…

Surprisingly, alligators really seem to enjoy marshmallows. When we asked who found this out, he said that some poor guy must have dropped his snack and the gators tore it up. That poor fellow’s sacrifice was surely a noble one, and now our tour guide had something to lure the little reptile to the side of our boat for a better photo-op.

…we visited the gator ranch side of the facilities, where around thirty alligators were visible in a sectioned off part of the bayou.

LEAP Ambassadors, LEAP Center, SHSU, Moss Point MS, Gator Ranch

With gator ranch under our belt, we returned to the hotel, eager for a “family-night” evening on the beach with more than 500 state legislators!