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.