This past Thursday, the LEAP Center hosted the opening reception for our fifth art exhibit…
…in an attempt to bring in both students and Huntsville residents alike to show off the artists that the Ambassadors have had the pleasure of meeting over the years.
In total, we had 12 artists exhibited with over 100 displays in the LSC art gallery, including two arts (Mark Burns and Lee Jamison) in person!
The artists included: Mark Burns, Lee Jamison, James Surls, David Adickes, Jesus Moroles, Robert Indiana, Ed Wilson, Arthur Turner, Anish Kapoor, Stanley Lea, Allan Houser, and Dan Dunn.
The LEAP Ambassadors spent approximately 45 hours planning and putting together the exhibit complete with original pieces (with many thanks to the Wynne Home Art Center, Ralph and Linda Pease, and Mac and Leanne Woodward), photos of them with the artists and their art, and a small wall dedicated to them as a means of promoting the Center to any art enthusiasts.
On opening night, we arrived early in the day to add any last-minute touches to the gallery before the reception at 5. Once the evening arrived, students, faculty, and friends alike all stopped by to enjoy the art.
Among these people was Lydia Montgomery, former Mayor Mac Woodward and his wife Leanne, Dr. and Mrs. Pease, Dr. Bob Biles, Una Grace Nash, Lee Jamison, Dr. Lee Miller, Dr. Frieda Koeninger, Candice Wilson, Dr. Rhonda Callaway, Cathi Gillette, Mark Burns, and several members of our heART of Huntsville crew.
All who entered were enraptured by Burns’ display of photography and most chatted with him about his photographic methods.
Lee Jamison arrived a bit later, and also had many admirers.
His “Hurricane Harvey” pastel was one of the clear favorites of the crowd, and it was a piece that was done in the LSC Art Gallery one year ago!
Overall, the LEAP Center’s Art Gallery Opening Reception was an overwhelming success and we thank all who took time out of their day to stop by and share a passion that we care for so deeply.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
….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…
….and at sunset, the colors in the layer of the rock revealed themselves, especially the reds.
The views were incredible, and we also took advantage of the many rock outcroppings to gain even better views!
…and to pose for photos.
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.
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.
We observed about a dozen shooting stars, and we practiced shooting in the dark.
Although this proved difficult, it gave us much to think about.
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!).
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.
A few of the LEAP students started the day off by waking up at 3 a.m. in order to make it to the Grand Canyon’s Moran Point for a spectacular sunrise. While our Professor and Ryan Brim had been to the Grand Canyon several times, neither had been at sunrise, and I have never been to the Canyon at all. So this was a much anticipated event!
We arrived to the Canyon Rim around 4:30, about 30 minutes ahead of the sunrise.
Photographer Mark Burns was also there to work on a Grand Canyon exhibition he has set for next year (his exhibit will be at the Bush Presidential Library, the Pearl Fincher Museum, and Sam Houston State University) and, in addition to capturing the sunrise by camera, we also captured some shots of Mark photographing the canyon landscape.
As I mentioned, I had never seen the Grand Canyon and there could not have been a better first impression than seeing the stars fade and the hue of colors rise with the sun, revealing the vast canyon below.
The sun began to light up the red rock into a remarkable view that no words, photos or videos can do justice. But that didn’t stop us from trying to capture this marvelous natural beauty.
Exploring the Grand Canyon
The highlight of the day was the 25-mile tour of the Canyon Rim. Because of the boys’ early morning, we planned for a late start, giving Ryan and Dillon a chance to catch up on some sleep.
A little after noon, we headed into the Grand Canyon, where Anne and Maggie would see this most famous of landmarks for the first time. We strolled the rim trail around the Visitor Center, capturing images along the way…
We also had lunch at the wonderful El Tovar Lodge…
…which is not only beautiful…
…but also has great food.
One of the more interesting destinations was the historic Kolb Brothers’s studio.
The Kolb Studio is a Museum dedicated to early efforts to photograph the Grand Canyon. Visitors can learn about the Kolb Brothers’ equipment…
…adventures with early public figures (such as Teddy Roosevelt), their daredevil attempts to photograph….
…and even film the Grand Canyon…
This museum is free, very interesting, and is in easy access of lunch and one of the two South Rim trails that allows access to the interior of the Canyon.
We progressed a short way down the Bright Angel trail, far enough to get to the first tunnel….
…before turning around to get to the rest of the Canyon.
The views didn’t stop, and we enjoyed them all, even the ones with far too many people…
…but our favorites were the ones where we had the chance to go off the main trail a bit and explore.
There were a surprising number of such opportunities…
…and we did our best to make the most of them…
…even hamming it up when appropriate…
This is what we do to terrify our parents and SHSU administrators.
The entire rim is 25 miles, with additional miles available by reservations and National Park Service transportation. There are six developed viewpoints, with another five less formal vistas. We visited almost all of them, traveling approximately 23 of Rim’s miles, leaving only the Desert Watchtower for tomorrow.
Our favorite two stops were the Grand Canyon Village (which is where we began, visiting El Tovar and Kolb Brothers Studio) and Moran Point. The latter is named for the painter Thomas Moran, and it is clear why he spent time there painting. The vista was incredible, while also offering some nice trails allowing you to venture a bit below the canyon rim.
Following our long day along the rim, we drove back to the hotel, before heading out for our evening excursion. Along the way, we enjoyed seeing many elk, including a buck of impressive proportions…
It was a satisfying way to end our first (but not last) Grand Canyon tour.
Grand Canyon at Evening, by Ryan Brim
Around 7:15, we left our hotel to drive to the Grandview Point just in time for the sunset. The canyon was filled with the ambient light from the last rays of the sun, which really showed off the true colors of the canyon.
Soon, the light faded as the sun dipped further below the horizon, leaving us to stare wistfully at the still-beautiful canyon bathed in bluish-red light…
…and wishing the sun would set a bit slower…
But we didn’t have long to wait before our next Grand Canyon adventure. Mark Burns, who joined us on this evening tour, told us that the International Space Station would be making an appearance, so we got out our cameras and tried to capture the fast-moving man-made machine before it disappeared behind a line of trees.
The Station’s distance, rapid speed, the dark sky, and our own photographic limitations made it difficult to catch on film, but the photo above indicates the distance across the sky that the Station traveled during a 20 second exposure. It was an unexpected highlight of the trip.
The whole event only lasted about a minute and a half, but the dust in the atmosphere made the ISS look like a red star moving across the darkening sky.
This was a good introduction to night photography at the Grand Canyon, a subject we continued to explore over the next hour. The Grand Canyon isn’t an official Dark Sky Community, but it is dark, and we were able to experiment (mostly unsuccessfully) with photographs of several constellations as well as the Milky Way galaxy. This was the first time for most of the LEAP students to see this massive cluster of stars in the night sky.
After about an hour out shooting the stars, we packed up all our camera gear and headed back to the hotel so that we could rest up before our trip to the North Rim the next morning.
On our last day in the rugged west, we went for an early morning hike at the Bandelier National Monument, where the Ancestral Pueblo people lived starting approximately 11,000 years ago.
The Bandelier National Monument encompasses over 33,000 acres of protected land and over 70 miles of trail. We adventured on the most popular trail at the national monument, the Main Loop Trail, also known as the Frijoles Canyon Trail. As we wandered on the 1.2-mile trail, we had the opportunity to see archeological sites such as Big Kiva…
…Tyuonyi, Talus House and the Alcove House. As we learned about Big Kiva, a communal meeting place used for religious, educational and decision-making purposes, we spotted three mule deer around the Tyuonyi ruins. To our surprise, one by one, the deer calmly approached the site, stopping a couple feet away from us to snack on some of the grass (although we want to believe that it was because we are some kind of wildlife whisperers).
As we continued with our tour, we learned that the Tyuonyi pueblo was one of the several large pueblos located within the Bandelier National Monument. The Tyuonyi once had over 400 rooms and it was home to approximately 100 people.
We were able to better appreciate the scale of the remainings of the Tyuonyi structure after climbing a volcanic tuff cliff situated in front of it. Resting on the cliff were the Talus Houses which were reconstructed in 1920.
We had the opportunity to enter the small cave dwellings called cavates via ladder.
We learned that because the clay rock was crumbly, the people would burn the clay constantly to make it sturdier.
Midway through our trail…
…we adventured on the Alcove House which rests in the upper part of some large volcanic tuff cliffs.
To reach the former ceremonial cave, we climbed 140 feet up via four steep wooden ladders…
…all despite Karla’s fear of heights.
…the narrow and partly paved paths were not crowded by visitors, which gave us some extra time to carefully explore…
…and enjoy the views…
of such a scenic and photogenic place.
Shopping Downtown by Karla Rosales
After our hour-long hike at the Bandelier National Monument, we headed back to the hotel to pack up and enjoy our last few hours in Santa Fe. We spent part of our afternoon at the heart of downtown Santa Fe around the plaza market which was filled with various shops and art galleries.
We began our walk through the portal at the Palace of the Governors which was filled with Native American Vendors. The Native American artists, from approximately 41 pueblos and tribes, make and exhibit jewelry, pottery and other works of art.
The program that allows Native artists to showcase their art is called Portal Native American Artisans Program and it requires for the vendors to be members of New Mexico tribes and Pueblos and for all of their pieces sold to be genuine pieces. Some of us bought copper bracelets and even a copper guitar pick which were handmade and had unique cultural symbols and designs. Other ambassadors decided to walk around the plaza and enjoy a hot cup of coffee from a local shop.
We wrapped up our quick shopping trip and hurried to meet with Mark Burns for lunch.
Lunch with Mark Burns by Christina Perez
Make Burns is a well-known photographer who grew up in Houston and who is known for the National Parks project that featured his photographs of all 59 National Parks. Currently, The LEAP Center and Mark Burns are collaborating to create a documentary on his profession and his successful career as a photographer. Interestingly, as he was working on the National Parks Project he spent some time in Santa Fe. Besides joining us for lunch, he also met us to work on the documentary and allow us to take a few photos of him. Because of being so familiar with the city, he recommended that we visit Tomasita’s Restaurant which serves Northern New Mexican cuisine. Tomasita’s was first opened in 1974 and has been a local favorite since then. During lunch we enjoyed listening to experiences Mark Burn’s had during the last few months. He shared news about his project of the 100th-year anniversary of the Grand Canyon and his new website design.
Canyon Road Walk and Film with Mark Burns by Bianca Saldierna
Our conversations were carried on through our walk with Mark Burns around Canyon Road.
The half-mile long road located in Santa Fe’s Historical District houses more than one hundred galleries, boutiques and restaurants.
As previously mentioned, Mark Burns sporadically lived in Santa Fe while he completed his National Parks Project. He took us to his short-term house located in this picturesque road. We were able to briefly film and photograph Mark Burns in this location to include the material as part of our documentary.
To our surprise, the neighboring gallery displayed several pieces of one of the ambassadors’ favorite sculptor, Allan Houser Haouzous.
We also had a chance to photograph Burns at the front of the home in which he stayed during his various trips to Santa Fe.
After concluding our work with Mark Burns, we strode through the charming road…
…peeked into a couple of galleries, took some photos, and visited a restaurant with a noteworthy side story. The walls of El Farol’s (The Lighthouse) restaurant display five small murals brushed by Alfred Morang, an artist who made Santa Fe his home and whose house and former studio sit just off of Canyon Road.
We had previously admired Morang’s artwork at the New Mexico Museum of Art…
…in fact, our knowledgeable museum tour guide directed us to his artwork at this unique restaurant. Our New Mexico visit ended in this historic and popular part of Santa Fe. Although we were nostalgic to leave such beautiful city, we headed back to our home state delighted to have learned about the city’s culture, people, art and history.
As our last full day at Caddo Lake has finally arrived. Although there was a hint of melancholy as our trip is drawing to an end, there was still much more adventures to dive into throughout the day.
Caddo Lake State Park, By Brian Aldaco
Throughout the trip we observed Mark Burns perform his photography with his digital Nikon cameras. However, on Saturday we witnessed his talents in the older art of photography when he used his 8×10 large format camera to capture the sylvan beauty of the Caddo Lake State Park.
Mr. Burns positioned himself at the end of the pier.
He framed his camera to photograph a water full of giant salvinia in the foreground and the towering cypress trees in the background. As he was setting up this grandfather of a camera, Mr. Burns gave Makayla and Ryan a chance to see through the camera’s window-like view finder. Due to the behavior of light when passing through an aperture, the image that appears on this glass surface is upside down and reversed. As Mr. Burns explained, “you’re not looking through the view finder, you’re looking at it.” Projected on this glass surface, Ryan and Makayla looked at this parallel photographic universe, where reality was reversed and upside down.
As part of the documentary, every action taken by Mr. Burns was videoed and photographed.
Whether he was setting up his camera, cleaning a lens, or looking for the perfect scenery, there was always a lens pointing his way.
With this entourage of cameras, we took an opportunity to get photos with Burns…
…and then we relocated from the peer to an amphitheater located across the roadway from lake.
Again, cameras were positioned, microphones were set, and the interview proctored by Professor Yawn began.
Topics included Mr. Burn’s photography preparation work, how he developed an interest for photography, and his overall experience in Caddo Lake. The interview will add an educational perspective to the documentary.
Canoeing at Caddo, By Ryan Knesek
In addition to the guided tours of Caddo Lake, LEAP Ambassadors braved the waters in a three-person canoe. This experience took place at Johnson’s Ranch Marina where Ambassadors were given a warm welcome and a crash course in the basics of water safety. These soon came in handy, but more on that momentarily. We were given a quick run-down of maritime law. For example, we now know that when meeting an incoming boat, the port side is where to meet from.
After we secured our life-vests, grabbed our paddles, and settled ourselves in the canoe, we headed off into the watery voyage of Caddo Lake.
Ducks, herons, and the occasional squirt greeted the sailors with every stroke of the paddle, all while the noon-time sun created ideal temperatures well complimented with a brisk breeze. New angles of filmography, as well as the proximity to water created a new environment for the lake that we appreciated.
But our appreciation for the lake’s waters became more personal. LEAP ambassadors took advantage of the situation by taking a swim in the lake, begrudgingly of course. After a brief miscalculation, Ryan, Makayla, and Christina capsized on the canoe. All three were launched off their boat and were rescued by fishermen moments later. The brisk water turned frigid, but luckily it did not take away from the experience, and, as a result, the event will be remembered by all members for some-time to come.
The Last Tour, By Makayla Mason
After I washed up at the hotel (and made sure I had not welcomed any uninvited lake creature) we grabbed a quick lunch at Central Perks before heading off to our last Caddo Lake tour.
As we made our way to our final boat tour of Caddo Lake, we were a little sad that it was coming to an end.
The weather was perfect and with just a few clouds in the sky, there was a sunset glow on the autumn leaves.
We were able to see parts of the lake we had not seen previously and took as many videos and pictures as we could.
Aaron even took us to see Don Henley’s house!
Legend has it, that this Eagles rock star wrote the lyrics to “The End of Innocence” along the banks of Caddo Lake.
As we pulled into the dock the cotton candy sky waved goodbye to us and we left Caddo Lake with an abundance of memories.
Third Time’s a Charm, By Christina Perez
Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped to have dinner at our now favorite Marshall pizza joint, Pazzeria by Pietro’s. This was our third time at Pietro’s pizzeria but we were not complaining.
Brian was excited to try another tasty pizza from the interesting menu! He had already tried the Philly Connection, a philly-cheese-steak-style pizza, the night before so today he decided on the Hawaiian Luau. Makayla on the other hand tried their meatballs with cheese sprinkled on top. After dinner, we each had dessert. Sarah and Sierra tried their famous cheesecake while I had the vanilla bean gelato.
With a satisfied sweet tooth, we left feeling sad that our Caddo Lake adventure was now over. Throughout the weekend we have learned much about photography from the experienced Mark Burns and are ready to use our skills in the future. Furthermore, we are closer at completing our documentary. Perhaps, as the autumn leaves of the Caddo cypress completely fall and give way to a green-filled swamp, our project will be complete and ready for viewing.
“A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable.” William Wordsworth may have never seen Caddo Lake, yet it is a perfect way to describe the effect of the lake’s beauty. On this second day at the lake we were now set out to capture this captivating grandeur through the lens of Mark Burns.
Daybreak Voyage, By Ryan Knesek
The LEAP Ambassadors met with photographer Mark Burns early in the morning to continue with our documentary process. As you may remember, Mr. Burns has been a part of the National Parks Project where he photographed all fifty-nine national parks in black and white.
On this expedition to Caddo Lake he focused mainly on the color scheme of the autumn cypress during the dawn hours while taking wildlife photos here and there.
LEAP Ambassadors were able to converse with the accomplished photographer and expand their knowledge of composition, lighting, and color scheme in photography.
Being amateur photographers, we benefit from the knowledge he provides–even if it isn’t evident in our own photos!
And as we saw the beautiful landscapes of the lake and the graceful wildlife, we set these newly learned skills into practice.
Starr Home, By Ryan Knesek
After meeting with Mark Burns in Uncertain, Texas, Leap Ambassadors found themselves in the city of Marshall. There, Ambassadors toured the historic Starr Family House, a Victorian-style home that was built with the money from the Starr’s land possessions.
Dr. James Harper Star was commissioned as president of the board of land commissioners and receiver of the land dues for Nacogdoches County by Sam Houston in 1837. The tour showcased refurbished wood flooring and antiques that were unique to the home. Art, woodworking, and portraits illustrated the family’s status when the Starrs had guests at home. Now, years after the owners’ lifetime, their elegant lifestyle is still admired.
Among the most interesting aspects of the home were all its artifacts. Ambassador Makayla and I were even allowed to use one of these artifacts, the stereograph. This contraption functioned as early 3-dimensional glasses for photography and was the first time that Makayla and I had used now.
As one would imagine, the home showed portals into the past through its architecture and artifacts.
One interesting aspect of history while touring the home was Dr. Starr’s relationship with Sam Houston. Apparently, Dr. Starr owned land close to land owned by Sam Houston in Nacogdoches. However, land disputes arose while they were neighbors and Dr. Starr tired to sue the celebrated revolutionary war hero. Although this part of the home’s history didn’t show the most amiable side of the family, through touring the home the LEAP Ambassadors were able to expand their knowledge of the town of Marshall and its connection to Sam Houston.
Lunch at R & R Bakery, by Christina Perez
After the LEAP Ambassadors finished their tour of the Starr Family Home tour, we headed to lunch. We arrived in historic downtown Marshall, Texas…
and pulled into R & R Bakery and Coffee Shop. As soon as we walked in we were greeted by friendly staff and sat down ready to enjoy our meal. As we waited on Sierra and Sarah to arrive we shared our favorite things about the sunrise tour. We discussed the birds, the colors of the trees, and our favorite part of the tour. Ryan got the South Western roast beef sandwich with jalapeño bread and a garden salad on the side and lets just say he enjoyed his meal, clearly evidenced by a clean plate a few minutes after his order arrived. After lunch we shared some desserts, apple cinnamon scones for some and choclate chip cookies for others. It was a sweet way to enjoy the afternoon.
Michelson Museum of Art, By Makayla Mason
With such a filling lunch, we decided to walk it off with a small shopping session through town. Our wallets turned to the various antique shops along N. Washington Ave. And even though we could have spent longer at the shops, we made our way to the Michelson Museum of Art.
Opened in May 1985, the museum houses hundreds of pieces of art by artist Leo Michelson. The museum was founded following a donation from Leo Michelson’s widow. The donation consisted of more than 1,000 of Michelson’s art pieces.
Today, the museum consists of Michelson’s work, as well as works from locally and nationally recognized artists. The traveling exhibit that was currently at the museum was of illustrator Marla Frazee.
Frazee has illustrated several well-known children’s books such as The Boss Baby, Clementine, Stars, A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever and even one of my favorite book series, The Borrowers.
The Ambassadors enjoyed looking through books they remembered reading when they were younger and appreciated the detailed illustrations.
The other exhibit at the museum was “Our Artists and their Selfies.”
This exhibit contained thirteen artists with pieces of their work paired with their self-portrait and a list of highly-recognized art museums that feature each artist.
One of the thirteen artists was Henri Matisse, a name familiar to the LEAP Ambassadors, so we decided to take a selfie!
But from indoor art…we went back to the natural art of Caddo Lake. Sunset and sunrise lighting conditions are far from the same. That is why it was important for Mark Burns to return to the lake during the late afternoon. Swaying in the tranquil waters of the lake, Mr. Burns continued to look for that perfect spot to photograph.
During his National Parks Project, he spent five years visiting and revisiting parks. This search, as you can tell, is continuous and ever changing. Even though we had been here over the summer, the lake is not under the same conditions as before.
“Water levels have fallen by three feet,” Wes, our captain and tour guide, told us.
This affects the composition of Mr. Burns’s photos since cypress roots are more visible. Of course the most prominent change is the fall colors in the foliage of the cypress trees. This is such an important trait of the lake since it changes the format in which Mr. Burns takes his photos.
Now that the fall colors are so rich, Burns sought the right light for the perfect color.
Tomorrow will be our last chance, for now, to get the last few shots of the lake. As we returned to Marshall for dinner we reminisced on the day’s success. We even got to see a few of the photos that Mr. Burns had taken through out the day. With excitement in our step and a show of confidence…
…we returned to the hotel welcoming tomorrow’s adventures.
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…
…Burns’ eyes caught a glimpse of a breathtaking waterfall that sits in the back of the gardens.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was a treacherous climb, but with teamwork, we made it.
The views were beautiful!
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.
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.
The sun slowly peeked its rays through the cypress trees, and the glow from the horizon steadily became warmer and stronger. As the light spread across the land below, the Leap Ambassadors began waking up from their groggy states–as did the wildlife that surrounded them. It was the LEAPsters’ second sunrise at Caddo Lake. This time, Mr. Burns and the others sat in the still water, waiting for the golden-hour (actually about 20 minutes) of warm lighting.
Suddenly, red, orange, and purple flooded the sky.
The perfect lighting was upon us. Mark reached for his Nikon and began to shoot.
As the sun emerged from the horizon, Mark continued to shoot…
…and we joined in, pausing to enjoy the prettiest of the tours on which we had gone.
Mark then directed the captain to a new destination…
…one we had seen several times with productive results. Once we arrived at the spot, the area’s salvinia invasion was noticeably present. Benign as these water herbs may seem, they pose a true threat to the ecosystem of the lake. This floating fern has endlessly propagated itself throughout the lake causing many problems over the past years. Stealing precious oxygen from the waters, making boat travel impossible in some areas, and having them at every corner has created an overall nuisance for the prosperity of the locals. Wes, enthusiastically explained how local and state entities are currently attempting to develop an effective method to eradicate this pest. Although it is our hope to see this threat neutralized the next time we visit Caddo Lake, it seems that a successful extermination strategy has yet to surface.
However, Caddo Lake perseveres, and is in fact, teeming with life of all shapes and sizes, even wing spans!
As we were wrapping up our tour, we pleaded to our captain to take us to a location where we could catch one last glimpse at the wildlife. It didn’t take much pondering before Wes quickly turned his boat and lead us to the perfect location.
Crossing an archway of cypress, the woods resembled an aviary sanctuary. A blue heron soaring over the water one second, a white egret creeping through trees the next, or the vanishing sight of flying black-bellied whistling ducks, made for sights begging to get photographed. With cameras to spare, everyone was quick to photograph or record this bountiful wildlife.
Egret Surrounded by Salvania
Wes also provided more of his knowledge of the lake, showing the students lily pads, and the way that they react to water.
We really can’t say enough good things about Wes or his Caddo Lake Tour Co. We heartily recommend his tours to anyone contemplating a Caddo Lake visit.
After a couple hours of floating on the river…
…we stopped our photography, enjoyed the ride…
…and we returned to terra firma and drove to our next shooting location: the Caddo Lake State Park.
Although Burns was not going to shoot any film this time, but instead be filmed as he walked us through the process to prepare a shot with his 4X5 camera. He explained that, on average, this procedure lasts around 15 minutes.
Every component should be set with extreme caution as it is imperative that the camera stand absolutely still. With a self-deprecating smile, Burns told us how after tedious preparation of this same camera for a photo session of Reliant Stadium, it all went to waste when his leg got tangled with the camera, knocking everything into a state of disarray. As Burns had no film or intentions to photograph anything, he was comfortable letting us approach the camera to look through the view-finder.
Under the hood of the camera, we all took turns to look at this upside-down, inverted image of the scene created by the optics. Walking through every step in how the camera functions and how to set it, Mark Burns held the attention of the Leap Ambassadors captive. Even, Sierra was fascinated, as she approached the camera to record the aperture in motion.
Finally, it was time to depart from Caddo Lake.
After carrying the bags of camera gadgets and lenses, we said farewell to Mark. Although our scouting trip at Caddo Lake was temporarily over, we looked forward to seeing Mr. Burns again soon. He had opened up a whole new world to us. One in which we did not just gaze at the wonders the world had to offer, but were able to capture it.
We were sad to leave this magical place, but we had to perk up as our adventures was far from over!
Kaitlyn- The Grove
This trip has been full of many new and exciting experiences. Our next stop was no exception. We traveled a short distance from Marshall to Jefferson to visit the Grove, also known as the Stilley-Young House. Registered in the National Registry of Historic Places and recorded as a Texas Historic Landmark, the Grove was built in 1861 as a wedding gift for Frank and Minerva Stilley. Small, this home had the exterior of a Greek Revival architecture, while the interior was in a French Creole style.
However, it was not necessarily the architecture, or its age that lead us here. No, it was something much more than that. You see, the Grove was one of the top Haunted Houses in the Lone Star State. For the first time in LEAP history, the ambassadors were going on a historic home/ghost tour!
Our tour began on the front porch, where Mr. Mitchel Whitington, the current owner of the house, greeted us. He briefly introduced us to the history of the different generations of families that had lived at the Grove. Everyone waited outside semi-impatiently. We were about to enter in a widely-rumored haunted house. It didn’t help that it was scorching hot outside and we were dripping in sweat. Thankfully, after putting our medical booties on, we were moved out of the East Texas heat and into the formal dining room and parlor of the home. Not only did the tour guide describe the history of the Grove’s numerous owners, but he also discussed interesting ghost stories during the first stop of our tour. Although any mention of ghosts made some LEAP Ambassadors uneasy, the tour guide tried to put us at ease by explaining that all the ghosts in the home so far have been friendly.
Since the home is over 150 years old, it’s history is rich and fairly-well documented. Throughout its entire life, the home only had two major renovations completed throughout which helped preserve the original style of the home. Each room of the home, was particular to a family member. Throughout the tour Mr. Whitington enthusiastically told us the ghost stories and tales which allowed visitors to gain a sense of understanding about the homeowners who had cherished their home so much that they still returned to this day (now as ghosts) to make sure that their beloved home was still in good hands.
We toured the informal dining room, family room, and utility room before finishing our tour in the kitchen addition. Interestingly enough, the house surprised us with two different items. One of them being an art piece by George Rodrigue, the Blue Dog. This particular Blue Dog was depicted in a dark, gloomy forest to go along with the theme of the haunted house. The second item was a statuette nicknamed the “Bird Girl”. The Bird Girl was first introduced to the LEAP ambassadors, Brian Aldaco and Kaitlyn Tyra, when they read the book “Midnight in Garden of Good and Evil” as preparation for their Savannah trip. Rumored to only be 4 original statues created, finding even a replica was astounding.
It’s safe to say the Ambassadors had never visited a haunted historic home before and certainly not one that was recognized in by magazines such as Texas Highways, or the Dallas Morning News! Although some enjoyed the tour more than others, we left with much to talk about and an appetite ready to be fulfilled by lunch!
Christina- Downtown Jefferson and the General Store
Just before heading home we decided to visit the City of Jefferson, Texas. Jefferson is a small town perfect for a leisure-filled weekend. Its architecture is, in places, similar to New Orleans, with its shops, antiques, and family-owned restaurants. Our lunch stop was Kitt’s Kornbread Sandwich and Pie Bar, which is known for its diverse options of Cornbread Sandwiches. My sandwich was called “The Irish” and contained corned beef, tomatoes and onions in between two slices of cornbread. We couldn’t leave without trying one of the many pies listed on the menu. We ordered chocolate pecan pie, very berry pie, and bread pudding all with a scoop of sweet vanilla ice cream. Surprisingly, Chocolate Pecan won the most votes in favorite flavor.
It’s also worth noting, that we saw a Charlie Chaplin image, of note because Brian dresses as Chaplin each year for Halloween. Aldaco good-naturedly posed with the sign, contorting himself to cover “restrooms.”
We also decided to stop at the Jefferson General Store before getting back to Huntsville. The General store sold many old school items including Candy, socks, shirts, toys, home décor, and many other objects. Some of us bought candy to cure our aching sweet tooth, while others bought toys. Overall, our stop in Jefferson was a success and finally it was time to go to our own small town of Huntsville.