SNOW Much Fun in Flagstaff

Our alarm clocks sounded before the sun rose and we staggered out of bed to get ready for an eventful day ahead! With skiing on the itinerary, we knew it would be a memorable day.

Skiing

Once we were completely awake, we drove through Flagstaff to First Chair Rentals. There, we rented ski equipment. Although we had coats, gloves, and hats, we still needed ski pants, skis, poles, and goggles. The entire process of renting ski equipment was lengthy, but we were entertained by, Zoe, the owner’s frisky dog.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff, First Chair Rentals

From the heart of Flagstaff, it takes about 25 to 30 minutes to get to Snowbowl.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff, First Chair Rentals, Snowbowl, Arizona

Being the middle of the week, there weren’t many people there, which was an ideal scenario for the three Ambassadors who were new to skiing.  Indeed, even unloading our car and walking to the slope was a challenge as we weren’t comfortable yet with the bulky ski boots.

Birch and pine trees populated the mountains and outlined the ski slopes. We were stunned by the beauty of our surroundings and impressed with the diverse landscapes around us. Once we put our layers of clothing on, it was finally time to put the skis on! We quickly learned skiing looks easier than it actually is (at least it was this way for us!). Ryan and Professor Yawn had previous skiing experience. Therefore, they were able to give us lessons and pointers on how to maneuver the skis.

After a series of trials in the snow, we moved to the bunny slope. The bunny slope gave us more practice because it had no obstacles and gentle inclines. Once we learned to ski down, we could get in line for a conveyor belt to take us back up to the top of the bunny slope.

The more practice we did, the better we got thanks to our great instructors! Brian did particularly well on the bunny slope and soon struck ambition to go down the green slope.

Although Christina and I were not too particularly confident about the green slope (or in Christina’s case, even the bunny slope)…

…we all went together to ride the ski lift and enjoy the mountainous views. For some, the trip down went better than for others, but everyone eventually made it down the slope just in time for lunch. The Snowbowl’s restaurant, named The Lodge, served American classics like (overpriced) cheeseburgers or chicken strips, but also salads, pizza, and paninis. We ordered and ate quickly to satisfy our grumbling stomachs and to get back to the slopes quicker.

When we returned to the slopes, Ryan decided to test his skills on the blue slopes while the rest of us warmed up again on the bunny slopes. Eventually, we made our way back to the green slope for more practice. Although we may have fallen multiple times throughout the day, we all enjoyed the new experience of skiing. Professor Yawn and Ryan proved to be good teachers who helped us to get our bearings and build confidence.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff, Snowbowl, Skiing

We took one last trip down the green slope before packing up our gear and driving back down to the rental shop.

Downtown Flagstaff

After a full day of skiing we took a stroll through Flagstaff’s Historic Downtown. We decided to explore some of their local shops and make the best of our last few hours in Flagstaff. As we walked down the streets, we decided to go into a local co-operative art gallery called The Artists Gallery. They had many beautiful and affordable pieces of art. One particular artist, who caught Ryan Brim’s eye, was Beth LaCour. Beth is known for her folded geometric paper vessels. She was only one of the many talented artists we discovered.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff,

After looking through the gallery, we visited Flagstaff Soap Company. The soap shop had many pleasant aromas and we purchased some of our favorites to take back to Texas. Ryan bought himself a Rosemary Mint soap bar and Kaitlyn bought a soap sampler. We walked a few more blocks to Sweet Shoppe Candy store and enjoyed some delicious sweets.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff

Kaitlyn and Christina purchased some chocolate covered pretzels and orange peels, while Professor Yawn tried their fudge. They also had cactus candy which we are excited to try once we get home!

Our final stop in downtown Flagstaff were the Old Town Shops. The shops were like a small mall housing a group of ten local businesses in the same building. Outside, we were intrigued by the murals done by local artist Joe Sorren that decorated the building.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff

The Historic district allowed us to experience a few of our favorite things such as art, sweets, and history.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff

As we headed to the Grand Canyon, we all agreed that Flagstaff was our favorite city thus far!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Flagstaff

Just as we arrived at our hotel in Grand Canyon Village for the night, large snowflakes started precipitating from the sky. Before we were ready to get some sleep, we decided to go outside to admire the fresh, fluffy snow. It was an exciting end to a snow filled day!

 

A Day of Sunshine in the Valley of the Sun

After arriving in Phoenix the evening before, LEAP Ambassadors awoke eagerly to explore a new city in the Grand Canyon State. Our second day in the “Valley of the Sun” included copious amounts of outdoor activity, Vitamin D, and adventurous excursions!

Hike

The day’s first activity began with a challenging hike to the second highest peak in Phoenix, also known as Piestewa Peak. The Summit trail was only 2.4 miles long, but the 1,165 foot elevation made the trek tough. We began the journey with a full tank of motivation and A LOT of water and a selfie!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

As we climbed up the mountain, the incline got steeper, the sun stronger, and the pathways tighter. Thankfully we occasionally stopped to admire the breathtaking views and to catch our breath along the way.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

The breaks also allowed us to explore juts off the mountain side. We even made friends with a mountain chipmunk! Although it was a treacherous climb…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

…we conquered the summit and reached the top!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

The views were breathtaking and well worth the energy expended on the journey up. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take group selfies and some individual pictures as evidence of our victory.

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We soon began our journey down the mountain…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

…and felt a sense of pride as we reached the car, reflecting on the beauty of what we saw.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Piestewa Peak

It was a terrific way to start our last full day in Phoenix.

Phoenix Art Museum

After refueling and cleaning up at the hotel, we headed out for our next adventure of the day, the Phoenix Art Museum. Upon arriving we were greeted by a giant red tyrannosaurus rex!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

Fortunately, it was just a sculpture by Sui Jianguo named Jurassic Age and we were able to head inside to explore the museum. We immediately noticed hundreds of butterflies adorning the walls. 25,000 black paper moths and butterflies were part of the museum’s installation art called Black Cloud by Carlos Amorales.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

During our visit at the museum, we saw art from some of our favorite artists including Alexander Calder…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Alexander Calder

James Turrell, and Maya Lin.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Maya Lin

Amidst our favorites, we also learned about new artists including Shiela Pepe…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum

and Phillip Curtis. Shiela Pepe’s exhibit titled Hot Mess Formalism was a mixture of installation art and paintings. Known for using fabrics, derby rope, knit, crocheted paracord, chainmaille, and hardware to create large works of art such as Not So Good for Emperors. Phillip Curtis’s art was featured in the New Deal and American Regionalism gallery with artists such as John Stewart Curry, Thomas Hart Benton, and Grant Wood depicting a sad time for America and harsher lifestyles.

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Another exhibit, the Border Crossing featured art from Diego Rivera, Debra Butterfield…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Deborah Butterfield

…Freida Kahlo…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Frida Kahlo

…Brian’s favorite piece Pixels by Oscar Munoz and Georgia O’Keefe.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Phoenix Art Museum, Georgia O'Keefe

Some of our favorite art from the museum included Mass by Cornelia Parker, and You Who are Getting Obliterated in the Dancing Swarm of Fireflies by Yayoi Kasuama. Kasuama’s artwork is an interactive experience for all who enter the dark room. Made of mixed media with LED lights, visitors are absorbed by darkness but then consumed by the colorful array of lights hanging throughout the ceiling. The twinkling lights dangle and mix with the visitors, but do not help guide visitors to the exit. We admired the “fireflies” before stumbling out of the special exhibit.

After finishing with the installation art, we realized the sun would soon be setting and hurried off to Papago Park for sunset!

Papago Park

Even though we had gone through one of the most vigorous hikes in LEAP history earlier in the day, we still had energy to explore Papago Park. The sun was nearly set when we arrived to the park’s main formation, Hole in the Rock. When we got to the top of the formation, the views were still unforgettable.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

From the top of the formation the entirety of the Phoenix metropolitan area was visible with all its bright, shining lights.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

With such a sight, we set out to photograph the beauty of the nightscape.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Papago Park

After snapping a few photos and watching the sun sink below the horizon, we packed our gear and headed back to the car.

Evening Adventures

We did what our mothers told us not to do: we spoiled our dinner and stopped for ice cream in Old Town Scottsdale at an ice cream stand called Shakes & Cones…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Shakes & Cones

…where we treated ourselves to some soft serve. After our busy day, the sugar was a welcome treat! We indulged in ice cream cones, ranging from peanut dipped cones, Oreo dipped cones, and one smothered with hot fudge.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Shakes & Cones

After finishing our dessert, we took a short walk to the nearby city park. There, we took a photo with one of Robert Indiana’s LOVE sculptures, the seventh that LEAP has visited!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Robert Indiana, LOVE

We even found a Louise Nevelson sculpture titled Windows to the West in the park. Also scattered throughout the park were yarn-bombed merry-go-rounds, where we all took turns getting dizzy before driving to our dinner spot.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Yarnbombing

Slightly full from our late lunch and sweet treat earlier, we ordered hummus, gyros, and the kafta burger. Our meals were both filling and tasty.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Pita Jungle

With the end of dinner, we closed another day of our Western Tour. Filled with sunshine and memorable experiences, we departed back to the hotel to get ready for the next full day ahead–and, of course, the year ahead, as well!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Phoenix, Mill Ave

 

Going West Day 2: Passing Through El Paso

Ever walked through luxurious halls of a mansion and hiked through the desert mountains of the southwest? Such were the experiences of the LEAP Ambassadors, on the second day of their Western US trip.  On this second day, the picturesque paintings from the El Paso International Museum of Art and the El Paso Museum of Art were beautifully paired with the scenic vista from Franklin Mountains State Park.

El Paso International Museum of Art

Our morning began with a visit to the El Paso International Museum of Art, a non-profit dedicated to displaying pieces of art from artists around the world.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

The museum was originally a mansion that was donated to the city by the owner, Iva Turney, after her husband passed away.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

The home was donated under the condition that it be turned into the first museum in El Paso. Now, the museum has several permanent collections. One of our favorites was the American West Gallery which had bronze statuettes of cowboys, conquistadors, and a very peculiar Don Quixote sculpted by SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art, Rogelio Madero de la Peña.

Another fun exhibit that we viewed was the Mexican Revolution gallery. This room showcased weapons, letters, pictures, and other artifacts from that time. In this gallery there was also art by Bill Rakocy depicting the era’s infamous Pancho Villa.

Pancho Villa

Apart from the permanent exhibits, there were also temporary ones. One exhibit had statues that were made of wood and bronze. One titled Tree to Tango was the group’s favorite of that collection and reminded us of the art of Huntsville’s Scott McCarley.

We were grateful to have viewed the art of the International Museum of Art and decided it was a good first stop for the art El Paso had to offer.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso, International Museum of Art

El Paso Museum of Art

Our day of exploring El Paso continued with the El Paso Museum of Art. We have been lucky enough to see James Surls in many of our destinations and continue to enjoy seeing this Sam Houston talent around the nation. This museum has one of the biggest Surls we have ever seen. Of course we had to take a picture!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, James Surls

The museum had other familiar names such as Luis Jimenez…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Luis Jimenez

…more Luis Jimenez, which we had previously seen at the Moody Gallery in Houston

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Luis Jimenez

…Tom Lea…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

…Jim Love, and many others. Among some of the special pieces that we viewed was Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of George Washington…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Gilbert Stuart

…and a Dale Chihuly vase. As a special treat, the museum also had a temporary exhibit on Frank Lloyd Wright.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Frank Lloyd Wright

During this exhibit we got to view the designs for his Taliesin West home, which we are planning to visit on this trip!

But there were new names to learn during this museum visit as well. Brian’s favorite artist, for example, was Harry Geffert who had a sculpture called Mantime. His metal sculpture was shaped into a man on a carriage hauling a ball with trees and people. This piece represented the struggle of man and nature. We also learned about James Drake’s Cinco de Mayo, which was an altered piece of Francisco de Goya’s Third of May, and whose artwork has been featured in Betty Moody’s art gallery.

Our last stop in the museum was the Tom Lea exhibit which highlighted some of his early work and some of his famous post office murals.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

A couple of the ambassadors had the privilege of seeing his work at the Smithsonian Art Museum in Washington, DC, and at the Ellen Noel Art Museum in Odessa, Texas. It was a treat to see more of Tom Lea’s works and to view artwork from other artists that we have seen in former trips!

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art, Tom Lea

On our departure from the Museum…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, El Paso Museum of Art

…we headed to the downtown square, where we saw an alligator fountain by Luis Jimenez…

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Luis Jimenez

…a fountain that is an homage to El Paso’s past, when the City kept live alligators in the middle of the plaza!  That past was as recent as the 1970s, before problems with the alligators’ upkeep prompted a more figurative representation of alligators.

Carnitas Queretaro

After our visit to El Paso’s Art Museum, we were excited to try Brian and Christina’s pick for lunch: Carnitas Queretaro Mexican Restaurant. The restaurant is ranked by Trip Advisor as one of the best spots for Mexican food in El Paso. We started our meal with sopecitos, miniature versions of the traditional sopes. Made from a circle of masa with pinched sides, fried, and covered with beans and cheese, it was a wonderful savory treat! Christina even ordered the regular sized sopes for lunch. Everyone in our group ordered different meals for lunch, ranging from carnitas tacos to adobada. The meals were filling and perfect for our day in El Paso.

Franklin Mountains State Park

Having recharged with our delicious Mexican dinner, we decided to head closer to the border to Franklin Mountains State Park. Although our intention was to hike up the mountain, we were instructed that there was not enough sunlight to make it up the mountain before night time.

However, this setback did not deter us from seeking hilly thrills. Famous to the state park is the Wyler Aerial Tramway.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We hopped, well slowly crept, into the gondola and began the 2,600 feet ascent towards Ranger Peak. As we reached the top, we felt the pressure from the 5,632 feet altitude with our popping ears and trembling limbs. We reached the top and were immediately at awe by the colors, ridges, and dessert beauty of the Franklin Mountains.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

This allure prompted us to exploit the dimming sunlight in order to go for a short hike down the mountain.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

The trail was narrow and composed of unstable gravel and sharp siltstone.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We made our descent carefully and slowly. On occasion, we would take a few seconds to appreciate the awesome views of El Paso and Juarez from the height of the mountain.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

The view was made more stunning once night had fallen.

SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors, Franklin Mountain State Park, Aerial Tramway

We finished our hike and reached the gondola. While we went down the slope, it almost felt like we were floating over the twinkling lights of El Paso.

Having completed an amazing day in this exciting border town, we headed to our hotel and prepare for our departure in the morning.