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.

Sayonara Savannah: Day Six of Deep South Tour

We began our last day in Savannah embarking on an adventure. We went on a dolphin tour through the Savannah River and Atlantic Ocean. It was a sunny day, perfect weather for a boat ride.


Our tour took us past Tybee Island and into the Atlantic Ocean.


The view of Tybee Island from the ocean was nice. We encountered a shrimping boat that attracted many pelicans and dolphins.


The majority of the dolphins we saw today gathered around the boat because they feed off anything the shrimpers throw back into the ocean. My personal favorite was a baby and momma dolphin swimming together!


The Southern Legislative Conference provided us with lunch on our dolphin tour. We had packed sandwiches, chips, fruit, and a cookie for dessert. It was an okay lunch with a great view.


We learned much in the process.  For example, the US government has established several “bird islands,” where birds can go to nest.  Predators’ populations are controlled and care is taken to ensure that birds have a natural habitat.


The tour also highlighted several forts, energy plants, and bordering states.

As the tour came to a conclusion, it started raining. Fortunately, we dodged any serious storms. The tour was perfect way to begin our last day in Savannah, however we still had a long day ahead of us.

After briefly freshening up, we headed out to the Liquid Sand Glass Gallery to look at the glass art.


We browsed the store and a couple of us bought glass nail filers that we’re pretty excited about. On our way back to the car, we stopped at a nifty shop right next door that sold many natural products such as soaps, seasonings, and oils.

After some shopping, we visited the birthplace of Juliette Gordon Low…


…and, a few blocks away, her carriage house, where she founded the Girl Scouts of America.

Girl_Scout_Founding_Rosales_Tyra_Chapa_Galvan_WebMegan and Alex tried to get into the Girl Scouts photo with us, but they weren’t Girl Scouts, so we wouldn’t let them be in the picture.  Well, they were in the picture, but not in any official capacity.  The photographer captured them sulking in the background.

We also took another look at the Andrew Low House (Juliette Gordon Low’s Father in Law).


After taking photos, we made our way to Forsyth Park to see the famous Savannah water fountain that was built in 1858.


The fountain is striking from a distance…

Forsyth_Fountain_6_Web…and from up close…


While at the fountain we took some selfies, group photos and tried to capture the beauty of the fountain.

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Forsyth Park was laid out in the 1840’s so we really enjoyed the giant Oak trees covered in Spanish moss.

Bonaventure_Cemetery_Spanish_Moss_WebWe also took a look at the Confederate War Monument in the Park, one of many veterans memorials in Savannah.


By the time we were done “modeling” for the camera at the fountain, we were all ready for Leopold’s Ice Cream. Leopold’s Ice Cream was founded in 1919 by three immigrant brothers from Greece and has been visited by many including Johnny Mercer, the famed lyricist.


We each tried Leopold’s famous Ice cream sandwiches. They were absolutely delectable!


Before wrapping up our time in Savannah with the State Dinner, we made a pit stop at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah. Bonaventure Cemetery is where Savannah native, Johnny Mercer is buried. Johnny Mercer is relevant to the state of Georgia for many reasons. He was a thriving lyricist with over 850 songs and founder of Capitol records.


He wrote a hit song called Moon River and today he still makes profits from his music. The cemetery overlooks the Moon River, so while there we snapped some photos of us and the famous river.

Moon_River_WebFor many years, the Bonaventure Cemetery was the home of “The Bird Girl,” a statue featured on the best-selling  book, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  Because of the success of that movie, however, visitors flocked to the cemetery, and the sculpture was moved to Jepson Art Center.

The visit to the cemetery was interesting. While leaving flowers at gravesites is popular, we saw rocks on tombstones at this particular one. We couldn’t figure out what they represented, but they were different and some rocks were beautiful. Because we were running short on time, we didn’t spend as much time as we would have liked to, but nevertheless we enjoyed our time learning about Mr. Mercer and Moon River.

Following a few more photographs of local scenes…

TomoChiChis_Grave_Web…and street performers…


Every evening, the conference has hosted a reception for socializing and networking. Each night, the receptions have been fun and memorable. This evening, the final night of the Southern Legislative Conference, we attended the State Dinner, which featured presentations and speeches by elected officials and entertainment. The dinner theme was “Georgia on my mind.” All the details of the décor reflected Georgia and its signature items, such as peaches and cotton.


We were pleasantly surprised when the LSC staff asked the four SHSU students to represent Texas in the flag parade.


While elected officials represented most of the 15 states attending, Texas was represented by four college students!

Alex, Megan, Karla, Kaitlyn Represent TX at SLC

Following the parade, the Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston welcomed the conference attendees and thanked everyone for their dedication to the conference.

Dinner began where we enjoyed the filet mignon and peach glazed chicken among sweet tea and southern style sides.


Our table consisted of our group and Mr. & Mrs. Hickman. Mr. Hickman is the Deputy Staff Director of the Senate Finance Committee in the Virginia Capitol. Both Mr. and Ms. Hickman were knowledgeable and very welcoming, they offered interesting history facts about their hometown of Richmond, Virginia and travel tips for when we have the opportunity to visit Virginia. Our dinner conversation was pleasant and we were happy to have met them.

For entertainment, Jeff Foxworthy delivered hilarious comedy material, which everyone enjoyed.

State_Dinner_Foxworthy_WebAlthough most of his set was new material, he closed with some redneck jokes, including:

  • If your matching salad bowls all say, “Cool Whip,” you might be a redneck.
  • If your son’s name is Dale, Jr., but your name isn’t Dale, you might be a redneck.

Comedy was an amusing way to end dinner.

Comedy did not end the evening, however.  That honor fell to Sheila Raye Charles, the daughter of the late Ray Charles.  She sang some new materials, some covers of various artists (including Maroon 5) and covers of songs made famous by her father.

Just before we left, Ms. Hickman, introduced us to her friend and Virginia State Senator, Barbara Favola.

LEAP Center Students and Senator Favola
          LEAP Center Students                 and Senator Favola

Senator Favola offered her advice and experiences on how to pursue a career path in politics one day. She was very knowledgeable and gave us some insight to her career. Throughout our Tour of the Deep South, it has been interesting to learn about how state legislatures differ from Texas’s. Thank you to Ms. Hickman for introducing us to Senator Favola!

After a few final pictures, we headed back to the hotel to get ready for our early morning departure and next full day of sightseeing in Alabama and Mississippi. Reflecting back on our time in Savannah, we have learned a lot about the rich history of the city and immensely enjoyed all the sightseeing. Thankful for the opportunity to attend the Southern Legislative Conference, we are sad to leave the beautiful city of Savannah…

Girls Contemplate Leaving Savannah, GA
Girls Contemplate Leaving Savannah, GA

…but excited about visiting more cities in our Tour of the Deep South!