Day 1 - Cape Girardeau MO
The day started out as expected. We departed WMS around 6:20 a.m. with a bus full of energy and anticipation for the days activities. Luckily most of the kids were a little tired from getting up so early so the ride was filled with sleeping (which is fine with me) We arrived at our destination at the Trail of Tears State Park around 2:00 p.m. to hear Cheif Paul White Eagle speak about the trail and his customs. Chief Paul is the Chief of one of sects of the Cherokee Native American tribe. We participated in a tribal ceremony not normally allowed by the Cherokee. He explained the meanings of many symbols in his tribal belief system. During part of the ceremony we danced around the fire, were blessed by sacred smoke, and held tribal artifacts (I held a necklace that was 700 years old.) We also learned about some common misconceptions people held about Native Americans. For instance we learned that Native Americans did not just have dark skin and black hair, they could have hair from blonde to red with any color in between. We also learned that the Native Americans did not live such a ceremonial life as commonly believed. We gained a valuable insight into a great culture.
Day 2 - Hot Springs National Park, AR
Today we traveled south for a bit (5.5 hours) to visit the natural wonder that is Hot Springs National Park. During wake up today (6 a.m.) the kids were dragging, but once they had some pancakes they woke right up. Once we got on the road it was smooth sailing to the park. After a "getting to know you" period the previous day, all our 6th, 7th, and 8th students are coming together as one happy family. We arrived at the park around 2 for a tour of the history and formation of the hot springs. We learned that the hot springs are so special because they produce water that is so pure no filtering or treatment is necessary before drinking, unlike the more famous hot springs of Yellowstone that are contaminated with sulfur compounds. We also learned that the water produced by the springs takes over 4000 years to come up from its location deep within the ground. After the springs tour we rode on a "duck" (a vehicle used in World War II now converted for passenger use) around the city and in a lake for about an hour to learn some culture of the city of Hot Springs. We pulled into our campsite later that evening for some great food and swimming. On to Texas tomorrow!
Day 3 - Abilene TX
Today we traveled to Abilene TX on what seemed like an all day drive. It actually was around 9 hours of driving. I was extremely impressed with the kids. They were awesome on the bus, worked together, maintained a mature attidtude despite the long drive and the 95 degree temperature. They were troopers. We were supposed to tour Dyess Air Force Base, but at the last minute the tour was cancelled beacuse of an undersized staff. This probably worked out in our favor though because we enjoyed a relaxing swim and meal at our campsite. Tomorrow we will be traveling to Carlsbad Caverns National Park.
Day 4 Carlsbad Caverns, NM
First, I apologize for the late entry. We got into our campsite a little later than expected, so there was no time to enter anything in the journal after all was done. The drive from Abilene TX to Carlsbad Caverns took us through a portion of the New Mexico desert. It started out extremely flat but as we reached the entrance to the caves we started climbing up higher and higher. As we climbed higher we drove around the side of mountains and saw desert plant life. When we got to the top of the mountain where the cave entrance was, we could see a huge expanse of the New Mexico desert. We took a tour of the King's Palace where we learned about Jim White the man who discovered Carlsbad Caverns and the science of how caves were made. After that, we walked around the "Big Room," another large cave within the system. The formations were amazing. After touring the cave, we traveled back to camp. On the bus, the kids partcipated in the Euchre tournament.
Day 5 - VLA (Very Large Array)
Today's travels took us through the New Mexico to a radio telescope array called the VLA. These telescopes are different from the normal optical telescopes because scientists do not look into the telescopes, instead they use radio waves to examine stellar objects. Students took a tour of the facility and even went into the control room of the operations building. The kids had some great questions and showed their intelligence by answering challenging questions. As we traveled we passed through the southern edge of the Rocky Mountains. We saw peaks over 10,000 feet.
Day 6 and 7 - Grand Canyon
It's been awhile since our last post because, as I figured, there is no wireless internet in the Grand Canyon. So for that I am sorry. Our Grand Canyon visit was amazing! Even before arriving at the canyon we stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park. There we saw sights such as the Painted Desert, and an area where many petrified logs were located. After that we stopped in Flagstaff AZ, where we ate in a diner called Galaxies. It was a 50's themed diner on old Route 66. When we arrieved at the Grand Canyon I had everyone close their eyes and I led them towards the edge. As we approached, I had them open their eyes to see the beauty of the canyon. The next day I led a group of students to the canyon to watch the sunrise. Later in the day we hiked 1.5 miles into the canyon on the South Kiabab trail. As we were coming out on the trail we saw an amazing canyon sunset. More pictures will be added to a photo album on the site.
Day 8 - Zion National Park
Zion National Park was an excellent experience for the students. When we arrived we had to get escorted through Zion tunnel because the tunnel was built in the 1930's and not made for modern automobiles such as busses and RV's. The tunnel was just over a mile long and had windows where you could overlook the park. Once we arrived to our destination for the day, we rode horses inside the park for about 3 hours. We saw such sights as the 3 Fathers, the Beehive, and the Deertrap. Our horses were one of a kind. My horse named Chili Pepper was a little wild and I swear he was just trained the day before. The experience was awesome and the students learned much about the history and formations of Zion.
Day 9 - Four Corners/Durango
Today we headed to the Four Corners, the only place in the United States where four states meet at a point. We all took turns standing in the different states and even laying in them. I even ran through four different states in three seconds, which has to be a world record. We also visited the local Native American's who were hand-making crafts.
Day 10 - Durango CO, white water rafting
We awoke to a chilly morning. I bet it was in the 30's. The cold morning however was quickly forgotten as soon as we loaded the bus and headed down to the Lower Animas River for some white water action. We divided up into 3 groups with one guide each. After going over safety precautions, we stormed the river for our adventure. The river was low so the rapids were not as intense. We only encountered one class 3 rapid (5 is the highest). Our 4 hour ride was filled with amazing views and fun at every turn. The boat I was on had a great time. We surfed rocks, had water wars with other boats, and even played rodeo (where one person stands on the edge of the boat while the others spin the boat using their paddles until that person falls in the water) when the water was calm and deep enough. We even learned about the history of Durango and some geology of the area from our river guide. Later that night for dinner we ate at Rudy's (a BBQ restaurant in Allbuquerque New Mexico).
Day 11 - Albuquerque Zoo / Botanical Garden and Aquarium
The zoo today was filled with exotic animals. We saw Polar Bears, Chimps, and even a Snow Leopard. In fact there was an extensive amount of cats at this park. All the major cat species were represented here. For the area this zoo was great. Also in the park complex was the aquarium and botanical garden. The aquarium was filled with huge tanks of Nurse Sharks, Baracuda, and rays, while the botanical garden had greenhouses filled with a great variety of species. The group I toured with, encountered a Mountain Lion in his pen sitting right next to the glass, and when we came near it turned it's head and looked directly at us. It was a pleasent day, and the students had a great time exploring the diversity of life on our planet. Later that night it started to storm so we had a nice meal on the bus
Day 12 - Oklahoma City Science Museum
The students really loved the science museum. There were many hands on activities and experiments that they could manipulate. The place even had a two story corkscrew slide and a tornado simulator. We even got in free to see an explosion show where a "scientist" showed us what it takes to make a combustion reaction. During our visit we saw an IMAX movie entitled "The Deep Ocean." Many students had never saw an IMAX movie and were stunned at the clarity and how life like it was.
Day 13 - St. Louis
In my opinion, there is only one thing to see in St. Louis - The Arch. I made sure that the students didn't miss this opportunity. We loaded the elavators and climbed over 600 feet to see the views for miles. We also rode a paddleboat down the Mississippi River and learned some interesting facts about the city of St. Louis. This was a fitting end to an amazing trip. The arch symbolizes the spirit of the west and it's exploration, so it's no suprise that as we end our journey I reflect on our travels west and the adventures we took on. I would like to say thanks to all our great WMS studnets who represented themselves and our school in a positive. We recieved so many compliments from people! I would also like to thank our chaperones who worked behind the scences to make this trip a success. More thanks goes out to all the parents who trusted this crazy second year teacher with their kids for two weeks. Without their support our great school could never have undertaken this awesome trip. Lastly I would like to thank the school community who gave me much support over the year and encouraged me to make this trip happen. When all is said and done I would do it again without hesitation!