Day #1 June 13th - St. Louis, MO
Well day one is officially in the books! I'm sure getting up and leaving at 6 a.m. is not what any kid wants to do in the summer, but when you get travel to St. Louis and go up in the arch your motivation is bound to increase. The bus I drove (which has been given the official name of "Ye Olde Ship") was full of excitement. Students would alternate between telling jokes, playing games, and sightseeing, with 30 minute power naps (since most didn't sleep much the night before due to excitment). The arch, as usual, was the highlight of the day as students rode the elevator 630 feet above the ground to see for many miles. While riding to the top we traveled with a person from Brooklyn, NY. Now talk about learning about new cluture! For any kid that doesn't camp, setting up a tent is a challenge; and the students learned first hand today.
Mason and Braxton trying to run up the side of the arch!The group in front of the arch
Day #2 Lubbock, Texas June 15
Today we spent an entire day on the buses traveling to Lubbock, Texas. This was a built in day where we covered a lot of ground to get to our destination faster. Even though there were no scheduled activities this day, the students had a chance to do things together. Students on the bus I was driving had tournaments, had a chance to write in their journals, and even catch up on some sleep (since we took off at 4:30 a.m. from St. Louis this morning). As we were driving through Texas we encountered a storm that can only be described as awesome! Since the terrain was flat, we could see the storm approaching and it felt like we were storm chasers in the hunt for a tornado. After moving through the rain, the landscape became desolate. Houses were hard to find and there were no signs of people. For most of the last part of the journey we were the only people on the road.
View of the sunset in Texas
Sign from a gas station in Missouri
Day #3 June 15 - Carlsbad, NM
The kids were happy that our drive was only 3 hours today. However as we got to Carlsbad Caverns National Park I saw a roadblock to the entrance of the park and an officer told us that because of fires near the park it will be closed today. the kids and I were bummed out, but to make the best of the day we went to our campsite and had a relaxing afternoon playing games, swimming, and even ping pong. The 103 degree weather didn't even slow us down. Our generous camp hosts even let us use their recreation room to watch a movie and made us popcorn to enjoy. Hats off to the Carlsbad KOA for making our stay excellent. Since the park was closed today we were informed that it will reopen tomorrow so our tour will be rescheduled at 8:30 a.m. More info on the tour and pictures of the cave when we go on the tour. NOTE: the website will not be updated tomorrow since the national forest campground that we will be staying at does not have wireless access. The next update will be on June 17th.
Day #4 June 16th - Canyon Point, AZ
Carlsbad Caverns reopened today and we got there right at 8:30 to go explore the cave. We had the chance to do a walking tour of the caverns at the natural entrance. The decent into the cave was relentless. Many switchbacks opened up into a large room with many birds flying around. As we traveled down farther into the opening the light diminished until there was nothing but artificial light illuminating the darkness. The formations were amazing with many different colors and sizes. As we left the caverns, we headed across the New Mexico desert and drove by the VLA (Very Large Array) and saw the radio telescopes that are used to look at stellar objects. Coming into Arizona we witnessed the aftermath of the forest fires that have been ravaging the area for the last couple of weeks. We finally pulled into the campsite around 10 p.m.
Tony and Skyler at the natural entrance to Carlsbad Caverns
Tony becomes a junior ranger
The Group at the VLA in New Mexico
Day #5 June 17th - Flagstaff, AZ
We started off today heading to Sedona, Arizona home to the beautiful red rock country. There we went to Slide Rock State Park where everyone had the chance to slide down natural water slides created as water carved out lanes in the rock. To make it easier to slide, algae makes the rocks slippery. Some kids even were brave enough to jump into the water from a rock ledge. After slide rock we traveled to Flagstaff to tour the Lowell Observatory and look through the telescope in the evening. Our tour guide knew Indiana quite well: she graduated from IU. She even gave our group a special shout out to all the other people during the tour. Pictures will be posted the next time I have wireless access. NOTE: the site won't be updated for 5 days because both Grand Canyon and Zion National Parks do not have wireless access.
Maggie loves the exhibit at Lowell Observatory
The three amigos in Flagstaff
Days #6 - 8 June 18 - 20 - Grand Canyon, AZ
The Grand Canyon is always the highlight of any southwest trip and this one was no different. To give the kids a true sense of discovery of the canyon, I had them close their eyes and the adults led them to the rim. They all opened their eyes at the same time to get their first glimpse of the canyon below. Later that day we visited the watch tower near the far west side of the park. The next day some of the students and myself walked to the rim to watch a canyon sunrise. We also had a chance to learn about how the Grand Canyon was formed and also about how old the canyon is during the "geology walk." We walked along the rim and visited stops along the way showing different view points and talking about a variety of rocks and formations. The students also got a chance to see the Grand Canyon Village and see different buildings that have been in the Grand Canyon for many years. To top off an already awesome day, we went to the "Star Party" that night to look at stars through different telescopes. That was only day two! On day three we undertook are biggest adventure yet: hiking into the Grand Canyon. We traveled 1.5 miles down the South Kiabab trail to Cedar Ridge. At Cedar Ridge stunning views down canyon can be seen. And since we were all tired, some pizza later that night hit the spot.
Days # 9 -10 June 21 - 22, Zion National Park, UT
Just when the students thought that it couldn't get any better than the Grand Canyon, Zion National Park comes along and wows them! Staying in Zion is the opposite of the Grand Canyon. Instead of camping on the rim as we did in Grand Canyon, we camped at the bottom of Zion Canyon for these two nights. Zion offers some of the best views around the southwest. Since it was lower in elevation, Zion Canyon is much hotter. In fact, the temperature was around 101 our second day in the park. It didn't deter us though as we hiked two different trails. One was called "weeping rock," because it has water from a spring dripping out of the rocks, which is crazy to see in the desert. The last trail we hiked was called "Angel's Landing" named because early people thought that only an angel could get to the end of it. The best part for the kids however was the horseback ride through the back country of Zion. They either rode a horse or a mule and I bet that they'll never forget the name of the one they rode.
Day # 11-12 June 23-24, Durango, CO
Durango offers a unique look at the southwest. Even though Durango is situated in Colorado, it is perched on the Colorado Plateau which gives it a higher elevation. This elevation combined with other geographical factors makes Durango and this part of Colorado different than the majority of the state. We first visited the high plateaus of Mesa Verde National Park where winding roads led to a visitors center overlooking the canyons and valleys below. While there we toured Balcony House, an ancient cliff dwelling built into the side of the mesa below. To get to the location we had to climb up ladders, chains, and crawl through tunnels. It felt like an Indiana Jones movie! According to the ranger, the people that inhabited this area were forced to move from their homes on top of the mesa to the cliff sides for the protection that these secluded locations offered. The houses were truly an engineering marvel. Its hard to believe that people that long ago could build such impressive structures. Besides Mesa Verde we also had the chance to go white water rafting on the Lower Animas River. This is always a favorite among the students considering that most never have rafted in their lifetime.
Day # 13 June 25 Albuquerque, NM
Today was a day I will never forget. This year I decided that the club would visit a wolf sanctuary to learn about the misconceptions wolves have been given. We learned how to tell the difference between a wolf and a dog simply by looking. What was fascinating to me was that people are actually getting wolves as pets thinking they would just act like dogs. Boy were they wrong! Wolves make horrible pets since they want to assume the dominant role in the house. Most people cannot handle a wolf as a pet so they end up in the sanctuary that we visited. We even got to pet an ambassador wolf that they take around for people to visit and educate the masses. Even though the sanctuary was on the dusty trail - literally it was an unforgettable experience. Later that night we all ate at Rudy's Barbeque.
Day #14 June 26th Tulsa, Oklahoma
Today myself and the kids experienced something that they probably will never observe again - 115 degree temperature. Driving from Albuquerque to Tulsa the desert was extremely hot and even a breeze wasn't able to cool everyone off.