June 8 - St. Louis, MO
Day 1 of the 2013 summer trip started in the usual way: kids arriving wired from not having slept the night before ready for the days activities. The destination today was St. Louis, MO and with a journey to the top of the arch. As we arrived however the usual spot we park in was flooded so we had to park in a less than ideal spot. We had to walk a mile to the arch and when we got there it was pretty crowded. All in all it was a great time. Even the people who were afraid of heights conquered their fears and looked out the windows.
June 9 - Wichita Falls, TX
Today was our designated drive day ending in Wichita Falls, Texas. There were no activities this day. Total distance 622 miles. You would expect middle school kids to complain about such a long drive and become restless. In years past I would agree with you but not this year. The kids handled the drive very well considering we were in the car for 12 hours. No complaining or anything of the sort (at least I didn't hear it). Our campground was one I never stayed in before so I didn't know what to expect. When we arrived we found prairie dogs living around the area where the tents would be. As we approached the campsite they scattered in all directions so we really didn't see them much. The lake we swam in was a little low compared to years past due to the drought that has plagued the region for the past couple years.
June 10 - Carlsbad, NM
Our drive to Carlsbad Caverns today was shorter than the one the previous day but many would still consider 500 or so miles in a day long. I was expecting a little resistance to the drive today considering how long the drive the previous day was. To my pleasant surprise their were no problems and everyone got along. As usual the caverns were great. Many students had never seen caves so spectacular before. We went on the King's Palace Tour where our eccentric guide taught us about cave formations and how the caverns were formed. We also learned about bats. The best thing however was when the lights were turned off and we experienced total darkness. I will apologize in advance if no entries are posted in the next couple days. The campsites were are staying in may not have internet access.
June 11 - Elephant Butte, NM
On our way to White Sands Monument our van encountered problems so we had it checked out at the nearest service station. We found out that our fuel pump was going out and it needed to be replaced. As luck would have it the part was available and would be ready the next day. However the service station where the van was being worked on was 2 hours away from the campsite. Since the van hauled the supplies in the trailer we had to rent a U-Haul for a day to take our equipment to the campsite. Even though we didn't get to go to White Sands Monument, as we were driving past it we saw a dune that had moved close to the road so we stopped and climbed up to the top. It was very spur of the moment but was fun nonetheless. We stayed at Elephant Butte Lake State Park. All I knew about the site was that it was a group site close to the lake. When they said close to the lake, they really meant it. Our site was on the beach.
June 12 - Canyon Point, AZ
Early in the morning I got confirmation that the van was fixed as scheduled so 2 of our chaperones drove the U-Haul truck back and retrieved the van with the trailer as we headed to the VLA. The VLA stands for the Very Large Array, a telescope array that used radio waves to look at starts. These telescopes are starkly different that the optical telescopes we use because radio telescopes use radio waves instead of visible light to look at stars. While not all students found the VLA interesting they all admitted that it was incredible how all that "stuff" worked. We took our time heading to our new campsite because the van with the trailer was still behind us by a couple of hours. Once we arrived at our campsite we relaxed and the kids played capture the flag. Later that evening as we were sitting by the fire, some kids noticed how dark the night sky was so I took that opportunity to show them some simple constellations. My tent group decided to sleep under the stars and witnessed 20 something shooting stars.
June 13 - Flagstaff, AZ
The van is running great! It seems like all the work paid off. Today was a day that everyone enjoyed. We went to Slide Rock State Park where the kids had the chance to go down natural water slides carved into the creek bed by the water. Some also decided to jump off the 10 foot cliffs that were above the water. We spent 3 hours there wandering, swimming, and climbing amongst the beautiful red rocks of Sedona.
June 14 - 16 - Grand Canyon, AZ
One of the greatest natural wonders on this planet is the Grand Canyon. Until you experience this place for yourself no pictures do it justice. Before heading to the canyon we explored the town of Flagstaff, a quiet town high on the Colorado Plateau. Even though we are in the desert we are so high in elevation that the high temperatures only reach into the 80's. The town is a mix of shops and small businesses. We ate lunch on old Route 66 in a diner. We also went to the Museum of Northern Arizona where we learned about Native American pottery and even had the chance to make our own pots out of clay. The students will be bringing them home so beware. The first view of the Grand Canyon was a memorable one. I had the students close their eyes while the chaperones led them to the edge. On the count of 3 all of them opened their eyes and were in shock. From that day on we hiked around the rim, listened to park rangers talk about the natural wonders of the Canyon, went to look at stars at the "star party" with local astronomers, and even hiked down into the Canyon on the South Kiabab trail.
June 17 - 18 - Zion National Park, UT
Staying in Zion National Park is a different experience than the Grand Canyon. Instead of camping high up and looking down into a canyon, at Zion we camped at the bottom and were looking up at the huge red rock formations. Since we were farther down in elevation the temperatures soared close to 100 both days. Luckily there was a creek near the campsite where we swam during the hottest part of the day. During the cooler part were hiked "The Narrows" a trail that follows a creek into a side canyon. During the hike the 1000 foot walls surround you. When you look up you see the blue sky and red cliffs towering above you. The other hike we did was called "Angels Landing," named because it looked like angels would land there from heaven. Everyone hiked to Scouts Lookout while a small number made the final climb to the top where we could see a panoramic view of the park.
June 19 - 20 - Durango, CO
About 20 miles outside Zion on our way to Durango it was discovered that a squirrel had gotten on the bus and was hiding out in the front behind the dash board. In trying to get it to leave we enticed it with trail mix, however all it would do is peak its head out, take the food, and return to it's new "home." No matter how many times we tried to get the squirrel to come out it remained on the bust hidden away. The squirrel stayed on the bus all the way until we got to Durango. When we arrived at our campsite we opened the door and put a trail of food leading out the door and left the bus alone. Before locking the bus up for the night the squirrel had finally left. I now call bus #16 "The Ark!"
June 21 - Sugarite Canyon, NM
Today we had the chance to meet the people after which our school mascot is named: the Apaches. At first I didn't mention what our school mascot was out fear they would get upset. I just said we were a school group from Indiana. Later our guide noticed a shirt one of the boys had on that mentioned Apaches. It was then I decided to tell him about our mascot. To my surprise he wasn't upset but rather happy that we wanted to learn more about the connection we shared. He even gave us his contact information and wants to come to Indiana to talk to the people of Wabash about the "real" Apaches.
June 22 - Red Rock Canyon State Park, OK
This site was totally unexpected. As we were driving through Oklahoma all I saw was flat ground. I thought there could be no place where a canyon would hide. I was wrong. When we arrived at the park we immediately drove down a steep road that gave way to tall trees and towering red cliffs. These cliffs were so cool that we decided to start climbing them. They were right behind our campsite.
June 23 - St. Louis, MO
As in years past the last day of the trip was spent at Six Flags St. Louis. This time however the weather was a little different: a storm was brewing. About 2 hours into the time at the park I noticed dark clouds forming in the western sky. Therefore I quickly left the park and returned to the campsite (luckily down the road from the park) to take down the tents and put everyone's luggage in the trailer. I had to do this fast as the storm was approaching. As soon as I returned to the park, it started to pour and I mean POUR. We tried waiting out the storm thinking the rides would re-open but it kept raining and lightning. While we were eating at McDonalds that night it was decided that we would stay in a hotel due to the fact our campsite was flooded. Myself and another chaperone arranged a great deal at the Holiday Inn that was next to the park. It was surely a day I won't forget!