On Wednesday June 9th 2010, Environmental Learning for Kids (ELK) embarked on our 5th annual Southwest Adventure, a leadership development retreat and trip of a lifetime for our older youth and staff. ELK departed Denver, shortly after the sun illuminated the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains, on our way to spend a brief night in Pagaosa Springs Colorado, and visit Pagosa’s hot springs. Relaxed in the warmth of outdoor tubs, in water heated solely by the molten rock beneath earth’s surface, ELK’s youth-leaders considered Geothermal Energy and how it benefits our civilizations, and heats the waters of the springs.
Early Thursday morning, after a good breakfast and refreshed from a previous long day’s travel, ELK traveled to the Southern Ute Indian reservation to conduct a youth led fishing clinic for the Boys and Girls Club. Our youth leaders did a tremendous job coaching the children of the Ute tribe as they caught fish after fish. With Chimney rock looming in the distance, both bass and trout cooperated with ELK’s efforts, and the children from the Southern Ute tribe glowed with excitement as shouts of, “Fish on!” echoed across the lake. We left the Southern Ute youth on our way to Towac, CO to meet up with a Ute Mountain Tribal Elder who is head of the Ute Nation’s Wildlife Division.
Friday found ELK scampering around the ruins of the Anasazi people, deep in the heart of the Ute Mountain Indian reservation, and viewing 1100 year old hieroglyphic art and shards of ancient pottery. ELK listened intently as our guide explained every historic detail of the immaculate land around us, and the dwellings of the Anasazi seemed embraced by the canyon walls where they exist. ELK youth were challenged by the wooden ladders that descend into the ancient ruins of the Anasazi and it was wonderful to watch our leaders assist each other in overcoming the challenges of the exploration.
Saturday morning we awoke to the rumbling of thunder and blinding flashes of lighting. Tired from 3 days on the road, ELK youth and staff “loaded up the wagons”, said goodbye to Colorado and headed south towards the deserts of Arizona, our campground at Lees Ferry, Lake Powell and the Grand Canyon. Our first night in camp – at Lees Ferry and Marble Canyon – revealed an incredible night sky that lies invisible when amongst the city lights in Denver. ELK students studied the Milky Way, utilized star charts to discover constellations and counted shooting stars before retreating to their tents to fall asleep to the sounds of the Colorado River.
Sunday morning and early afternoon ELK explored Marble Canyon, fished for rainbow trout, played volleyball with the Navajo youth, swam in the chilly waters of the Colorado River, discussed river flows, the geology of the canyon, and examined ways to conserve water. Sunday evening the ELK youth leaders completed a service learning project for the National Park Service – working diligently to clean the river’s banks of trash while examining the ecology and geology of the area. By the days end we filled 8 garbage bags with cans and other assorted litter from the river bank and rock walls – Good Job Everyone!
Monday we ventured out towards the majesty of Grand Canyon National Park. ELK youth, and staff, stared in disbelief and amazement at the wonders of the Grand Canyon. We interviewed park rangers, examined the geology of the canyon, gazed down upon the Colorado River – 1 mile beneath the canyon rim – and discussed how the river created this breathtaking wonder of the world. As the sky over the Canyon turned from blue to burnt oranges and reds, ELK youth patiently watched the sun sink over the rim of the canyon. We stood in a circle and each individual shared what they learned and how they felt. The magic of the Grand Canyon inspired some incredible and touching responses from our youth. A day of amazement ended with amazing kids sharing their thoughts and feeling with their ELK family.
Tuesday, we loaded into the vans and headed for Lake Powell, a massive body of water engulfing the local geography of the immediate South West Region. How many people can say they learned to swim in Lake Powell? Well, one of our ELK youth leaders can! After some coaching from ELK staff and encouragement from other youth, Mitch was met with rounds of applause as he free-styled down the shore line of the immense lake!
Wednesday June 16th, was our last day in camp before heading back to our Denver home. We broke camp and performed one final clean up for the National Park Service before heading down to road to snack on apricots from an orchard on the Lonely Dell Ranch – a ranch established in the late 1800’s. Exploring the ranch and discussing local geography and history with ELK youth was a great precursor to driving the 13 hours back to Denver.
The Monument Valley of Utah provided tremendous scenery as ELK made their way home, and stopping for the night in Grand Junction was a welcomed break from the monotany of traveing in darkness. White sheets and warm showers helped ELK youth and staff recover from several days of “roughing it” in the desert. Thursday morning after breakfast we traveled the remaining distance home, discussing where we had been and what we had learned while embedding the amazing adventure into our eternal memory. As the sky line of Denver appeared over the horizons of the highway, we all found ourselves anticipating ELK’s next trip of a lifetime!
It’s nearly impossible to comprehend the accomplishments of our kids on the Southwest Adventure. It is widely agreed that ELK did more in 8 days than most people do in a lifetime. The educational value of this program in indescribable, and to hear the youth exuberantly reflect upon their trip of a lifetime is extraordinary. To follow ELK on future trips and adventures, be sure to visit our Facebook Page and become a fan today!