By Samantha Gilmore, ELK 2016 Urban Ranger
Early Monday morning a group of ELK students and my co-workers arrived at the ELK office, loaded the charter bus and climbed in to start an amazing trip that none of us could ever forget. After a 9 hour drive across Colorado and Wyoming and two stops for lunch and dinner, a charter bus full of students awoke to our first look at this magnificent display of peaks that rose far into the sky. We soon found the camp and what we would call home for the next few days; quickly unloaded the bus and settled into our cabin tents, two walls of wood and two of heavy canvas, to fall asleep and await the early morning.
The next morning we rose early to load up and head to the Teton School of Science, a school dedicated to outdoor education. We were on their campus to explore the high and low challenge course. The low ropes hung no more than a foot off the ground and were mainly centered around teamwork; we had to work together to complete tasks, but in a stressful and cramped environment. After this team building exercise we headed to the high ropes course. Strapped into a harness, students climbed high into the sky to complete tasks by themselves in a much more solitude state but they were in no way alone; students on the ground held ropes that were literal lifelines and shouted words of encouragement to their peers above in the sky. After this physically and mentally demanding morning we had lunch and headed back to camp for a more restful evening.
Day three in the Tetons – we started with a boat ride that took us right to the base of the mountains and gave us information about the history of the park and all the wildlife that call it home. We then got the chance of a lifetime to meet the current superintendent of Grand Tetons, David Vela, this talk gave us an inside look at what he does and how one day we may be able to hold a similar position. After the meet and greet with the superintendent we got to meet the Jenny Lake Rangers, an amazing rescue crew that is tasked with the safety and rescue of climbers of the Tetons. Learning about the lives that these men and women save on a daily basis was an eye opening experience that also allowed us to think about all the different careers that are available to us. None of us would have ever heard about the Jenny Lake Rangers or a National Park Service superintendent without this experience but now some of us may take their places in a few years.
The day before we would drive back to Colorado was going to be a free day, however, the night before the staff surprised all the kids; we are spending the day in Yellowstone! With the best known National Park just miles away we could not pass up this chance to see the land that has pulled people from around the world to see it. When we finally got into the park our first stop was Old Faithful, the wait was hot and long in the Wyoming sun but it was well worth it when 140 feet of water burst from the ground in a magnificent display of nature. The last site of the day was a loop of springs that showed deep colors of blues, oranges, and browns. This field of springs looked otherworldly and completely out of place with the mountains rising behind them.
Seeing this whole new place for the first time in my life gave me a better understanding of the role that our National Parks play in our country and world. These places desperately needed protecting and along with that protection comes the chance for us, the public, to experience these amazing places in ways that we may have never gotten to without the National Parks Service. I hope that the students that rode back to Colorado on that bus with me took home that same lesson that the Tetons and Yellowstone taught me and they understand that it is all of our jobs to save and protect this place called home because if we don’t then who will?