Hello from Verde Valley School (VVS) in Sedona, Arizona! Each morning at VVS, we’ve awoken to sunlight and red rocks out our dorm windows. The warmth is a welcome respite from many cold nights in the high elevation deserts of southern Utah, and we’re collectively rejuvenated and inspired by the stunning red rock formations that surround us here.

As we look towards the final three weeks of the semester, we’ve been reflecting on our rich and unique experiences — it’s clear that no single week has been the same. Just in the last month, our modes of transportation have constantly changed: from our vehicles to river rafts to our own two feet while backpacking. Academically, we’ve covered serious ground as we continually took cues from the landscape and peoples around us as we delve into topics, such as water rights and immigration issues, that pertain to western communities.

Directly following our midterm assessments, our reliable vans brought us to the San Juan River, where we spent four days paddling the deep canyon walled section of river just north of Arizona.  Rafting allows for lots of gear to be hauled into the backcountry, so we enjoyed elaborate meals cooked by our entertaining and knowledgeable guides. In Honors Literature and Composition, we finished reading Louise Erdrich’s The Round House. Students wrote an analytical essay on the novel while on the river, practicing the art of analyzing over summarizing, as well as explicating quotations to support their thesis. Having started The Round House on our first river trip on the Missouri River, it felt fitting and full-circle to finish it on our second river trip on the San Juan!

Leaving the river, we headed over the border to Colorado to join up with Deer Hill Expeditions for a five day backpacking trip (split into two groups) in Bears Ears National Monument and five day service experience on Navajo Nation. Students became navigators and group leaders, cooks and campsite selectors, and travelers as we walked dusty red trails and slick rock paths. In science, students have explored the complex topic of water in the west. From the molecular level to the water cycle, we continue to learn about each step of the scientific process through observation and hands-on experience. Field journals focused on flooding and the movement of water in canyons and arid lands. While backpacking, students observed and described evidence of water moving through the canyons, then drafted experiments they could do to test hypotheses they came up with about their observations. We even enjoyed some serious rain to add to the studies, watching it cascade over cliffs and quickly fill in ravines, luckily we stayed dry and made the most of some tent time.

After a resupply and rejoining of our group, we drove south into Arizona and New Mexico to stay with our Deer Hill cultural exchange host Gwen. We set up tents in her yard, cooked meals in her outdoor kitchen, and listened to her generously told stories. Gwen encouraged us to greet the sun each morning and then cheered us on as we set off for a morning jog down the road and back. With both our hearts and bodies awake and exercised, we began our days of service. In many different projects on her homestead, we cleaned, sorted, seeded, piled, engineered, built, dyed yarn and dug. We also spent Halloween at Gwen’s on Navajo-Dine land, dressing up in costumes cleverly made from the limited supplies we had on hand. Our “Tent or treating” and spooky stories around a campfire with s’mores filled us with laughter and memories of a unique Halloween.

Next it was onwards to New Mexico and Chaco Cultural Park where we spent two days touring the phenomenal ancient dwellings of the Chacoan people, dating back to as recently as 1,000 years ago. The Chacoan peoples built architectural impressive, meticulously designed structures to support a rich cultural and economic life. While at Chaco, our math students took a break from their regular Algebra 2 study, and all students joined Megan in math class to explore informational handouts and statistics about Chaco Canyon. Everyone then created and solved their own word problems about the structures and facts of the Cultural Park, for example, trying to calculate how many trees were transported from nearby mountain ranges in order to build the structures.

It’s inconceivable to us all that we have less than a month until we end our semester journey. This week we’re traveling south, nearing Mexico and will become more deeply embedded in border and migration issues. While there’s still rich learning and adventure ahead, the sense of dwindling times makes us even more grateful for our many experiences.

We want to leave you with a final thought by Amanda (Wisconsin, senior) who summed up her longing for TTS to continue in a poem, which was a “love poem to a tech free life.”


Before I met you

I would drop my head

as soon as I heard a familiar ding

I would share expressionless words on a screen

With people whose faces I didn’t know I missed

I would mindlessly swipe, tap and scroll

Just to escape what I didn’t want to do

I would get lost in an artificial world

Instead of getting lost in a real one

But since I met you

My neck is only sore from sleeping on the ground

And I see people’s expressions change when they talk

I flip through pages in a book

And write until my hand hurts

I admire the beauty in the landscape around me

Like pieces of art dressing every corner of the earth

Now that I know you

I lack interest in your absence

I don’t want to get used to picking up my phone

The way that I am used to picking up a notebook

I don’t want to think of my essentials

As anything other than my backpack and water bottle

I don’t want to forget about the freedom I have knowing you

tech free life