Hello from Chaco Canyon Cultural Park, New Mexico! (and a quick re-cap of the past few weeks!)

Camped near the cultural park, we enjoy the renowned view of the ancient Puebloan ruins, amazed this is one of our last true wilderness experiences. The dropping temperatures of November will drive us towards sleeping indoors, or front country camping with access to heated facilities, for the remainder of our western adventure. We’re all astonished there are just five weeks until the semester’s end — five weeks that will surely zoom by as quickly as the last five did. 

Since we left Wyoming in late September, we have traveled, paddled and hiked throughout southern Utah and Colorado. We visited Capitol Reef National Park to learn about the geology of the Colorado Plateau and astronomy of the night skies. In Bluff, Utah, we stayed and volunteered with Design Build Bluff, a nonprofit that enlists architectural students from the University of Utah to build a home every year for a Navajo family on Navajo Nation. Students wielded shovels, drills, glue guns, and other tools for two days as they assisted the organization’s home building project. While in Bluff — a gateway town to Bears Ears National Monument — we learned about the controversy surrounding the establishment of Bears Ears. We were at the Monument’s visitor center when we learned that presidential Joe Biden had re-instated original boundaries of Bears Ears. That moment exhibited the specialness and joy of place-based education, in its ability to engage students by learning about the very land and communities that are in front of them! 

At midterms, we traveled to Monticello, Utah, where Canyon Country Discovery Center offered us a cozy space to study and prepare for various midterm assessments, including history tests, analytical essays, Socratic Seminars, and scientific field examinations. Post midterms, we swiftly departed for our second river trip of the semester — rafting the San Juan River. From the rafts, students observed petroglyphs on the towering rock walls around them and colorful geologic layers. Once again, we had to learn how to pack our things snuggly into a dry bag, and how to do school when traveling at “river pace.” We were graced with beautiful weather and warm temperatures during the day, and per usual, chilly nighttime temperatures, which we have learned to prepare for with many layers, sleeping bag liners and warm hot water bottles. 

Most recently, we completed a twelve-day backpacking and service expedition with Deer Hill Expeditions, an educational outfitter based in Mancos, Colorado. Because of permit size, we divided into two groups to travel and camp in different but neighboring canyons systems in Bears Ears National Monument. One group hiked up Bullet Canyon and out Sheiks Canyon, and the other hiked up Kane and out Toadie. This was our first and sole backpacking trip of the semester, and we were challenged to scramble up steep rock formations, to carry all our gear and accessories on our backs, to lead each other through the winding sandstone canyons, and to cook tasty meals atop our backcountry stoves. After four nights, we reunited as a whole group and resupplied our provisions before heading out again – this time, traveling deep into Navajo Nation to stay at a homestead and complete tasks to help a family winterize their home. We were graciously welcomed and felt that though we were there for “service” we ultimately were given so much more than we gave, in receiving rich learnings about the Navajo culture, history and practices.