11-12 Spring Experiential Adventure Explores Canyons of Southwest Utah and Northern Arizona

On May 19th, the seniors finished their last of 15 major projects and assessments for the International Baccalaureate Diploma Program, then joined a few underclassmen and teachers for their final Mountain School adventure.

The mighty group of eight set out to explore wilderness areas and national parks in southeast Utah and northern Arizona. They started by exploring the Paria-Canyon, Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness outside of Page, Arizona, and hiking the awe-inspiring slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch. Students marveled at the soft curves of the narrow canyon walls and contemplated their geographic evolution as they followed its skinny path single file. 

After Buckskin, students explored both remote and popular areas in Glen Canyon and Zion National Park. At times they were on Navajo land and others on federal land. They saw firsthand the different issues facing western water and land management issues. Before beginning their journey, students researched the land before western expansion and honored the native peoples who resided in each place through writing and reciting land acknowledgments. Additionally, students read the May 2021 cover story of the Atlantic Monthly titled Return the National Parks to the Native People and regularly reflected on the management and ownership of these spaces. 

On day three, the crew moved their base camp to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River about 15 miles south of Glen Canyon Dam. They were jet boated to the dam and kayaked the flatwater deep amongst the canyon walls of what’s left of Glen Canyon back to Lee’s Ferry. Students reflected on issues of damning and spent the next few days exploring the body of water on the opposite side of the dam, Lake Powell. 

While exploring Lake Powell via kayak, It was impossible to ignore the low water levels. The group learned the reservoir was only 34% full, and the Colorado River water was over-allocated 17-fold. They listened to and discussed the complicated issues regarding the history and future of this river and associated Navajo land issues and rights. In true work hard, play hard fashion, they also played glow in the dark bocce ball, cliff jumped, and lingered by the evening campfire.

The crew ended the trip at Zion National Park, exploring the Narrows Hike up the Virgin River and canyoneering. They were blown away by the beauty and the geologic wonders of Zion. But, they were also dumbfounded by the number of people — 80,000 visitors to the park over Memorial Day weekend. They became inspired to get involved in advocating for more responsible management in National Parks.

The trip was an incredible journey. The group weathered the wind to better enjoy the calm and learned there is no “hero’s trip,” only a “hero’s journey” with the necessary trials, tribulations, and victories. Thanks to this group for an epic adventure full of challenges, laughter, beauty, triumphs, conversation, music, and camaraderie.