Thursday, November 7, 2019

Blog #6: Steep Canyons

It was a beautiful day; the red canyons towered above us as we paddled in and out of the sunlight. We saw lots of fish and plant life in the clear water as we paddled along. We all camped under the stars (no tents that night) after a 30-kilometer day...

As the sun rose on the small town of Green River, Wyoming, we awoke on the baseball field we had arrived at late the night before. We ate our granola breakfast and reflected on the prior two and a half weeks. Then we set off on foot two miles into town to send and receive mail from the post office. While in town we met a woman named Olga, who gifted us a hearty meal in a Mexican restaurant! Olga sent us on our way with pockets loaded with chocolate bars for the journey.

Fin and Tristan paddle with conviction!

Back on the river, the winds were strong from the south-east. The flat water of the reservoir became oceanic, with large whitecaps that made it difficult to paddle! We pushed through and all together arrived at the 500-foot wall of Flaming Gorge Dam. Here we met some friendly folks from Texas who were fishing on the reservoir - and who were generous enough to let us use their ATV to portage around the dam! Loading many barrels and two canoes at a time, we finished moving all of our gear in 3 quick trips. After the transport, we got a tour of the dam. It was very thorough and informative - we even got to see the inside of the turbines deep inside the dam!

We're grateful that for assistance with a 500' vertical portage! 

Celebrating our accomplishment: making it to Flaming Gorge Dam

View from the top

Visiting the "belly of the beast"

That night, we camped near the dam and pushed off early the next morning. It was nice to be back on moving water again. We paddled through a few fun rapids and through one pretty serious one. Everyone made it through on canoe, showing the skillsets that we have learned since embarking on the river expedition.

The next day was warm and sunny. We paddled another 30k to the Colorado Border and sat on a beautiful mesa to catch up on academic work. The wind was strong at night, and we could see storm clouds on the horizon. As we approached the Gates of Lodore Canyon, it began to snow.

Zinnia and Callie

Spencer and Pele

Sarah and Rio

We camped beneath the towering gates. The chilling wind blew relentlessly. We stayed huddled in our academic tent, and spent an afternoon reading and writing. When morning arrived the snow flurries had subsided, but the brisk air turned our faces pink and numbed our fingers. The nighttime temperatures were hovering around zero degrees, proving to be our coldest yet. Although the park rangers gave us the go-ahead, we had another choice to consider: the cold. Taking a spill into the icy water that we know so well would take on very real danger. This canyon is one of red rocks, steep walls, and big drops, and holds many technical rapids.

The rock gates stood before us, inviting us in. But the final decision was made to shuttle around the 40 miles of Lodore Canyon to the calm waters on the other side. As we spent the next day away from the river, we continued to learn what it means to adapt to situations at hand and embrace what comes our way, knowing the value of time spent together as a community.

Snow on the water!

Nice and warm in the Academic Tent

Kai warms up by the fire - and cooks the catch of the day!

Liam and Ruby enjoying the fresh catch

Excitement fills the air as we look ahead. Pasha Belenky, an artist, teacher, and an experienced whitewater paddler will be joining us shortly. Down river awaiting us lies towering canyon walls and thundering rapids we all can't wait to paddle!

Spencer and Rio

Fin and Tristan studying

Callie and Elena examine cryptobiotic soil

Spencer at the museum

An artist's rendering

Maya in the Canyon

The group celebrates amidst a snowy landscape

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Blog #5: Moving With The River

Sarah takes in the view
In the early morning, we awoke to drive from . campground in Lander, Wyoming to the Green River Lakes. Frost covered the windows of the van, painting beautiful patterns along them. As we drove along the winding roads to our put-in, we looked out over the fields. Grazing in the tall grass were buffalo! Their large bodies covered in dark hair mesmerized us.

When we arrived at the headwaters of the Green River, Haystack Mountain stood out tall, beautiful, and snow-covered. Under the beautiful mountains we loaded our canoes and pushed off the snowy shores. Dipping paddles into the crystal-clear waters, small rainbows danced across the blades.

Ruby on a break from paddling

Liam trying out the kayak

The first day we paddled 10 kilometers to our very first campsite on Moose Creek. The next morning we awoke to frosty grounds. As we paddled, snow fell upon us. We continued to travel south and as we did the weather warmed to greet us. The land flattened and the canyons began  to rise around us. During our travels we have seen many animals including:

snow geese
bald eagle
beavers (one close enough for Pele to touch!)
rainbow trout
brown trout

Moose crossing!

Fin and Tristan fishing

Tristan studies on a rock at dusk

Maya takes in the sun

Rio and Elena on a chilly morning

The group in the typical Wyoming landscape

Breathtaking scenery!

We've paddled in freezing temperatures waking up to snow storms and thick frost.  We've encountered hot springs that helped us through our coldest days. The water turned from deep turquoise to green and brown, full of sewage and algae at Fontenelle Reservoir. Once we portaged over the dam, the beauty returned. It was here that we learned about our first "solo" for the last 2.5 days of the leg.

A "solo" is when all of the students live out in the wilderness without instructors. Once Miron and Ruby had departed we had a long way to go before looking for camp. We found a place right before the Seed-Skadee Wildlife Reserve. We are becoming very proficient at setting up camp. The next day we woke before sunrise and started paddling. We had to go 50 kilometers that day and 35 the next day. We were all very tired when we met Miron and Ruby at a small park in Green River, Wyoming for our first resupply.

Callie and Maya prepare lunch on a snowy morning!

Morning frost

Pele gets ready for the day

Kai and Tristan enjoy academic time in the sun

Alice journaling

We have traveled 300k since the Green Lakes. As we move down the river the landscape and river width has changed very drastically. When we began the river was narrow and winding. Trees towered above us. Now, as we move south, the land is becoming more like a desert. We look forward to the canyons.

Spencer is working on bow-drilling...

...And Liam blows the coal to life! 

Study time!

Canyon wrens, sandstone, and canoeists!

Elena and Callie on a windy day

Zinnia and Sarah

A brave and happy group approaching the desert landscape! 

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Blog #4: Widening Skies

As the rain poured down at Kroka Basecamp, our footprints washed away and our journey out west began. Our first meal on the road was in Vermont's Prospect Mountain in the pink hue of the setting sun. From there we drove to Blue Heron Farm just outside Ithaca, NY. A sweet bed of straw and a lantern-lit barn awaited us.

The next morning we awoke to gifts: fresh peaches, eggs, and grapes. Birgit and Eric, the farmers, greeted us with warm smiles. For most of the day we worked in the cool soil of the fields, planting garlic and learning about life on the farm. By the end of the day we had planted 19 rows of garlic! Morning flowed into afternoon and we had a hearty lunch of farm veggies. Afterwards we all loaded into the back of Eric's trailer and rode around the 140-acre farm. Eric showed us the beautiful land surrounding us. Coming to a small forest, we ended up at the top of a deep quarry. From there the mountains seemed to stretch infinitely all around.

In the evening we swam at the finger lakes. The chilly water gently held us, washing away the dirt and sweat of the day. Beside the rocky shores, sitting on the grass, we celebrated Kai's birthday with rich chocolate cake and many birthday songs. In a small circle we attempted to block out the strong western winds so Kai could blow out his one remaining lit candle! As the sun dipped slowly into the horizon we loaded into the van for the long drive ahead.

Planting garlic at Blue Heron Farm
Elena hard at work! 
Erik giving us a tour of the farm on the wagon
A cool evening dip in the Fingerlakes

After many hours we arrived in Chicago. Mechanical issues held us up for the day, making for a very loud class on the front lawn of a Taco Bell! As cars raced pas us we discussed the words of Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. Class came to a close with a writing prompt about creating stories just as the last issues on the trailer were fixed. Celebrating with a large game of Ultimate Frisbee on a nearby field, we then dipped in the calm waters of the Mississippi.

The next, on our drive, we watched the skies light up as bolts of lightning streaked down into the Iowa corn fields. We still had to find a place to sleep, so we kept driving, ending up at a very buggy campsite in Sioux City, South Dakota. Almost no one slept that night: Sounds of soft guitar playing, singing. Slow walks around the pond... We slapped away mosquitos as the sky lightened and we got back in the van. From her we drove 200 miles west to the Pine Ridge Reservation.

Lots of time in the car makes for a silly group of students...
Tow truck to the rescue!
Anything can be a classroom - even the front lawn of Taco Bell...
...or the underside of a highway overpass.

The elementary school students from the Lakota Waldorf School greeted us, bringing to life our childlike wonder to let loose and play. In the following hours we worked in the school garden, harvesting bok choi and weeding.

Driving away from Pine Ridge Reservation, we stopped at the Badlands: looking out over the valley, clay mountains stretched for miles. We climbed down, exploring the winding land as the cold ait and mist kissed our faces... while climbing, Tristan found fossils in the buried clay!

The vast desert landscape of the Badlands

"Being with the children let loose our child-like wonder"
Elena works in the school garden
Liam, Sarah, and Alice harvest fresh veggies! 
Pele and Kai assemble a tipi
Kai makes a new friend

As we drove into Wyoming through the shifting, misty landscape, we came into the town of Lander: 60 miles from our river put-in. Now, as the sun sets, we're settling into camp. As I write this blog entry we are doing our final gear check and getting ready (finally) for our paddling journey.

Loading boats at the put-in
Finally! The expedition begins! 

Blog #6: Steep Canyons

It was a beautiful day; the red canyons towered above us as we paddled in and out of the sunlight. We saw lots of fish and plant life in th...