Brutal sun. Brutal, baking sun. And relentless. And merciless.
Sand everywhere. Shade nowhere.
Heat waves careening off the barren desert sand and crashing violently with all who venture thereon….
Hot. So, SO hot. Oppressively, even obsessively, hot.
Sounds like heaven, no?
I just returned from a five day trip to Southern Utah with a group of OPA (Ogden Preparatory Academy) students and it was a truly glorious experience. Though the heat may have been hellish (I cannot say that with certainly as I haven’t been there yet…), the experience was heavenly (or at least similar to what I imagine heaven will be). WHAAAA-WHOOO!
Twenty-two students, one of whom was my own Mr. Miles.
One amazing bus driver.
Countless (unless you can count higher than I can….) good times.
The good times started Monday morning when Doug (the aforementioned amazing bus driver) found a good sized rattlesnake occupying the spot he where he hoped to park the bus at the Diamond Fork Hot Springs Trailhead (…..serpent….maybe there are more analogies to hell than I realized…..) and continued as we played in the hot springs (….boiling water, sulfur smell…another analogy?….) a little and the cold waterfall a lot.
The Diamond Fork Trail was seriously beautiful, a shaded, undulating path that followed a gentle, meandering stream. I knew we’d see serious beauty again but I thought it would be our last experience with shade or water. I was wrong. The steep sides of Little Wild Horse’s slot canyons and the subway-like tunnels of Crack Canyon were refreshingly shady, in addition to being stunningly beautiful. And the Green River’s water, though not gentle or meandering, was certainly wet.
In addition to being heavenly, our Green River experience was slightly miraculous. Hot (Did I mention it was HOT?) and dirty from our Little Wild Horse hiking adventure, we drove to Green River hoping for a dip. Rejected at Green River State Park by our unwillingness to pay the $75 entrance fee, we were resigned to wading through the weeds to access the water at the bridge when Tony, Bev, and Brent (two dads and a teacher/mom) successfully Googled an “enjoyed by locals” swimming hole in the area. Three 360 degree turns (in a school bus….I told you Doug is amazing!) and about 10 miles later we found ourselves at Swasey BLM campground. Featuring a pit toilet, a nice stretch of sandy beach, and no entrance fee, it was the perfect place to cool off, clean up, and chill out. While there the kids turn turns dunking each other (again and again and again repeatedly), played “Duck, Duck, Goose” and turned Martha into a mermaid.
The hike to the Grand Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon was neither shady nor wet and it was certainly brutal. It was also most certainly worth it. The 800 foot drop down sandstone slabs into the canyon in the cool morning air was only somewhat easy and the climb up those same sandstone slabs in the unmitigated afternoon sun was super hard. Red-faced and wobbly legged, the students made it without complaint but not without effort. Whew!
And WOW! The canyon—“ which contains some of the most significant rock art in North American”—was wonder-full, as in full of wonders. The three panels of life-size rock art were truly stunning and the deer carcass was truly amazing. Nancy was convinced the rock art had African origins—a theory Ranger Jen kindly entertained—and Lance was convinced the deer was a cougar kill—a theory Ranger Jen verified.
The carcass was covered with debris and surrounded by scratch marks in the sand. Cougars typically make their kills, eat 10 lbs or so, and then loosely cover the remains before retreating a short distance to sleep and digest. The deer’s head twisted up over its back. Cougars pounce from trees onto underpassing deer and kill them quickly by breaking their necks. Lance also found paw prints in the surrounding sand which Ranger Jen verified were cat tracks. It was fun to watch the Rangers “geek out” about Lance’s find while trying to maintain professional composure.
Though nature’s beauties were truly inspiring (and I haven’t even mentioned Goblin Valley or the Dragon’s Lair yet), the best part of the trip was the people. From Doug the Driver (did I mention that we had an amazing bus driver?) to Beth, the delightful new OPA science teacher to little (literally) Yvonne (whose leg gash would have benefited from duct tape) to crazy Katie (whose amazing strength was belied by the gentleness with which she washed Yvonne’s wound)---all of them were wonderful. WONDERFUL!! Cute James, with his untamable hair and his very docile demeanor, Robin whose enthusiasm and conversation were endless, Timothy whose voice was almost as loud as his endurance was long, tender Tennille whose feet were raw and whose attitude never turned raunchy, Karen who hiked hard and cleaned up cute, Denise who pretended to object when I sat on her chest, Darin who beleaguered me until I let him start a fire, beautiful Bev, my teacher friend whose support and insights were priceless, her cute husband Tony whose humor was almost as dry as the desert, Brent, a dad whose good attitude was as endless as Timothy’s voice was loud—I loved them all. LOVED THEM. ALL!!! And I will always love them.
I love them all for who they are and for what I heard (and did not hear) and saw while I was with them. I heard “Thank you Mrs. Hislop” dozens of times over the course of the week. I did not hear complaints about hiking and I did not heard noise at night after I sent them to bed. I saw them follow instructions. I saw them share precious food and more precious (in the desert at the end of a hike) water and, even more precious for teens, friendship. There was so much goodness in the group, so much respect. Everyone was included, even the socially awkward ones. They were certainly diverse and, just as certainly, united. What a blessing to be able to associate with them.
I love them generally for who they are and specifically for what they did for my precious son. Miles, an avid hater-of-hiking, came on the trip solely to support his mom. “I’m doing this for you,” he told me. At journey’s end, he was a hiking convert. “I’m definitely going on the next trip with you,” he declared. The catalyst for the change? My OPA family. They fully enveloped him as a peer. By doing things like inviting him to play Spoons in camp, engaging him in a game of Mastermind on the bus, and tossing him in the water at the river, they edified him in ways I cannot replicate and touched my heart in ways I cannot describe.
Thank you, THANK YOU, my wonderful Southern Utah trip family, for embracing my son. Thank you for letting me into your hearts and thank you for filling mine.
Mutual respect. Unity of mind and purpose.
Learning and growing.
Hearts filled with love.
Sound like heaven, yes?
Disclaimer: All students pictured have granted written and/or verbal permission to have their photos posted.