Semester 43: 2nd Expedition

Written by: Jack, Zack, Rory, & Lucas

Group A: After a month of classes on campus, we traveled back into the backcountry. During the day, the warm air of the desert made us sweaty and tired and during the night we piled on layers like you have never seen. The first night was so cold and a shock to all – the air is supposed to feel warm in the desert! The first seven days of our expedition saw us traveling around Jacob’s Chair and the Cheesebox (both large butte formations) in San Juan County, Utah. We walked quite a while, dipped deep into canyons, and searched far and wide for tiny pools of water. Often the water would have an unpleasant taste and a brown color. Though, after purifying the water, we were able to stay hydrated. On the eighth day, we drove to the San Rafael Swell where we would soon find ourselves doing river crossings (seeing running water was quite the shocker) and bushwhacking through large vegetation. We were honest and vulnerable with each other in the group, emotionally raw when it felt right, and outright crazy when we wanted to be. The amount of intimate time we spend with such a small group of individuals on the expedition means that we grow extremely close and we are all so glad that we got to spend as much time as we did with our groups. On our last night, we laid all together singing our favorite and most memorable songs, dreaming of our comfortable beds back on campus but also soaking up our limited time left outside. That night we slept with our sleeping bags lined up, telling stories and chatting until eventually everyone was asleep. When we woke up, it was still dark out, and as we drove away and the sun peered up, all we could see were the outlines of the canyons we had lived in for over two weeks.

Group B: As the second expedition began, we quickly fell back into our hiking routine and everything that comes with it—the navigation (in our map checks and route-finding), our class schedule, the backcountry “cooking,” and the tarps. Yet as we entered the arid landscape of the Utah canyons, only a day after the Colorado mountains’ first snow, we ran into quite a few challenges entirely new to us. Even as we exited the bus on our first night, we found the pain of the “spikies,” the name we assigned to desert’s pokey, prickly plants, which always managed to sneak into our socks and skin. Then, as we began hiking, water became a luxury. We hopped around the slick-rock in search of those orange puddles—brown on a good day. As we continued through our first ration, we started bushwhacking more and more, pulling more and more “spikies” out of our boots. Then came second ration. Every night, we stared into the heavens looking for constellations, but not the constellations one would traditionally seek in the night sky. We invented a completely original set of constellations. We constantly experimented in the kitchen, creating everything from pretzel and cheese dumplings to brownies. By the end of the trip, the seven of us had become extremely close and we learned to appreciate a new environment, no matter how barren and dry it sometimes felt, in all of its human history and natural beauty. 

Group C: Over 16 days, our group hiked throughout the Utah Canyons. Our first seven days were spent around Gravel Canyon in the Jacobs Chair area. Here we got back into the groove of life in the backcountry. We slept on top of the mesas and had a blast searching for water at the bottom of the canyon each day. As we traveled, our water sources got more scarce. We had one day where five of us searched for water for five hours only to find it right back where we had started the search. This was a good lesson as to be patient and not take advantage of resources like water. Meanwhile, back at camp, the rest of the group sang their hearts out and told stories while they waited. Our last nine days were spent in the San Rafael Swell where we performed our independent science experiment, came across a family of bighorn sheep and started Independent Student Travel (IST)! Our group spent three days without our instructors and managed to navigate through the canyons and the backcountry on our own! We slept under the stars together every night and it was a great bonding experience for our group. We also came across some incredible petroglyphs while on IST. To finish off our trip, we rejoined our instructors and had a lot of good laughs.