I'm back to civilization today after some camping time in the eastern half of the state. Civilization being - drinking real espresso while my husband and I meandered through the REI flagship store while he took a work break, and Air Force One was flying into town and likely causing havoc with freeway traffic.
Our children currently attend on alternative school within the public school district. It has a Native American/Cultural basis with an emphasis toward outdoor education. Curriculum is based partly on expedition learning in which a topic is chosen (struggle and resistance, mapping and orienteering, storytelling from around the world, etc.) and the children learn the basic educational concepts through these themes. All of the clans (they call them clans, not classes, and each one has an animal name - Eagle Clan, Fox Clan, Otter Clan, etc.) do lots of outdoor trips, and overnight camping is included - even down to the first graders.
This week I chaperoned a camping trip with 4th/5th grade students to Sun Lakes. It was an amazing and exhausting experience in so many ways. The area we camped in was surrounded by canyon walls due to the geological formation of the area. We could hear the echo of coyotes at night. We took the kids to see the Grand Coulee Dam (the 3rd largest dam in the world), and toured the inside. The security was pretty intense - like going through the airport. With the amount of cement it took to make the dam, you could actually pave a sidewalk all the way around the perimeter of the United States. Interesting trivia. We visited a nearby Colville Tribal museum, and took the kids hiking up Steamboat Rock nearby. We spent another day hiking through Dry Falls, which when it was an actual waterfall, was said to be about 5 times that of Niagara Falls. We hiked through Lenora Caves where apparently some native tribes still consider it sacred land and come to collect herbs. There are ancient petroglyphs in this area as well, though we didn't see any - unless you count grafitti. One of the kids made an interesting comment. Imagine hundreds of years from now, someone happening upon some current-day grafitti and considering it a valuable tool for historical language study, much like we consider petroglyphs. It makes you reconsider what petrogryphs really are. On our return trip home we took the kids through the Ironhorse tunnel - over two miles long on a rail trail, and about 99% pitch black in the center. We stopped midway, had the kids turn off all of their flashlights, stood in silence, and one of our chaperones played the didgeridoo he'd brought along. Pretty wild. I think if I'd heard that from the entrance to the tunnel, I'd have had second thoughts about going in.
The kids were such troopers on this trip. There were kids afraid to sleep in a tent away from parents, kids afraid of the cliffs we hiked up, down, and across, afraid of the steep glass elevator at the dam, afraid of rattlesnakes (yes, we did find one - also saw lots of deer, raccoons, marmots, bats, magpies . . ), afraid when they were so tired on our hikes that they wouldn't be able to make it back to camp, afraid to walk round trip in the dark for 2 hours through the tunnel. There were episodes of stress and tears on many different occasions. We had a 'thank-you' circle in the native american style before leaving camp, and I brought up these points. That I was thankful to be able to witness all of these kids have these fears, and be able to overcome them. Their teacher does a great job of showing the kids that it's okay to push the limits a little bit sometimes because the rewards are something you'll never regret. In four days, we actually accumulated about 20 miles of hiking/walking - pretty impressive for 10-yr-old kids.
I was actually able to go running all three mornings on the trip. When I first asked the teacher if that'd be okay, he jokingly told me he'd tie jingle bells to my shoes to alert the rattlesnakes. I chose to avoid the trails and run on the roads at that point. I got up between 4:30 and 5:00 so I could run and be showered before the sleepy campers crawled out of their tents, and that way my run didn't interfere with breakfast prep. Running along the canyon walls out to these lakes that appeared alongside was really beautiful and something I didn't expect to enjoy at all. I come from a land of lush green trees, and never suspected there was such beauty in dry areas. The canyon was really humbling in a way. I took some great photos of the sun coming up over the walls, and really enjoyed the quiet time to myself during the trip. My legs are pretty tired from the hikes and walks and running. I have no idea how these kids all got up and went to school today. I noticed 2 kids in my car asleep on the way home yesterday. And today is supposed to be field day at school. Crazy.