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Draper Journal

Channing Hall students explore Moab’s natural beauty

Dec 04, 2019 08:59AM ● By Julie Slama

Dressed in costumes, Channing Hall students Lucas Reynolds, Sheldon Holen and Quinton Harker are ready for their mock town hall meeting. (Jeff Meyer/Channing Hall)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

Channing Hall eighth-grader Quinton Harker had been to Moab before, but not like this.

For three days, Quinton and 29 of his classmates explored the area, learning about rock formations, petroglyphs, wildlife and flora, all while keeping camp and sleeping in tipis.

“I expected to learn about the types of rocks there, and I did, but I learned so much more and had so much fun,” he said.

It was the first time Channing Hall students attended Canyonlands Field Institute’s (CFI) Professor Valley Field Camp, 20 miles outside of Moab and Arches National Park. In their “outdoor classroom,” taught by CFI’s naturalist, students learned about desert plants, animals and geology as well as public lands management, said Jeff Meyers, Channing Hall science teacher.

“We wanted the students to learn and grow as people and have experiences outside the norm,” he said. “We chose from several types of activities and focuses for the trip, but the day-to-day was planned and executed by the staff at CFI.”

After traveling to CFI on bus, the students were welcomed, assigned to Lakota-style tipis and learning groups, and then signed up for jobs.

Quinton signed up to cook for the crew.

“I mostly cut veggies since I didn’t have a food handler’s permit, but I loved the job,” he said. “It was fun to get to make your own meals and cook for over 30 people.”

Then, they went on a silent hike to an area where a counselor welcomed them and shared with them about the area and “read some poetry and stories to give us a sense of place. We then contemplated and shared some of our feelings and observations,” Meyers said.

Quinton appreciated the night skies.

“There were so many stars; it was amazing,” Quinton said.

On the second day, the group hiked six miles, using dry waterfalls as stairs, learning about local wildlife and flora and trying to interpret the meanings of the ancient petroglyphs.

“We looked at the petroglyphs and what the symbols may mean to figure out what they were communicating,” Quinton said about what appeared to be a man and a mountain goat etching.

Sharing with an audience of families after the trip, Meyers said they learned the plant nicknamed Mormon Tea is similar to a decongestant, and yucca plants were useful with their sharp spines serving as needles, their fibers as thread, while their roots were used for soap.

“We learned that cyanobacteria hold water and resists erosion, so it takes 50 to 200 years to recover from footprints,” Meyers said. “We learned about desert varnish made up of oxidized metals and clay and that it coats rock surfaces for thousands of years.”

On the hike, they also stopped to practice team-building exercises. For example, they placed backpacks on the ground, then blindfolded some students. One student would be able to see what the blindfolded student needed to do, but couldn’t speak. However, the student who could see could mime it to a speaking student who wasn’t able to see the process in hopes that clear communication reached those trying to maneuver the course blindfolded.

Once they continued on and reached Pride Rock, they sat in silence to appreciate the view.

“We also wanted them to experience the world unplugged,” Meyers said. “We all noticed that as time progresses, people who did not normally talk or hang out together started to be more comfortable with each other because they were in their learning groups. We had many students remark on how it was good to be away from electronics.”

That evening, a mock town hall was held about how the land should be used — farming, ranching, hiking, camping or possible commercial and business use — and students were given roles of buyers, sellers and community members. Some said it would help the Moab community if it were sold and apartment complexes were built; others said it would destroy the natural beauty. One student even dressed up as a deer and asked how harmful these business ventures would be to the environment and those who lived there.

It was eighth-grader Georgia Barrett’s first visit to Moab, and after seeing the beauty of the land during the hike, she felt it should be preserved in real life. However, her role was part of the tourist council to support building on the land.

“It was hard to get in character, but I kept asking questions about keeping it the same or farming on how it would make money, which put flaws into their presentations,” she said. “We ended up supporting a spa and hotel, which will make money, but ultimately, it wasn’t what I wanted.”

The nights were colder than many students expected as the tipis didn’t reach the ground, but instead let in cool night temperatures of 21 degrees. Water bottles froze and extra blankets were shared, Meyers said.

Georgia, who said she wore three coats while roasting marshmallows, didn’t appreciate the temperatures during her first tipi stay.

“It was so cold,” she said. “The first night, the flap flew open and wouldn’t stay closed. The cold air came right up under the tipi. I’m more of a glamper than a camper.”

The group’s last full day was spent floating on the Green River. On three rafts, each team learned to row together and got excited as they went over class I and II rapids. 

They kept their eyes open for interesting rock formations and wildlife and were rewarded by seeing an otter and a bald eagle. Upon seeing the national bird, students recited the preamble and spontaneously broke out singing the national anthem, Meyers added.

“The river rafting was so much fun,” Quinton said. “Some people in the boats had a hard time rowing, but we were the best coordinated rowers on the river.”

Georgia said first river trip was fun and memorable.

“It was so much fun, but I got really wet,” Georgia said. “(The student) right in front of me splashed me with the paddle every time.”

During their lunch stop at the riverbank, student teams acted as city managers and tried to protect the town from a mock flooding river. When tested with a bucket of river water, the team that built a canal for the river to flow past the city discovered the water was too much and too powerful so it flooded the banks into the city. A second team designed a reservoir above the city, so the flood would initially go into the reservoir before it headed downstream past the city, staying in its banks. 

They also played Rocky Handy, where they placed flat rocks on the back of their hand and then tried to knock each other’s off.

Georgia was glad she had the opportunity to be a part of the eighth-grade trip.

“I expected to learn about rocks and see red rocks, but there were pretty views and lots of wildlife,” she said. “I loved it all. The bus ride was fun, but it was loud as everyone was singing nonstop.”

Meyers said Channing Hall plans to return next year.

“We wanted this to be a culminating experience for our students here,” he said. “The last year they are with these kids, we take them on a special trip. This is something they can look forward to.”