We departed from Columbia 7:00am Monday morning and everyone was eager to get on the road. Although it rained over Kansas the entire drive, we finally arrived at Colorado Springs, CO Monday night. Tuesday morning we left early at 6:00am. We drove through the southern half of Colorado and the drive was beautiful! We saw the edge of the Rocky Mountains, and we were able to drive through many small historic mountain towns. In the afternoon, we finally arrived at our first National Park; Mesa Verde.
We were all so excited to finally arrive at our first park, and we were able to learn and discover a lot. We learned that Mesa Verde National Park protects land previously inhabited by nomadic indigenous people and communities. The park preserved historic cliff dwellings created by the indigenous people which including housing, ritual sanctuaries and hunting grounds. The park was beautiful because it hosted deep canyons with flowing rivers at the bottom, and in the sides of the canyons were the communal dwellings. The most curious aspect of the park was that most archaeologists know very little about inhabitants of the cliff dwellings, so many questions pertaining to the building structures and landscape remain unanswered. Mesa Verde was a beautiful and educational experience, and all of us wished we had more time to explore and discover.
After getting back on the road, we finally arrived to North Rim, Arizona later that night, which borders the Grand Canyon. Wednesday morning we all woke up to rainy and cold weather, but we were all so excited to see the Grand Canyon. We quickly packed up the tents and ate breakfast so that we could explore Grand Canyon National Park. As we drove towards the Grand Canyon we were all confused because we were surrounded by forest and greenery. We expected the Grand Canyon to be in a dry desert, surrounded by clay-like mountains and tumble weeds. Before we knew it, we entered the park and saw the edge of the huge and magnificent canyon. The Grand Canyon was gorgeous! The park offered accessible, paved trails to walk and explore on, as well as a museum. We were able to climb around on rocks (safely), see blue streams flowing at the bottom of the high ridges and view dozens of miles of red and brown plateaus. The museum explained how the Grand Canyon came to be and we learned many aspects of its' geological heritage. We discovered that after millions of years of flowing rivers, the water slowly carved the canyons and created the steep walls. We learned that if we looked closely, many fossils and ancient artifacts could be seen in the sides of the canyons because the rock and walls are so old and preserved. Although we could have explored the Grand Canyon all day, we all loaded back in the cars to finally arrive at our destination in California.
Sequoia National Park was beautiful, even in the night time. As we drove through the park for the very first time, we vaguely saw the bases of the giant trees. We were so excited to see the park in the day time that we quickly set up our tents and went to bed. In the morning, we woke up to a beam of sunlight, singing birds and brisk air. We felt like we were camping in a magical forest because everything was so much bigger! Not long after waking up and eating breakfast, our service coordinators drove to our camp site and gave us our first volunteer tutorial. We met Dawn, Skyler and Steph. Skyler and Dawn were park rangers in the park and Steph was an intern for the summer. All had great experience in the outdoors and in the park, and it was thrilling to finally meet the individuals we'd be working with.
Our first service task was to refurnish a building that would be used as a transportation office for the park. We taped over all of the wires, pipes and outlets and painted all of the walls and ceilings. After we finished painting, we left the office so that the paint could dry. Later that day the rangers took us to the outdoor amphitheater. Because the winter season brought in a lot of snow, the amphitheater needed a lot of cleaning so that it could be used for the busy summer season. We swept and brushed all of the pathways and cleaned the trails surrounding it. We cleaned the stage and the seats as well. After service, we all headed back to our camp site. As soon as we got out of the car, we set up our hammocks and went hiking!
Next to our camp site was a beautiful river. The river was rushing due to the melting snow at the top of the mountain. After walking alongside of the river we discovered natural water falls and pretty meadows. Laying in our tents that night, we could hear the river flowing down the mountain.
The next day, Skyler came to pick us up at our camp site. It was a cold morning, so all of us were ready to get moving and warm up! Because two tasks needed to get done that day, we split up into groups of six. Half of the group build wooden fences while the other half of the group worked with at a children's day camp called "the BioBlitz." The fences project used hammers, drills and other tools to create bench-like structures to organize around delicate environment in order to keep visitors from parking their cars on top of it. In one day the group of six built nine fences, which was a great accomplishment! The other half at the group working at the BioBlitz had a fun and energetic time working with the children. There were over 100 fourth and fifth graders on a field trip touring and learning about the park, so the volunteers had a lot of running around to do! The BioBlitz was a blast because we got to sing songs, dance and teach the children about the park. After service was over, the rangers offered to take us on a tour through Crystal Cave, which is a popular site for environment enthusiasts in the park. The cave was gorgeous and made all of granite. The structures inside were millions of years old, and we learned the park has done it's best to preserve it's natural beauty and structures. After a long day, we traveled back to our camp site.
The next two days of service went around the park and worked on trail restoration projects. We cut large logs blocking the trails, pulled invasive plant species, raked away pine needles and brush, cut down hanging tree limbs and cleaned of seating areas and picnic tables. Because there are many camp grounds and visitor areas in the park, there were a lot of trails to repair due to the snowy winter season. After a long day of service, we were excited to go to the museum and look at the giant Sequoia trees! The large Sequoias were incredible to learn about and to see. We learned that the Sequoia trees are an ancient species that has survived for millions of years. Some of the trees in the park were almost 3,000 years old! Later that night, we went on a guided hike and were able to see the full moon and stars.
Our last day of service we were able to finish the transportation office. After all the paint dried we tore off all the tape, uncovered the new carpet, washed the windows, replaced the electric outlet plates and hung up the blinds. After we were finished, the office looked brand new! As a final touch, we decided to make a poster which welcomed the new transportation staff to the park.
Later that day we went to Kings Canyon National Park, which neighbors Sequoia National Park. It was only an hour away, but the park was so drastically different and beautiful! At the bottom of the massive canyon flowed a blue river. We decided to drive all the way to the bottom of the canyon and go on a hike. The trail followed the river and opened up to a gorgeous valley. We crossed a bridge overlooking the river and the walls of the canyon. The hike was fantastic, and it was very warm!
Although we dreaded leaving Sequoia National Park, we were excited to continue exploring other national parks on the way home. Our first destination on the ride home was Yosemite National Park. Although we did not have much time to explore the park, we were able to hike up to one of the massive water falls. We were also able to tour through the museums and learn about the history of the park. We learned that Yosemite was the first national park established and that John Muir, who is known as America's first environmentalist, discovered it. After leaving Yosemite, we arrived at St. George Utah. We stayed at Snow canyon state park which neighbored Zion National Park. The landscape hosted gorgeous red mountains and canyons. We were lucky enough to arrive before sunset, so we hiked up to a good lookout spot and watched the sun go down.
Because the weather was so warm in St. George, many of us slept in our hammocks or laid out our sleeping bags on the warm red rocks. The night in St. George was the best night for sleeping because it was the warmest. All of us woke up refreshed and ready to go the next morning!
The next morning we packed the car quickly and hit the road. The drive through Utah was absolutely gorgeous, and it seemed like the entire state was one big national park! Around lunch time, we finally arrived at our last national park. We decided to visit Arches National park, and it did not disappoint! We hiked up to the famous Delicate Arch and saw many miles of red rocks. It was a very beautiful sight!
That night, we stayed in a cabin owned by family friends in Evergreen, Colorado. The cabin sat on a bluff overlooking the Rocky Mountains. We were lucky enough to be fed a hot dinner and breakfast, and we even got to play with their dogs! The last night of our trip was a fun and memorable bonding experience. We reflected on all of the things we learned, the ways in which we grew and the experiences we wanted to remember forever. The summer trip to California was an unforgettable experience, and we are all blessed and thankful to have has the opportunity to explore and serve!