The Gappers take on Expedition #2

by Andrea Wackerle

GAP Year

Expedition 2

Hello, my name is Grant and I am one of the mentors for the SOAR 18-19 Gap year. For this blog, I am going to take you through our Expedition 2 trip, in a style that notes the thoughts of both myself and the students. 

Day 1: Wake up comes. It’s earlier than normal, but not as early as last expedition. Pack the food, grab my day-pack, get in the van, LETS DRIVE. Gas stops. So many gas stops. But we are more efficient than last trip! Oops Theresa gave me the wrong directions- oh well. It’s dark when we finally get to our campsite in the Great Sand Dunes National Park. Everything surrounding us is silhouetted and looks like mountains. I guess we will have to wait till morning to see where the dunes are. 

Day 2: Wake up. A man with his two huge dogs walks by. I wave as I cowboy camped in the open last night. He waves back. Frost covers everything. It’s chilly. The sun is coming up. Ahh-there’s the dunes. They literally look like mountains towering hundreds of feet high. Pack up. Eat breakfast. Gather gear. SAND BOARDS- THOSE SOUND LIKE FUN. Hiking in the sand? That sounds fun too. Five miles-here we go. The sun is high and the start is later than we wanted. We are all for the prospect of sledding down some sand dunes. Hike all day. Man we are going so much faster than our last trip! This is great. Morale is high. We get to the camp site and it’s big. There is so much room for all of us. We grab waters, some headlamps and go sled! We hike a mile, cross a creek, climb a couple dunes, apply some wax, and we are rolling- literally down the dunes. Sledding in sand is so much different than on snow! This is a wild experience. The view is beautiful, the sand is everywhere and so are the smiles. We watch the sun set and head back to camp to make dinner. After eating, we gather around a fire and then hit the hay. The next morning- we’re back to hiking. 

Day 3: More frost! It’s cold- filtering water is brutal this morning. The water is cold and the filter is leaking all over our hands, but alas we just need enough to get us to the van where we have plenty of water. We throw the packs on and set off on our loop to get back. The weather is gorgeous- A perfect fall day. We get back to the van and see the visitor center and head to Taos, NM, where Earthships are everywhere and the Rio Grande Gorge is a giant crack in the middle of desert and mountains. It’s massive, the bridge we walk above is windy and to look down makes the stomach twist. But dang- it is amazing, and we get to camp near the edge of it tonight. The sunset is beautiful, the stars are almost as perfect as in Wyoming, and warm pasta is a great meal for the crisp evening. 

Day 4:  Today we visited the Earthship’s visitor center and got to see how COOL they are! We then hit the road to drive down towards Santa Rosa, where there is a magical little hole called the Blue Hole. This 80 foot hole in the ground, filled with the bluest water, is located in the middle of the New Mexico desert- what a strange thing. A constant 62 degrees is what it stays at and it felt refreshing to swim for an afternoon and to then camp next to a lake.

Day 5: Rise and Shine to the most amazing sunset I have ever seen in my life. Pack up the camp and drive to White Rock where the valley that the Rio Grande runs through is filled with hundreds and hundreds of climbing routes- A climbers dream. We spent a good hour attempting to get down to the area where we wanted to climb, but once we did, it was a grand time! All the routes were named after the movie “The Princess Bride” and the rock was basalt which is more black and layered than the limestone or sandstone that we would typically find in Wyoming. It was a nice change of scenery and a good afternoon well spent. We finished with an evening on the rim of the valley, where we had dinner, and then went to bed on the top of a mountain.

Day 6: The long awaited food buy day. We drove to Albuquerque and set up camp at a nice place called Turquoise Trails and then headed to Smiths to prepare ourselves food-wise for the rest of expedition.

Day 7: This morning marked the halfway point. We headed to a place called the Center for Action and Contemplation, where they have a meditation garden and a labyrinth for walking meditations. The morning was chilly, but we spent our time sitting and thinking and drawing and some of us participating in a guided walking meditation through the labyrinth. This meditation method is one of my personal favorites and is a good strategy for anyone to use to slow down and contemplate thoughts and come back out to the world with a new, fresh mindset. After this, we headed into the city of Albuquerque to find a horseback trail ride in the most unsuspecting place. We received the best hospitality that many of us have ever experienced and the trail ride was full of good stories, trotting and galloping, and a beautiful afternoon next to the Rio Grande. In the evening we headed to Old Town Albuquerque, where we made dinner and went on a ghost tour! It was Halloween night of course. This tour consisted of our guide taking us around Old Town and telling us the backstories of some of the ghosts that supposedly haunt the area. It was the perfect night for some well-told stories before heading back to camp.

Day 8: Today we toured the University of New Mexico. Many of the students thought it was a beautiful campus and many of them now have decided to start applying there. After the tour it was an afternoon and evening filled with some laundry and tier-check-ins. 

Day 9: There is a lot of culture, especially ancestral culture, all over New Mexico. This morning, we went and visited Tent-Rocks which are rocks that formed in the shape of tee-pee tents from volcanic eruptions. We enjoyed a short hike and lunch here and headed to what many of us thought would be the best part of expedition- Meow Wolf! Meow Wolf is an art museum that is completely interactive. The staff encourage you to touch everything and also to attempt to solve the mystery that is buried within the museum. It is described as an art exhibit, mixed with a maze, mixed with a haunted house, mixed with a playhouse, and I would indeed say it seemed like the biggest adult playhouse ever. After a little while in the museum, many of the students thought it was one of the coolest places they had ever seen and some of them even attempted to solve the mystery very seriously while we were there. 

Day 10-12: We started our second backpacking trip today. We went to Bandelier National Monument and hiked 6.5 miles the first day. We went through multiple smaller canyons and a canyon that went 800 feet down and then had to come 800 feet back up. Everyone crushed this day of hiking and were all very proud of themselves for their accomplishments at the end of the day. Day 11 and 12 were similar. We got up, threw on the pack and started walking! The scenery in Bandelier was amazing. This monument protects ancestral Pueblos, which are houses that were built into caves in the sides of one of the main canyons. The morning of Day 12 marked the end of the trip. We took a little extended hike to one of coolest spots, which is a protected house that was in a large cave about 50 feet across and 20 feet high, but you had to climb 140 vertical feet in order to access it! Imagine doing that without ladders or stairs hundreds of years ago. The individuals that lived here were basically the first rock climbers because they would climb these walls to get to their houses and other shared communal spaces. 

Day 13: Today we woke up with a view of the Mesa Verde. Our journey has started to take us home, but first we explored another area that protects ancestral Pueblos in southern Colorado. We took a hike through the main canyon that took us to a point with petroglyphs carved into the rock. Afterwards we went on a nice driving tour, where we got to get out and see many huge sites with buildings built into the walls of the canyons that scatter the park! What a cool place to see and learn about.

Day 14: The journey continues back to base where we drove through the Flaming Gorge in Utah to camp for the night.

Day 15: The final day! We drove a short ways to Lander, where we prepped ourselves for the first week on base with food. We then headed back to base to unpack our gear and get back into the base phase routine!