“My Soul is in the Sky”
Tuesday marked the first day of our expedition! The Stargazers started out the day with a trip to Riverton, where our morning was spent learning about the Wyoming Job Corps and exploring the campus. We enjoyed a quick lunch in a snowy park before making one last quick stop to the grocery store and bopping into the van to begin our journey South. With an afternoon filled with traveling, we were able to make it to our first of many upcoming campsites: Deer Creek State Park, Utah. We awoke, in the morning, to the sounds of explosions – the ski mountain, up the road, was avalanche bombing! I mightsay, dynamite makes a great alarm clock! We packed up camp, filled our bellies and hit the road!
Our second day of expedition, yet another day of traveling, found us right outside of Las Vegas, Nevada! We drove through wildly incredible landscapes, got to witness a fantastic showing of the sunset, and eventually emerged from vast nothingness into the (unbelievably) lit up world of Vegas before setting up our camp beneath Red Rock. We were “lullabied” to sleep that night by the sounds of nearby coyotes and woke to see the painting of the sunrise coming up from behind the distant landscapes.
Our next destination: Ventura, California. Each day we drive, I find myself in awe of how beautiful the landscapes are of each town we pass. We had mountain views from start to finish, passed vacant desert land, cacti, tumbleweed, deserted buildings, traveling trains covered in graffiti, orange trees, and farmland. After several hours, we made it to our campsite and began preparing our bags for the Channel Islands! Our chef prepared us dinner as the sun set behind the palm trees, while the rest of us divvied up food, group gear, and snorkeling gear!
The next morning we made our way to Ventura Harbor in order to catch the ferry out to Santa Cruz Island. I don’t think that this morning could have been any more magical than it was. The salty breeze kissed our skin as we loaded onto the boat and within minutes we were off! It didn’t take long for us to realize that this ride was much like a roller-coaster as we charged into the waves at sea, up and down, getting splashed by the cool Pacific waters. At one point of our ride, the boat slowed down and, to our surprise, we realized we had a whole pod of dolphins surfing alongside the boat with us. There were hundreds of them, jumping out of the water, swirling around, and giving us the show of a lifetime! Once we made it to the island, we were greeted by the cutest Fox as the Ravens watched us unload our gear from the boat. We set up our camp, played a little bit of frisbee, and headed up the island for a hike to catch the sunset while we prepared dinner. Most of the Stargazers explored the area near our chef preparing dinner, while others played in the field, and some went for a run over the hill to catch an even better view of the sunset over the harbor.
Saturday was the perfect day to catch up on rest, hang around, and take it easy. We walked along the coastline, explore tidepools, took naps on the beach, had a rock-skipping contest, and eventually took another sunset hike! There was some less-than-desirable weather coming our way and by the end of the day the wind had picked up quite a bit! To our surprise, the 30 mph wind didn’t blow any of us away but the sunset certainly did!! The sky was littered with the brightest shades of orange and purple and left each of us utterly breathless. To make this day even more incredible, we caught the perfect beginning glimpses of the full bloodmoon. “Wow” – that’s all any of us could say. It’s almost as if the sky was just kissing us with blessings this entire trip!
We awoke on Sunday to even more persistent wind and found it the perfect reason for another hike, this time to Smugglers Cove, in order to hide ourselves from the 35 mph gusts! We fought the wind for several miles before hiking over the edge of the hill and reaching complete stillness. The sun felt warm against our skin as we walked by napping fox, and those darn ravens. When we made it to the cove we all felt the sense of pirates once walking these grounds. It was the perfect beach to spend the day hiding from the wind. We explored more tidepools, walked the beach, and even found a fresh orange tree – yum!
The next morning we packed up our camp and headed to the pier where (in a handful of hours) we would be picked up by our ferry. We spent another day lounging on the beach and body surfing the waves of the ocean. On our way back to Ventura Harbor we had another magical experience: two Pacific Grey Whales migrating to Baja California, Mexico. A few Stargazers mentioned that if we were to see whales on our ride back to shore that it would simply be the cherry on top of a perfect week – that was exactly it!! Later that evening we had the picture perfect view of Las Angeles from an overlook in Angeles State Park – where we called home for the night.
Tuesday was another driving day for us as we headed to Tucson, Arizona. We camped right outside of Saguaro National Park, in a really cool campground: Gilbert Ray Campground. We woke up on Wednesday to a pastel painted sky as the backdrop to all different sorts of cacti! After breakfast we were on our way to Kartchner Caverns State Park, where we received a remarkable tour of the cave. We finished this day with a trip to Little Anthony’s Diner where we treated ourselves to the the decadency of unimaginable milkshakes topped with things like slices of cake, marshmallows, twinkies, and all sorts of sprinkles. Much to our surprise, most of us were asleep in the van before even making it back to our campsite!
The next morning we made a visit to the University of Arizona and learned about the SALT program before exploring campus. SALT (Strategic Alternative Learning Techniques) is a support program that provides services to UA students who are living with learning and attention challenges. The SALT Center is committed to empowering growth in students through different strategies and techniques needed for success. While we, later, toured the University we were blown away at the school pride, the dreamy weather, and the beauty of campus. It even sounded like a few of the Stargazers were interested in applying to be a Wildcat! After a few hours spent at the college we headed to a park for lunchm where we had a couple of hours to catch up on journals and lounge in the beloved sunshine. We even squeezed in a trip to the laundromat to get a load of wash done!
Saturday morning we packed up our camp, again, and headed into Saguaro National Park for a hike out to Douglas Springs. WOO!!! The Park Service has opened up and we were happily greeted by Park Rangers who sent us on our merry way. We had a 6 mile hike into the Douglas Spring Campground, passing millions of cacti and eventually reached Juniper, as we climbed in elevation. Not to our surprise, we had another breathtaking sunset to experience – this time setting over the city of Tucson and its mountains. After the sun setting, the temperatures dropped pretty quickly. Thankfully, our chef was making us soup to fill our bellies before tucking ourselves into our sleeping bags for the night.
We were up before the sun and on the trail before the heat of the day. We hiked the same 6 miles back down to the van, though it looked like a completely different trail with the sun rising as we descended. We made it back to the trailhead in just about 3 hours and started our drive to Phoenix. On our way, we stopped right outside of Picacho Peak State Park for a beautiful lunch break. We got to our campground and were pleased to find that this campground unknowingly had free showers for us to enjoy! A few of us snacked, some read, and others showered. We took a vote and decided that we would go see the movie “Glass” – an interesting twist on a thriller/drama/superhero movie. Some loved it, some were indifferent. Either way – we all enjoyed the satisfaction of popped corn and getting a comfy seat inside for a few hours!
Monday morning we really started our trek back to Wyoming. We had an unexpected (and breathtaking) surprise stop at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon for lunch. Dang – to think that a running river could do all of that! It was, yet, another incredibly beautiful experience that left us in awe of nature’s wonders. Our final destination for the night: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, in Kanab, Utah. Sure enough, the sand is coral pink in color (and even felt like we were walking in kinetic sand). Another early morning had us on the road before sunrise, which made for a beautiful drive out of the Park as the sun began to wake up and fill the sky with all sorts of colors. Tuesday was another day filled with traveling back home. We finished at Antelope Island State Park, Utah.
Wednesday was an incredibly peaceful drive back to Wyoming. We broke up our drive with a stop in Riverton to grab groceries for the upcoming week, before making it all the way back to base. Wyoming was covered with snow – something that felt foreign to us by this point in our expedition. We made it back to base just in time to have built up an appetite, which was soon fulfilled with hot, homemade lentil vegetable soup (thanks to mentor Grant!) and some tasty garlic bread.
We wrapped up our evening by filling Grant in on all of the fun times, laughs, and beautiful memories that were created and experienced over the course of expedition. Long and hot showers were certainly enjoyed, as were our own beds! As incredible as our experience over the past two weeks was, we are all excited for this base phase where we will jump back into volunteering, CWC classes, transition planning for post program, preparing for Belize, and planning our final expedition. We look forward to sharing upcoming laughs, smiles, and experiences with you from our time spent back home, at EVR!