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Our GAP students wrapped up their third and final expedition of the semester this past week and returned to a snowy Eagle View Ranch with big smiles and high spirits. In this expedition, Gappers crossed three national parks off their lists, took an informative guided tour of a cave in Nevada, visited the University of Nevada Las Vegas, saw the colorful rocks of Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon National Recreation Area, just to name a few of their many exploratory and adventurous experiences! Despite some unpredictable and unfavorable precipitation at times, the GAP students pulled through and showed perseverance to end their final expedition on a strong, positive note. Let’s take a look at what our Gappers were up to these last two weeks!
On November 18th, the van full of excited Gappers and staff pulled out of base and headed to Antelope Island State Park outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. GAP students’ stoke was high as we ate some delicious soup and camped amongst the state park’s bison and coyotes. The next morning, the group awoke before sunrise and headed towards their first national park destination of the expedition, Great Basin National Park. Students and staff drove by Utah’s Great Salt Lake with wonderment as the sun colorfully rose over the water. By mid-afternoon on the 19th, the group made it to Great Basin and got ready for their cave tour at Lehman Cave. The Gappers and staff had the privilege of being the only guests on a guided tour with the park ranger so students were able to ask many questions about the cave’s ecology and geology and fulfill their cave curiosities. Following the cave tour, the group headed up Wheeler Peak and gained thousands of feet in elevation to get some 360 views of the basin and surrounding desert area. The next morning the group woke up to a couple of inches of snow and powered through packing up their camping gear to head to Las Vegas.
Once in Las Vegas, the group took a campus tour of UNLV (University of Nevada Las Vegas), the most diverse university in the nation, followed by an informational session with the school’s Disability Services Department. Gappers and staff camped at Red Rock National Recreation Area that night and took a scenic drive through the park during sunset.
And then the GAP group was off to national park number two, Death Valley, where the sun was shining and the temperatures stayed in the low 70s. Students and staff visited the lowest point of elevation in the entire U.S., Badwater Basin and walked along the salt flats. The first day in Death Valley also consisted of some exploring of the Devil’s Golf Course, an entire area of the park covered in unique and large halite salt crystal formations. Death Valley adventuring continued the next day when the group hiked 7.8 miles through Golden Canyon. Gappers and staff alike were enamored by the colorful and mountainous scenery. To cool down and relax after a long day of challenging hiking, the group headed to a pool in the middle of the park and ate some yummy snacks from the park’s general store. That night, the group attended a park ranger-led star gazing event where the history and science of well known and lesser-known constellations, stars, and galaxies were taught. The last day in Death Valley was spent eating lunch at a scenic point in a lesser-visited part of the park followed by a hike to a waterfall. Gappers were surprised to find a running waterfall in the middle of the driest place in the nation! The group then headed to a ghost town named Ballarat to explore some history of the area. While there, they saw two burros and learned a bit about how the town became the abandoned place in the middle of the desert that it is today. Exploring the ghost town was definitely a unique part of the Gappers’ final expedition and they had fun while seeing a more unconventional part of the national park.
Death Valley National Park was then followed by their third national park visit, Joshua Tree! In Joshua Tree National Park, the group was met with a bit of an unexpected dust storm…what a way to be welcomed into another desert! Everyone was safe and sound and the storm eventually calmed down, opening a window for students and staff to set up their tents in the backcountry. Students hiked about two miles into the backcountry section of the park and made their camp they would call “home” for the next couple days. The second day in Joshua Tree was full of rock climbing! Each student was able to attempt both of the walls staff had set up. Each wall had its own challenges but the morale of the group towards climbing was quite high and positive. Students and staff hiked back to their camp that night and enjoyed some hearty beans, rice, and vegetables for dinner. The third day in Joshua Tree was the staff-led bouldering competition! Students engaged in a friendly but challenging competition on who could conquer some bouldering problems throughout the canyon. Our first place winner was Aidan, second place went to Ryan, and third place was given to Charlie. Everyone engaged in some healthy and positive “challenge by choice” and the spirits of the group were high as they hiked back to their backcountry camp in a light drizzle of rain.
Students and staff woke up on Thanksgiving day before the sun to hike out of their backcountry experience. The group headed into downtown Joshua Tree to do some exploring and enjoy the last bit of sun before the holiday storm rolled in. After getting familiar with the national park’s town, the group headed to Pioneertown, a historical old west type of town. While learning about the pioneering efforts of southern California, the group experienced another type of weather…snow…again! Dust storm, snow, rain…what else does Mother Nature have in store for this group on expedition? More rain! It was an absolute downpour all Thanksgiving. But the students were troopers and set up their tents that night despite the incessant weather.
Thanksgiving was more properly celebrated the following day back in sunny Las Vegas. Staff cooked a feast of stuffing, mashed potatoes, chicken breast (cooking a whole turkey on a camper stove seemed like a pretty impossible task), vegetables, gravy, and cranberry sauce! Several pies were, of course, the desert! Students volunteered at a local soup kitchen that morning, came back to chow down on some holiday grub, and then ended the evening playing a couple of games of laser tag.
Expedition from there went by in a flash. The group left their campground in North Las Vegas and headed to central Utah to camp near some hot springs. Students got to relax and soak in the springs to celebrate the last day of their two-week-long journey.
And from there, the crew excitedly headed back to their home in Dubois and officially (and very successfully) finished their final expedition of 2019!