Traveling in an airport with a group of seventeen people was more of a challenge than I imagined. Especially when there were two teachers and fifteen students, only just acquaintances. As a group, our only motivation to get through the airport was the thought of spending a week in warm weather Wyoming.
Getting out of the airport and into cramped buses that drove us to our campsite, I remember all the excitement draining from my body. I thought, “Wow, this is going to be the worst week of my life.”
The fields outside the van windows were huge flat green spaces and the sky was clear of clouds and a beautiful blue. The wind was soothing, not cold against my face, and the temperature was near perfect.
After a half hour or so, the driver told us to look out of our windows.
Bison, everywhere, filled the huge, flat fields on the left side of the straight road we were on. I have never been good at estimating, so I don’t know how many bison were actually in the field. They migrated on their own accord, wandering across the road freely. Everyone showed a sense of awe and excitement. Daniel, one of my closer friends, smiled a huge grin that showed all his teeth. As we left the bison in the rear view mirror, I began to wonder and worry where we would be staying in the flat terrain, because it seemed bare, minus the bison.
But our camp was a little oasis. Log cabins, bunk beds, four to a room. There were several other buildings on the site, a hall to play games, a living room, and a building that had fossils as a learning exhibit. The schedule for the week was laid out, and each day had a theme; biology, geology, wildlife, etc.
Traveling around the area on foot and through my mind was way more impactful than the physical travel through space and time that it took to get from Ohio to Wyoming. At this point in my early adolescence, I was lost spiritually and trying hard to gain my independence. I believe that hiking in new territory helped me gain a better understanding of the way I felt about my surroundings and myself. Nothing helps my mind more than nature, pure in itself, untouched by man. And yes, I was traveling through space, hiking around this area, going to other places in the state, but what was most important was the physical work I did, and the small adventures each day brought.
Imagine being in a wooded area, lots of foliage, with a big group of teenagers dressed in hiking pants with backpacks on their backs, led by two male teachers in their sixties and a thirty year old guide. The wind moves nicely, there is casual talk amongst the kids and the teachers. One student has taken a large interest in the guide, mostly because he is a know-it-all who wants to show off. I do not care much for him. We are walking uphill on a nice trail lined with yellow flowers. We get to the top of the hill and the guide looks down.
Suddenly, all talk stopped. Even the wind held. No one moved. Down the trail, about 70 yards or so, was a moose, chomping on a tree. He was not small. My heart beat faster, and my palms sweat. The girl next to me grabbed my arm. My eyes were wide as we made eye contact with each other. Her wide eyes held a combination of excitement and terror and she did not blink until her eyes returned to the animal. We all held still, watching the moose walk around leisurely. It may have noticed us, it may have not cared. There was a clearing on our left, and the moose sauntered over to the clearing, and we saw another moose join. Both walked down the hill. Everyone in the group let out a breath together.
The interaction acted like a fuel for the fire in our minds. The rest of the hike was loud and chaotic. Before the interaction, everyone was quiet and mumbling answers to the guide’s questions, but now the group was following him around like puppies. Questions were flying at him, and he answered happily, excited he was able to engage.
After we returned to the camp and dropped our bags off, we went to the dining hall. I ate an extraordinary amount of food, and was relieved to see my bed. After the long day, we were all exhausted. Tomorrow showed an incredible amount of promise, especially because it was my favorite theme of the week: geology.
I woke up the next morning with an extra pep in my step, the kind driven by passion. I looked out my window and saw the beautiful Mountains, the Grand Tetons. And grand they were.The pink sky was a stark contrast background on the pointed white peaks and gray rock that lay under the snow.
I ate breakfast hurriedly, and was standing outside with my backpack tight on my back waiting on the rest of the group. Mr. Jordan, one of the teachers, sauntered out the doorway.
“A little excited, are we?”
We finally got the group moving, back up the same trail we had walked up yesterday when we saw the moose. I was at the top of the group with the two teachers and we chatted about how beautiful the sky was today. We took a different path than yesterday though, because I knew we were going to the mountains instead.
Finally, we arrived at this flat valley. The mountains stood steady in front of us, hills and trees lined either side of the valley. There were giant boulders scattered all around the place, small rocks piled up higher than me. My eyes must have had that little kid fascination in them, because Mr. Jordan told me they were glacial erratics and how they formed. Walking through the valley towards the base of the mountain, the teachers began describing the way the mountains were cut out by glaciers. My eyes were squinting trying to take in every single feature and my mind was on full alert, trying to remember every crevasse I saw. I learned about the seismic activity that made these amazing slabs of rock before me, and how they influenced the area around us. The guide made us draw what we saw as a learning exercise. My sketch did not do a sliver of justice to the magnificent view in front of me.
The more I learned from Mr. Jordan and the guide, the more excited I became. The experience was the most vivid time I can remember truly loving learning and geology.
But, the day ended just as quickly as it began. I had been so excited about Wednesday that I could not remember what we were doing on Thursday. I tried hard to remember as I walked across the field from my room to breakfast the following morning.
Daniel was the only person eating and he greeted me with a smile.
“Are you excited to leave?” he asked.
“Where are we going?” I responded.
He gave me a weird look. “Yellowstone, duh.”
My mind raced. I had forgotten about this amazing part of the week. We get to spend today in Yellowstone National Park! More geology got me just excited enough to deal with getting back into the cramped vans, claustrophobia subtly kicking in. The song of the group became Paper Planes by MIA, and we jammed to it at least ten times on the way there. Looking back on it, it is a horrible song.
The view outside the windows was amazing. I remember a certain river running along the side of the highway we were on, and it was breathtaking.
The first stop at Yellowstone was the hydrothermal area, and the geysers. I remember Daniel saying, “It would be cool if I pushed Shuck off the walkway wouldn’t it?” I rolled my eyes, because obviously it would not be funny, and poor Schuck wouldn’t think it was funny either.
I also did not realize how difficult it is getting fifteen riled up teenagers into a van after they let us loose on the paths around the vents. After we got into the van for what seemed like the seventh time that day (it was only the second), we went and were dropped off at a hiking trail. This hike was the most memorable for me. We stopped and ate lunch at the most beautiful lake. We lounged on the rocks around the lake, skipped rocks and jumped off tree branches. I truly don’t know why we thought climbing and jumping off trees was smart, but it was probably Daniel’s idea.
The lake was amazing, but it was only the first stop of the hike. We hiked up and saw The Waterfall. The one that is always on the photos advertising Yellowstone, the one on the website, with the beautiful colored sandstone and the rushing water through the rock, creating the ravine. We stood at an overlook as other tourists walked behind us on the path. The only sound was the rushing of the water underneath us. It was a perfect quiet end to a day full of adventure. The conclusion of the hike allowed me some time to meditate over what I had learned in the week, what passions I had discovered and how I had taken the time to transform myself.
The field trip to Wyoming was a great experience, full of vivid memories. Returning there is on my list of things I’d like to accomplish, because it had shown me laughs from my classmates, my love for geology and a landscape filled with beauty.