The great outdoors is my favorite classroom. As an ACES Educator, I am lucky to spend much of my time engaging students of all ages in this ever-changing learning environment.
This autumn, Aspen Center for Environmental Studies (ACES) partnered with Basalt High School (BHS) to support their expanded Experiential Education program. This year, BHS offered a 2-3 day Experiential Education (Ex Ed) program to all 450 students at the school. ACES was asked to be a part of the Ex Ed program: ACES Education Director led teacher training for the BHS faculty team on experiential education models and outdoor leadership, and ACES Educators helped lead the actual trips for BHS students
Fellow ACES Educators Andrea Klaphake, Matt Thomas, and I co-led three different expeditions. In addition to teaching ecological sciences to enrich student learning on the trips, we also helped with logistics, gear packing, and trip planning to support students and teachers. I feel so lucky to have been a part of these students experiences. Below are a few highlights from each trip.
Margy’s Hut Expedition: I traveled with my group of six BHS students and the BHS Physical Education teacher, Ralph Smalley, up the Woody Creek valley above Lenado to the Margy’s Hut, one of the 10th Mountain huts, where we explored the area and climbed Mt. Yeckel (11, 700 ft). Aspen trees were at their peak, painting the mountains golden. Views of the Elk and Williams mountain ranges provided a beautiful backdrop. It was almost every student's first time at a backcountry hut, but they were quick to find comfort. Mist engulfed the area, but after lunch we were out exploring the sub-alpine ecosystem surrounding the hut. We found signs of elk, deer, and black bear as well as gray jays, and we learned how to identify the local trees and rocks. We even got to make friends with the resident fox. The late afternoon rolled into evening as we started a fire in the woodstove and played games until the stars popped out from the disappearing clouds. Afoggy morning allowed for a beautiful hike up Mt.Yeckel getting sporadic views of the surrounding mountains hidden by the veil of clouds. What a wonderful 24 hrs in the mountains!
Mount Princeton Expedition: Andrea joined a group of seven BHS students and a BHS Geography-ELD teacher on a trip to Buena Vista to hiked Mount Princeton, a 14,197 foot peak in the San Isabel National Forest. “The weather was out of this world, with partly sunny skies and with little to no wind while hiking,” she reported. “At the top, it snowed a teeny tiny bit, but nothing could dampen the mood of the Basalt High Schoolers! The group was able to summit the peak and enjoyed leisurely hike back down the talus slopes. We camped and ate dinner underneath a welcoming, starry night in the mountains.”
Sand Dunes National Park Expedition: Matt, along with a BHS Math teacher took seven BHS students to Great Sand Dunes National Park, in southern Colorado. Matt says: “I was lucky enough to spend three days with hilarious 9th grade boys that were there for one reason, and one reason only; to sled the dunes! After setting up our camp in the setting sun we quickly went to bed in anticipation of the next days. In the morning, the students were bright eyed and bushy-tailed long before the Educators, excited to explore the dunes. We spent the majority of the day sledding, boarding, and hiking the sand dunes and having a great time. We even made it to the top of Tall Dune! After an exhausting day in the sun, we unwound by the campfire, cooking hot dogs and s'mores, and created outlandish stories. Overnight we experienced some high-mountain thunderstorms (which thankfully did not get too close to us), that resulted in a small river pulse the next morning. After exploring the river and looking for amphibians, we popped into the visitor center and then quickly scurried over to Zapata Falls to conclude our trip.”
ACES was thrilled to be invited to help with Basalt High’s expanded Ex Ed program. This was an incredible opportunity for each and every student involved and we look forward to supporting the BHS students and staff in future years.
~ Phebe Meyers, ACES Educator