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Colorado Trail : 2A • July 2-July 15, 2016

A Bittersweet Last Day

July 16, 2016

Our last day together was a bittersweet one. Everyone was so excited to get home and tell their friends and family about the incredible two weeks they just spent trekking across Colorado, but we were all not quite ready to say goodbye yet.

We started our last day with a drive to the small city of Divide, Colorado where we made a stop at Goodwill to gear up in crazy apparel for our banquet dinner later. I think Elsie may have been the most excited for Goodwill because she was dressed head to toe in a ridiculous but awesome costume. Wyatt got a football that had the boys playing an intense game of touch football all afternoon. We arrived at our campsite after a quick carwash where Claire and Sadie were eager to volunteer to vacuum the whole van.

Once at our campsite in Mueller State Park, we had a boys vs. girls Iron Chef competition for lunch. Both teams were required to make an appetizer, entree, and dessert for the judges (Cj, Lorna, and I). After a valiant effort from both teams, the girls took a huge win with some impressively creative food they served. Alex thought to make us a cous cous salad that had us asking for a second serving. The boys planned to make us bacon wrapped hotdogs covered in cheese, but someone on the team got a little hungry in the process and were left with ingredients to make us a bacon and egg sandwich instead.

The rest of the afternoon was spent cleaning all the group gear and trying to figure out how to squeeze all of our new Colorado apparel into our duffels. CeCe made sure to get multiple shirts everywhere we went so she could be able to show them off when she got home to St. Louis. After all the gear was clean, we decided it was about time we cleaned ourselves so we all enjoyed our well-deserved four minute showers before dressing up for banquet night. We sat in the parking lot where the showers were and had a quick jam session in the van. Wallis controlled the music and turned it up loud enough for everyone in the whole campground to hear. We headed to a place called AJ’s Pizzeria where the kids ate more pizza, wings, and breadsticks than I even knew was possible. Will, Ben, and Wyatt got the hot wings they had been saying they wanted all trip and we somehow managed to still eat Wendy’s Frostys after dinner. Collier got a sugar rush for the rest of the night and danced in the van the whole way back to the campsite. Kaitlyn and Ben led our last Moonup of the trip with a deep question about what we want to be when we get older.

We had a 4 AM wake up call this morning with a van full of sleepy adventurers. Aiden was surprisingly energetic and excited to eat his favorite Poptarts. Some tears were shed as everyone went their separate ways already texting and snap chatting each other before their planes even  departed. Cj, Lorna, and I are thankful for the best two weeks and we can’t wait to see everybody soon!!

Conquering the rock climbing slabs of Southwest Colorado

July 14, 2016

With full bellies and plenty of Telluride apparel, we made our way to our Elk Creek campsite. It turns out that the three hour car rides go by a lot faster for Wallis and Collier when they are trying to pick out the leaders’ type of car. They picked Lorna’s car immediately, “Prius”! Everyone also impressed us with their unique music choices.

At Elk Creek, we had the best sunset accompanied by showers and Mac and Cheese. Everyone was in a great mood as we sat around the picnic table. We found out that Wyatt reallly reallly loves carrots and Tostitos.

We all woke up to Lillian’s beautiful voice, “Good Morning Moondancers! It is a beautiful day here in Southwest Colorado!!” She was met with crusty eyes but we were all smiles going into our first day of rock climbing. We all set up in four groups of three: one climber, one belayer, and one back up belayer. Wyatt, full from his carrots and ranch the night before, sped up the rock face first.

Aidan and Alex were definitely the troopers of the day making it to the top of multiple lines on the Colorado crag, conquering their fear of heights. It turns out the whole group trusts Elsie the most as a belayer. We aren’t really sure if she got a chance to climb because she was so willing to help others up the wall. After the two days of adventures on the rock we made the trek to our next campsite for two nights. We drove by a forest fire, and all the students were in awe of the smoke and flames – it was a cool (and safe!) experience.

As we made our way to rafting with our group down the Royal Gorge, Cece made sure to tell us all about her Beyoncé obsession and her volleyball friends. She is going to the concert in September, duhh. Cece also impressed us with her ability to stay in the raft, for she was the only one who didn’t go swimming during our raft war. On the other hand, C.J. made sure that Claire was soaked the whole day. At one point the girls raft got stuck and we had four swimmers at the same time. Sadie was obviously out to get Lillian in the other raft and tried to drag her in. She also got to sit in the front middle, which caused her to face the rapids first. Ben really impressed us with his nice paddling strokes and was a super big help for our guide getting us through the Class 4 Rapids. The views were beautiful as we floated down the Arkansas with the gorge walls growing higher and higher. We all appreciated the surrounding nature while seeing a mountain lion and four big horned sheep.

After our long day of rafting, we were blessed to have Lillian cook a wonderful couscous chicken curry dish. The next morning, Will decided he would head up the pancake making for the whole group. Kaitlyn nominated herself as junior leader for she was the oldest. She has the most say out of all the other kids because she has so much wisdom.

All smiles from Colorado!

-CJ, Lorna & Lillian

Backpacking was a Blast

July 10, 2016

After some rejuvenating showers at Ridgeway State Park, our group headed to the Bear Creek Trail trailhead to start our four day backpacking adventure.
The leaders were SO impressed after we hiked about six miles on the first day to an awesome campsite with good sitting logs. Elsie impressed us from the beginning by whipping out her own pack and filling it with a large amount of group gear. Collier and Will went fishing for a while and when they returned, Will exclaimed, “I caught a two-inch lonker!”
The next day we slept in to catch up on some lost sleep from the sand dunes hike. Wallis was a little worried to be leader of the day, but by the end of the day, he loved the position and authority. We packed up camp and headed just a few miles down the trail to a beautiful meadow with a campsite by the river. That afternoon, Cece and Kaitlyn accompanied Lillian on a beautiful day hike farther down the trail with some unreal views.
Wallis, Wyatt and Ben fooled us all, well actually just me, by saying that they saw a bear on the trail. I went down the trail with Ben to look for it again, but was disappointed to not find anything. Later that night at Moonup, they revealed their sneakiness and said that it was all a lie.
Sadie and Elsie brought their hammocks and allowed everyone to take turns hanging out in them once we got to our campsites. CJ, Lillian and I were pleased to see this expedition behavior!
That night for dinner, we made a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. Alex was really excited to celebrate a new holiday!
On the last full day of backpacking, Wyatt impressed us with his cooking skills in the morning with sautéed onions and sausage to go with our hash browns. That night he continued his skills by preparing some awesome burritos for us all. Claire wanted to be on cook crew so badly, so she volunteered to help them out! Ben continues to shock us with the amount of food he can put into his tiny body!
We crushed the five mile day because Aidan set the pace fast enough for us to get to the campsite and still have some time for hanging out. We ran into the other Colorado Trail group and camped with them at our big campsite with a huge field and a game of capture the flag erupted! It ended in a pretty heated stalemate.
That evening, Collier and I got into a pretty intense battle of unsnapping each other’s crazy creeks when the other one wasn’t looking.
We finished up the night with a giant Moonup and all scurried back to our tents for one last good nights sleep in the backcountry.
The next morning, we had an early rise and got back on the trail so we could have more time in Telluride! All of the students told us that they were worried that the backpacking section was going to be hard, but they all ended up loving it. Now we are enjoyable a fulfilling lunch of burger and chicken wings in the sweet city of Telluride before we start a new adventure of climbing tomorrow!!

San Dunes Sunrise!

July 7, 2016

After our morning zip lining, we drove to the Great Sand Dunes! After our normal routine of setting up camp, we raced down to the base of the sand dunes where we basked in a warm river and took turns rolling down some nearby dunes. Lorna documented all the action on a GoPro as people tried to see how many jumps it took them to get to the bottom of the dune we were laying on.
Exhausted, we headed back to camp and cooked quesadillas from one of the best cook crews of the summer. Will, Elsie, and Kaitlyn put everyone’s appetites before themselves and spent an hour deep cleaning all the dishes. Lillian was throwing riddles everyone’s way, and Ben figured it out the faster than anyone else, and we could still hear Wallis thinking about what the answer could be in his tent when getting ready for bed.

We woke up this morning with tired eyes and excited spirits as we hit the Great Sand Dunes at 3 AM for our sunrise hike! As soon as we felt the sand on our feet, we looked ahead at the immense rolling dunes we knew we were in for a once-in-a-lifetime morning. The group was a little apprehensive of our hike, because of our early (alpine!) start, but Will rallied the troops and voiced his determination to make it up to the top! He convinced everyone we needed the best view possible of the sunrise. Two hours later, we made it to the highest peak, dropped to the ground, and all took a minute of silence to soak in the scene, the colors, the stillness and the incredible view that was laid before us.

We all munched on our favorite flavors of Pop Tarts while the leaders surprised everyone with a stove to make hot chocolate at the peak to warm up our chilly bodies. CJ served up our rewarding hot chocolate while we watched the first peep of sunrise over the mountain. Aiden set up his GoPro to get a killer time lapse of the sunrise while Elsie, Kaitlin and CeCe were eager to get plenty of memorable pictures with the serene background.
Sadie, Claire, and Alex set off to explore the surrounding dunes and secret ridges. Collier and Wallis got a second wind and decided to roll all the way down to the bottom of our highest peak, run back to the top, and do it all over again. Ben and Wyatt were too busy trying to see how far they could throw the frisbee to each other from so high up. We only planned to stay on the peak until the sun had risen, but we were all so mesmerized by the unreal view that we spent an extra two hours soaking it all up. Wyatt, Elsie, and Ben spelled out a huge “Moondance” in the sand that made for an epic picture.
With our minds full and content, we raced back down to the bottom of the dunes (much faster than we came up). Wide awake at the campsite, we ate a much larger breakfast and left our sweet Sand Dunes spot and headed towards the San Juan mountains. We’re so excited to hit the Bear Creek trail and summit more mountains on our backpacking adventure! Happy Trails!!

Rafting Down the River

July 6, 2016

We began our journey with a long day at the airport. Our diverse group of 13 year olds hail from all over the United States and Alex making the trek all the way from Moscow. The first day was filled with meeting new faces, multiple hours in the airport, and creating a dynamite playlist. Once everyone found out Alex was from Russia she was bombarded with questions about her culture and her hometown. Mostly questions such as: “Do you have peanut butter in Moscow?” Or “Have you ever had pizza before?”

While waiting for the whole crew to arrive Lillian was bound and determined to get the perfect playlist for the long van rides for our adventures. We quickly discovered that rap was the common theme between the group and have been bumping tunes for the long hauls. Once everyone arrived we collected our bags and drove three hours to our first campsite “Hecla Junction” where we had lessons on tent set up and water purification.

We filled our bellies with hot pizza: cheese, pepperoni, and Hawaiian from Moonlight Pizza in Salida. Of course the second we finished our pizza the rain came and we had to scramble into the van. With spirits on the downhill from the exhausting day and disappointing rain, we came back to life with an intense game of mafia where Claire seemed to be the most common pick for the murderer. With the rain still coming down, all the students received their Moondance “live in the moment”shirts.

As leaders we discussed and decided to have the returning Moondancers to be our first leaders of the day to start our rafting adventure. Sadie and Wyatt were definitely up to the challenge and set the bar high for our L.O.D.s to come. They were presented their alumni gifts and showed us all how to lead the day. We quickly learned that Aidan was very intrigued with Harry Potter, for he just started the first book on our trip and cannot put it down. Speaking of Harry Potter, Ben somehow managed to get a gnarly scratch on his forehead that resembles the lightning bolt. He claims he has no idea how it happened, but the leaders think Voldemort may have come to our first campsite.

Our first day of rafting, we met our guides, got wet suits and took a short drive to our put in spot near Buena Vista. We started with the all important safety talk, learned our paddle strokes, and went straight into class III Rapids. The day was cold and one raft called themselves the blue fingered raptors because of the freezing conditions. Elsie, Aidan, Wyatt all had the chance to guide us down the river, with Elsie definitely becoming the most likely to be a raft guide in the future.

Collier and Will noticed Lillian fly fishing at the riverside campsite and instantly became interested. They borrowed her rod and disappeared with their minds set on catching one to eat for dinner. Sure enough, an hour later they emerged back to the campsite with a scrumptious 4 inch sardine sized trout that we cooked and quickly ate. I have a feeling they’re going to be doing a lot more fishing throughout the trip!

On Fourth of July we finished our rafting by going through our toughest Rapids in Browns Canyon and of course Collier had to do a beaver slap right before the biggest one and fell out of the boat.
Wallis also got the chance to run a rapid outside of the boat; he was the only one brave enough to make the jump and swim the rapid. Collier soon made up for his mistake as he manned the grill as he cooked burgers, hotdogs, baked beans, and corn on the cob for our whole group. We had a great Fourth finished off with the good ole red, white, and blue glow sticks for our nightly Moonup.

After the long night of festivities, we had an early morning wake up to go fly across the canyons. We were all a little nervous going over our first zip line and everyone encouraged Cece to beat her fear of heights. She had a blast the rest of the day, while Kaitlyn was wildly out of control on all six of the zip lines we went across, but she still had a smile on her face. Wallis had to commentate the entire day and we were all filled with smiles and laughter.

The first couple of days have been non-stop activities and we cannot wait for the great sand dunes. The sunrise hike will be another early morning as we wake up at 2:30 but totally worth the views. Our group has only known each other for three days and the camaraderie has been helping up get through the long and arduous days. We will check back in before our backpacking trip!

Shout outs from the kiddos:

Sweeeet -Collier

Hey mom and dad. Just went zip lining! Tell Thomas and Jackson “Hi” -Wallis

Hey mom and dad we are having a great time! I’ve made so many friends and I don’t want to leave anytime soon! -Elsie

Hey mom, dad and MJ. We’re having soooo much fun. We went rafting and zip lining. Say hi to Jackson and Clay! -Claire

Hi mom and dad! We are having a ton of fun! We just went zip lining and I miss you a lot. See you soon! -Will

Hey mom, dad, daisy, and Abby! I’m having the best time! I’ve met a lot of new friends and I don’t want to leave. I saw Elizabeth and Tate but they aren’t in my group 🙁 but I love you and I’ll see you soon.
Miss you 🙂 -Sadie

Hey mom dad and max! This trip is really cool! I’ve gone rafting and zip lining. One night I slept outside and looked at the stars. I saw so many shooting stars it was the clearest sky ever! I miss you guys so much! -Ben

Hi mom and dad. I am having a good time. We went zip lining and white water rafting. It’s so much fun! -Wyatt

Dear mom and dad, I’ve been having a great time. The white water rafting has been a blast! -Aiden

Hi mom and dad. I am having a great time at Moondance! We’ve been zip lining today, it’s so awesome! It’s so sad we don’t have this in Russia… Love Alex

Dear mom and dad, I’m having so much fun. The first 2 days we went rafting and it was so fun! Today we went zip lining. Tell Cami happy birthday and make sure Zara is feeding and giving water to the bunnies! -Cece

Hey mom and dad. I am having a great time here. We went zip lining today which was so fun! We also went rafting the days before. I hope Taylor and AJ are having fun. Miss you guys so much. Love Kaitlyn