June 22, 2023
Hello (and farewell) from the Denver Airport!
We’ve had the absolute best last few days here in Colorado! From getting exhausted by the sun to dressing up in crazy thrift store outfits last night, this group has been through the most together. We will carry our friendships and memories forever!
We concluded our last fire with smores and Reece’s cups. After a good night’s sleep cowboy camping under the stars, we awoke ready for a beautiful day of rafting! The sun was beaming – a perfect adjustment from the cold we experienced while backpacking. We prepared a well-balanced breakfast of fruit, turkey sausage, cheese, and grits, threw on our swimsuits, and headed towards River Runners.
Our rafting adventures began at Big Horn Sheep Canyon after a slight location change from harsher conditions of the Royal Gorge. We reviewed our river safety procedures and hopped into the cold water – a blessing in the heat! On the way, Sandy’s boat with Vivi, Harper, and Casey spotted two baby Big Horn Sheep right by the water. Harper and Casey tried rowing the boat while our guide, Jack, sat as a passenger. In Clay’s boat, the boys did a “boat wheelie” adding weight to the back bow and rocking it back and forth! Bowen and Strickland also engaged in a “T-grip battle” where they stood on opposite sides of the raft, stuck their T-grips together, and leaned back as long as possible until they both collapsed into the water. In Lucy’s boat, when anyone said they felt hot, the raft guide would throw them into the water! Berkley, Stancil, Elisabeth, and McKenzie were quite caught off guard a few times I must say. Lots of laughter and smiles on the river!
After a nice sandwich lunch on the river, we got back into the water to experience some of our most intense rapids yet – Spikebuck and Shark Tooth. Clay and Sandy’s boats decided to enter one of them while doing a 360 – a HUGE adrenaline rush, especially when we went over one of the biggest waves backwards!
After our rafting adventures, we headed back to the campsite. With heat still in full force, everyone did another “polar plunge” into the nearby river with our favorite tunes in the background. After a brief dunk, Benjamin organized a group-wide spike ball tournament. Winners were Benjamin and Bowen, with Clay and Casey trailing in second place!
To commemorate the second-to-last night together (and last homemade dinner), Lucy and Sandy took the girls on an eventful final grocery store run while Clay took the boys on a sunset hike up the surrounding mountain to bond and watch the moon rise over the peak across the river. Upon returning, the girls surprised the boys with a “We love you!” cake, delicious Caesar wraps, and mac-n-cheese. It was one of our favorite nights yet. Harper and Ethan led a wonderful Moonup under the stars in our sleeping bags, asking the question “what has been your favorite memory from the trip so far?” It was bittersweet going through all our shared moments together. We smiled watching everyone drift to sleep together in a square for a second-to-last night of sleeping under the stars.
For our final morning, we hopped up (thanks to a nice JBL speaker blast) and made our last lucky charms pancakes. Then we hopped into the van with our belongings packed and headed towards Denver! Upon arriving, we organized an Iron Chef competition using our leftover food for lunch. The girls made sausage mac-n-cheese, mashed potatoes, and a homemade sugar tortilla dessert with strawberries. As for the boys, they made a “Mexican specialty” – nachos (Doritos, melted cheese, and burger buns), quesadillas with turkey, cheese, and sausage, and a dessert of melted marshmallows and chocolate on top of a burger bun. The girls won the competition, but it was a close call. After an afternoon of cleaning and organizing, we headed to goodwill to buy outfits for each other to wear to dinner, and everybody got pretty creative. We finished the night with a final moonup discussing what everyone would take away from the trip, then had a final little wrestling match before drifting off to sleep. This morning, we said our final goodbyes and sent everyone home at the airport. We could not be more thankful for the time we spent with these kids, and we will cherish these memories forever.
Lucy, Clay, and Sandy
June 20, 2023
Hello from Gunnison Valley!!
We had a wonderful two days of rock climbing and exploring Crested Butte. On Friday, we closed our backpacking section with Dolores Peak towering over us. Our LOD’s, McKenzie and Strickland, led us as we hiked out to the van. We all put on a fresh pair of clothes and finally took our hiking boots off and drove to lunch! Passing through Telluride, we saw a huge herd of elk and a ton of people in town for a bluegrass festival! Most people took well-deserved naps in the car until we arrived at a Mexican restaurant for our local food stop where we ate a combination of queso burritos, super nachos, and quesadillas! The meal ended with Lucy in a sombrero and everybody’s stomachs full of dessert. Our next stop was everybody’s favorite campsite yet. It was a little rainy, but we made the most of it cooking chicken curry and hopping in tents for a good night’s sleep.
The next morning, after Bowen and Clay took a polar plunge in the lake, we received news from our rock climbing guides that it was too rainy to climb, so we quickly came up with a new plan for the day. Meanwhile, Stancil, Elisabeth, and Ethan cracked eggs and whisked them up while Bowen cooked the sausage, and we enjoyed a breakfast hash under a dry tarp. Our LOD’s Ben and Vivi helped us tell the group our plan for the day, swimming in Gunnison and exploring Crested Butte.
Upon returning to the campsite, everybody went for a swim in the lake and had quite the dance party led by Berkley watching the sunset over the lake. Casey was taking people on one-on-one with the soccer ball, while McKenzie and Vivi threw around the football in their brand-new pajamas. We finished the night with burgers and Moonup. As the night was winding down everyone set up their sleeping bags for a night full of laughs and shooting stars.
On Sunday, we woke up to the sun shining bright and clear blue skies. Everybody worked together to cook up some oatmeal, pack up camp, and drive to rock climbing! Clay was in his element on the wall, coaching Ethan, Bowen, and Elisabeth up some tough routes. Benjamin and Harper finished us out on the wall attempting an extra hard route that our guides put up at lunch for us. Although they didn’t make it all the way up, it was a valiant effort that ended with sore arms and smiling faces.
At our new campsite on the Arkansas River, we tossed the football around and played cards for a few hours while prepping tacos. After topping tacos with a beautiful setup of avocado, tomatoes, lettuce, onions, and shredded cheese prepared by Harper and Vivi, we made s’mores with a new twist – Reese’s cups!
Tomorrow we will have one last day of rafting on the Arkansas River and a hangout with music and fun camp games. Yet again, another beautiful day in Colorado!
Until next time,
Sandy, Lucy, and Clay
June 18, 2023
Greetings from Kilpacker trail!
We are having an absolute blast in the backcountry. Our journey began filling our bellies with delicious breakfast burritos made by Bowen, Elisabeth, Harper, and Ethan in front of one of our favorite views yet — the Ridgway Reservoir! We then learned about Moondance’s “duffle shuffle” — the proper way of packing a backpack! With our backpacks secured and ready, we hit the road listening (of course) to some old classics and stopping halfway for a side-of-the-road, pre-backcountry dance party. Spirits were up!
After our lovely road trip, we parked our van at the Kilpacker trailhead, unloaded our packs, and investigated where we were on a map. No GPS here! Our LODs for the day, Strickland and Berkley, set the pace for the rest of the group as we began our first hike to find a campground. The fields and mountains around us were breathtaking! Around 20 minutes in, we began to see some summer snow on the trail, a huge bucket list accomplishment for Stancil! As we began to enter into the forest, even more snow awaited. Bowen led chants while our boots sunk deeper, and we encountered several backcountry river crossings. What an adventure we were having!
Before long, the sun started to settle downwards, and it was time to find a campsite. Our LODs settled upon a woodsy flat area by a creek that would suit our needs for the night. We sat our packs down and immediately felt like we were walking on clouds. But boy, it was a cold night! After tent set-ups, the kids huddled together for “tent talk” to keep warm in sleeping bags and bond while we gathered water and began dinner. Nothing like hot ramen with chicken after a cold day! Our hearts and bellies were full after our first successful day in the backcountry. After putting all our “smellies” into a secure “bear burrito,” all that was left was a good night’s sleep! Next up LODs: Stancil and Ethan!
We awoke to some enthusiastic workers, Bowen and Strickland, eager to fetch water for the group. Sandy accompanied them to the creek as they filled up Nalgenes and gathered water for a scrumptious oatmeal breakfast. Upon returning to camp, Clay and Lucy began the official whisper-lite stove lesson! Berkeley and Stancil, our confident volunteers, were the first to successfully set up the stove. After oatmeal, we packed up our things and decided to switch campgrounds further down the trail.
However, what’s a backpacking trip without an unexpected obstacle? As we headed north, the trail disappeared more and more into the snow. We made the difficult decision to head back in the direction from where we came. We trekked until we reached a breathtaking view of Dolores Peak with some solid flat ground and an accessible water source. Lucy brought out friendship bracelet strings and Vivi and Berkley took turns teaching everyone how to make them. Stancil and her cook crew made everyone delicious “pita pizzas” until our whisper lites faded in the rain. During Moonup, Ethan asked the group “who is your greatest inspiration in life?” Our new LODs were also announced: Berkley and Bowen.
The following morning, we hopped out of bed (courtesy of Sandy banging on pans and yelling chants) and made pancakes with lucky charms marshmallows on top — a perfect start to the day! After some group games and more bracelet making, Lucy and Clay led the group on a hike to a nearby pond while Sandy stayed back with Vivi and Harper who felt slightly under the weather. Bowen led the group in a polar plunge at the pond and before we knew it, everyone was following behind! The sun was out, and everyone was smiling. Clay took individual photo shoots and Casey was THE star. When everyone returned, we started on a scrumptious fajita bowl meal, with Benjamin making a mean buttery rice and chicken. For Moonup, Berkley and Bowen asked the group “if you could go back in time to one moment, what would it be and why?” New LODs were announced: Strickland and McKenzie.
On our final morning, we woke up, prepared some quick oatmeal, and packed up camp. The hike back to the van consisted of lots of fun trail games, namely with McKenzie, Elisabeth, Harper, Berkley, and Ethan playing the game “contact.” We hollered and hugged each other as we approached the van and congratulated each other on our first successful trip to the backcountry! What a time.
We cannot wait to go climbing, rafting, and take in these final days together!
Until next time,
Sandy, Lucy, and Clay
June 17, 2023
Hello from colorful Colorado!!
We’ve had a heck of a couple days! On Sunday, we headed over to Captain Zipline to attempt some pretty difficult ropes courses and zip through the canyons after a delicious English muffin breakfast. Upon arriving, everybody warmed up on some of the easier ropes’ courses with plenty of peer-to-peer encouragement and hype. Casey conquered the “hands-only” route with Elisabeth cheering him on from behind while we as leaders raced students on the harder runs. After Bowen confidently finished the first course in front, our ropes course guide challenged him to complete the nearly impossible double black diamond route to test his limits. Everybody gathered around to watch and cheer Bowen on. To everyone’s disbelief (and delight), Bowen finished the course with heavy panting and a huge smile. We couldn’t have been prouder of him!
To finish off the morning, our very own leader Clay attempted to beat our guide’s timed record on the double black run. We all cheered him on as he began up the ladder, Go Pro on head! Clay didn’t quite beat the record, but he came close with an impressive time of 7 minutes and 40 seconds.
At lunch, we introduced everybody to something we like to call “The George” — a tortilla doused with peanut butter, Nutella, jelly, summer sausage, and cheese. A true gourmet Moondance burrito! After some skeptical looks, everyone tried it and loved it (to our delight)!
In the afternoon, our guides took us on a six-part zipline tour overlooking the canyon with a beautiful view of the Arkansas River. Sandy started the “category” game with animal noises as each student began zooming through the mountains. It was hilarious hearing McKenzie, Berkley, and Stancil attempting pig snorts while flying! There were some short hikes in between where our guides picked “spear grass” that sticks to the back of shirts… we had a bit of a spear grass war afterwards!
After we finished the zip line tour, we hopped in the van and drove to the Great Sand Dunes and cooked up some delicious chicken alfredo while watching the sunset. At Moonup, our LODs Elisabeth and Casey asked the group what we’re most grateful for before falling asleep, and new LODs, Bowen and Harper, were announced. An early morning was brewing!
At 3am, we woke the group up, grabbed some oatmeal, and headed to the “Point of No Return” trailhead. A bit up the trail, some of the boys found a log for us to cross the river, and after a steep climb up the sand, we watched the sunrise over the snowcapped mountains. The sand was wet after a rainy night and was a blast to sink our feet into. We spent the next few hours hiking further up to High Dune and sliding down the sand boards. To commemorate the early morning and beautiful views, we surprised the group with our first “extra-mile” gift – Nerds clusters! We played music, sang, danced, and hugged each other. We watched proudly in the wind as Harper, McKenzie, Ethan, Bowen, Casey, Strickland, and Benjamin ran up to Star Dune, the highest sand dune in North America to finalize our sand dune experience.
Upon re-entering the van, the kids immediately passed out after a long, yet incredible morning. We packed up our things at the campsite and decided to make scrumptious protein pancakes as a reward for our resilience! Benjamin took topping orders (blueberries, chocolate chips, or strawberries) while others basked in the sun and warmed up. Vivi was essential to the pancake making process, adding the toppings, and letting Lucy know when to flip each pancake. We had a little dance party by some picnic tables at our late breakfast, then slept in the van the whole way to our next campsite. Upon arrival, everybody took some well-deserved showers, and we cooked chicken pesto with Caesar salad and mashed potatoes. Our Moonup question for the night: would you be a superhero or a villain? Our new LODs were announced – Strickland and Berkley!
We are off to start backpacking tomorrow morning and cannot wait for our first backcountry experience together!
Until next time,
Sandy, Lucy, and Clay
June 11, 2023
Greetings from the Arkansas River!
As trip leaders, we want to first off express our gratitude for sharing your wonderful kids with us! Each one of them has been a delight to get to know these past few days and we cannot wait to watch the group dynamic continue to flourish. So many more amazing memories to come!
Our journey began bright and early in the Denver Airport with lots of enthusiastic hellos, name games, and excitement. We then hopped in the van to head to our first campsite on the Arkansas River. It wouldn’t have been a true Moondance road-trip without stopping halfway for a parking lot dance party! Upon arriving to the campsite, we unpacked our things and learned and practiced how to set up a tent. After eating a well-earned pizza dinner, we gathered in a circle for our first Moonup where we asked the group “why are you here”? We bonded over our mutual love for the outdoors, friendship, and adventure, and closed Moonup announcing the next Leaders of the Day (LODs) – Mckenzie and Ethan! Before long everyone was fast asleep and cozy in their sleeping bags.
We awoke bright and early, scarfed down some warm bagels, and hit the road to meet our amazing River Runners rafting guides at Browns Canyon. Our LODs organized a group huddle after hopping into our wetsuits to discuss appropriate river conduct and to get us excited about rafting! We then loaded our two rafts and hit the river. About 20 minutes down the first rapids, our first boat got stuck high-sided behind a rock. With the second boat — Casey, Vivi, Strickland, Elisabeth, Benjamin, and Sandy — trailing close behind, a quick raft-to-raft collision caused the second boat to flip. After a brief moment underwater, all 6 boat members were quick to react to the situation, utilized their newly-learned raft safety skills! Casey and Vivi immediately swim hard to safety on the shore while the others were pulled into the first raft by students, Lucy and Clay, and our raft guide. It was a group effort and we were so proud of everyone’s immediate response!
To gather ourselves and debrief the incident, we anchored on the shore for a breather and discussed our options. It was amazing watching everyone immediately support each other — lots of warm hugs! We came to our first big group decision after our debrief that we would not continue rafting that day. We were so proud of everyone for looking our for each other and adapting!
After paddling to the nearest exit, we hopped back into busses and headed to River Runners HQ. While the students warmed up in hot showers, the LODs helped us plan a surprise trip to the Mt. Princeton hot springs to compensate for the rough morning. With full bellies and much-improved morale, we drove over and enjoyed relaxing and bonding in the pools for a couple hours. It was the perfect end activity to a long day!
We headed back to River Runners for a warm dinner, blasting music on the way. Bowen attempting catching some crawfish while others were seen playing games in a circle or running around. During kitchen cleanup, Berkley kept attitudes positive singing along to songs while absolutely crushing the dishwashing. After heading to our new campsite for the night and setting up tents, we watched the stars together while the LODs initiated the night’s question: “if you were a star, which one would you be and why?” The new LODs were announced — Vivi and Benjamin! Everyone headed off to tents with heavy eyes and a new shared river story!
The following morning, we packed up camp and headed to River Runners for another breakfast meal, unsure of the day’s plan. After a warm meal and a quick hyped-up rafting conversation from both us and the raft guides, we allowed the students to make a decision on whether or not they wanted to continue rafting. To our pleasant surprise, every single student, including those that flipped, persevered and decided to conquer their fear of the river! We couldn’t have felt more proud. We then split into 3 rowing rafts and began our journey. Benjamin, Strickland, Bowen, and Ethan’s boat led in the front with lots of positive hollering as we travelled over some of our favorite rapids, namely “The Staircase” rapid. There were smiles all around. Sandy and Stancil paddled in first row while a huge wave soaked even McKenzie and Berkley in the back! We finished strong at our end point with plenty of hugs and support to those who felt especially nervous prior. It was a huge milestone for the group!
We said a sad farewell to our wonderful rafting guides and hopped on the road to our next campsite, right on the river! We unpacked our belongings and got our energy up with a lovely tent-set-up competition (the boys won it by a hair) and a game of fishbowl! In the meantime, our cook crew for the night, Elisabeth, Harper, Ethan, and Bowen, cooked up an amazing chicken and mac-n-cheese dish for the group. After dinner, our LODs organized a round of rose-bud-thorns for Moonup and we passed out Moondance T-shirts for each person. With no debate, everyone agreed that the stars were just too beautiful to sleep in tents! While the leaders finished putting things away in the van, everyone settled down their sleeping bags in one big square under the stars. Our first experience of cowboy camping was in motion! We smiled and hugged each other as we watched the group from afar gasp and yell in excitement each time a star shot across the sky. When we eventually joined the watch party, they revealed they had counted 12 shooting stars — one even a meteor! Now as we settle to sleep our hearts are full with new friendships, appreciation for nature, and shooting stars. We cannot wait for what the next week holds!
Sandy, Lucy, and Clay
June 8, 2023
Hello Colorado Trail Families!
We just heard from our leaders and the group has landed safely in Denver! The trip is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their adventure.
Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout-out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!