July 26, 2023
Next up, one last day of whitewater rafting on the Arkansas River! This time, we put in at Texas Creek on the Big Horn Sheep section of the river. After munching on some bagels and tortellini (no joke) for breakfast we hit the road. We had one big competitor throughout the day, horse flies! The kids couldn’t help but slap the flies in defense, laughing the whole time. Thomas and Hoagie (Jack H.) both killed the front of the boat, paddling hard! Thomas decided to start a splash war with Jack L which ended with him being thrown overboard. In the meantime, Alice, Powell, Scarlett and Pippia harmonized Taylor Swift their way through the river Jon, Finley, Sydney and Angus had a trivia battle almost as intense as the rapids. After a day in the sun, we cooled down by grabbing some ice cream before headed back to our campsite at Five Points. Once there, we began our favorite dinner of the trip, a cookout! LODs Pippa and Jack L cooked up some delicious steak burgers, corn, and baked beans with a side of kiwi and watermelon! A true summer feast! After eating, the kids tie dyed their own Moondance t-shirts, letting their creativity shine. Victoria showed off her skills, impressing all. We finished the night with a fire, built by experts Finley and Scarlett! S’mores are always a must, with Pippa making a delectable one, double stacked with perfectly golden mallows! We stayed fireside for Moonup, which began with a prank by the leaders that had all the students fooled. After reminiscing on our trip, we headed to bed before our final day together.
Our final day in Colorado began with a treat: donuts for breakfast! Before our journey back out of the mountains, the gang played within the mountains one last time. On the way to Cherry Creek, our final campsite in Aurora, CO, Finley, and Thomas helped the leaders clean the outside of the van. They found washing the van to be a very fun responsibility, as they took turns with the power washer. Instead of heading to the camp right away, we decided to spend the afternoon at a nearby lake. The kids started a chicken fight tournament in the water with Jack H and Finley taking home the trophy. Lunch was served on the sandy bay and quesadillas were on the menu. Once back at camp, the squad got their well-deserved shower and got ready for our banquet dinner. The banquet dinner is a tradition at Moondance where the kids dress up wacky for a filling meal. At goodwill, Jack H and Angus decided to wear matching outfits, while Sydney went for a patriotic theme. At dinner, our waitress laughed as she took our orders but didn’t fail to mention how polite and well-mannered our group was. While the girls munched on chicken tenders and fries, the boys got massive burgers. After dinner, the party began in the van as our favorite songs throughout the trip were sung by the kids at the top of their lungs. Our final Moonup began with the kids writing letters to their future selves before circling up in sleeping bags under the stars. Our final night was one of fun, silliness and reflection. We had a blast in Colorado and it will be a trip we will always remember! For now: bye from out west!
Kai, Katie, and Trip
July 24, 2023
With the sun up and our backpacks full we hit the road into the San Juan mountains, but not before grubbing on some cream cheese bagels, raspberries, and strawberries. We hit the grocery store first to grab some last minute supplies, namely Gatorade powder to fuel us on the route! As we drove the winding roads to our trailhead we got to see the true beauty of Colorado, full of rocky peaks and teeming rivers. Some spots even offered views of massive waterfalls crashing from steep cliff faces. Soon we arrived at our pull-off, a dirt road that would eventually put us at our trailhead. We navigated up the winding mountain roads until our ears popped! Soon we saw a trail marker in the distance, Kilpacker Basin. We pulled in and got our snacks before strapping on our packs. Everyone took turns trying to pick up the leader’s packs, with only Angus and Jack Hogan succeeding. It was time to hit the trail! From the very start we could see the beauty of Kilpacker, full of tall grasses and birch forests. Soon those forests turned to pine, with wide openings packed with wildflowers of every color. Powell and Pippa led trail games to keep the group entertained during the tough hike! The trail itself offered elevation and drop offs, our legs were burning but our eyes were glued to what may lay ahead. Our first major obstacle was Kilpacker Creek, requiring us to balance our packs as we crossed over on a fallen log! The water was shallow but freezing cold and no one wanted wet socks on the first day. Next up was the much larger Dolores River, we went one by one helping those behind us. Log crossings can be tricky, as Finley soon found out. She took a step onto the wet patch of the log and slipped in, with Scarlett immediately coming to assist, all while laughing uncontrollably! She picked herself up and we were back on our way. We finally made it to the connector trail, Navajo Lake Trail, and decided it best to set up camp at the intersection. Our camp spot offered views of El Diente, a massive 14er we sat at the foot of. We set up tents and started cooking to refuel after our big day. Our first backcountry meal felt like home as we feasted on what seemed like endless grilled cheeses paired with tomato soup! At Moonup we sat together under the stars, giggling at Finley’s tumble. We made way for bed when all of a sudden the sky lit up. We saw what at first looked like a shooting star, but much larger. The light trail stayed much longer than the blip that shot across the sky, leaving us all in awe. We believe it to be the beginning of the Perseid Meteor shower, which should be peaking near mid-August. It was the perfect start to backcountry! We hit the hay, ready for a day of hiking awaiting us in the morning.
After a leisurely wake up, the gang gathered in our backcountry kitchen for some warm brown sugar oatmeal and grits with pan cooked summer sausage. We had a big day ahead, a mostly uphill hike to Navajo Lake, a beautiful alpine lake that sits at the bottom of a mountain range. The hike was going to be difficult, but the group was up for the challenge! Jack H led the pack the entire way, providing constant encouragement to his fellow students through the grind and admiring the 360 mountain views. After a few hours, the group walked into another world and took in the view of the crisp blue lake. Alice, Scarlett, and Finley played in the piles of snow in delight, surprised at its presence in the 80 degree weather. That’s the Rockies for you! Angus almost immediately leapt into the frigid lake upon arrival, showing true bravery. Victoria faced her fears by joining her friends in the lake and came out with a smile on her face! Jon cheered everyone on as they plunged, encouraging those who were hesitant and helping them to the finish line. As storm clouds brewed, we began the descent down and headed back to camp refreshed from our polar plunge. As the clouds cleared and golden hour hit, we arrived back to home base and everyone was ready to devour some dinner. Finley cheffed up backcountry pepperoni pizzas which truly hit the spot. Everyone remained in the kitchen as the sunset, sharing stories and laughs. We then had hot chocolate accompanied by Moonup under a sky of what seemed like a million stars. Tired after a day full of hiking, backcountry day 2 came to a peaceful close.
Day 3 began as it should in the backcountry, with another relaxed start. The crew unanimously decided that we deserved a chill day after all of our hard work the previous day and we did just that! We started with a pancake brunch complete with mini M&Ms, crafted by our LODs Scarlett and Jon. Everyone agreed that they were perfect and a great way to start the day. Morning turned into afternoon as people relaxed in their enos, journaled, and read their books. Sydney wrapped up her whittling masterpiece, a wooden bunny! Thomas then had the idea to play some backcountry manhunt, an elevated hybrid of hide and seek/tag. After a delicious mac & cheese lunch and a camp sweep to clean up and leave the wilderness the way we found it, we decided to explore a nearby waterfall. We followed a trail set in a field of wildflowers and felt like we were in the middle of a movie as the sun hit the field and the breeze blew. After a short while, we began to hear the rushing sounds of water and knew we were approaching the waterfall. Powell gasped in amazement as we reached the falls and we all took in the amazing view and were cooled by the mist in the air. To our delight, there was a second waterfall just around the corner! Jack L raced across a log over the river to access the view, encouraging everyone to join him. Victoria vibed and relaxed with the scenery, her journal in hand. The boys headed back to clean up the dishes for dinner while the girls continued to explore the waterfalls and chill. The LODs helped prepare a delicious comforting pot of jambalaya accompanied with pan cooked summer sausage! For dessert, Alice, Scarlett, and Finley helped prepare a cookie pancake of sorts which was certainly special.. but very delicious! As we ate our creative treat, we began our final backcountry Moonup. Reminiscing on our time in the San Juans, several kids noted how backcountry was their favorite section of the trip, much to the leaders delight (who feel the same way). We talked under the stars as usual, soaking up the peace and quiet before heading to bed.
The final morning of backcountry started off with pop tarts and oatmeal. Cleaning up was easy after learning that it was finally TOWN DAY! The kids packed their tents and packs and we hit the trail. The start of our hike was especially tough, running into the same river and creek we had encountered on the first day. Everyone grinded it out for one final ride. This time we moved through without issue, no one wanted to swim! The elevation was rough in the beginning but everyone kept their spirits high and trucked up the mountain. When we exited the woods we could see the van a couple hundred yards away, Angus and Jack H took off for it running with their packs still on. Once the group met up with them we unloaded gear and got into the van in no time with everyone eager to hit town. Finally we were on the road to Telluride! We started at the Cornerhouse Grille where we got some grub including delectable cheeseburgers and cheesesteaks and caught up on the World Cup! We walked down the main drag, with a full view of a high alpine waterfall in the background. We hopped from shop to shop looking for t-shirts and candy. The heat was beating down, so we made our way to an ice cream cart. All the kids got ice cream, some even got sorbet mixed with their favorite sodas! Our final destination was a local bakery. Pippa got a donut the size of her head, Alice and Powell both got massive slices of pizza, and Jon got his favorite flavor of Jarrittos soda! After the bakery we were on the road again, this time towards Cotopaxi and Cañon city. As we drove, the sun set over the mountains, and we had a special Moonup in the car while listening to our favorite songs! We arrived at our campsite next to the Arkansas River and immediately set up tents. It was time for bed and another day of rafting was just one sleep away!
Kai, Katherine, and Trip
July 19, 2023
Day 4 calls for WHITEWATER RAFTING! Such a day calls for a hearty breakfast and there’s nothing better than pancakes! Pippa and Thomas, our leaders for the day, took over the pancake station whipping up flapjacks for the whole crew! No chocolate chips means adding Hershey bars instead (a way better option anyways). After we all filled up, we headed for Buena Vista to take on the Arkansas River. The sun was boiling as we geared up, only making us more excited for the chilly waters and rapids ahead. After our gear-up we loaded the bus and headed to our set-in point. Scarlett and Finley were the first to jump to the front of the boat. As we pushed off the water that cooled us from the hot sun, we were ready to take on the class III rapids ahead. We cut through the waves as the two boats worked as a team to navigate rocks and tree fall in the river. Before we knew it, we had miles behind us and it was time for lunch. We sat at shaded benches and ate wraps between games of cornhole. Thomas and Angus couldn’t get enough of the sun, playing cornhole for almost the entire lunch! Afterwards we were back on the river and headed to our campsite inside Brown’s Canyon. After a few more miles of rapids, we arrived to our riverside oasis. The spot was set between the canyon walls, we set our tents up on the ridge overlooking the Arkansas River.
After such a long day we were all tired, but not too tired for a few games of Egyptian Rat Slap and some quiet time reading our books. There was a special sort of calm surrounding us as we made our way down the ridge for dinner with our guides. Our raft guide Sammy prepared us traditional spaghetti with his homemade meatballs. They roasted garlic bread over hot coals for us, Jon had to come back for a few rounds of the bread, it was too good to leave leftovers. By the end of dinner we were all stuffed to the brim. After dinner Jack H took the lead washing dishes for the group. The group then started collecting wood for a fire, Victoria stacked her arms with logs to feed the flames. We sat around the fire with our river guides and made s’mores as we recounted the day. Sydney and Jack L were announced as our LODs for the next day, to everyone’s delight! Physically we were tired but mentally we were all thrilled to sleep before another day of rafting.
Day 5 started early as we broke down our tents and packed dry bags to get ready for another long day of rafting. We fueled up for the day the same as we did the day before, more pancakes! This time served with bacon and eggs to everyone’s delight. Our guides told us right from the start that the rapids ahead would prove more difficult than the day before, which was music to Powell’s ears as she hopped in the front of the raft. We started with Zoom Flume, a class III rapid with a huge drop at the end. Our experience from the day before showed as both boats cruised through. The water calmed for a bit before our next large rapid, Staircase. Staircase is 7 levels of waves that get progressively larger, it was a blast and smiles were painted on the faces of the whole group. The sun felt even hotter than the last day, luckily the guides surprised us with a spot to jump into the river off some overhanging rocks! We all cooled off in the river, but on the flip-side the river was freezing! We hopped back in the rafts and made our way to Hecla Junction for lunch. Sydney warmed up on some rocks that the sun had pre-heated (just for us!) as the guides got out our sourdough sandwiches! Re-fueled and ready to go we got back on the river. Our most difficult rapid, Sidell’s Suckhole, lay ahead. The first boat went through with ease, crashing through the waves like professionals. Boat two followed close behind and clipped a rock sending it through backwards, but with smooth paddling and teamwork they worked their way through with backstrokes! By the time we reached the pull-put spot we head trekked over 20 miles down the Arkansas. We loaded into the bus and made our way back to camp, Alice lead a few games of Wavelength to keep the group entertained! Once we got back to the campsite we settled down on the river bank to cool off from the evening sun. Trip set up a fly rod and took the gang upstream to try their luck hooking into some Colorado brown trouts! The luck wasn’t quite there, but the group did learn some tips and tricks to fly fishing. Afterwards we settled around the picnic table for some chicken pad Thai and edamame! The night was short after such a long day, but not too short for a Moonup session. We sat around in a circle and laughed about the rapids and cold river water, the perfect end to a fun-filled day, but not before finding out our next LODs. Angus and Scarlet were next up to bat!
After tackling the Arkansas River, it was time to take on ziplining and ropes course! We had an early start and the whole group was complete rockstars about it, breaking down tents in no time. After a refreshing yogurt parfait breakfast, loaded with tons of fresh fruit and granola, we were all ready to attack the day. Ropes course was first up, a beautiful course set up within a canyon. John was bursting with energy, with his sights set on the double black, the hardest of all of the runs. Boy did he prove himself, making it to the double black before any of the leaders! Pippa, Jack L, and Angus impressed all by crushing the black, a great feat in itself. After munching on some ciabatta sandwiches, chips, and carrots and hummus, the team was ready to zipline. Although we were facing 95 degree weather, spirits were high as we cheered each other on down the course. Powell flew down the course, with the guides sending her down spinning like a helicopter blade, with everyone laughing together and a big smile on her face! Jack H challenged our guide, Derek, to a zipline race with everyone cheering him on and it was too close to call. After loading up on water and snacks, the gang hit the road to head out towards the Great Sand Dunes National Park for our beloved sunrise hike! After stopping for some Dip N Dots to cool down, we arrived at our campsite called Oasis. The name says it all, a leader favorite, the views cast over the tallest sand dunes in the continent, as well as 360 looks at the beautiful snow peaked Rockies. After having a burrito and quesadilla night, we circled up for a sunset Moonup, with the leaders deciding it was one of the prettiest Moonup spots all summer. We then all hit our tents in preparation for our star filled wake up and a great day ahead!
Sand Dunes morning started dark and early, before the sun could even peak over the mountains! We all ate a quick breakfast and hit the trail to make it in time for the sunrise on the highest dunes in North America. The trail started out flat, with a view of the dunes far in the distance. We walked into our first obstacle, a low flow stream filled with ice cold snow melt water from the surrounding 14ers. Powell encouraged the group as we took off our shoes and crossed the stream. After we were facing the dunes, which seemed larger than life standing before them. The first dunes, High Dune Ridge, showed us just how rough sand hiking can be. Finley cracked jokes as we made our way, lightening the mood from the intense hiking. As intense as the hiking was, Scarlett still challenged leader Kai to a race up the dune. Both gave up on the uphill, with Scarlett ahead in the race. Finally the group made it to the top of Star Dune, the highest dune in North America. At the top Sydney remarked on how beautiful the scene was. Despite the early morning, the group was surprised with some sour candy at the top! After the sun rose we broke out the sand sled and sand surfboard! Thomas was the first to shred the sand slopes, weaving down the tall dune walls. We all took turns sliding down the sand, smiles glued to our faces. Victoria took a break to write her name across the dunes while Alice buried Katie to her neck in the sand. Hours passed as we enjoyed the views of the park. Once the sun was high the heat picked up, and so did the bugs…. It was time to head back, we packed our gear and headed down. Back at camp we had a big breakfast of hashbrowns, eggs, and bacon! After refueling, we packed the van and headed to Ridgway State Park. We prepared our gear and headed to bed knowing that tomorrow would be our biggest challenge yet, backcountry backpacking!
Katy, Kai, and Trip
July 18, 2023
Our adventure has begun! Day one was a long but full day of hellos at the airport! After collecting the gang we headed out to Gunnison! Our drive was full of Colorados beauty, with plenty of deer sightings as we rolled through the Rockies. After driving over Monarch Mountain we made way to Elk Creek, stopping on the way for some pizza to fill our bellies. We ate as the sun dropped over the mountains and finished our drive in Curecanti National Park. After a quick tent lesson we were up and running for our first night camping. Johnathan made quick work of his own tent, even jumping around to others to lend a hand! We hit the hay early for an early morning of rock climbing!
Day 2 means CLIMBIN’ SOME ROCK! We got up early to whip up some grub, Thomas took the lead on eggs, making some of the fluffiest eggs we’ve ever seen to go along with some grapes and bagels. Jack H, or Hoagie, took the lead toasting bagels for everyone. Some even loaded their bagels with the eggs and bacon bits to make some breakfast sandwiches. We loaded up and took off for Taylor Canyon, meeting our guides on the bank of the Taylor River. We worked our way up the hillside to some overhanging granite rock where we took cover from the sun. After our safety lesson Powell and Finley hopped straight on the wall to show off their climbing skills. The sun was hot and by lunch time everyone had built up some hunger. We enjoyed sandwiches together in the shade, only to find out the lettuce we bought was actually cabbage. The cabbage turned out to be the perfect ball for a game of “Tips” and soon enough the whole group was up and playing. We returned to the wall for round 2 of climbing and our guides even went ahead and set up a more technical route for us to try out! Some tried out the tougher route while others set up on the older routes to see if they could pick up their pace! Jack L won out with the quickest time up the wall. After a long day in the heat we were tuckered out as we headed back to camp. The heat was intense, but it was no match for the cold water in Curecanti Reservoir. Pippa and Angus were the first to splash into the water. Who knew you could have a beach day in the Colorado desert? After our swim sesh we headed back to camp to start preparing dinner. Another game of “Tips” began as Scarlett took the job of referee, blowing her whistle at any wrong move. Victoria and Sydney sat with Katie as she prepared our pasta feast for the evening. Both Sydney and Victoria impressed the rest of the group with their bracelet making skills. Once they finished their first few, they asked the rest of the group if they could make them some. Some of the others were inspired by their craftsmanship and began making their own before dinner. Chicken pasta was a great first introduction to cooking in the great outdoors, and the kids loved it. Once dour bellies were full, we grabbed our Crazy Creeks and headed towards the water aided by the bright moonlight. Our first Moonup was a success as the kids earned their personal journals with positive quotes and reflective resources. Once back at camp, almost everyone opted to slowly fall asleep under the stars ready for a brand new day.
The morning sun woke up the gang early for Day 3. One of the leaders’ favorite meals started our day off strong – breakfast burritos! Consisting of eggs, black beans, bacon, avocado, hash browns and peppers, we hit the road towards day two of climbing with full stomachs. We found ourselves at a cool spot called “The Mile Pile”, about 200 feet above the Gunnison River. After a short but strenuous hike, the gang made it to the top. At arrival, we were met with 3 climbing routes up a massive face of rock. John, once again and to nobodies surprise, hit the rock first impressing his peers with his climbing ability. Following him was Scarlett and Finley, as they attempted and succeeded the hardest route available. Down at the base, Sydney led a group in card games, as lunch was brought out. Lunch consisted of Turkey Subs with fruit. Hoagie mentioned how the fruit was the best he’d ever had, as he devoured half a box of strawberries. After lunch, the kids took turns climbing the different routes and learning how to belay themselves down the steep rock. Once all kids got their climbing fix in, we headed back down towards the van for some ice cold water. We hit the road towards our next campsite – Arkansas Headwaters: Hecla Junction. Before we got their we made sure to treat the gang for some frozen treats at a unique ice cream truck in Gunnison. With our bellies full and our arms tired, we arrived at Hecla Junction, a camp in the valley of tall desert mountains next to the roaring river. Before dinner, the girls, led by Alice and Pippa, dunked their heads in the freezing Arkansas River. Once back at camp they were greeted with their very own personal Pita Pizzas! A fire roared, and the sun set as the group ate their individual pitas. Moonup around a fire is always a special time and this was no different. The Milky Way shined as we fell asleep, with the river roaring as a reminder of the rafting we will embark on the following morning.
Trip, Kai, Katherine
July 13, 2023
Hello Colorado Trail Families!
We heard from our leaders and the group has landed safely in Denver yesterday afternoon! 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!