Utah trip promotes learning, exploration

BY ELENA CRUZ —

10 upperclassmen traveled to Utah over spring break for a nine-day trip led by Mike Gregornik, physical education, Watershed Wisdom and adventure education teacher.

The group drove through Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado on their way to Utah, going from an urban environment to the wilderness.

“Right after school on Thursday, we jumped in the van and we drove to Omaha, [Nebraska] — which was our first stop — stayed at a hotel in Omaha, and then the next morning we left there and arrived in Moab, [Utah]. So it’s about 24 hours of driving,” Gregornik said.

That night was spent under the stars at Horse Thief Campground.

“It’s way up high on a plateau, and it’s very close to a place called Dead Horse Point, which is supposed to be the most photographed spot in the United States. It’s really beautiful. You’re high over the Colorado River, and you’ve just got this huge vista which is really gorgeous,” Gregornik said.

They explored Arches National Park before continuing their journey, driving toward Willow Canyon, a remote campsite, eventually halting their travels within Grand Staircase National Monument.

“It was just three days of living on the land,” said Luis Roche, junior. “After we went through the first couple of days of Utah, we drove, stopped at certain places, but they were just generic campsites with little stores and stuff. But then for three days, we hiked probably four or five miles into this canyon, … and we literally only had whatever we brought in our packs for three days. No phones, no nothing; just chilling underneath the stars.”

This being the main destination of the trip, the students spent the most time in this location, immersing themselves in nature.

6 utah 2
(courtesy Marlee Lane) Maggie Burghardt, junior, journeys through a slot canyon near Escalante. This was one of the many canyons the group explored on their 9-day trip to Utah.

“We base camped on top of a hill, and then maybe 30 feet from our tents was this giant, curved-in canyon,” Roche said. “That’s where we would cook, hang out, [and] play cards, whatever. By [our tents], there was a fifty-foot drop, and there was this little stream. Across the stream was a giant arch, probably a hundred feet [long].”

The group also visited a waterfall, hiked to the Escalante River, walked through chest-deep water at Slot Canyon and hunted for stones or petrified wood before packing up and heading home.

During the return journey, the group then experienced two more highlights of the trip, both of which occurred within different atmospheres. The first pit stop was Glenwood Springs; the second was Crave.

“The hot springs were amazing. This was the coldest year of all sixteen years doing the trip, which kind of stunk, but the hot springs were so much better because it was freezing out,” said Marlee Lane, senior. “We had a good time just relaxing after a lot of days in the backcountry.”

6 utah 1
(courtesy Marlee Lane) Mike Gregornik, trip coordinator, leads Sydney Widell, senior, through rock formations in Devil’s Garden, where the group stopped on their way into Escalante.

Later they parked their van at Crave, a local restaurant in Castle Rock.

“It was kind of a celebration dinner. It’s really good, it’s a hamburger place; but for example they have donut buns — the buns are actually donuts  — and two grilled cheese sandwiches with hamburger patties in between and all of the fixings. You eat bazaar burgers, and everyone pretty much had something different,” Gregornik said.

The group stayed at Castle Rock that night, and then drove home to make it back to Shorewood by 10 P.M. on Saturday.

Of all the experiences, students said their favorite parts of the trip had involved interactions with their fellow classmates.

“The best part was the car rides. I know that sounds kind of weird because we were supposed to be camping, but the car rides were really cool. I mean, we spent four days in total driving and were just enclosed with everybody and got to know everybody really well on the way there, and then it was hard knowing on the way back we just had to separate,” Roche said.

“It was such a diverse group,” Lane said. “Learning others’ opinions and views and getting to know them outside of school was really nice. That’s what I would say about all of [Gregornik’s] trips: it’s about the people and learning about new perspectives in a different environment and appreciating nature together.”

The Utah trip occurred from March 24 until April 2, and Gregornik will be leading similar independent trips to Wyoming and Quetico this coming summer for students as well.

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