Student Post: An Unexpected Swim

This post was submitted by Dev J.

The river trip was probably one of the best parts of Classroom Earth 2017 so far. However, I had a rough time on day four. Mr. Sadtler and I were canoeing on a day that had choppy waters and everlasting wind. Somehow we ended up perpendicular to the current and a nasty roar of wind crashed into the side of our canoe. For a split second, I felt the canoe sway and the next thing I felt was the freezing cold water up to my neck. Although I was shocked about what happened at that moment, I knew that I had to stay calm and follow safety instructions rather than panicking. Eventually, we swam to the other canoes, and my fellow peers and guides managed to flip our canoe with nothing lost in the bottom of the Green River.

Even though I experienced a hardship on day four, it made me realize how my experiences on the river trip shaped my character. I had begun to connect all of the dots between the team building and bonding activities we had done together. I recognized how significant it is to have a cooperative team because it really helps when you need it. Although there were many games, activities, riddles, and jokes, I feel that my favorite part of the trip was the flipped canoe because it helped develop my character.


draw stroke


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Student Post: An Ode to Evan, an unforgettable guide

This post was submitted by Will R.

In my opinion, the greatest part of the trip was [CFI Naturalist Guide] Evan’s riddles, stories, and jokes. Evan’s head just seemed to be filled with endless jokes and riddles. Evan had so many stories that at the fourth campsite, when it was incredibly windy, we sat down behind a rock and just listened to him go on and on.


CFI guides Evan and Heather entertain the boys during the heat of the day


The stories just seemed to keep on coming. We sat under that rock for over two and a half hours!! That afternoon was very important to the whole river trip. It was really windy, Ted the Loon [Señor Sadtler’s river name] and Dev had just flipped, and we we were all just tired. That experience created a much better environment for the whole river trip and greatly increased everyone’s moods. Evan’s jokes usually ended in us groaning from the punniness, but the stories…the stories were the real deal.

Evan’s stories could enchant us. They would go on for up to ten minutes keeping us latched to every detail. Just when we would think we were getting the story, another twist would be added leaving us laughing until we were about to pee ourselves. I would tell y’all the stories now, but i think your sons want to tell you them in person. The stories definitely helped us through the windy times. Evan’s jokes were another story; he would have a slight build-up and then drop the pun on top just to seal the deal. Some of them were very funny puns, which inspired my brilliant MC’ing of the talent show, but the others were… something. They usually ended with us cringing until we explode or the solid groan and disappointed stare.

Without Evan, this river trip wouldn’t have been nearly as fun or as funny. His jokes, stories, and riddles filled any silences left in the air. I don’t know if any of us would’ve survived without them. From what I’ve heard from Clark and Senor Loon this trip was a lot more humorous than their last trip down the river, and I wouldn’t want to have it any other way.

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High Water, High Wind, High Spirits


Moving deeper into the Labyrinth, making some miles before the afternoon winds crank up.

The float down Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River is famed as a leisurely flatwater float, but as we drove down into the desert from the Rockies last week, it was obvious that early-summer runoff was peaking and that our river experience was going to be an interesting one. But as it happened, a muscular high flow was only half of the challenge that faced us; Thursday dawned with a steady wind blowing across the desert, and the combination of the two made paddling anything but leisurely from the start. By the time we reached a suitable site for a first-night’s camp, we were all pretty wrung out and feeling the weight of five more days into the unknown. You could see the worry on the boys’ faces as they tried to make camp for the first time, the tents flapping wildly and threatening to rip out of their hands and sail into the river.

tent flapping

Tent wrangling, a skill that definitely improves with practice.

journal in trin alcove

Holing up in a side canyon off of a side canyon for a little journaling and a respite from the sun and the wind.

But a glorious thing happened as we slipped deeper into Labyrinth, the canyon deepening and getting more beautiful with every turn; we steadily redefined our comfort zones and let our worries slip away, drawing strength from each other and the energy and enthusiasm of our indefatigable guides. Not that the conditions changed all that much; on Day Four a sudden gust of wind caught Mr. Sadtler and Dev on the broadside with an audible “wop” and promptly capsized their canoe, sending the rest of us scurrying to effect a textbook rescue.


Evan and Heather teaching us about aquatic life in a side canyon stream bed.

rock skipping

Rock skipping competition at Camp Three in Keg Spring Canyon.

The river seemed to reward us on the last two days with calm conditions and cool, impossibly starry nights, and by the time we took out this morning no one was in a hurry to leave. There’s too much to say about a six-day expedition than can fit into a single post, so we’re going to ask the boys to contribute some short vignettes over the next couple of days. Stay tuned to this space for their posts!


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We’re off the river!

Everything was wonderful. Much to say, but not just yet. First to Moab for laundry, shower, and rest.

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We’re off!

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Seeing things differently

Life at Shadowcliff continued at a steady pace over the last few days. After a 7:30  breakfast we muster for a morning activity at 8:45, followed by lunch, then an afternoon activity. While the days seem packed there are always moments of rest to sink back into one of the comfy chairs in Shadowcliff Lodge or to play a heated game of poker.

On Tuesday we conducted water testing with the Grand County Water Information Network. Yesterday we returned to Grand Lake to meet with Geoff Elliot, an environmental scientist with Grand Environmental Services. Geoff helped us take samples of invertebrate life in the lake to help determine the status of the lake water. The presence of certain invertebrates, like caddis flies, might suggest something about the clarity, temperature and turbidity. The absence of such species or the presence of others might indicate that something is out of balance. While the boys certainly enjoyed the process of sweeping the water and turning over rocks, they would probably admit that the highlights of the experience were putting on waders and putting all the insects into one observation tray for a “Grand County Lake Insect Fight Club.”

After lunch we headed off for a hike to Adams Falls and the East Inlet trail. The East Inlet Trail climbs the rock ledge through which Adams Falls passes, then levels out into a sublime marshy meadow framed by Shadow Mountain to the south and Ptarmigan Mountain to the north. Ahead to the east, far from our reach, stood Mount Craig. On a rocky outcrop overlooking the East Inlet valley we got out our journals and continued to sharpen our observation skills.

Sketching in the field helps us see things in a certain way. In a series of sketches, we draw an object as it is and as it seems to us. In the example above, the memory drawing is the journaler’s attempt to accurately depict a dandelion. In a five-second gesture sketch, one is hopeless to draw with fidelity, so what emerges is either a sloppy cartoon of the dandelion, or perhaps a drawing that evokes the essence of a dandelion. Regardless of the product, the exercise is to see with intention.

A second sketching technique we practiced in this spot was a “soundscape.” Drawing a circle in our journals, we drew ourselves as a dot, perhaps a little human figure, in the middle of the circle. For five minutes we drew every sound we heard–a bird calling or flapping its wings, a twig breaking, the river rushing, wind blowing, the sound of restless boots over gravel, etc. Pictured above, Walker closed his eyes, looked to the sky and let his pencil drift across the page to make the sounds he heard.

We drew these sounds as if they were small symbols on a map legend, perhaps we labeled them by identifying the thing that made the sound, perhaps we wrote out the sound itself onomatopoeically. However we chose to illustrate we sought to see the landscape using only our sense of sound.

So many things to see in Rocky Mountain National Park. And so many ways to “see” them.

Today, Thursday we said farewell to Shadowcliff and Grand Lake and made the long drive to Green River, UT. Rather than hop on I-70 and turn our senses off we decided to follow the Colorado River along some mixed roads of dirt, gravel, and pavement. It added a bit of time to the trek, but it also added incredible vistas of Gore Canyon, the Gore Range, and the Flat Tops Wilderness.

This route also led us to a serendipitous exchange with a friendly rancher. We pulled off to the side of Trough Road to take a look at some meanders in an unknown tributary to the Colorado. While doing a whiteboard lesson about cut banks, fill banks, and river meanders, the owner of the property drove up and invited us to feed her cows, which some of us did…tentatively.

After a bit of discussion about what we were doing poking around in a carved out meander, this nice lady named Martha Carlton invited us up this stretch of what we now know to be called Sheephorn Creek to take a look at her irrigation ditches. After a short jaunt along her property Martha taught us about how irrigation gates work, and for the first time this season, she opened up the irrigation gate to begin the process of flushing out the ditches. While she invited us to stay to clean out the irrigation ditches, we politely demurred.

That brings us to Green River, UT. Tomorrow is our launch day. We meet our guides from Canyonlands Field Institute tomorrow morning and push off for six days of paddling. In a rare moment of tyranny, we insisted that each of the boys call home to speak with their parents before we depart.

We will be back in touch in six days, with much to recount and many pics to share. Thanks for following our journey.

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Video: Water Testing with GCWIN

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