Hailing from Missouri, I am no stranger to the wide sweep of sky that greets travelers from Boston as they exit an airplane and look out across the Midwestern plains. Having just returned with our eighth graders and faculty chaperones from our Southwest trip to Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon National Parks, I’ve been reflecting on the power of wide open spaces and how they open our eyes and minds to limitless possibilities.
Appreciating the Expanse of Time and History
Some of the most striking features of the Southwest landscape that we saw are the stone columns, called hoodoos, that stand tall in Bryce Canyon. As we hiked down the trail from the top of the canyon at about 8,000 feet elevation and in just above freezing temperatures, our guide shared that the hoodoos we were looking at were roughly 60 million years old. We spent an hour descending into the Canyon and were thankfully greeted by warmer air at lower elevations.
As we descended, we passed through eons of time. We walked past forests of rock, and millions of years of earth formations, measured in the thin layers of sedimentary rock all around us. While we spend our time during a typical school day caught in day-to-day concerns, these hoodoos persist beyond generations and even humans’ time on earth. There is not much more humbling, awesome, or inspiring than being dwarfed by ancient monoliths. In their presence, our group couldn’t help but think of all that has come before us and what adventures our exciting futures have in store for us.
Learning About Different Ways of Life
Landing in the Southwest also provided us with ample opportunities to see ways of life we don’t typically get to experience in Belmont or even in other parts of New England. We all knew that there was a “Cowboy Cookout” scheduled on our itinerary one night, but most of us had little or no firsthand experience we could use to conjure up an image of what that might be like.
Pulling up onto the dusty dirt road for our Cowboy Cookout, the bus slowed as we got caught behind our host, Cowboy John, on his motorcycle, rounding up the longhorn cattle he cares for every day. Clashing horns in conflict and playing on the grassy banks lining the road, a few of the rogue cattle had to be directed to get back to the herd. All the way down the road to the ranch, Cowboy John monitored the cattle, finally reestablishing order to form a single-file line of cattle trotting back to their pastures.
During our time on the ranch, we learned that, in addition to rounding up unruly cows on his motorcycle, Cowboy John also helps deliver newborn calves and wears leather chaps and a real cowboy hat for protection against the animals and the elements. Being a cowboy is his family’s trade, and he has kept it alive while working many other jobs—including acting as an extra and stunt double in Hollywood movies filmed at a scenic ranch in Kanab, Utah, and playing Santa on the local Polar Express in the winter season.
Later during the cookout, a friend of Cowboy John from elementary school, along with his granddaughter, shared with us some songs and stories from his Southern Paiute tribe. And as night fell, stargazing at constellations and listening to ghost stories under the night sky, the possibilities of what we can become and how we might pursue what we love appeared endless.
Part of the purpose of our middle school trips is to take us outside of our daily lives and give us the opportunity to gain a broader perspective. Our Southwest Trip broke the boundaries of our imaginations and opened up to all of us the bigger vista of what may lie ahead—a fitting glimpse for our eighth graders to catch sight of as they begin to look forward to their last weeks at Belmont Day School and their next adventures.