Middle School Trip to the Mojave Desert and Joshua Tree National Park

This week-long, interdisciplinary program brought students to the mysterious rocks, desert washes, and strange “forests” of Joshua Tree National Park to study geology, biology, human history, public land management, and wilderness skills. Each day, students took part in varied activities including bouldering, roped climbing, hiking, caving, sleeping under the stars, and reflecting upon the varied ecosystems of the Mojave Desert. Joshua Tree is an incredible classroom, and our instructor team of Eighth Grade History Teacher and E-Week Coordinator Erik Gearhart, Seventh Grade Science Teacher and Co-Assistant Middle School Director Michael Heald, and Middle School French Teacher and E-lectives Coordinator jillian nicks brought decades of Joshua Tree teaching experience and stories to share. Thanks to jillian for the photos. Read the trip report by Erik, below.
Trip Report:
As we prepare to leave camp and head to the airport, I found a quiet moment to sit and write a brief report of our week. It has been an amazing week of challenge, risk, making new friendships and renewing old ones, team work, and student growth. Frequent lessons on plant, animal life, geology, and human history both ancient and recent helped students engage with the rich landscape of Joshua Tree National Park.

The student group was huge on humor and personalities, making for tons of smiles and support during our adventure together. We instructors were impressed by students' climbing skills as they ascended many (seriously) challenging routes. On the final day of the trip, we explored a secret boulder cave which I've been taking student groups through for decades-a route that I always concluded dead ended and required exiting the way we entered. However, Bush students were so insistent on trying various micro passageways to go a bit further that we moved further, and further, and a bit further, until one Blazer finally passed word back that she had popped out through the other side into sunlight! As I celebrated with the other instructors at the back of the line, my enthusiasm was checked by the report that the squeeze may be too tight for me. But with the help of students pulling my shoe off, pushing my leg, and pulling my arm, I was able to join them on the other side.

The trip was full of moments like these-students imploring us to set up more climbs, do one more challenge, and squeeze even more living into our brief foray through this magical landscape.

Today, after careful cleanup of our campsite and the surrounding desert, we talked about ways for students to give back to this and other parks. We discussed threats to Joshua Tree and the entire public lands systems. We encouraged them to be lifelong users, but also advocates and stewards, of wilderness and public lands.

We are all sad to be leaving, and were far too busy adventuring to find time for showers today-instead, students voted to make a final ascent of Ryan Mountain.

-Erik Gearhart, Eighth Grade History Teacher and E-Week Coordinator