Mt. Vista Elementary at Aravaipa Canyon

On December 2, 18 students from Mt.Vista Elementary School left for one of the most unique and wonderful Seeds of Stewardship expeditions ever. This group gained special access to Aravaipa Canyon, and thanks to our friend and BLM Ranger Heidi Blenkinship, they had wonderful leadership in this wild place. The students were very excited. I had prepared them for a rugged adventure, though wild and cold water, in a trailless place full of wildlife. To put it simply, they were absolutely stoked.

Our trip started like they all do, with a whiteboard and an introduction to the landscape. We outlined the many plants we would see, and the possible animal’s sightings too. The students seemed fascinated by the concept of riparian gallery forest, and the promises and secrets they hold. When we discussed river crossings, you could see the thrill run up their spines. The new and scary prospect had them on the edge of their seat. 

Our drive was long, but we eventually turned onto the dirt road that led us to the canyon. We met Heidi in the parking lot and together did a formal introduction. Heidi led us down into Aravaipa Canyon, a wild place that seemed far greater than the students expected. Any trip that had open space for students to play, like an arroyo or mesquite forest, became their favorite. None of these students had experienced a perennial creek in their local area before. Pushing through desert broom and seep willow, the students ran forward. We found ourselves next to the creek, which seemed far wider and deeper than they had imagined. In a wide and clear area, we paused to have snack time. This wide creek bank held thousands of little rounded and flat rocks. When some students finished their lunch, we workshopped rock skipping, something I don’t think many had ever done before.

Under cottonwood trees, and surrounded by green and lush foliage, we prepared for our river crossing. With staff in water, one by one we let the students wade through. The shock from the cold sent gasps and yelps into the air, yet each was quickly replaced with a smile. Fortunately, we lost a few students to the river. They couldn’t help but stay in, using the creek as their path through the wilderness. With their pant legs rolled up, and a walking stick in hand, they pushed through water with joy. Together we observed the many different animal tracks that lined the creek. Coati, Skunk, Javelina, Deer, Bobcat, and those were just the mammals. The students were excited to read the registry of the creek, observing all those who have come and gone. 

Away from the creek, we circled up. Heidi had brought a bag full of educational materials that informed the students as to the local plants and animals of Aravaipa Canyon. We passed around molds of paw prints and pictures for the students to see. Then we discussed the local flora that held many edible and technological purposes for people. Soon it became clear to the students, this place was more than a playground, it was a whole different world. We talked for some time about the ecosystem here and its importance for the local wildlife as well as the migratory friends. It has supported people for thousands of years and continues to be a place of tremendous value.

The students understood this well. They were thrilled to play and explore the area, finding every nook and cranny they could. Before they knew it, our time had come to an end. In previous trips, we explored arroyos and the ecosystem they provide. We explored desert grasslands at the foothills of mountains. Now, under dinosaur-like cottonwood trees, they discovered a riparian gallery forest. It was a profound day for these students, who were able to bond with nature like they never had before. The best way to learn is through experience and play. On this day, these students overflowed with both, experiencing the rawness of this landscape, and the freedom it provides for play. A wonderful day learning from Heidi and the Aravaipa Canyon