On February 14, 2018, 10 students from Mansfield Middle School in Tucson, Arizona headed outdoors to explore their local public lands. This was their first expedition with the Seeds of Stewardship program. Welcome, Mansfield Middle School! We hiked about 4 miles in total via the West Yetman Trail in Tucson Mountain Park. We also incorporated some off-trail hiking as part of our journey. Our main goals for this expedition was to simply explore, play, and see where the day took us!
We knew that rain was in the forecast today, but we decided to brave the elements and head out anyways. Weather is one of the best aspects of a trip because it makes every experience different, even if you had hiked the same trail already. After a very quick drive, the students jumped out of the car and bounded up the West Yetman Trail. There was hardly anybody on the trail and we got to enjoy it to ourselves. The trail led to a saddle, showing us amazing views of the landscape before us. It also gave us a perfect vantage to track the weather throughout the day!
The most exciting part of the day was when the students decided to hike off-trail to a large outcropping of boulders. It was a ways up the hillside and we crossed washes and navigated through a shrubby and spiky understory. While we were at the base of the giant rocks, we stopped to take in the view and discuss risk management. One of the students had an eagle eye and saw a coyote chasing a jackrabbit in the distance! Sometimes it is easy to forget that such amazing wildlife exists just outside the city borders.
Once among the boulders, we explored, relaxed, and ate lunch. Sometimes it sprinkled drops of welcomed rain, but it was mostly clear weather. While some students explored around caves created by two boulders coming together, other students walked along game trails. It was a wonderful time to simply enjoy the scenery (and the blooming ocotillos)! After a well-deserved lunch, we headed back down the hillside to explore other areas of Tucson Mountain Park. The students did their best to avoid the ubiquitous spikes, but inevitably, when hiking in the Sonoran Desert, a cactus sticks someone. We performed surgery on a tennis shoe to remove the offending spikes and were able to continue our hike.
We were lucky so far that the predicted showers had held off for so long. The drops of rain picked up in speed and in size, and the students headed back off for the van. They used their animal instincts to find a path up a drainage that led back to the saddle we started from. We didn’t really care about getting wet. The rain actually felt refreshing and the creosote perfumed the air around us. Although the van was great shelter, we yearned for more outdoors as we drove from the trailhead back into the city. There will always be more exploring waiting for us!