Miami High School Parker Creek

On April 24th, 2019 4 students from Miami High School embarked on an adventure into the Tonto National Forest to hike Parker Creek Trail. The drive from Miami to Young Arizona Follows the Young Highway, an incredibly scenic path through sudden mountains that provide a large scale habitat for pine forests and their affiliates. It is less than an hours drive to see such abrupt changes, an important factor for an understanding of Sonoran Desert ecology. Our goal for this trip was to further explore these high elevated areas and study and learn about the flora and fauna.

This range is an extension of the Mogollon Rim plateau, the foreground of the chaotic forces that ripped and pulled the ground into its shape. The road, driving from the low Sonoran Desert Valley rises, winds, and slices into this wild place lifting into a very different world. When students look out their windows to see the city’s they knew fading into a descending distance, it was a moment of awe. The land in front of them growing wild, from the familiar cactus to the red soil and juniper lands that are characteristic to this longitude in Arizona. Then the valley disappears entirely, and massive stands of Arizona Pine, Apache Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Emory Oak, Aligator Oak, vines, shrubs, water-loving Maples and bold Sycamores, and so much more began to paint their picture. It was stunning to see the place, and stunning to see their excitement. 

We first noticed that the trail was severely overgrown. It took careful thinking and movement not to trample trail grown plants. Tonto National Forest is a big area, and not all of the trails can be maintained to perfection. I for one like this and the students did too. A path was provided, but it was not easy and added character and a bit of wild romance to the expedition. We hiked and discussed the high elevation changes to the landscape. It was not enough just to describe the changes, students wanted to know why there were changes. Adaptations to the obvious things such as cold were easy topics, but the natural history as to why there were pine forests was a large viewed topic that is always hard to wrap a mind around. 

During our hike a began to noticed wildflowers I had never seen. So I quickly pulled out my wildflowers guide book to see if I could find them. To my surprise, from the corner of my eye, I could see a couple of students especially interested in what I was doing, and not students who I thought would be very interested in study guides. I quickly placed the book in one of the student’s hands, gave him a quick description of how to use it, and asked him to find the flower and read aloud what the book had to say. In order to identify the flower, we measured it, counted its peddles, articulated its color, looked at its leaf patterning and structure, observed the time of year and habitat, then made our educated guess. The group from Miami High School were selected by staff as students who thrived socially but struggled academically, and some who thrived academically and struggled socially. English was a second language to this student in particular, and his English studies were not going very well. He read the whole page and struggled with some of the words, but together we did it. When I tried to get the book back, he asked if he could hold onto it, and keep doing this. I quickly pulled out the other guide books and placed them in his hand. His smile was one I will never forget. 

As a whole group, we continued on like this for the whole day. It was a mild shock, to see students outdoors, yet so interested and dedicated to book work. We identified so many trees and flowers, and together learned about their distinctions, adaptations, characteristics, and behavior. This student told me in confidence that he didn’t plan to go to college because he didn’t think he was smart enough and didn’t know what he would do. I was puzzled. ‘But you like studying plants, and you’re good at it. Why don’t you study that?’ He didn’t know a person could study plants, or animals, or nature. I told him it was called biology and he should talk to his counselor immediately when he gets back to school. It wasn’t excitement I saw in him, it was a mixture of inspiration and joy. A wonderful thing to see in a student. I decided to give him the books and told him in order to earn them, he must keep using them. He promised.

The whole day was spent like this. Observe, stop, study, read, and discuss. It took so much time, we barely went anywhere. We ate lunch next to a creek, dodged poison ivy, and hiked our way through this amazing forest. It was such a good day, and one I hope none of us forget.