Project More in the Little Rincon Mountains

The first of the winter rains bring a sense of joy and excitement to every living thing in the desert. Some things seek refuge from the rain, but with Seeds of Stewardship, we chase the rain looking for where it pools and collects. This journey takes us into mountain landscapes and valleys, and for our sake we seek the places less traveled. On November 2nd, 2019, 8 students from Project More High School embarked on an adventure into the Little Rincon Mountains. Our goal was to hike through a riparian creek shaded by sycamore trees, then follow a drainage into the mountains to discover a place few ever see. This place is represented by high desert foliage, rugged eroded boulders, and hoodoos of granite rock, and a diverse community of animals. This was the third expedition of the semester for Project More, and by this time they were prepared for such a grand adventure.



When searching for water in the desert, the first rule is to never assume there will be water, even if rain and flood cover the world. Luckily for us, the mountains held their water and the creeks were swollen. We approached the creek with our shoes and socks off and began our adventure by trudging through freezing water, hopping across rocks and boulders, and sinking into soft sand. The foliage around us was hydrated and lush. The sun was strong, and when it made it passed the star leaves of the sycamore trees, it fell onto the red tinted water, giving it glow and shine. The youth could hardly suppress smiles and laughter. Splashing and slipping, shrieks from the ice-cold currents, hushed voices when animals passed by, all captivated the youth and their attention. Together we tracked all kinds of wildlife, saw birds of many kinds, and discussed the many different plants that lived along the creek edge.

Eventually, the creek found a junction, and we followed the path that took us up into the decaying granite mountains. This path had lots of water, but a continuously narrowing path that required dexterous movement of ducking, dodging, stemming and the occasional safe scramble. I believe full body hikes are important for health and experience. The youth were forced to use their mind, bodies, and heart when moving through a landscape like this. It would be easy to push through foliage, bending and breaking it to our will rather than proceeding with caution, but these students truly cared about the life around and wanted to make sure we disrupted the setting around us as little as possible. By moving carefully, we were able to cross paths with a grey fox, who stood on the side of the creek. Both it and us watched each other quietly and without movement. Finally, a straggling student caught up to us without realizing who we were visiting, and with loud steps and an exciting voice scared the fox away.  This became a furnace of excitement in the youth which drove them forward.

Finally, the path began to push us out of a foliage-rich creek, and into a canyon the carried the water with slick carved rock. Pools of water, twisting and winding folds of rock, towering walls, all became the character of the hike. The youth became hypnotized by this change in scenery, using all hands and feet to move up and around. None of them had seen a place like this, which made us all feel very small. The power of water became evident here, as hard rock has obviously given way to the “soft” liquid. Together we discussed what water does for the desert, and informed them that this water connects to Cienega Creek, the destination of our previous hike. This seems to baffle the youth, offering them a greater perspective of water systems and the amount of desert they can affect. The kids were happy to learn that mountains like the one we were on act as sponges, holding water and slowly releasing it to the lower valleys.

We continued our exploration, and eventually found ourselves to the crown jewel of the trip. A 50ft waterfall stood in front of us, pouring water into a gorgeous pool within a towering bowl in which we were at the bottom. It was an incredible place to be within, an enclosed area that held all eyes on the falling agua. Massive stones stood erect and alone in the bowl, a reminder of how this waterfall was formed and how it continues to form. Here we ate lunch, and spent some time listening, playing, and relaxing. The youth realized this hike was well worth the work. For most of them, this was the first waterfall they had ever seen.

We began our hike back, scrambling a scree of boulders until we were above the falls. We looked from hilltops outward at the greater valley, then hiked back toward the vehicles. We paused for some time to discuss growing up, what it means to be an adult how to manage mental health and how to treat our selves. This conversation was prompted by the students, who showed serious interest in discussing the struggle of life and growing up. This conversation might have been the most important event of the entire day, and the students agreed.

Once we were back to the original creek, we stopped to sit in silence and practice some meditation. This meditation practice helps students listen, breath, feel, and become aware of themselves and the landscape around from a place not based in movement or visual stimulation. It is also a wonderful education method because it stops the experience and the traditional flow of information, and it has students sit with all they have experienced and learned through reflection. It offers a productive and positive conclusion to the day, letting the youth calm down and soak it all in. Sometimes hiking can be just like a creek, flowing rapidly, full of twists and turns and pools and life. Our job as learners is to be like the mountain and soak it all up. On this day, Project More did this perfectly.