Middle School Student Crew Trip to Henry Coe State Park

What a trip! Complete with a few curveballs and pivots, our kickoff crew trip was an incredible opportunity to see our amazing middle school kids adapt and thrive through all of the challenges. An enormous thank you goes out to all of our parent drivers who made this experience possible!

The original plan for this trip was to hike into Desolation Wilderness, just to the west of Lake Tahoe. Then the wildfires changed those plans. We quickly pivoted to a new location, Henry Coe State Park near San Jose, California. After conducting background research and calling the park’s rangers to confirm what we learned, several backpacking routes and campsites were established. In addition, we were able to organize over 20 parent drivers to help us transport 75 students and 8 guides to the trailhead, which was about a 4 hour drive from our campus in Truckee, CA.

As we drove through the central valley, temperatures quickly rose to the triple digits. We were collectively clinging to the hope for some coastal breezes and slightly higher elevations to bring the temperatures down. When we arrived at the base area parking lot, the temperature was still well in the 90s. And the “streams” we drove alongside to get to the base area parking lot were all bone dry. After one of our trip leaders did a quick recon hike to assess our water accessibility, it quickly became evident that we were given some bad beta. It was hot and there was going to be extremely limited access to water. This was a real-world curveball that we would all have to solve together.

The students noticed a windmill on the trail map about a mile up the trail from the parking area.

In addition there was an established campground area about 5 miles away. Two of our trip leaders drove to the established campground to assess, while the remaining trip leaders and guides led the students up the trail to the windmill on the map.

At the windmill the students discovered water! The windmill was being used to pull water up from the ground for livestock that had grazed in the area. In addition, the surrounding area was relatively flat with plenty of room for all of us (previous plans were to separate into several smaller groups). Filtering the water was going to be a challenge, but everyone was up for it. Seems we had established a backup plan.

Upon return to the parking area, our two other trip leaders reported back that there was not availability for our entire group, but there were water spigots. So the plan was made – we’d backpack up the road (about a mile), separate out into groups as best as we could, and do daily water shuttle runs to and from the established campground. Filtering water for this many students would likely take too long from this single source, and the walk to/from our camping spot to the parking lot was manageable.

We knew there would be poison oak in the area and we’ve certainly encountered our share of yellow jackets in the past. What we did not know was that Henry Coe State Park is home to the Fall Tarantula Fest in just a few weeks. You see this was a very active tarantula habitat, and they tend to come out in the evening time when the air has cooled. The first one discovered by students caused some excitement, then the second caused a little concern. After spotting several more, we had yet another curveball!

This lent itself to an on-the-spot lesson about tarantulas and their place in our ecosystem. We were fortunate to have our biology teacher on the trip with us (Loren Trux) who offered these words wisdom to the students as they confronted the spiders across our camp area.

With that curveball dealt with, we resumed our crew building activities. We cooked dinner together, shared funny stories with one another, learned about the 7 principles of “Leave No Trace” and set off for day-hikes around our camp spot.

Enjoy this collective letter from the students on the trip back to their parents!

Dear Families

How are you? We hope you are well and we hope you had a nice few days without us. We missed you, but we had a great time. It was a memorable trip to say the least! We had multiple tarantula encounters and we have a newfound love of bacon and cheese crackers with cookie butter. We will now always be thankful for water, and realize the privilege we have.

Before we left campus, we prepared for backpacking 15 miles over three days. When we were on campus we went over the route, learned how to pack our backpacks, where our water sources would be, and we talked about norms and expectations when we were out in the field.

When we pulled up to Henry Coe State Park, all of our careful planning and preparation was thrown out the window. We stepped out of our cars to find out that it was about 97 degrees and only getting hotter by the second. We also found out that nearly every single water source in the park was bone-dry, and it would be impossible to backpack!

The second we stepped out of the cars, we were already drenched in sweat. It felt like someone poured hot water on our heads.

Some of us thought “oh, this is going to be a ride!”, while others of us were actually quite relieved to find out that we wouldn’t have to backpack after all!

The amazing TEAchers quickly adapted to the situation and made a new plan. They were able to drive to a neighboring campsite where they found a spigot. They drove back and forth, filling up dromedaries and barrels so we could all have fresh water. All of the crews hiked into a camping spot about a mile away from the parking area where we set up our tents for two nights.

We had a great time, and we definitely had to learn to push through challenges. Most of us were out of our comfort zones! We dealt with the heat, we were dying for cold water, there was poison oak found throughout the park, and we had to remember to do tick checks each night.

Even though our trip didn’t go exactly to plan, we enjoyed the pivot. We were thankful to have more time to bond with our classmates and crew mates.