What most impressed the six Glenwood Springs High School students who were in Washington, D.C., Monday to watch President Barack Obama's public inauguration ceremony, was the size of the crowd, estimated at 1 million people by the Associated Press.
Louis Bini, 16, said his strongest impression was "the inauguration, and how many people came to see that part of our country's history.
"I don't think anything can ever prepare you for that huge crowd of people and how excited they were to be Americans," Bini said.
In conversations by cell phone on Monday, three students and their teacher, Mike Schneiter, all referred in awestruck terms to the jam of people on the National Mall, which stretches from the U.S. Capitol to the Washington Monument.
Schneiter said the group stood "about a quarter of a mile away" from the Capitol steps, firmly locked in "a mass of humanity."
"You could kind of make out a speck in the distance that was Obama, and we could see all those congressmen and dignitaries sitting up there with him," Schneiter said.
"It's been a great weekend," he continued. "Although there's certainly the challenge of trying to get six students out of the inauguration, all together."
Others came away with different impressions.
Rorey Freeman, 16, admitted she was star-struck by the experience.
"First of all, I really love Obama," she said. "I think he has really good ideas, and the way he carries himself is really good."
What struck her profoundly in the inauguration speech, she said, was his support of gay rights.
"In his speech, he addressed gay rights, and that amazed me. It shows how far we've come," Freeman said. She said she was proudly astonished to see a black man taking the presidential oath of office, and then hearing him talk about the need to legalize gay rights.
But it's not likely that she'll be getting into politics as a profession.
"Gay rights and that sort of thing really interest me," she added. "But I don't see politics as a big part of my life."
Ryer Tate, 16, said he was as fascinated by "the sheer number of people, and the excitement of the situation," and that people were so patient.
"I was impressed that people would be standing for four or five hours on end, just to see history being made." he said.
"I think it would definitely be considered an inspiration," he said of the inauguration, "just for the drive to go out and do something, to become an accomplished person."
While in Washington, D.C., the group viewed the National Holocaust Museum, the Natural History Museum, the American History Museum, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the famed sculpture of a band of soldiers raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima.
Bini said he was moved by seeing all the monuments and other trappings of U.S. history to be found in the city, but he agreed with Freeman about politics as a career.
"It's very aggressive work, and I don't think it fits my lifestyle," he said, describing his lifestyle as "more relaxed, not go, go, go."
The students, all sophomores or juniors, flew from Denver to Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., on Friday and are expected to return to the Roaring Fork Valley today. The group stayed at a hotel near the airport and made the one-hour commute into the city aboard a charter bus with students from two high schools in California, Schneiter said.
Schneiter arranged the trip with the national educational tour organization, WorldStrides, based in Virginia. WorldStrides brought students from 180 high schools around the country to witness the inauguration. On Sunday, the students were invited to three balls featuring live music.
On Monday, the students were rousted from bed at 5 a.m. in order to get into the city early and grab a good spot for viewing the festivities.
Although the group was never close enough to the president to see him clearly, much less approach him or talk to him, they did get to see him drive by in the presidential motorcade.
"There must have been 12 big limos," Schneiter said. "It was neat to see. We happened to be just outside the White House as he drove in."
He predicted that the group of GSHS visitors would go out to dinner on Monday night, and then hit the sack early.
The plan for today was to get up early for a final few hours of sightseeing, including the Vietnam Memorial, before catching a mid-afternoon flight back to Colorado.
"I could imagine that their feet will be pretty tired," Schneiter added.