Don’t impact the wilderness, but be sure to let it impact you
In my 23 years of teaching in the outdoor education program at Colorado Mountain College, I’ve led some 2,001 student field classes, totaling 1,124 field days, to the peaks of Colorado’s high country, through Utah’s canyon country, and to the deserts of the Four Corners and Arizona. I don’t ever tire of it.
In fact, just in these past 12 months, I’ve had quite the amazing experience of encountering some things I never have, or haven’t in a very long time. In my river excursions through Ruby-Horsethief Canyons, I’ve twice seen river otters. In Rattlesnake Canyon, I saw three desert bighorn ewes with their lambs that were recently born. My students and I also saw a bighorn ram not 50 yards from us, and not one camera in hand to capture it!
The wildlife surprises continued, with the rare sighting of a threatened species, the desert tortoise, in the Sonoran desert of Arizona. On yet another trip, I saw a golden eagle at my eye level, close enough to see the markings on his face.
These recent new discoveries also included two quite old human artifacts. On one field course in March, we found two projectile points. My assistant instructor, Rick Norman, found one point and I found a second. I photographed them but dug each one further into the dirt so that someone else will one day make the same discovery. I shared the photographs with local archaeologist and CMC professor Sandy Jackson, who estimated one to have been made in the Paleolithic era (more than 6,000 years ago) and the other in the Archaic era (between 6,000 and 2,000 years ago).
These experiences make me feel especially tied to these places. It is fitting that the eagle and I met eye to eye, because it’s always been my own philosophy to approach all these inhabitants of the wilderness as if to say, “I’m with you, I’m not over you.” It’s something I try to instill in students as well.
The wilderness will always present these kinds of fascinations for us and also have much more to bring out in us — that is the part that has fueled my work in teaching in the outdoor education program.
My students have chosen this program, or single classes in the program, to gain the technical backcountry skills they need so that they can teach or guide others. But more than that, their experiences impact their character and their future careers.
The wilderness classroom provides that opportunity to climb a rock face, read a river, interpret a map or contemplate the wonders of nature. But the wilderness classroom also provides students the very unique opportunity to lead a team, to adapt to many challenges and to undertake responsibility for the safety of those around them.
Dr. Bruce Kime is professor of outdoor education at Colorado Mountain College.
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