The long lazy days of summer has just begun, but a group of 12 West Denver Prep Lake Campus students decided to give up a few of these lazy days for an adventure at Mission:Wolf (MW) this past June. MW is located near the beautiful Sangre de Cristo mountain range just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado. It is a wolf sanctuary housing up to 40 wolves at one time, relying on staff, volunteers, and groups to help maintain the property, feed the wolves, and of course, give them special attention.
After packing up all the gear and food, we piled into the van, and with snacks and cold beverages at hand for our 4 hour drive, we were off. It only took about 2 hours to hear the dreaded, “Are we there yet?” but thanks to the tunes, the giggles, and the wonders of air-conditioning, we made it up the steep hill and into MW, bright blue sky, blazing sun, and all.
We were all excited to meet the wolves, but there was even more excitement to help feed them when we started hearing whispers that we were going to help butcher a cow that had recently died. (Local ranchers donate their deceased horses and cows to help the costly expense of feeding the wolves.) This excitement held strong the entire 4 days we were there, even while setting up tents, basecamp, and creating our outdoor kitchen. These kids were far from done for the day, so we set out on a short hike to Carcass Canyon to explore the variety of bones leftover from the many wolf feedings, played a game of camo in the waning daylight, and then hiked back to base camp for some good old fashioned hot dogs. Still not worn out, with the stars lighting our way, we headed out into the night for another hike, where we became familiar with our surroundings by using nature awareness skills and night senses.
Morning came a bit too early for all of us, but the howls of the wolves were our alarm clock and after a hearty breakfast of eggs and sausages, it was time to hike up the hill where we helped feed the wolves and setup the groundwork for a new horse fence. After lunch we managed to motivate this young group of city slickers into creating some amazing debris shelters and even had them participating in and understanding the importance of a sit-spot. One student even went so far as to say, ‘That was the most relaxing thing ever.” Never doubt the importance of a sit spot. But our day was far from over. The kids heard the rumors that the cow was about to be butchered, and we spent the next two hours being both thrilled and disgusted watching this intricate, bloody, yet necessary task. This was both the highlight and lowlight (the smell was awful) of the trip for most of the kids. Although it is quite rough to watch, it is an amazing opportunity to experience first hand the full cycle of life and food and while the kids may not fully comprehend that yet, they will never forget it.
Our last full day was spent helping out around MW, feeding the wolves, playing games, making journals, reading stories, and more importantly, finally meeting the wolves. While wolf kisses were limited, smiles were not. No matter how hot it is or how tired you may be, it is always an uplifting experience to walk into the wolf enclosures, sit down, and be face to face with an actual wolf. We ended our final day with another night hike longer than the first and with a great deal more excitement. While it is uplifting to meet a wolf, it is even more uplifting hanging out with 12 year olds who do not camp and who turn down the outdoors to watch tv or play video games on a regular basis, but will go excitedly on a night hike without flashlights; laughing, singing, hot chocolate-filled city kids having the time of their life in the middle of no where, having only stars and their voices guiding the way. Amazing!
Due to the heat of the day, late nights, and kids who are not used to the outdoors, motivation was lacking at times. But once these kids tried something new, many were genuinely interested and when given a chance and encouragement, they worked hard and listened attentively. But wait, we had one last hurrah on the drive out of MW. “Look! Way off in the distance! Is it a dog, is it a fox? No, It’s a BEAR!” Lessons learned from this trip: put yourself in the right place at the right time and always try something new!
As always a great big thanks to Mission:Wolf for hosting us and giving the kids rides up that long, steep hill. They loved it!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!
In late May, a group of high school boys from Colorado Academy took over Mission: Wolf (MW). Accompanied by their teacher, school principal and three Cottonwood Institute instructors, the boys enjoyed five technology free days learning about wolves and primitive skills, while working hard on several service learning projects. Located just outside of Westcliffe, Colorado, MW is home to rescued wolves and wolf-dogs. Staffed mainly by volunteers, visitors offer MW much needed help with day to day projects to keep the sanctuary running smoothly. If you want to be kissed by a wolf, you must do the work first.
Each morning began with a quote to lead into the daily activities. In the warm, windy weather the boys played team-building games, learned survival skills such as shelter building, how to make fire, animal tracking and nature awareness. They explored the diverse area on various hikes and worked hard to move granite, wood, and help with road-repairs to give back to MW. Most importantly, though, they found time for some “sick” hacky sackin’ sessions and of course, time with the wolves!
In addition to feeding the wolves, the boys also got the opportunity to butcher an entire horse! Local ranchers donate deceased horses to MW to help with the immense cost of feeding these amazing animals. This process gives students a unique experience in a true hands-on food cycle process. While it was quite bloody, it captivated the attention of the whole group, some becoming completely drawn into cutting up the horse while others preferred to simply watch. The process not only connected the group with the staff, but also the wolves, giving the boys an understanding of both the cycle of life and wolf pack dynamics.
While listening to the howl of the wolves, the students ended the course with a sit-spot to appreciate the beauty of the area and the unique experience of hearing and meeting such powerful creatures in the mountains of Colorado. One student summed up the experience quite nicely, “I have a deeper understanding of the world around me and I appreciate nature and all it has to offer.”
A special thank you to Mission: Wolf for all they do for their volunteers, students, all of us here at Cottonwood Institute, and more importantly, nature, the wolves, and the surrounding animals.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.
CAP students were quite busy this quarter. Before their first overnight they learned about camp setup, packing their bags, proper camp nutrition, and basic outdoor overnight essentials. Most of them already had a great deal of camping experience for high schoolers. Or so they said, as they arrived for the overnight with overstuffed backpacks – everything but the kitchen sink! And so the adventures began…
…And continued. Although it started heavily snowing, everyone was in good spirits through spreading mulch, going on a night hike, learning about fox walking, setting up a bear hang, and working as a group. Even though they were exhausted and wet, by the time CAP left their first overnight trip everyone was satisfied and excited for the next one.
The next few weeks students worked on their action project, which was all about transportation and the inefficiency of cars. When they went on field trips CAP students only rode bikes, used the bus, or other forms of alternative transportation to leave a smaller carbon footprint. They walked their walk and talked their talk.
Finally, it was time for the second overnight and more adventures with the weather. This time it was all about the rain. Needless to say their spirits were slightly dampened (pun intended!), but as soon as they set up their tents, ate lunch and built shelters, the sun decided to poke out from behind the clouds, helping to raise spirits a bit. Students played elbow tag for an entire hour. (And for those of you who have never played this game, I leave it up to you to look it up and play – well worth the time!) Feeling energized and satisfied, they headed back camp to hang out and eat dinner. The next morning was sunny and warm, and everyone was sad to leave. As CAP ‘s quarter came to an end, the only disappointment was that time had flown by so quickly, but everyone knew the experience of it all was something that would never be forgetten.
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!
Written By Juliet Luna and edited by Madeline Bachner and April Pishna.
From the wilds of the city to the wilds of the Colorado mountains, students from West Denver Prep’s Lake Campus embarked on a journey to learn how to survive amidst the chill of a fall weekend. Cottonwood Institute teamed up with West Denver Prep’s enrichment program to give kids the opportunity to connect to the outdoors, learn more about the environment, give back to the land, and then connect their experience to their everyday lives.
After setting up camp at Calwood Outdoor Education Center near Jamestown, the group went on an interpretive hike to learn more about their surroundings and become more attune to nature. They learned how to foxwalk, played a variety of nature awareness games, and practiced several ways to make fire. But wait, the fun was not over yet. Students were eager to try out their foxwalking skills in the dark while participating in the blind drum stalk, in which students are blindfolded and then proceed to find their way through the woods back to camp using only the sound of the beating drum. As the stars lit up the night sky, everyone gathered around the campfire to enjoy smores and reflect on an active, yet exciting day.
The next morning dawned bright and early, and after a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and all the fixings, it was off to give back to Calwood for generously donating their land for our overnight. The students worked together, lifting and dragging logs to cover up an old trail. Their strong work ethic continued over into the first part of making debris shelters. But as the afternoon wore on and students became worn out, their efforts waned and shelters took a backseat to rest and snacks. While the students were tired at the end of the adventure, there were still smiles and laughter to be had by all as everyone clamored into the van and headed back into the wilds of the city.
Click here for a slideshow of the weekend’s adventure.
This summer, the Cottonwood Institute and Operation: Military Kids teamed up for the Operation Military Kids Family Survival Skills Overnight. In July, a team of students, accompanied by a number of parents, ventured up into Colorado Lions Camp near Woodland Park, Colorado for a weekend of outdoor exploration and fun.
This trip equipped its participants with good, practical knowledge about surviving in the wilderness, and also gave everyone an opportunity to get to know each other in an environment that facilitated a sense of community and teamwork. Surviving in the outdoors alone was a new and enriching experience for most of the students and their parents. Some people seemed a little hesitant at first, but it wasn’t long before the group’s avid interest and enthusiasm for the outdoors became apparent, as well as their remarkable ability to connect and relate to one another from day one, despite having never met before.
Students, instructors, and parents alike focused their time and energy on learning new survival skills and discussing how to respect the land they were staying on. Course participants learned how to make one-match fires, and even got to try their hand at using bow drills. They also learned how to build debris shelters, an activity that some students found to be so enjoyable, they wanted to try constructing shelters in their own backyards.
For some, one of the best parts of the trip was simply having an opportunity to be alone in the wilderness. Finding sit spots, a reflective exercise where each participant finds a place to sit in the woods where they can be alone with the stillness of their surroundings, became an activity of special importance for many of the students. “My rose was the sit moments—just being able to sit and listen,” said TJ, one of the students who attended the course.
For others the most valuable aspect of the trip was being able to get to know other people. At the end of the weekend, one participant took time during their closing circle to mention all of the “roses,” or strengths, she had observed in each person attending the course. “Her words were a great example of how well this group got along, and they also showed how you can learn a lot from other people,” said Madeline Bachner, an instructor on the course.
“We so appreciated the opportunity to go out on a survival adventure sponsored by the Cottonwood Institute,” said Channon, a course participant, in an e-mail to the Cottonwood Institute. “Your founder and donors should be very pleased with how your organization is helping to nurture a love of the outdoors and the confidence to enjoy it as only a true camping experience can provide. My husband, who is deployed to Afghanistan, also wants me to pass on his gratitude for getting his girls up to the Colorado mountains this summer. It’s non-profit groups like yours that take up the slack when our troops are off serving and away from family.”
To view pictures from the course, click here.
Just before school let out for the summer, 11 adventurous girls from Colorado Academy set out on a final mission: wolves. On a warm spring day in May, although the van was stuffed full of fuzzy pillows, makeup bags, and iPods, it was the adventurous spirit of these girls that filled the air with confidence, strength, and true girl-power.
Turning out of the driveway and leaving the city life behind for a few days, we were all buzzing with a sense of curiosity, wondering what the future had in store for us. Upon our arrival at Mission: Wolf, while we were greeted gustily by the wind, we could still hear faint howls from the wolves off in the distance, reminding us that nature now surrounded us.
Mission: Wolf is a wolf sanctuary located in the southwest corner of Colorado, near Westcliffe. It is home to more than 40 wolves, giving these often misunderstood animals a safe haven. Our mission while visiting here was to connect with nature through survival skills, hang out with the wolves, get to know them, feed them, and in return, gain a better understanding of how wolves affect the environment and how we can improve the environment for everyone.
Amidst the wind, we attempted to set up camp without getting blown away. Little did we know that the wind would remain our constant companion throughout the course. After a few broken tent poles and chasing tent bags, we managed to successfully set up camp and eagerly went off to meet our first wolf. The anticipation was palpable and that initial excitement remained with us as we woke up in the mornings, met each wolf, helped to feed and care for them, and collapsed happily into bed each night.
While the wolves took up most of our time, we still managed to build debris shelters, make one-match and cotton ball fires, create our very own pop can backcountry stoves, meet and care for horses, embark on hikes, roast marshmallows, and hold inspiring discussions into the wee hours of the night.
With the distant howling of the wolves whispering in our ears and the Sangre de Cristos offering us glimpses of snow-capped mountain tops through the wispy clouds, we relaxed into our new surroundings, giddy as 7-year olds. And when it was time to leave, although eager to return to society, there remained a hint of nostalgia for the memories created in our short time spent with these majestic creatures. The students stated it best: “This course changed the way I look at wolves and had a large impact on me. I felt more peaceful here.”
Click here for a slideshow of our adventures and until next time…Hooooooowl!
Whether you are camping out for a weekend or climbing to the top of Longs Peak, surviving in the wilderness can be an empowering, humbling, and enriching experience. However not many people in this day and age choose to spend their lives relying only on what the natural landscape has to offer. Yet that’s exactly what some of the students of Colorado Academy chose to do when they signed up for the Cottonwood Institute’s Stone Age Survival Skills Course. For five days at the end of May, these students lived, learned, and worked at the survival skills school known as Earth Knack in Crestone, Colorado. Under the instruction of Robin Blankenship, the owner of Earth Knack, and her partner, Mike O’Donal, students learned a plethora of new survival skills that not only made use of the natural resources around them, but also challenged their intellectual and creative abilities as they used ancient methods to help sustain their modern lifestyles.
“With stone age survival, adaptation is one of the most important skills to have,” said Clark Patton, one of the instructors who went on the course. Adaptability was certainly a learned skill for Robin, who built her family’s home from the ground up, and one that was strengthened for the students of Colorado Academy during the course. By the end of their five-day stay, the students knew how to make fire from friction using bow drills, create cordage from plants, construct their own hunting weapons, and were even able to make arrowheads using the ancient and challenging technique known as flint knapping. They helped lay the foundation for a new workshop at Earth Knack, shoveling dirt to level the ground and clearing away tree stumps and branches that would have gotten in the way of the new structure. A day was also spent at Sand Dunes National Park, where they learned about camouflage as well as animal tracking techniques used by the Apache and the Bushmen of Africa.
The students of Colorado Academy not only gained a better understanding of primitive survival at Earth Knack: they gained a broader perspective of the natural world. They realized that the natural landscape has much to offer each and every one of us, and that we not only have the ability to change their relationship to the land but also to make use of its potential in different ways. These students learned that it is possible to live off the land and still remain a part of the modern world.
“Being able to take value of the wilderness is important,” said Aleyna Porreca, a student instructor who also went on the course. “When students can learn outdoor skills you wouldn’t use in everyday life and then combine those skills with an appreciation for the outdoors in the city…I think that’s the most valuable thing they can take away from their experience.”
Click here for a slideshow of their adventures.
Although the students from Logan School in Denver were eager to go, it was the teachers that were ready to jump out of their skin from the excitement of the upcoming trip. All 24 of us - including 19 rambunctious and highly energized 8 and 9 year olds – loaded into our caravan of vehicles and headed to Earth Knack, where we would spend the next three days learning primitive survival skills, while embracing sustainability, adaptability, and nature.
After fours hours of humming tires, the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range finally greeted us with sunshine reflections off snowy peaks, and the adventure began. Once camp was set, we met Robin, the creator and owner of Earth Knack, our temporary home. She led us on a comprehensive and educational tour while discussing sustainability and recycling. Dinner and marshmallows were our next order of business, and as the stars twinkled silently above us, we settled in for the night.
The sun shone bright the next morning. We ate a hearty breakfast and prepared for a short hike to the Ziggurat. This unique piece of artwork sits atop a hill towering above the sparsely populated valley symbolizing one man’s vision of piece. During the hike, we discovered an abundance of wildlife from birds to rabbits to flowers. Although our stomachs were grumbling for lunch, our laughter and smiles evidenced a successful hike. After a stimulating game of camouflage and bow drill practice, we began building our debris shelter. I have never seen a group of kids dedicated so intensely to the task at hand as these young ones were. In the middle of it all, it started to snow, and their determination did not wane, their smiles did not falter, and their shelter was a work of art on its own accord.
We celebrated our last night together listening to fireside stories, and dining on dessert of birthday cake and marshmallows. It was a bittersweet moment, but as we backed out of the driveway the next morning, all of us knew the skills we learned and the laughter we shared would remain with us as long as the Sangre de Cristos continue to tower above this vast valley.
Check out the slideshow of our adventures, by clicking here.
Written by April Pishna.
Spring time is upon us! On a beautiful April weekend, I went along with the 4th quarter CAP class up to the mountains at Calwood for the first weekend overnight. Upon our arrival, the howling wind sent shivers up our spines, but that was only a slight set-back for the weekend that lay ahead. After the tents were pitched, our first activity was a sit spot. What a great way to focus the group and get everyone excited for the weekend!
We spent time hiking up Solitude Point, building debris shelters, and learning survival techniques. Everyone had a great attitude and worked hard as a team to get things done. After a chilly dinner, we gathered in the warming hut to spend time around the fire, giving us a chance to bond as a class and share some laughter. When the sun had set, we returned outside to do a drum stalk under the full moon. At first some students were frightened by the idea of walking in the dark blindfolded, but after a few rounds everyone was trying their best and using all of their senses. We ended the day with a night hike up Solitude to admire the beautiful moon. When we reached the top, we all began to howl at the brilliant light shining down upon us. Before too long we heard a pack of coyotes howling back! It was cool to experience the magic of nature on such a wonderful night.
Our second overnight was much warmer than the first! We had a gorgeous weekend near Taylor Mountain and took advantage of the weather to hike, practice fire, and relax!
An afternoon hike proved quite exciting as the group interacted with maps in a new way. As the afternoon approached, we packed our daypacks and set out for a hike on the Bright Trail. This was an awesome chance for everyone to chat and soak up the sunshine. I loved the feeling of the hike, it was relaxed and everyone was observing their surroundings. Time flew by without anyone noticing! On our way back, we decided to follow the contour lines on a map we had to get back to our campsite. We trekked through the forest for quite a while, doing our best to go the right direction. After a while, we thought we had gotten lost because our campsite was nowhere to be found! By using all of our combined wilderness know-how, we managed to make it back safe and sound. It was a great experience to have the feeling of getting lost, because we got to practice what to do in case we were in a real survival situation.
The group’s fire skills also improved. After a season of fire bans we had a great time exploring different ways of making fire. The single match fires proved to be a great challenge for many students. This trip was also a great opportunity for students to increase their backcountry cooking skills and with our fire, s’mores were in full effect! Everyone had a great time on this final trip of the year and the class really came together, learning not only the skills presented, but gaining a deeper understanding of themselves and each other.
I believe the real magic of these trips is the power of togetherness. It’s my favorite aspect of CAP and is the reason I keep coming back. I think the overnights were a success and we learned a lot. I can’t wait for all the adventures to come!
Check out the fun, by clicking here to view the photo slideshow.
Written by Jo Skuski and Madeline Bachner
We experienced a new twist in the evolution of the Operation: Military Kids Essential Survival Skills course – family participation! 10 folks from 4 families, converged at the Colorado Lions Camp to challenge their carnivorous and cooperative edges. We learned about survival priorities, wild edibles, sustainable harvesting, camp craft, fire craft, stalking and wilderness walking. We were even treated with deer venison – Yum! We learned how to work together and make decisions as a group, and how to take these skills back to our everyday lives.
Check out our newest course: Operation: Military Kids Family Survival Skills Overnight, July 16-17, 2011 and stay tuned about what will we learn this time.
Click Here to view a slideshow of the activities and relive the adventures of the weekend!
This article was written by Jason Lawrence and edited by April Pishna.