Imagine backpacking through the beautiful desert of Utah, living on nothing but raw foods consisting of fruits and nuts and having no tents or sleeping bags; only poncho shelters and your clothes to keep you warm. You may be hungry, tired, hot or cold at times, but the challenges make you enjoy being in this place even more. You look around at the oranges, yellows, and grays of the sandstone formations and take a deep breath of the dry, sagebrush-scented air. At night, you gaze into the galaxies and watch shooting stars in the dark desert sky. Oh to be living so simply in such a beautiful place!
This was the reality of nine enthusiastic seniors from Colorado Academy, their skilled teacher, and two Cottonwood Institute instructors. Instead of BBQing during Memorial Day weekend, this group spent five days testing their wilderness abilities and pushing themselves to the limit while participating in Cottonwood Institute’s first ever San Rafael Swell Go Light Backpacking Course.
Prior to starting, every backpacker had to weigh their pack to ensure that it was no more than nine pounds before the addition of food and water. Each day the group hiked five to twelve miles through dry washes and up canyons, using a compass and map to find the way. And thanks to Delorme and Engineered Travel, Cottonwood Institute had the honor of field-testing the inReach 2-way GPS device so our administrators were able to track their route from the office.
To break up the tediousness of long treks through the hot desert canyons, students learned to identify edible and medicinal plants and were even lucky enough to find ancient pictographs. When at camp, although exhausted, the group learned primitive survival skills including bowdrill fires, knife work, traps, wood spoon-making and milkweed cordage-making. Being completely in tune and immersed in the natural world was a highlight of the trip. One student stated, “It spawned a love for nature that will last for the rest of my life.” Overall, this course was very challenging but also quite rewarding for the students.
With the combined skills of Colorado Academy’s own, Chip Lee and our two amazing Cottonwood Institute Instructors, Paul Van Horn and Clark Patton, these nine students successfully completed a trek that most people will never experience. Knowing that they can push themselves past their limits is an invaluable tool to be used in all aspects of their lives. “I am shocked at what I have accomplished. My body can do so much more than I thought. I proved that my mind is the only thing that can keep me from doing anything.” (Colorado Academy Going Light Student)
What will you do next Memorial Day weekend?
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures.
Written by Kelly Muller and edited by April Pishna.
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.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of Chautauqua Park on a Saturday morning a ragtag group of outdoorsy people waited to load up the caravan of cars heading to Calwood Outdoor Education Center. Sounds like a group of students waiting to attend a summer camp, huh? Well, sort of…once again it was time for Cottonwood Institute’s annual summer instructor training weekend. With a few new faces joining the veterans, we made our way out of Boulder’s weekend traffic ending our mini road trip at Calwood’s beautiful Solitude Camp Site. With nothing but the wind in the trees to accompany us throughout the weekend, we set to work.
After a morning stretch, hike, and inspiring quote, we set up camp, created our outdoor kitchen area, learned a few things about group gear and safety, enjoyed a much needed sit spot and then hungrily dove into our lunch of tuna salad. We then worked on shelters and fire skills, participated in a medical scenario, and even witnessed a black widow capturing a bumblebee in her well-spun web. Exhausted yet content and warm under the late afternoon sun, it was time for a break where we all relaxed and got to know each other more while a pot of pizza rice simmered on the stove for dinner. A relaxing fireside chat of what if scenarios and a birthday surprise of chocolate cake for our outstanding Executive Director, Ford Church, preceded an unusually warm and windy sleepy night.
We awoke to a slight chill in the air, which a hearty breakfast of oatmeal and granola cured quite quickly and we set right into action on our service learning project where we worked hard assisting Calwood with a fire mitigation project. We talked more about risk management and dove deeper into the paperwork portion of implementing successful courses, played a few games, learned some new debriefing skills, and as time flies quickly, it was time to go. As on any great Cottonwood Institute course we participated in a reflection activity and ended the training with a sit spot to complete our evaluations.
Although the weekend was quite busy, there was time to enjoy the calm of the outdoors before we headed back to the hectic schedules of our everyday lives. As Cottonwood Institute instructors we connect our students to the outdoors and help them find their reason to care about the environment. In order to do this and do it well, we must remember to continually make that connection for ourselves. This weekend offered this much needed connection.
Here’s to the amazing group of instructors that I had the pleasure of attending Cottonwood Institute’s instructor training with. Without you, it would just be another day in the office! You rock!
Click here for a slideshow of the weekend’s adventures.
Picture this: The peaceful silence of snow-capped mountains towering above a vast blanket of white…WHOOOSH! The silence changes quickly into peals of laughter as 11 pairs of boot-donned feet trample quickly out of range of the next onslaught of snowballs.
For Cottonwood Institute, an early snowfall doesn’t hinder survival courses; in fact, they just become more exciting. On a late October day, a group of Lakewood High School students and their teachers headed to Conifer for a day of survival skills and snowballs. While most focused their efforts building a quinzhee shelter by piling up massive amounts of snow and then digging out the inside, a few remained dedicated to the constant snowball fights that kept everyone entertained throughout the course.
The quinzhee did take up most of the course, but there was still time to work on fire skills, discuss survival scenarios, and enjoy a hearty lunch under the bright blue Colorado sky. All in all, it was a successful day as evidenced by the amazing quinzhee shelter built and the few snores that accompanied the bus ride home.
Click here for a slideshow of the day’s adventures.
A special thanks goes out to Wildland Awareness Educational Institute for use of their land outside of beautiful Conifer, CO!
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.
From allergy symptoms to lost participants to severed fingers…sounds like an instructor’s worst nightmare, doesn’t it? No worries, these were just scenarios played out during our fall instructor training course to ensure that our instructors are prepared for the worst, but ready to deliver the best courses possible!
On a cloudy and chilly morning, 13 of us set out on a casual 2 mile hike to our beautiful training site for the weekend, Mica Mine at Calwood Outdoor Education Center. While we worked hard throughout the weekend, practicing everything from medical scenarios to survival skills, every camping trip must have time for campfires, marshmallows, and guitar strumming.
With a diverse group of seasoned instructors, student leaders, and brand new faces, we worked on shelters, fire skills, cooking plans, kitchen setup, medical scenarios, debriefing lessons, games, and search and rescue. We even had time to play in the mud for a service-learning project to improve the riparian ecosystem and help build a swimming hole for summer participants at Calwood.
As the weekend came to a close, the sun came out, and a sense of peace enveloped us all. We are ready! We are ready for anything! We are ready to deliver the best! We are ready to bring our strengths and passions for the environment to all of you! Here’s to a great season of Cottonwood Institute courses! Bring ‘em on! Because we are ready!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventurous and fun weekend with some of our amazing instructors!
Online students are not desk bound as far as GOAL Academy is concerned. On a couple of warm sunny days this past summer Cottonwood Institute teamed up with GOAL Academy, Guided Online Academic Learning, to host two one-day survival courses for their students.
Working with our amazing instructors and GOAL chaperones, the students used the surrounding resources to build natural shelters, learned a variety of ways to make fire, and realized that survival knowledge is beneficial in the wilderness and online. Students attending Cottonwood Institute courses not only learn shelter building techniques and fire skills, but they also learn patience, teamwork, leadership, and critical thinking skills.
After a day spent in the outdoors, GOAL students are now well-equipped with both academic and environmental skills. I would call that a successful endeavor!
Click here for a slideshow of the adventures!
Ask yourself one question. Would you know how to skin a raccoon if stranded in the wilderness? Most of us would answer no. But for the the staff at Snooze A.M. Eatery attending this unique one-day survival retreat, their answer is a resounding, “Yes!”
On a warm summer day this past August, managers at Snooze participated in Cottonwood Institute’s one-day survival workshop as a part of their weekend staff training. While they learned the basics of survival from shelter building to fire skills, they also had the opportunity to learn more about primitive hunting skills and animal skinning.
While the group was quite competitive throughout the day, their humor and teamwork never once waned, and the quality of their restaurant business was evidenced in how hard they worked and how they never stopped encouraging each other. While working on one-match fires, one participant was heard saying, “You can do it, put your match into it!” This tone set the entire course.
Ford, our very own Executive Director, had the pleasure of instructing this group and stated, “I think you guys have an awesome team assembled at Snooze and it was great to see how everyone stepped up in different ways. Everyone was super positive and had a great attitude. I have to say, this is the first course we processed road kill and I thought that was really cool.” Adam Schlegel, Snooze Co-Founder and owner was ecstatic, “Such a great time, great experience, and you guys were fantastic. Congrats on the project, the great people, and the whole business… a very cool job. Hope to see you in Snooze soon, guarantee you’ll have a memorable meal. No raccoon!”
While the raccoons received all the talk, it was the memories that will live on forever with both the Snooze team and our amazing instructors, Ford and Clark. You all pulled off a unique and memorable course! Here’s to many more of these throughout the years to come!
Snooze re-energizes the way you think, feel, and ultimately eat breakfast. Visit one of their locations throughout Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, and soon in San Diego.
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.
On Saturday, June 11th the Cottonwood Institute joined many other outdoor minded groups to be part of the National Get Outdoors Day event in Denver City Park. It was a beautiful day and thanks to great weather, in combination with the hard work of Get Outdoors Colorado, the event was the most well attended yet. Thousands of visitors strolled through the park enjoying the entertainment and education throughout the day.
The Cottonwood Institute was in good company including REI, Governor Mark Udall, Jefferson County Open Space, Avid 4 Adventure and Colorado State Parks. At our booth we provided information about our programming and had a fun game for kids to start thinking about what they would need to pack for a day-hike to be safe and prepared. We also demonstrated the bow-drill technique for starting fires and drew several interested crowds teaching this unique skill. It was a great day for people from all over the Denver Metro area to learn about how to prepare for and enjoy the outdoors here in Colorado and see what the Cottonwood Institute has to offer!