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Seventh Graders Explore Southwest
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A special trip during spring break for a group of 16 Oakdale Junior High School seventh graders came complete with plenty of learning opportunities in science and history, as well as a significant amount of exercise and sight seeing. Each day was chockfull of these experiences for the students and their chaperones as they embarked on an adventure in the southwest.

With sleep in their eyes, the group departed from OJHS in the wee morning hours for the Sacramento airport and arrived in Tucson, Ariz. with a full day ahead of them.

The travel group consisted of the students, three parent chaperones, two OJHS teachers Fred Yerzy(Science) and Rachel Torres(History), and two specially trained EMT wilderness tour guides from the tour company Grand Classroom.

Yerzy kept a journal of the six-day Grand Canyon Arizona adventure. A few of his entries are shared below.

DAY 1 Monday, April 25, 2011

“We start our trip out by being a speleologist – a scientist that studies caves.

Kartchner Cavern is a ‘living’ cave because the formations in the cave are still growing. We learned how this cave was formed and different types of formations found in this cave here in Tucson, Ariz. For example, the world’s longest soda straw stalactite at 21 feet 3 inches is still growing in this cave.

“Next stop was at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens just south of Phoenix, Ariz… Here we were botanists learning how to identify different types of desert plants by using a desert plant dichotomous key. This botanical garden is the home to one of the world’s most spectacular living collection of the world’s desert plants… the collection includes over 4,000 species and approximately 17,000 individual plants for which scientific records are kept.

“Later that day we acted as entomologists, identifying the beautiful and colorfully striped butterflies at the Marshall Butterfly Pavilion.”

DAY 2 Tuesday, April 26, 2011

“We were anthropologists/archaeologists viewing and learning about the ancient Native American cliff dwellers of Montezuma Castle.

“Next we mountain biked and navigated our way through the beautiful Red Rocks of Sedona, Ariz., on Bell Rock Path. Some of us even took a break from our bike riding to participate in Navajo Sandstone Native American face painting experience.

“That afternoon we were hydrologists and took a dip in Oak Creek to slide down a natural waterslide in Slide Rock State Park.

“After dinner we did some rock climbing at the Rock Climbing Center in Flagstaff, Ariz.”

History teacher Torres also had a few observations and highlights she talked about from the trip.

“At Montezuma’s Castle…we learned about the Hopi Indians and their ancestors that created the dwellings in the cliffside,” she noted.

DAY 3 Wednesday, April 27, 2011

“Now we become astrophysicists. An astronomer studying the physical components of celestial objects is known as an astrophysicist. We explored a crater known as Meteor Crater.

“Meteor Crater is known as one of the best-known examples of an impact crater on Earth. The crater is 3,900 feet in diameter and 570 feet deep. A meteorite the size of a school bus hit Earth approximately 49,000 years ago and made this crater.

“At one of the national parks, known as Petrified Forest National Park, we pretended to be paleontologists doing a fossil dig and at that same park learned that one of the most well-known fossils of the world is petrified wood. Petrified wood is a fascinating example of mineral replacement…after 180 million years (is when) real wood can turn into rock composed of quartz crystals.

“In the evening we were astronomers again and visited the famous Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff and looked through the original Alvin Clark 24-inch refractor telescope and saw the beautiful planet of Saturn. This scope was very impressive. We could see the black spaces between the rings and the planet.”


That was just in the first three days. On the fourth day, the group hiked and explored the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world.

“Here we saw first hand the many sedimentary layers that make up this canyon,” Yerzy reported. “As we walked down the canyon we were literally going back in time, geologic time. Very cool. We saw a few marine life fossils in the limestone layers, sandstone in the creamy white layers, and layers of deep, rust-colored red shale. The view was amazing and simply breathtaking. It didn’t look real. The South Kaibab trail coming back up was so steep it took your breath away, too. You take 30 steps, rest, take a drink of water, look at the fossils in the sedimentary layers, and then hike another 30 steps...”

That evening, Yerzy taught them all how to read a star chart and then use it to identify a few of the major stars and constellations. He said the dark night was perfect for stargazing.

On the fifth day of their adventure, the group took a float trip down the Colorado River and a tour of Antelope Canyon in Page, Ariz. Yerzy said that their Navajo tour guide led them through the “awe-inspiring and mysterious sculpture set in the stone canyon.”

They then went to the Horseshoe Bend overlook where they had a “stupendous” view of the Colorado River.

Yerzy said that the river float was the highlight of the trip for everyone between the natural beauty of the canyon and the water. Their boat captain even entertained them on guitar, singing many popular songs.

“Here we are floating down the river under these beautiful thousand-foot orange-red canyon walls, bluffs and buttresses and we are singing together these songs,” Yerzy noted. “Words cannot express the deep connection we felt with nature and each other as a group from Oakdale. It was cool and something I will never ever forget.”

After the river trip, they walked across the Navajo Foot Bridge, which connects to the two rims of the canyon and even saw a California Condor perched along the canyon’s cliffs.

Torres reported that while rafting the Colorado River at Glen Canyon, the boat captain stopped along the riverside for students to see petroglyphs that were carved into the side of the cliffs by the Anasazi Indians.

“During our trip, there were many times the students were able to learn about the origin of different national parks, from who discovered them, how they were purchased, and how many of them were named national parks by President Theodore Roosevelt,” Torres added.

On the sixth day, they went to Zion National Park and hiked to the Emerald Pools. They left for Las Vegas, dined there and caught their flight home.