Day 6, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 6, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Our last day dawns with Phoenix travelers urging Mike and Dave to take us to Utah, which is only a stone’s throw away. We can see Utah from our picture window so it seems only fair to plant our feet in another state while we are here. Our destination is Big Water Visitor Center where we see dinosaur fossils and footprints, how dinosaurs evolved, and marvel that the arid Utah that we experience used to be a tropical environment housing sharks, dinosaurs, and small mammals at one time long, long ago. Luckily we have their footprints and fossilized remains to tell the story.

We are on our way to Phoenix Airport to begin the last leg of our journey home. On the drive from Page to Phoenix we travel through sunshine, into rain, then hail, then snow, and back to sunshine. Our lunch stop is cut short when rain brings the cold, so we climb back into our van and head to Phoenix where it is much warmer.




On our way to Page on our first day, we drove past hillsides covered with Saguaro cacti which made us want to get a closer look. A stop at Sonoran Preserve allows us to walk among the cacti, meeting the great saguaros up close, and seeing other varieties.  Arlo identifies a fishhook cacti that the Navajo used for fishing, connecting Arlo to his pre-trip research. Noisy birds perch on tall cacti, yelling at us from above. Surely they are welcoming us to their territory instead of sending us on our way.







After a final dinner, and checking our bags, we gather together to write a goodbye to Glen Canyon and the Navajo Nation.

Gavin: My time in this land has been a series of highs, then one middle.  The sites, arduous yet satisfying hikes, and impossibly deep canyons made my experience. The feat of engineering the Glen Canyon Dam which is essential in the lives of thousands in surrounding states, providing water and electricity, must have taken some of our country’s great minds to accomplish. Native peoples who lived here centuries ago are ingrained in the land. It’s impressive how they hold onto traditional practices, while not limiting themselves. The arid desert and this school taught me how to: interact more fluently with strangers, how to navigate an airport, and other skills useful in the outside world. Farewell Arizona, with your glorious lands and millions of years of history.


Arlo: There is just so much to learn about any given place. The Everglades, St. John, and now Glen Canyon were all packed full of history, culture, and of course, wildlife. Going into the trip blind, without any knowledge of this area, I was pleasantly surprised with how wrong I was.  The history of Lees Ferry and Navajo sites, the geology of Horseshoe Bend and Glen Canyon, and the flora and fauna quite literally everywhere astounded me, to say the least. To sum everything up, no place is truly boring. You only have to dig a little deeper (or experience it) to realize it. Now, after this valuable lesson, I can proudly and confidently say that I have had the perfect end to my Phoenix travel adventures.

Paul:  Goodbye Glen Canyon and Navajo Nation, the place I dreamt, the land from heaven, the magnificent place of beauty and rocks. I have to leave now. You helped me be with nature, and connected me to the land.  My brain, my body, my mind has changed.  I love you for helping me, for making me less anxious, helping me to be closer and understanding.  That fiery gust is real, so is my dream.

Alfie: I will miss these days of outgoing activities. Time to say goodbye to many tribes that made us comfortable like the Navajo who showed us their ways. I will miss how the sun was just right and had a glossy reflection on the water. I will have to leave millions of years of history behind like the Antelope Canyon tour of winding very narrow turns that is never forgetful. Titanic Horseshoe Bend sits in shocking ways. Now I leave all of this behind.

Audrey: Although this adventure felt short, it will still be an experience that will never fully leave my mind. I expand my head with thoughts of the trip like hearing about the tragic past of the Navajo Nation and learning about a variety of new plants and animals. Many sights we have seen changed my attitude, but the sight of Horseshoe Bend will forever give me a positive lens on nature. Farewell Arizona, your culture, wildlife, and history are the foundation of my wonders.


Levi: Dear Arizona, I find the burden of 9 kids difficult. Thank you for allowing us to grace your soil with our journals’ touch. This land of beauty is unparalleled compared to any other state. From magnificent Horseshoe Bend to jaw-dropping Lees Ferry Antelope Canyon, though was my best experience by far. The geological were impeccable. From the bottom of my heart, I want to say thank you, goodbye, and good night.


Mira:  I remember standing where I sit now, awaiting the start of our trip. I had just gotten off the plane and everyone was groggy from the flight and jittery with excitement.  The very next night, I arrived at our Airbnb and was in awe over the gorgeous house. Over the week, we learned about native culture, the history of the canyon, and how to protect our parks. We saw extraordinary things including Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, and Glen Canyon Dam. Our week was full of adventure and surprises, and to put how I felt into words is almost impossible. All I’m really trying to say right now is, “Goodbye Arizona.”


Fiona: My mind is an interesting place. There are lush forests of intricate thoughts, seas of emotion, looming mountains of stress, and now, amber canyons barricading hungry shadows from reaching me, viridian waters weaving through each challenge and layers of processing. I stand upon the new part of me, a gentle breeze brushing against my cheek and soft sands against my soul. Winds are welcoming me to new changes and kissing me goodbye from the terrain, waters, and closeness.  I left a piece of me to forever stay in Glen Canyon and Glen Canyon etched itself into my brain with lasting memories and gentle reminders.

Sattva: Goodbye canyon walls that towered over us all. That cool breeze in my hair,  and looking at the amazing canyons that go on forever will stay in my mind. I will miss the comfortable warmth of the Navajo people, their friendly culture, and their pure smiles on all Navajo faces. I will miss walking on the canyon ground and the little pieces of rocks that get stuck in my shoes. Time flew by as every second seemed like a day and every day felt like a second. How wired time is. I will miss the comforting warmth of everything.


Day 5, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 5, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Navajo National Monument is our destination today. Once off the main highway, we wind up the mesa over a sandy and gravel road, twisting and turning through juniper and piñon pine, snow showers, past wandering cattle, and over red mesa sand, sand, and more sand. We are off to meet with Caleo John, who introduces himself in the traditional Navajo way with his name and the name of each of his four clans. Caleo leads us along a trail through junipers, sagebrush, piñon pine, Indian rice grass, Mormon tea, yucca, quaking aspen, Douglas fir, and prickly pear, answering our questions and giving us insight into the environment around us. Across the canyon, we spy ancient cliff dwellings nestled in a natural arch in the canyon wall. It is mind-boggling to imagine the ancients living so high above the canyon floor.







We are intrigued with the Navajo hogan and sweat house constructed in the traditional way. Caleo shares his personal experience of going through the coming of age challenge of being in the sweat house with 10 other young men for a day, with intervals of running, and rolling in the sand before squeezing back into the sweat house. Our next challenge is to pick a museum specimen of a coiled pot and try making one just like it with the clay that Caleo provides. Speaking for all of us, Audrey remarks,  “We have been so lucky to have had the best guides!”






Glen Canyon Dam is our last stop today. We peer over the precipice into the canyon far below, marveling at the massive structure. One side holds the Colorado River back, forming Lake Powell.  On the other side, the river winds through a deep canyon as it continues downstream. The making of Glen Canyon Dam is explained in film and photos allowing us to understand the marvel that it truly is, and how important it is to water distribution in the southwest and Mexico.






After some journaling, sharing, brownies baked by Mike and Dave, and finally a dip in the hot tub, we retire.  


Day 4, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 4, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Our special surprise this morning is a trek through “Hasdez’ twazi’ (Lower Antelope Canyon) or ‘spiral rock arches’ as the Navajo call it. Our Navajo guide, Ian Blackhorse Johnson captivates us with stories of geology, local Navajo life, and history, including a local disaster, all helping us to understand that the canyon is spiritual and sacred to the Navajo culture and way of life. For many of us Hasdez’ twazi’ is the highlight of our trip so far.

Read below for our student’s interpretations!

Arlo: Saturated, colorful walls enclose me on all sides. Ancient overhangs frame the sky, etching familiar silhouettes into the vastness above. Sunrays poke through the mazes of complex rock formations. Light bounces across vibrant canyon walls, covering each crevasse in a blanket of color. Antelope Canyon, an astounding and ancient formation, proving that beauty really does take patience.

Mira: We start to descend into the canyon and my breath is taken away.  Huge, amber rocks tower above me. Beautiful crimson formations encase the path on which I walk. As we steadily descend, each majestic canyon wall carries new beauties. Up and down we go, exploring and capturing new images in our minds to carry forever with us. Magnificent,  wondrous, vast and intimidating. This is Antelope Canyon.

Levi: Submerged in shadow I trek through Antelope Canyon gazing at crevasses that dot the bottom. Above, outcroppings shine copper and amber with light from the sun’s rays. I watch my head as the canyon narrows and stare up in awe as it opens up.  When I climb out I am reminded that we are a small part in how the Earth turns.

Fiona: It was an earth-made painting, the world’s fingertips placing natural paints along a blank canvas, molding amber spirals into canyon walls and raining down orange sand to carpet rigid floors. Grooves and openings create recognizable shapes, animals, and designs, forming a roof over us that almost looks like an open sky with a falling sun. I run my hands along the canyon’s walls, allowing my fingers to feel each curve and indent. My palms touch ancient rocky layers, leaving a piece of myself behind for the canyon’s aging memory.

Paul: Magnificent, majestic, and breathtaking, Antelope Canyon lies disguised, filled with tunnels and mazes. Crimson walls stand below ground. What I thought was a normal canyon turned out to be a wondrous place. An hour of time, a lifetime of memories, an experience that will never be forgotten and one that I will cherish. Walls tower over me, sunlight falls above me, cold air washes over me as I walk to the sky, a place filled with grace, made by the gods. No way to describe it. The only words in my mind are amazement and awe as I leave behind one of the most amazing places.

Audrey: Fine sand coats the canyon floor. Copper walls create a colossal formation. I  spin myself slowly trying to take it all in. Glowing sun beams through the narrow crevices. Warm oranges make up the foundation with crimson paths coating the rock. I follow the dusty earth, my face gleaming like the sun. Canyon walls so deep and submerged.

Sattva: Widespread tunnel goes further and further as we continue on the path. Walls look like they expand infinitely, towering over all of us. Trying to reach the far end of stone, pure curvature on each wall going into pits and depths sluggishly along.

Alfie: Narrow bends take me along what seems to be heaven. I lose track of time. My body races with adrenaline. Sun paints the many curves of the canyon walls, luminating the changes throughout history. I walk with respect for the people and their canyon. I imagine death-defying rainstorms wiping out part of the canyon from what it is now. I see the Navajo’s cheerful past throughout the layers of walls. I have never seen anything like it.

Gavin: The sprawling canyon with bizarre rock formation leads me on through tight corridors. Gold and orange hues reflect off the walls, a painting of gray and tan. Narrow passageways lead to circular openings. Sand blankets the ground cascading in from the top. Arches and outcrops formed millions of years ago. Footprints are petrified in stone. Smooth grooves and rough cracks, small creatures running through. Sun seeps through ledges onto the sand.

After lunch, we connect via FaceTime with our Phoenix K-2s who are on their own simulated trip to Glen Canyon back at school. Questions and answers flow freely, as we enjoy hearing about each others’ experiences.

Our kayak adventure begins at the Colorado River where we launch our kayaks for a paddle upstream and into Antelope Canyon where there is water enough to paddle along, unlike the narrow section we explored earlier. Our backs get really sore as we paddle along the 6-mile journey. Icy cold water freezes us as it is splashed into our kayaks by our partners.   Numb feet and sore arms are well worth the endless crimson and copper walls of the water-ridden canyon.

Feeling tired, but proud of ourselves, we are happy to eat dinner, work on our journals, share our Antelope Canyon writing, and take a soothing dip in the hot tub on our deck. We all sleep tight tonight.

(Thanks to Fiona, Paul, and Arlo for kayaking imagery.)

What will tomorrow bring?

Day 3 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 3 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Imagine our delight when daylight reveals Glen Canyon in all its glory, a scene only nature can paint, filling our picture window. Retracing our inky black path from last night, we head out in bright sunshine to meet Edmonia, Allison, and Alex, National Park Rangers, at Lees Ferry.

We begin to understand the pioneers who came west.  Edmonia shares stories of early settlers like the Lee family who failed at mining for coal and gold, and the Johnson family who planted orchards of peaches, almonds, apricots, plums, apples, pears, fig, nectarines, and quince, which we learn taste like sour apples x10! Looking up at the steep canyon wall, it’s almost impossible to believe settlers with mule-driven wagons managed to ascend to the top on such a narrow and treacherous trail.

In keeping with our philosophy to give back to our communities, The Phoenix School EarlyAct Club springs into action.  As we watch Colorado River rafters run the rapids, we pick up beach trash to keep the park pristine. Alongside rapids to the placid bay, we wander, plucking every unnatural item from the ground. We are proud to be official National Park volunteers today.

With insider information from Edmonia, we head to Navajo Bridge where we might see California Condors who sometimes sit under the bridge waiting for morning air to warm so they can catch thermals allowing them to soar high in their search for carrion. We are incredibly lucky today! Three condors perch contentedly under the bridge, in plain sight.  We take advantage of tables nearby to work on journals when the condors take flight and circle near enough that it feels as if we can reach out and touch their gigantic wings. What a treat to see such immense and impressive raptors so close.

Horseshoe Bend leaves us in awe. It is almost indescribable. We do our best to communicate what we felt at our first glimpse.

Arlo: Following craggy cliffs down from their sandy surfaces only barely puts into perspective the daunting and deceiving size of the curved gorge.

Alfie: Colorado River tranquility surrounds colossal layers of history

Sattva: Trees look like bushes, people look like ants

Levi: Imposing with high jagged rocks

Fiona: I thought the pictures were impressive, but now looking at the true sight, I realized I missed many details; the layers, the people, and literally the elephant in the room, the size of the canyon walls.

Gavin:  Its scale is confusing and awe-inspiring.

Audrey: Copper rocks create a foundation so large it feels like the pictures we have seen before became reality. Droplets of water push each other along, moving as one, creating the distinct shape of Horseshoe bend

Mira: Massive fiery orange rocks encase a slow spiraling river as I watch from above….I am in awe.

Paul:  A place so vast that humans are ants

James: Not even on the same planet anymore

Mike: beyond the pictures

Dave: doesn’t even look real

What will tomorrow bring?


Day 2: 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 2: 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

We are off to Glen Canyon early today, knowing that every hour brings us closer to our final destination.  Along the way we marvel over saguaro cacti standing guard over seemingly barren desert landscapes. Like sentinels, they stretch spiny limbs upward. Some have only a single trunk, others have multiple appendages. Why aren’t they all similar?  We discover most have holes, learning later that woodpeckers carve spaces that become nesting bowls.


A special break along the way finds us at the Rio Verde River, where an active eagle’s nest is monitored by Kyle McCarty of Arizona Fish and Game. Kyle and his wife, Michelle, set up scopes so we can observe the bald eagle parents tending the nest, and hopefully get a glimpse of the nestlings.  It is an extraordinarily rare treat when our patience is rewarded as one tiny eaglet pokes its downy head up for us to see. Surely it senses a flock of friendly “fire birds” visiting from afar.


Montezuma’s Well lures us in for a quick stop along the way. Ancient peoples evolved from hunters and gatherers to a sedentary people who settled at Montezuma’s Well because the thousands years old water pushing up to the surface of the Earth became a natural cistern for irrigating crops, allowing for permeant settlements. We hike to the deep well, a sink hole, and to ruins of ancient dwellings before climbing back into our van to continue our journey.


Arizona’s vastness quickly becomes crystal clear.  Ever changing landscapes stretch before us, constantly changing mile after mile as we travel north to Page. Saguaro clusters turn to flat land grasses, tree dotted plateaus, then, in a blink of an eye, snow covered roadsides and mountains. Vegetation morphs to rock and back again as our elevation changes.  Golden copper light reflects off plateaus bathing all in its warmth before a blood red sunset steals the scene, painting streaks of reds and purples across the sky. Blackness envelopes us.  We see nothing but a ribbon of highway ahead, wondering what surrounds us on each side; a mystery to be revealed in tomorrow’s light.

Day 1, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

Day 1, 2024 Glen Canyon Travel Study Trip

The day has finally arrived. Nine Phoenix 6th-8th graders are ready to embark on their Travel Study Trip to Glen Canyon, Arizona. Anticipation is in the air. For some, this is their first trip. Others are experienced Phoenix travelers like James, whose 8th grade trip to Glen Canyon was canceled so now he joins us as a skilled assistant. We all have expectations and wishes for our trip.


Alfie imagines “The glossy sunset shining at me as if it wants to suck me into it. I just rest now, in silence, peace.  Glen Canyon holds innumerable adventures, but for now, it is tranquil.


Levi sees Glen Canyon as “a magical mesa of river, rock, flora, and fauna at the surface, caves, ancient drawings and rock below. I look out the window at the view with promises of adventures to come.”


In Paul’s imagination, he feels “a wind blowing over my face. I look over a shadowy cliff and see water flowing faster than ever. It feels like I fell asleep and woke up in a dream. I realize where I am; the place I studied. The land I dreamt of is finally here and so am I.


Fiona remembers her trips to the Everglades and St. John as she imagines this year’s trip. “Lighthearted laughter echoes off the canyon’s amber walls.  What once was warmth from golden hues parting from the sun against my cheeks turns to a warm response from a strongly woven community. Through wetlands and turquoise waters, to now rocky canyons and rivers, my people never let me fall from their ever-growing cradle.


Mira has “been so nervous since we boarded the plane and I’m nervous now because the day ahead is essentially a mystery to me, but I think about that first-step feeling into the canyon that I’m looking forward to.  One more look out the window fuels me with confidence.  I know I’m up for this challenge.


Audrey is thinking about the day ahead. “The idea of trudging up the steep foundation of the canyon makes my heart race with anticipation, but at the same moment, I’m anxious and worried for the adventure I will face. This land is not what it was, once a home for thousands of Native Americans with families and peaceful lives. After ghastly wars and conflicts, it is a place to remember, honor, and celebrate. I hope to keep that in mind when on the trail. I am ready.


Sattva anticipates a special connection. “I want to be set free from technology, hoping that I can learn and discover more about Glen Canyon, not just Glen Canyon, but myself. Exploring the wonders of the world as a Native American myself will help me understand my own roots.  I might not be Navajo, Apache, or any other indigenous tribe, but the native peoples believe that no matter who you are, you are connected to everything.


Gavin is “simultaneously exceedingly excited and nervous. I don’t know much about the trip so the only things I’m anticipating good or bad are living with other people in a place I don’t know, and an all-day school experience with little or no free time. That’s what it seems at least, though the views and experiences are going to be amazing. I haven’t had an experience like that in my life.”


Arlo imagines himself “in the ancient canyon, rushing water filling away the bedded cliffs. Despite the sufficient research regarding the history of the mesa, I am certain I will carry on learning about the area; like the Colorado River forever changing the canyon that is my mind.”


After a long evening traveling from Boston to Phoenix and then to our hotel, we were happy to succumb to sleep, anticipating our journey to Page, AZ the next day when our study trip would actually begin.