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8th Grade Trip: Four Corners, Rafting, and Cultural Exchange

Ms. Spinney and Mr. Thomas took the eighth grade students out west to an area known as the Four Corners for their eighth grade trip. They partnered with the Deer Hill expedition organization in Mancos, Colorado. The itinerary included two days at basecamp forming a unit together with their guides and preparing for the trip; four days rafting the San Juan River; two and a half days on the Navajo Reservation completing a cultural exchange and helping prepare their hosts for the cold winter ahead; and a day of reflection at basecamp before packing up to return home.

The class did a lot of preparation before ever leaving Cincinnati. They journaled and discussed topics like their personal and group goals, resiliency, cultural relativism, ethnocentrism, and service. They also read the historical fiction book Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac and learned a bit about our country’s complicated history and the efforts of the Navajo marines in WWII. The students also began packing well in advance to be prepared for the elements and adaptable to the warm desert days and cold nights.

It would take a book to relay the adventures, memories, laughter, and bonds that were part of this trip. It was an experience like no other, and the group will forever be connected by their time together. Below are some things that were shared in gratitude during the nightly circle conversation, as well as several paragraphs written by students about their experience.

  • The bright sky

  • Shooting stars

  • The expansive mountain ranges

  • The beauty of the rocks and landforms

  • The games we played together with our guides

  • Sleeping under the stars

  • The yummy food our chef at basecamp and our classmates prepared for us

  • The dogs and puppies at our host family’s homes

  • Meeting our host family and learning about their culture

  • Making and eating Navajo fry bread with honey and powdered sugar

  • Rafting down the San Juan river

  • Forming bonds with each other and new people

  • Helping others

  • Splitting wood

  • Swimming in Deer Hill’s pond at basecamp

  • Picking Navajo Tea on a plateau

  • Seeing and learning about ancient petroglyphs and pictographs

Student Paragraphs

My 8th grade class went to the Four Corners (AZ, UT, NM, and CO) with Deer Hill

Expeditions. We saw tons of cool sites, from crazy stuff in the sky to windstorms. Our trip was wild but awesome. We saw the Milky Way, shooting stars, and Elon Musk’s weird satellite in the night sky. There was also a 60 mph windstorm while we were on the San Juan River. We had to set up camp at a different site along an old mining road in the canyon, and we almost blew away! The water even went backwards due to the wind.

On this trip, I've made stronger bonds with my classmates, my teachers and my guides. I've gained new skills that I might need in the future, like chopping wood, service to others, making a good fire, and much more. Also, on this trip I've gained so much more knowledge of history and the area we visited. Lastly, our guides were awesome. Overall I would rate this trip a 13/10. I had so much fun and I would definitely go back.

-Shayne Fries

This trip was an adventure and experiment that we will be able to look back on for the rest of our lives. It taught me personally, I don’t always need my parents to help and to be more accountable. After staying at basecamp to prepare, we rafted on the San Juan River for four days, stopping each night to set up camp. We each had a chore group and rotated jobs; my favorite was when my group was able to cook for everyone. I learned to do a lot and how to make a lot of foods.

The second part of our trip was a cultural exchange with a Navajo family on the Navajo Reservation. They taught us a lot about service and I loved meeting them. For complicated reasons, the reservation is sparse in infrastructure and so we helped set the family up for winter. I enjoyed splitting wood and eating Navajo fry bread.

I’m so thankful for the opportunities we had and to have gone on this trip. It was definitely a life changing experience and I would do it all over again. Our class bonded like they never had and we learned about one another. This trip taught me to be thankful for what I have, especially the nature and friendships around me. The sky was so beautiful. I was able to play volleyball with one of my best friends under a cotton candy sky at our host family’s home. Some people don’t have things I have, and I learned to enjoy life because life flies by quickly.

-Lily Anderson

My Eighth Grade Trip was a blast. My class went on this trip to bond, explore, challenge ourselves, and learn about the Navajo Reservation, or the Dene, as they call themselves. We flew to Dallas and then to the Durango airport in Colorado. There were many firsts for all of us. There was a windstorm and we had to stop somewhere that wasn’t a camp. This trip impacted me in ways I never would’ve thought it could; I learned to be patient with myself and that not everyone picks up stuff as fast as I do (we had many set ups and pack ups).

-Hayden Back

My favorite part of our 8th Grade Trip was an ancestral pueblo ruin that is now called Riverhouse. I was amazed by how old it is (around 2,000 years!) and how advanced the architecture was back then. While my class visited Riverhouse, we stayed fairly quiet which made our time there even more serene and special. The coolest sight I saw there was the handprints high up on the roof of the alcove the ruin was built into. It’s crazy to think that people climbed up there to leave a mark that would stay there for thousands of years. To me, Riverhouse was the most interesting part of our trip. Another important part of our trip were the connections we made along our way. This experience led us to grow even closer as a class and I learned more about my fellow students than I would’ve ever known.

-Riley Bryant

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