News From Trek Country - Spring 2023

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* Printed on Recycled Paper with Soy Ink News From Trek Country Watercolor of Bosque Del Apache, by Lezle Williams @cottonwoodgulch

A Note From The Director

Where should we plant this tree?

Ideas on different ways to model environmental stewardship

Imagine you are part of a small group participating in an environmental restoration project. Your group is presented with a straightforward question: where should we plant this tree?

There are many ways to find an answer, but they can mostly be narrowed down to two approaches: #1. Find someone else to answer the question, ideally an expert who knows what they are talking about. #2. Figure out an answer yourself.

Neither approach is inherently better, but each leads to different experiences for the people tasked with planting the tree. An example of #1: Not long ago I participated in a tree planting project in the southern part of Albuquerque. I arrived wearing dirt-ready clothes and was pleased to find holes already dug, cottonwood poles ready to plant in those holes, and plentiful instructions and insights from professionals. I was there to do the labor, and it was great. We got a lot done, and made a meaningful impact on that environment. That day, I left feeling satisfied, connected to my fellow tree-planters, and eager to do it all again. I want to see our trekkers participating in more projects like that.

However, following the path laid out by experts is not the only way to do it. If our goal is to inspire environmental stewardship (which it is; it’s part of our mission), we can create deeper learning a more lasting impact and by putting trekkers in charge with guidance from the professionals. If our question is “where do we plant this tree?,” I have a deep trust that young people possess the capacity and creativity to answer that question well. This is not an anti-professional or anti-intellectual stance; it’s an educational stance. Experiential learning at its best is more than just engaging your body in the work. The Gold Standard of experiential learning, in my eyes, is one in which kids (and the rest of us) work alongside people with more experience or professional training, not underneath them.

In our context at the Gulch, that means asking trekkers to engage in research, observation, and conversation with each other, and with outside experts, to come up with answers. This method is not always the best, and it’s not always possible. It takes time and resources, and it is less efficient than showing up to a site with pre-dug holes — sometimes you just need to get the trees in the ground. But when done well with guidance from caring educators, this experiential approach holds much more potential for learning and satisfaction. It also creates a rich culture of learning and confidence, important ingredients in inspiring a lifetime of environmental stewardship.

I have been pondering these questions because our Basecamp property, gorgeous though it is, is in need of restoration. I have documented the reasons for this in past newsletters, and highlighted what we’ve done so far: forest thinning, prescribed fire, partnerships like those with Chizh for Cheii and the Forest Stewards Guild, invasive species removal, and more. But today I am taking a step back to ask a more fundamental question: how do we decide what to do in the first place? How do we determine where to plant that tree, and what kind of tree to plant, and whether we should be planting a tree there in the first place… it’s a long list of questions. And how do we begin answering them? What does this reflection and intentional methodology look like in action? This newsletter wll provide a glimpse into our ever-evolving asnwers. Thank you for your continued support and engagement with Cottonwood Gulch.

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Letter From The Board

Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions creates outdoor learning adventures for youth from all backgrounds that foster personal growth, strengthen community, and inspire stewardship of the natural world.

Our Board of Trustees

Marjorie Kittle, Chair

Scott Pierce III, Vice-Chair

Stephen Sedam, Treasurer

Laurie Hooper, Secretary

Carrie House

Alice Kodama

Bill Mendelsohn

Shawn Morris

Jamie Munsey

Fred Peter

Austin Troy

Stephanie Vicenti

Our Staff

Jordan Stone Executive Director

Tim Crofton Program Director

Naina Panthaki Director of Education

Andrew Pearson Director of Operations

Cass Landrum- Director of Summer Programs

Olivia Marín Enrollment/Communications Manager

Orlando Romero Office Manager

Donna White Food Coordinator

Brad Jeffrey Development Coordinator

Clara Bewley Lead SIWI Field Educator

Tanner Johnson Lead SIWI Field Educator

Marissa Bluestein Lead SIWI Field Educator

Iris Flechsenhaar Bachechi Caretaker

To contact the Gulch:

From mid-August through May: 9223 4th St NW Albuquerque, NM 87114 (505)-248-0563

From June to mid-August: 659 HWY 612 Thoreau, New Mexico 87323 (505)-862-7503

At the Gulch, we build intertwined connections to the natural world and to our human communities. You could say that connection is our ‘why’ and that experiential learning is the ‘how’. The experiences of hands-on environmental restoration, shared meals and songs, sunrise hikes, adapting to challenge, and making new friends all work to build connection and community. We become better stewards of places and more aware of our place in the world.

Our new Quartz Trek seeks to create space to build connections for youth who may not always find the community they need. I am proud of the Gulch for creating more opportunities for people to foster independence, confidence, curiosity, and teamwork. Our new Blue Corn Trek builds connection through shared interests. There is an extraordinary freedom and power in finding “your people” and uninhibitedly diving in to a topic. Food is a unique intersection of natural and cultural history – and a fantastic platform for building community.

Our Spring board meeting gave us time to discuss how our programs and facilities can continue to support our strategic plan with its pillars of strengthening learning and inclusion, and of modeling environmental stewardship. We evaluated which areas do the most to fulfill our mission, and which ones have the greatest potential for growth. The good news is that we that have lots of strong programs and lots of room to grow! Our Basecamp buildings are a mix of new and old – some serve our purposes better than other. It was empowering to look at what we have and to think of new ways to ensure Basecamp is attractive to people seeing it for the first time.

There will be a role for the community in envisioning our future programs and facilities, and in providing financial support. Planned gifts that become a part of our endowment will have a long-lasting impact. See more in this newsletter about the Red Rocks Society, a group for people who are planning to leave legacy gifts to the Gulch.

The depth and breadth of our community shows in the tributes on page 16 and 17. I am honored to be connected to them. I know there are others who have been touched by the Gulch and who have inspired countless others; I hope that their families know that they will always be a part of us.

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Our Board, taken on March 18, 2023. Not pictured: Carrie House, Alice Kodama, Stephen Sedam and Stephanie Vicenti

You Say Goodbye...

Thank you Lezle Williams, for over a decade of brilliant work

It is hard to believe… as of last month, I will hit my 15-year anniversary at the Gulch and I find that it is finally time to move on. I started in the winter of 2008 with the intent that my parttime office manager job would be a one or two-year gig. But, as most of you know – it is very hard to truly ever leave the Gulch!

In that time, I have worked with three executive directors, five or six assistant directors, many board members, and have seen the office staff increase from two and a half people (an Executive Director, Assistant Director, and part-time Office Manager) to a current full-time office/admin staff of 14. It has been a pleasure working and meeting each and every one of you! The people of the Gulch and what the Gulch means to people are what have kept me at my job for so long.

I came to the Gulch after owning a Santa Fe art gallery and managing the personalities of over 30 artists for a number of years and it was a very welcome change. But, now I am ready to move back again into the (freelance) art world— along with a lot traveling in my camper van and relaxing.

I hope to see you on the road!

4 News from Trek Country SPRING 2023
Lezle camping in El Malpais National Monument Lezle's art is found throughout the Gulch

And We Say Hello

Welcome Back Cass Landrum, Our New Director of Summer Programs

I can hardly express my excitement to be back at the Gulch and stepping into this newly created Summer Director role. When I first arrived at the Gulch in 2012, the Southwest sun kissed my skin and soaked into my soul. As I came to learn the intention behind all the acronyms that first summer, I could tell I had found a home. Basecamp became a physical haven for me, a place to make friends around a bowl of chili, shout Ghost Riders into a moonlit sky, and carry on scientific studies that had been ongoing for almost a century. The Gulch staff quickly became like family as we bonded over navigating rutted roads, eating silt-seasoned eggs, and the silence in watching the sunrise from the peak of a mountain. But even more than the physical space- the Gulch is a community– where one can be goofy or gritty or weird or in wonder. The Gulch is a place where you can immerse yourself into the incredible enveloping ecosystems around you, and empower change within those spaces, and I have missed that since I've been away.

I am thrilled to be a part of this team again, and honored to help uphold the Gulch's culture of growth and intentionality. I have my sights set on a successful 100th anniversary celebration, and thriving through three stellar years on the path to get there. I am eager to foster the cultural history and scientific curiosity that makes the Gulch unique in this rapidly-advancing world.

I look forward to guiding trekkers to grow while giving back through identifying and creating projects that benefit Basecamp and the surrounding community. I expect to lean on the land both as a teaching tool as we develop our Land Management plan, and as a grounding place for trekkers, staff and alumni to listen inward and laugh outward. Mostly, I am excited to have an active role in this community again, and I encourage you to send a message or drop by and say “Hi”- whether you’re a new friend or an old one.

Welcome to the Board, Bill Mendelsohn

Bill Mendelsohn lives in Littleton, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Harvard College, Harvard Divinity School, and Boston College Law School. Bill is the Vice President, Contract Negotiations, for Skillsoft Corporation, an educational technology company that provides online training and compliance materials. He also serves on the board of the Brattle Film Foundation, which runs the Brattle Theatre in Harvard Square.

Bill attended the Outfit in 1979-80, Group I in 1981-82, and was on Basecamp Staff in 1986-87. His sons, Nicholas and Augie, have also spent multiple summers at the Gulch.

Bill says: "I am looking forward to working with the other members of the Board to help ensure a strong second century for Cottonwood Gulch."

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Ever-Evolving School Programs

How a Gulch trek changed a teacher’s approach to education… and her professional life

When I first attended a trek with Cottonwood Gulch, as a teacher at a local middle school, my partner teacher made the arrangements and I had reluctantly agreed to attend, having no experience in outdoor education and no idea what to expect. Even at that point, I knew that if I could connect these grand experiences to the in-class learning students were doing, it would mean all the more. This was my first taste of experiential learning. As a classroom teacher, the best part of my year was when I was able to organize a Gulch excursion. Sitting in the passenger seat of a 15-passenger van, driving away from the school, I knew my students and I were about to experience something together that none of us would ever forget and I took my first real deep breath of the year.

outdoor field experiences. While COVID threw a big wrench in the outdoor portion of Gulch programming, SIWI educators persisted, and the classroom lessons continued. One of the silver linings of this global pandemic was the lightbulb moment for the decision makers of the education world recognizing the benefits of outdoor learning.

Now, as the Director of Education at the Gulch, my job is to create those same meaningful experiences I had as a teacher. In this role, I’ve asked myself regularly: What is programming? How do we connect learning to classrooms and the school kids we serve at Cottonwood Gulch? As we build our school programs, do they add value to the teachers and schools signing up? Over the last decade our school programs have become a more and more deeply rooted part of what we do at the Gulch, especially as the “Students In Wilderness Initiative” (SIWI) grant grew to cover 4 of our full time positions. As we grow our capacity with vastly skilled and experienced project-minded educators populating our full-time team, we have started the development of school programs tied into our mission, the skills of our educators, and the interest of trekkers (both teacher and student). The school program options for next year will take the best lessons learned from two years of working weekly with high school students, five years of SIWI programming, and almost twenty years of build-your-own style school treks.

Teaching in a classroom setting has never been an easy task. Teaching in a classroom post-COVID was an ever changing landscape of bureaucracy. Each day teachers are asked to accomplish new goals, new standards, new job descriptions, and new levels of connection with students. The school treks with Cottonwood Gulch have always been deeply meaningful in helping to accomplish deeper connections with students in an environment full of challenges for all of us and in bringing a broader perspective as my students saw places they never knew existed. I worked, as I know many teachers do, to continue to deepen the connection of these trips to my goals and standards. If they didn’t fit in with my lessons and those of my peers, there was no way my administration would see these as a learning opportunity, instead viewing them as frivolous “loss of seat time.” The SIWI program was the first time I had Gulch educators in my classroom, connecting those in-field discoveries to a more typical classroom lesson experience. I was beyond grateful for the way Monica Stert presented information about public lands to my students and began to tie that into the

While we have a strong cohort of partner schools, we welcome conversations with new schools. Are you a teacher (or do you know teachers) who would be excited about creating a lifechanging outdoor expedition for their students? If so, I would love to speak with you. You can email me ( or call me at the office (505-)248-0563. We look forward to collaborating!

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Naina pictured with 8th graders from Garfield Middle School, exploring slot canyons Naina and Garfield Middle School 8th graders at Carlito Springs

Building Access for Everyone

New Mexican students engaging directly with their communities

The Service Learning Program (SLP) at Cottonwood Gulch puts students from Albuquerque in the driver’s seat of environmental stewardship projects going on right in their backyard. Students learn from local experts, right at the field site, to learn, explore, collect scientific data, take action through restoration or remediation, and inform the community. It’s a chance to learn and apply interdisciplinary subjects like the Earth sciences, local history and culture, and technical skills like using a wheel barrow. For 9th-graders at Technology Leadership and ACE Leadership high schools, it’s also a chance to get to know classmates, get instant access to large outdoor spaces, have fun, and help build community in their school while strengthening the communities where we live. We meet weekly, hopping to different projects around town, meeting local experts, returning to sites to track progress, and tying it all together into a unified theme of environmental stewardship.

Students are helping to restore an old ranch into riparian forest, or what we call ‘the Bosque’ along the Rio Grande, with the City of Albuquerque (CABQ) Open Space and Rio Grande Return at the Candelaria Nature Preserve. To do this, we are removing invasive plants, planting native vegetation, and building acequias (irrigation ditches) to water the plants. We helped put the finishing landscaping touches for the public opening of Valle de Oro National Wildlife Refuge, and returned to plant trees with Rio Grande Return and Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps. We met scientists from the Bosque Ecosystem Monitoring Program to collect data including leaf-fall, rain, and depth to the water table, to see how restoration projects are informed by science. We harvested and helped maintain the grape, apple, and pecan orchards of the Bachechi Education Center and Gutiérrez Hubbell House with Bernalillo County. At Route 66 Open Space, we are helping to build trail, including erosion control ditches, with CABQ Open Space as part of a proposed project to link Albuquerque to Tijeras with an educational trail along Tijeras Creek. We’re also helping to build the first trail at the Visitor Center at Petroglyph National Monument with former Gulch staff, now Ranger Ben Holt, to help easily connect visitors with thousands of petroglyphs!

It has been an exciting ride, and the feedback and smiles on students’ faces suggest they genuinely appreciate the adventure. We sincerely thank our school and community partners who helped make this program a resounding success!

SPRING 2023 News from Trek Country 7
Tech Leadership students load up mulch at Candelaria Nature Preserve Tech Leadership Students planting at Candelaria Nature Preserve Brad with Tech Leadership students at Petroglyph National Monument

School Partners

Shared goals to strengthen our growing community

Name: Lena Fahrenkrog

School: Garfield STEM Magnet and Community School

Role: Teacher

How has getting your students outdoors impacted their school experience?

There has been a positive impact on students who have gone on hiking and camping trips. I think that their investment in school increases when they have an opportunity to experience non-traditional

Years involved with Gulch Programs: 2 education. When we are on trek their mood, engagement, and flexibility in trying new things is much higher than in the classroom.

How do you think involvement in Gulch programs has impacted your students' sense of community?

Students are able to build community with each other and the teachers/staff on trek that are really strong. Gulch staff does excellent programming that work on trust and relationships. These students form lasting bonds with each other and the adults they are with.

Why do you think outdoor education is important for your students and your community specifically?

Not many students at Garfield have an opportunity to hike/travel/ camp with their families. It's important for them to see their community, and state on a larger scale and understand their place in its future. It's important for them to know, even if they haven't been there before, that there is a beautiful natural world just an hour (or less) from their home and they are the future stewards of that land.

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Garfield students with SIWI Lead Field Educator, Clara Bewley (far down left) on the Piedra Lisa Trail in Cibola National Forest

Learning in the Outdoor Classroom

Outdoor spaces offer an abundance of opportunities to learn and play

Name: Cassie Torrence

School: Robert F Kennedy

Middle School

Role: Social Studies Teacher

Years involved with Gulch

Programs: 2

How has getting your students outdoors impacted their school experience?

I have students who have never been hiking, now reporting it as their favorite hobby! My students are engaged in their curriculum and seem to have a new found respect for their home city and pride in their home state. So many kids have switched their tone from "Albuquerque is so boring" to "There are a lot of things to do here in the outdoors, if you like that stuff".

How do you think involvement in Gulch programs has impacted your students' sense of community? Students across classes are building new friendships! Students who previously never spoke to each other are now sitting together at lunch!

Why do you think outdoor education is important for your students and your community specifically? My students need tangible connections to their environment in order to take ownership of their community. Outdoor education has empowered my students to build community, and get out of their comfort zone.

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RFK students enjoying cattails at the Valle De Oro Wildlife Refuge Cassie

New Treks in 2023

Building spaces of inclusion for a stronger, more resilient community

New trek: Quartz trek

Ages: 14-16

Dates: June 30 -August 5

Introducing Quartz Trek! (QT), our first expedition designed with a specific focus for genderqueer and nonbinary 14-16 year olds. As we near our 100th birthday, CGE continues to be mindful and innovative when it comes to fostering connections between young people and the outdoors. As an early leader in outdoor education, we’ve been running outdoor expeditions with a focus on inclusive access to adventure in the Southwest. Quartz Trek is an exciting addition to our programming, and we hope genderqueer/nonbinary youth will join us as we strive to cultivate conscientious and respectful spaces for all youth to enjoy the outdoors.

Why “Quartz” Trek?

Quartz is one of the most abundant minerals in the world, and is prominently featured all across New Mexico and the Southwest. It is known for its adaptability and durability, bringing forth beauty and functionality, and this trek is meant to provide a similarly versatile space for genderqueer/nonbinary 14-16 year olds. 5 weeks on a CGE trek is ample time to grow, adapt, selfdiscover and connect not only with other trekkers, but the people and places they’ll visit throughout the summer.

When participating in groups who share a key element of their identity, trekkers can encourage each other to grow whilst identifying with each other in a foundational way. Quartz Trek will offer a transitional space for trekkers to experience more time in the field, and expand their understanding of the surrounding communities. Asking “How can I learn from this place, this experience, these people?” allows this trek to focus on establishing healthy, harmonious relationships between trekkers and who/what they encounter. How do we give back to the places and people we learn from? QT strives to answer this question from their distinct perspectives by incorporating restoration work with organizational partners, leading activities for younger trekkers at Basecamp and listening to the communities they meet along the way. This trek links young people with intersecting identities and challenges them to recognize their roles and responsibilities to each other and themselves.

Trek on!

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“Wildness reminds us what it means to be human, what we are connected to rather than what we are separate from.”
— Terry Tempest Williams
Trekkers overlooking the beginnings of the sunset

New Treks in 2023

Learn about the American Southwest through a new lens: Food!

New trek: Blue CorN trek

Ages: 14-18

Dates: July 20 - August 9

Blue Corn Trek brings new flavor to our summer programming; well, many new flavors. This brand-new trek invites 14-18 year olds to spend three weeks exploring local food systems in the American Southwest. From the cultivation to the cooking to the tasting of local ingredients, BCT covers it all. Trekkers will be introduced to a variety of farming practices, and will work alongside local farmers both in the Middle Rio Grande valley and alongside experienced educators at Basecamp. They will cook in the field and in the Mess Hall, discovering ways to develop dishes made from foods grown in the Southwest for generations. Whether foodie or farmer, this trek provides ample opportunities for youth to engage with all aspects of food systems, from seed planted to meal tasted.

It seems obvious, given the southwest's particular cuisine, to introduce a food-focused trek in this part of the world. Different agricultural practices, unique to arid climates and high desert soils, have resulted in innovative and highly efficient crops, irrigation methods, and community driven care for growing food. Perhaps one of the most renowned examples is the combination of three crops grown throughout the southwest; beans, corn, and squash. Known as the Three Sisters, these three crops have been planted together by Indigenous peoples across the western hemisphere. When grown together in a shared space, each plant protects and nourishes the other. Planting

corn first creates a trellis for beans to climb up. Planting the squash between corn/bean rows, spreads as ground cover, shades the soil and allows for increased moisture retention (particularly useful in arid climates). This system, sometimes called "interplanting" is also hugely beneficial to the soil. Beans fix nitrogen into the soil, and the Three Sisters support a healthy nitrogen balance for the planted area.

Trekkers interested in growing, cooking and of course, eating are invited to join us this summer for the first ever Blue Corn Trek. Food brings us together; when we share a meal, we often share stories, ask questions and build community over the table. Whether it be in the Mess Hall, the back of a com, under the shade of a piñon tree or overlooking a valley on the edge of a mesa, sharing food is community. Blue Corn Trek is an exciting addition to our summer programming, and we can't wait to see what these trekkers will create!

Vocabulary word of the day: Sobremesa

The time after a meal, when stories are shared and conversations are had.


trekkers enjoyed sobremesa after cooking and eating a delicious meal in the Rio Grande Valley.

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The Corn Trekkers display cruciferous vegetable seeds Trekker enjoys a spaghetti dinner on the mesa

Every Kid Outdoors

Early access to the outdoors can spark a lifelong interest

In late 2019, Cottonwood Gulch received a grant from the U.S. Forest Service through the Every Kid Outdoors Act. Then, COVID-19 happened, and the whole landscape of environmental education changed in the blink of an eye. The Forest Service generously extended the terms of the grant, and we are now utilizing it in an exciting new school program. Marissa Bluestein and Tanner Johnson, two of our full-time educators, have been working with the Forest Service to make connections with third- and fourth-grade classrooms in Cibola and McKinley counties in Northwest New Mexico. Currently, one classroom from Milan Elementary and three from Mt. Taylor Elementary are signed up for programming that will happen in spring of 2023. Students will take day trips to local Forest Service locations, with an emphasis on getting them excited about public lands that exist near their homes. As an added bonus, each participant will walk away with a free Interagency pass to access National Parks, and other federal lands, free of charge. Reducing barriers to access to outdoor spaces and public lands is one of the best things we can do to create future stewards of this place we call home, and the Every Kid Outdoors program is already making huge strides toward fostering a sense of belonging in the outdoors.

Looking to the future, Marissa and Tanner have been planning a more extended suite of programming including pre- and post-trip classroom visits. We hope to use this spring as a pilot for a more extended programming reach. Aiming to acquire additional funding through the Forest Service, the goal is to offer this opportunity to students in the Albuquerque and Los Lunas areas through visits to the Sandia and Manzano mountains, as well as to students in the Socorro area, visiting the Magdalena mountains. With nearly 50% of New Mexico’s land mass being public land, offering an early invitation for young folks to fall in love with their home is one of the one of the best ways to ensure this vital resource is protected for generations to come.

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Escuela Del Sol 4th graders visited our Basecamp last spring

Where Are They Now?

Former Gulch trekkers out in the big wide world

Connection to CGE: Trekker, 2021 Paleontology Trek

Hi Zoe! Great to hear from you. Congratulations on embarking on your paleo journey! Thanks, everything’s been going really well!

What are some of your favorite memories with the Gulch?

Oh, man!!! One of them would be camping near Ah-Shi-Sle-Pah Wilderness. By that time, we all knew one another really well, and it was so fun just goofing off and looking at the stars.

You mentioned that your Paleo group has stuck together since 2021. Tell us a little about that!

We’re all in a group chat, and we’ve been keeping in touch, especially on holidays. Some of us even visited one another, at a museum! We’ve been talking about paleontology and other projects we’ve been working on.

How did your time with the Gulch impact your life today? It definitely has! It provided me with a first-hand experience of what paleo really looks like, both in the field and the lab, thanks to Dr. Axel Hungerbuehler. I already really loved paleontology, but that really helped solidify what I wanted to do in college, and this summer with applying for internships in paleontology.

Take a moment to place yourself back in time when you were on trek. Describe that moment. Hot and dry! But it was such a great time, and that it makes you forget about the gnats or the cacti, just having a great time sitting on rocks and getting to enjoy the environment and hanging out with my friends.

Do you have any advice for future trekkers?

Don’t be nervous. Be ready to have a bunch of unique experiences that will stick with you for the rest of your life. In the beginning, don’t be afraid to talk to people and break the ice, because you can make really long-lasting friendships. Even if you feel under prepared or under experienced, just go for it anyways!

Zoe is a former trekker from the 2021 Paleontology Trek, which this interviewer co-led with Dr. Axel Hungerbuhler from Mesalands Community College. Zoe recently embarked on a journey to study dinosaur fossils in college in Canada, and is anticipating an upcoming summer internship in field paleontology.

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Zoe holds a Bone Clones replica of Smilodon Populator; she is currently studing paleontolgy at the University of Alberta Paleontology Trek 2021- Zoe pictured in the front row second from the right, Brad pictured in the back row third from the right.

Sequencing For Learners

Connecting youth to place; a crucial step in growing young minds

On a recent hike in the Sangre De Cristo mountains, I stopped my group of curious 4th graders by a trickling stream for a snack. After a short silence- a prompt for them to catch their breath and observe their surroundings- I asked if anyone could guess what kinds of animals lived here. “Axolotl!” was extorted loudly by more than one individual. I was impressed at their pronunciation, despite those not being native to New Mexico, and fielded more suggestions such as: squirrel, mountain lion, rabbit, fox. I was impressed at the knowledge this group had about animal behaviors, but I wasn’t surprised. Elementary aged children have a tendency to find an animal that amuses and learn everything they can about that animal. In fact, it’s in their nature to do so.

way to the site (beside the highway, where the elk was struck), a four-foot bull snake slithered right in front of us, allowing the kids to lift it, hold it and pet it. My elk skeleton mission was abandoned and swiftly replaced by an observation of the snake’s slow-beating heart, reflections on why it was warming itself in the rocks, and suggestions about what it might eat and how this animal fits in the local food chain. The Gulch is remarkably non-curriculum focused, yet so very good at instilling curiositybased knowledge to youth. Only now am I understanding how that success comes from meeting children where they are at, developmentally– a concept which David Sobel explores thoughtfully in his book Beyond Ecophobia.

If you’ve ever played peek-a-boo with a baby, or tried to get an 8th grader to focus on their upcoming test rather than their school dance, you’ve interacted with a child’s development. As Sobel explains, Early Childhood is centered around exploration, allowing for discovery of sense, place and people. Young children are able to expand their understanding to the school they go to, the neighborhood they walk in, and the people they regularly interact with. Once a child gets to Outfit-age (10-12 years-old), they may know facts about specific animals, or be able to list the characteristics of different ecosystems, but they aren’t yet able to grasp the long-term effects of climate change. Adults and school standards often push for memorization, and big concepts, but study after study shows that deeper knowledge comes from connecting self to place. One study in Sobel’s book found that “many environmentalists attributed their commitment to a combination of two sources: “many hours spent outdoors in

My outdoor education experience started in college, where I studied environmental studies with a science teaching focus. It was through those courses that I came across author and educator David Sobel, although I wasn’t yet aware of his philosophy of place-based education. My first Environmental Ed jobs were curriculum-focused, with vocabulary words and a set of objectives the students should learn at the end of each class- whether it was kayaking, living off the land, pioneer history, or water studies. After three years of thriving through these programs, developing fun ways for the students to repeat vocabulary words so they stick, I found Cottonwood Gulch. Over my first few summers at the Gulch, I reluctantly left behind the lesson plans and started to let trekker’s curiosity drive their learning. A specific shift came in my fourth summer as Naturalist, when I was eagerly marching a group to inspect an elk skeleton and observe its various states of decay. On the

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By: Cass landruM Cass and students observe barrel cactus in the cracked New Mexican soil Cass and trekkers hike up a slot canyon

Sequencing For Learners cont.

Connecting youth to place; a crucial step in growing young minds

a keenly remembered wild place, and an adult who taught respect for nature.”

Our staff are very mindful of the discrepancies in age-wisdoms, and thus we work hard to meet trekkers where they are as we design itineraries and pick activities. We even design each summer trek with a leading question that is in-line with their age interests.

Our youngest trek, GO trek is all about fostering comfort while away from home and in outdoor community. Outfit gets to explore new skills hinging on the question, “What do I want to discover?” Outfit balances their time between curiosity-based exploration (of animals, ecosystems or skills), community building at base camp, and establishing their own little home up at the Outfit camp, where they are challenged with what is for many the first steps of independence- packing their own pack, picking out their clothes, sweeping their cabins, playing group games by the campfire. Wild Country Trek takes that a step further, asking “How do I make a difference” and practices different answers through hands-on science and advanced play. Our gender-divided treks get to ask themselves “Who am I? Who do I want to be” while exploring those answers in a supportive group of like-gendered peers engaging in physical and mental challenges with the Southwest as a stunning backdrop. And our capstone expedition, MDT, asks trekkers to take all they have come to understand from their experiences outside and ask “What can I do to give back to my community and land?” By the time a trekker reaches MDT age, they have graduated from examining the world piece by piece, and they can stand on the top of a mountain looking at the valley below, and consider what it is like to live in these places, what people have moved through these spaces, and how they fit into this picture.

SPRING 2023 News from Trek Country 15
Overlooking grand views in Big Bend National Park

In Memorium

Miles Kintz

March 22, 2000-December 10, 2022

We took the first trip to Cottonwood Gulch as Family, with lots of stops along the way. From Petaluma, California to Thoreau, New Mexico on a southern route in the desert. Miles was 15 and was in the midst of all the challenges adolescence has to offer. The family dynamic was good and Miles was open-minded about the Gulch, an openmindedness that was always part of his outlook. We dropped Miles off not knowing what would come; it turned out to be the perfect place at the perfect time. Miles came home at the end of summer cracked wide open by the Gulch. That was the first of three summers he would spend there, and they were principal to the young man Miles became.

Miles walked in such deep love and light and had graciously become the young man that he is/was because of beautiful leaders, guides, friends and experiences he had encountered along the way in his short life. Cottonwood Gulch played an immense role in the molding and creating of this beautiful boy. His connection to the natural world and the awe of its grandeur was cemented at the Gulch. It was here that the very best of him was nurtured and grew, his great love for nature and his inherent empathy among them. Miles always had a penchant for looking out for others and sensing their emotional needs; the Gulch helped him understand this as a skill and gave him a greater sense of purpose.

Miles died on December 10th in a drenching afternoon rain storm in the hillsides of Petaluma/Marin Ca, on his way to work at his cafe job, appropriately named Trailhead. At the time of his death he was living at home, so we were able to bathe in his gracious and grateful light daily. His sister Izzy had also returned home for the year so our family of 4 had a rare year of post “empty nest” togetherness. In his spare time Miles was making music with his friend Edge (a former Gulch trekker) and spinning his magical words into song lyrics and beats while also spending his days with his dear love of many years, Bella.

Derrick Jim

Derrick Jim passed away in June 2022, due to an illness. Derrick was a beloved member of the Henio family, an ordained minister who led the funerals of several other family members in recent years. Derrick was a trekker in Group 1 in 1991 and 1992, after which he joined the military and entered the ministry. He and his wife, Barb, spent substantial time at Basecamp in recent years, teaching in the NAW.

Barb and Derrick were exceptionally close. As Barb told us, “That man was my world, and he was my kids’ world. He was my best friend.” He also made a deep impact on dozens of trekkers, and will be dearly missed.

16 News from Trek Country SPRING 2023

Honoring those we've lost

Sarah Billings

April 3, 1949-September 28, 2022

Sarah Scott Moxley Billings, 73, passed away Wednesday, September 28th, 2022, at home in Naples, Florida, from the effects of Hurricane Ian and its storm surge. She was a devoted wife, mother, daughter, sister, and a friend to many.

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 3, 1949, Sarah grew up there as well as Carmel, Indiana. She was a passionate horseback rider in her youth. She graduated from Tudor Hall School (now Park-Tudor School) in Indianapolis and went on to Garland Junior College in Boston (now Simmons University), earning an associate degree. She was a member of the Turquoise Trail Expedition at Cottonwood Gulch during the summers of 1964 and 1965.

Sarah’s husband, Thomas “Monty” Billings, Jr., was the Executive Director of Cottonwood Gulch from 1970 to 1995. Sarah and Monty were married in Naples, Florida on March 31, 1981, returning to Westfield, Indiana to live.

Henceforth Monty considered Sarah to be co-Executive Director of Cottonwood Gulch and hardly a letter or printer’s proof left the Cottonwood Gulch office without Sarah’s approval. In the summer of 1985 Sarah and Monty, along with young son Tommy, moved to Albuquerque, and daughter Carey was born in Gallup, New Mexico, that summer. After retiring from Cottonwood Gulch in 1995, Sarah and Monty moved to Naples, Florida in 2004, where Sarah’s family had a long history going back to 1904. There they spent much time relaxing on the beach and enjoying the warm weather together.

Sarah will be greatly missed for her generous heart, artistic mind, offbeat sense of humor, and the kindness she shared with anyone she met. Sarah will be buried in the family plot at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis in the spring of 2023.

Nita Larronde

Nita generously hosted Gulch treks on her property for over a decade. She was a vibrant pillar of the Gulch community; a guide, a teacher, a baker, a comfort and a joy to the many individuals who had the opportunity to meet and learn from her. We are forever grateful for the marvelous woman she was. She passed on January 3rd, 2023, surrounded by family.

Below is a log entry from a former trekker who visited Nina in 2012

MDT: July 5, 2012

Finally, MDT arrived at Nita’s house and all of our exhaustion from the drive was quickly cured by stepping into her home. Ensconced in fumes of baking pies, and the hominess of her couches and kitschy memorabilia covered walls, everyone relaxed. Some played the piano, some read, and some of us helped bake pies with Nita, the queen of piemaking. Krista caught a horny toad as we braved a thunderstorm. I know we aren’t supposed to mention food but props to Jordan for his homemade pickles and to Charlie for setting a record for pie eating. Also the rhubarb-ginger pie was the best, in my humble opinion.

We had a long comfy campfire in Nita’s living room, where Wagon Wheel was sung of course, and we practiced stuff for Rendezvous. Also, Walter was there. He has a talent for staring/smiling at people in the creepiest/best way possible.

SPRING 2023 News from Trek Country 17

Seasonal Changes

The Rio Grande Phenology Trail

Did you know? Cottonwood Gulch is now a proud partner of the Rio Grande Phenology Trail! The Rio Grande Phenology Trail (RGPT) is a network of refuges, parks, public gardens, schools, and other educational organizations observing phenology, the seasonal changes of plants and animals, along the Rio Grande from Las Cruces to Santa Fe. It is a collaborative project connecting students, volunteers, and community members to long-term research on the impacts of a changing climate and changing environments on the plants and animals of the Rio Grande watershed.

In the fall of 2022, Marissa Bluestein and Tanner Johnson created a phenology plot at Bachechi Open Space with the hopes of monitoring ten plants for the foreseeable future. Data collected along the RGPT is public and available through the USA National Phenology Network. Using the web-based platform, Nature’s Notebook, we are using phenology data to gather information on the timing of phenophases of Desert willow, Eastern cottonwood and New Mexico honeylocust among other species. This data is used to promote public participation in phenology monitoring and to encourage understanding of plant and animal phenology as well as its relationship with environmental change.

In November of 2022, Marissa and Tanner led a staff training to prepare all full-time Cottonwood Gulch staff to participate in this community science project. The goal is to not only develop a deeper understanding of the land we occupy, but also to introduce our school program participants to hands-on science and place based learning. This kind of experiential education is necessary to help instill a sense of stewardship and curiosity, while creating a feeling of belonging in our community.

Want to volunteer and contribute to this community science project? Reach out to

18 News from Trek Country SPRING 2023
Green buds on a Siberian Elm; Spring is on its way! Jordan Stone captures seasonal changes at Bachechi Open Space Tim Crofton holds up the sign to identify a type of Cottonwood at our phenology site

Red Rocks Society

Our community continues to support us as we grow stronger, and more adaptable, each year

Twenty-three years ago, at the Gulch’s 75th Anniversary celebration, a group of alumni expressed interest in establishing a planned giving group for Cottonwood Gulch. In my remarks at that time, I made the case for raising at least a million dollar endowment for the organization for which we all care so deeply. As of today, we have reached and exceeded that goal, with a current endowment valued at more than $1.2 million. Those funds help support scholarships, facilities, and land protection projects, providing more than $600,000 to date toward these essential components of our organization.

After my remarks in 2001, several guests came up to me and advised that they already had named the Gulch as part of their estate plans. A few others said they would consider making a bequest. There was a great deal of enthusiasm at the time for increasing the number of trekkers receiving full or partial scholarships because of endowment income. It is wonderful to think of what an impact a substantially increased endowment would have on our current New Mexico-based programing. Of course, endowment dollars can also support facilities, staff salaries and general expenses. We also learned at the time that many people are hesitant to give large cash contributions during their lifetimes but love the idea of the Gulch benefitting when they die.

Out of this spirit, the Red Rocks Society was created with a handful of charter members. As we approach our 100th anniversary, we are making a renewed effort to energize this group. We always encourage our donors to consider different ways that they can include Cottonwood Gulch in their estate plans, and I encourage you to join me in becoming a member of the Red Rocks Society.

If you, too, would like to make a planned gift to support the Gulch, please reach out to Jordan Stone, Executive Director:, or (505)-248-0563.

SPRING 2023 News from Trek Country 19
Watercolor of a juniper growing amongst the Red Rocks, by Lezle Williams

Summer 2023 Awaits!

Get Outdoors (GO)Trek

GO1 ages 8-10: 6/25 - 6/30,

GO2 ages 10-12: 7/10- 7/16 and 8/3 - 8/9

GO Trek is a week full of adventure at our Basecamp; a perfect introduction to outdoor community living and challenge by choice.

Outfit Expeditions ages 10-12: 6/24 - 7/10 and 7/20 - 8/5

Outfit spends two weeks building a foundation in outdoor living and trekkers are introduced to their first Gulch road loop to explore nearby public lands

Wild Country Trek ages 13-15: 6/24 - 7/14 and 7/20 - 8/9

WCT spends three weeks practicing science in the field and focusing on the stewardship of natural spaces, including Wilderness areas during their first Gulch backpacking trip.

Prairie Trek ages 14-16: 6/30 - 8/5

PT invites adventurous young men to spend five weeks exploring the Southwest and diving deep into their identities through self-discovery and community collaboration

Turquoise Trail ages 14-16: 6/30 - 8/5

TT invites adventurous young women to spend five weeks exploring the Southwest and diving deep into their identities through self-discovery and community collaboration.

Quartz Trek ages 14-16: 6/30 - 8/5

QT invites adventurous nonbinary/genderqueer youth to spend five weeks exploring the Southwest; diving deep into their identities through self-discovery and community collaboration

Mountain Desert Trek ages 16-18: 6/25- 8/9

MDT focuses on leadership development through challenging outdoor adventure. Trekkers spend 45 days backpacking, bikepacking and roadtripping through out the four corner region.

Paleontology Trek ages 14-18: 6/24 - 7/14

Paleo Trek invites aspiring paleontologists, geologists and dinosaur enthusiasts to work on an active dig site with a professional paleontologist and gain college credit.

Blue Corn Trek ages 14-18: 7/20 - 8/9

A brand new trek! BCT spends 3 weeks learning about the cultural history of local food systems in the southwest; planting, harvesting and cooking ingredients alongside experts.

Youth Conservation Corps ages 18-20: 6/26 - 8/9

YYC Crew members immerse themselves in Southwest conservation work, community living, and leadership skill development in the outdoors.

To learn more about Summer 2023 enrollment, please email

Our third and final round of scholarships is due April 15th

If you know of a young person who you believe would enjoy a summer spent with Cottonwood Gulch, please reach out to or (505)-248-0563-- Help us to grow our community!

20 News from Trek Country SPRING 2023
Kick Flips on BLM land, summer '22 White Sands National Monument, summer '22 Backpacking in the Weminuche Wilderness summer '22
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