Cover Photo: MPHS’ crewmembers celebrate sundown in the desert. Courtesy of crew photographer, Josh Arriaga.

If you headed out to Eastern Utah seeking hiking, biking, or warm weather for Spring Break, you were like many of Grand County’s residents ready for time in the sun. But this year’s desert visitors weren’t limited to the seasoned red dirt lovers. The Grand Crew Program’s students had a chance to experience canyon country and got a taste of the challenges and beauty of the Central San Rafael Swell just before Spring Break began.

Students showed tenacity in exploring the reef and canyons of the swell. Their first day’s hike across the slickrock was rewarded by arriving at the cool, cavernous shelter of Skylight Arch and its roomy alcove. This alcove, tucked away from a break in the reef, was clearly a favorite of Native Americans who left their marks in the fascinating pictographs still vivid on the sandstone walls. Some students took the opportunity to redefine “possible” by descending through the skylight–which meant shimmying through the gaping arch and taking in the scenery via a 90-foot free-hanging rappel.

The San Rafael Swell holds incredible “reef” sections that treat hikers to sweeping views of the Henry and LaSalle Mountains as well as canyons of all shapes and sizes. Slot canyons were new to all students on the trip. Farnsworth, Little Wildhorse, Ding and Dang all posed their own challenges as well as delights to the Crew.

The sinuous paths of the canyons and their towering walls inspired awe and curiosity; pushing students to go farther and find out what could be around the next bend. The walls were a canvas of patterned beauty; everywhere offering a new contour, striation, or display of tefani (a honeycombed or Swiss-cheese product of non-uniform weathering of rock). Smooth and unbroken canyon walls gave way to shelves and layers of broken rock requiring adventurous problem-solving to pass through.

When the canyons walls pinched at chock-stones or drops, students faced their fears and inhibitions as they spotted each other by holding hands and feet fast to the walls. The support they offered each other was the culmination of months spent learning together in and out of the classroom. Getting every person through the most difficult canyons was cause for celebration and pride in the Crew–feelings they took with them as they scaled the rock-walls of Unaweep Canyon before heading home.

Though the warmth of the desert faded with their return to “spring” in  Grand County, the confidence and successes they gained together remain resilient as they take on the final stretch of their school year.