The Members Visit the Backcountry

By Maddie Interdonato

Photo by Holly Thompson

Photo by Holly Thompson

As part of the AmeriCorps member experience, we provide optional Backyard to Backcountry trips throughout the term for our members. For our Fall backpacking trip this year, we visited Wheeler Geologic Area, a 7 mile in - 7 mile out trek in the La Garita Wilderness. Despite the lengthy hike, this trip is great for beginners who want to experience the backcountry.

The morning of the hike in, the members drove through a thick fog created by the Rio Grande River and passed by frosted flora to get to the Hanson’s Mill trailhead. At the trailhead they did some stretching, packed group gear, and started their journey.

The weather was perfect for a backpacking trip. The trail took them across several creek crossings, through beautiful Colorado Fall foliage, and across picturesque landscapes. Only a few miles in and they could already sense the isolation and freedom being in the backcountry brings.

After just about four miles, the group made it to their home for the evening, which had a view of the Wheeler Geologic Area. The group set up camp, threw on their camp shoes, gained some energy, and headed up to Wheeler, just a short hike from camp.

Photo by Logan Thornton

Photo by Logan Thornton

The Wheeler Geologic Area is described at the entrance as “an enchanted city.” An accurate description, as the formations created by volcanic activity 20-something million years ago are unreal. You begin the hike through a slot canyon filled with ginormous boulders that make you feel so tiny, scrambling over volcanic rock to get to the top. Once at the top, you’re walking on lava frozen in time, looking across the canyon at sharp spires and hoodoos made of crumbling, ancient rock. Nature’s Playground.

After exploring for a while, the group headed back to camp to prepare for the evening. They split up into groups and gathered firewood, began cooking dinner, and fetching and filtering water from a nearby creek. The spent the rest of the evening reflecting over the day next to the campfire, going to bed only after the stars told them to do so.

Photo by Matt Hecker

Photo by Matt Hecker

Our AmeriCorps members come to Colorado from all over the country, and often they have not had the ability to experience the outdoors like you can in this area. Because of this, it is important to us that we integrate lessons into our Backyard to Backcountry trips so that our members can learn how to be responsible stewards of the outdoors during their service with us and beyond. Through these lessons, they also can learn how to push themselves, gain independence, problem solve, and how to work together as a team to accomplish something; all lessons that can transfer into their service with youth as well as into their daily lives.