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Students find ‘Eden’ in middle of desert

"I loved being in that environment with students and colleagues to have my senses awakened — sense of adventure, sense of stamina and endurance, sense of awe toward the natural beauty, sense of curiosity about history, geography, the Havasupai culture and a sense of personal and group accomplishment." — President Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin
A group of SLCC faculty, staff and students is ready for a long hike

Lifelong Wellness General Education course, Fall 2016

The students bundled against the early-morning chill in March, cinched straps on packs and looked down more than 2,000 feet at the desert descent they were about to make into Havasu Canyon on the Havasupai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona. They smiled for a group portrait at the canyon rim and took off, heel-toe, heel-toe to the crunch of rock and dirt under foot. Anticipation of the spectacular unknown muted conversation about whatever hardships might loom on the strenuous 10-mile hike ahead of them.

Waterfalls like this define the landscape along the hike

Salt Lake Community College students Eliza Filippi, Chandra Carlson, Victor Jaimez and Gabe Moreno volunteered to pilot the trip, one that SLCC academic Advisor Lee Martinez has logged many times. As you plan for a trip like this, it helps immensely to have someone like Martinez leading you. He is confident, knowledgeable, prepared, funny, ridiculously fit, adventurous, curious and humble — great qualities in a backcountry leader. He will lead a group on the same trip this fall.

“Havasupai Falls was on my bucket list of places to experience because of pictures I had seen, but experiencing it for myself far surpassed my expectations,” said Soni Adams, Associate Dean for Health and Lifetime Activities at SLCC. “All parts of the hike and what we saw was epic for me.” Havasupai translated means people of the blue-green water, which looks that way because of lime deposits in the canyon. “The trip was physically hard, but awe inspiring,” Adams adds.

Getting to the trailhead for this Shangri-La in the desert from Salt Lake City is a haul for one day, requiring about 550 miles on the road before reaching Peach Springs and a lodge for the night. Martinez and crew, which included SLCC President Dr. Deneece G. Huftalin and other SLCC staff and faculty, took off for the hour-long ride to the trailhead after an early breakfast at the lodge.

SLCC students take in the scenery

"This adventure was everything I expected and more,” said Gabe Moreno. “After hiking those 10 sweaty, dusty miles, while carrying a 29-pound pack down from the west rim of the Grand Canyon into Havasupai, we found Eden in the middle of the desert," says Gabe Moreno. "Trips like these are extremely valuable and credit worthy. You not only get to experience the raw beauty of the wilderness, but you also learn things such as leadership, teamwork, survival skills and more."

The days are filled with awe and wonder at the towering cliffs that cradle a canyon filled with travertine pools of welcoming cool water making its way to the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon below. The nights are for jokes, bonding, learning, camp talk, replenishing calories spent by day and quietly marveling by night at the ribbon of cloudless black sky dotted by shimmering evidence of the infinite ether above.

"On this adventure you'll get to walk across logs, climb down ladders, hang on to chains for dear life, and see the bluest water ever," says Filippi.

Signs guide the way to the campground

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