Trinity Students, Faculty, and Alumni Explore Big Bend National Park during January Break

Outdoor Education Trip to Texas Includes Rock Climbing, Hiking, and Canoeing on Rio Grande

​Hartford, Connecticut, February 16, 2017 – Trinity College’s Outdoor Education program organized a trip to Big Bend National Park in southwestern Texas during the January break. The group of six current students, two alumni, and two staff and faculty members went rock climbing, hiking, and canoeing from January 12 to 20.

​Left to right: Tamas Lukacs, Yunzhuo Zhang ’19, Adam Hammershoy ’17, Darcy Cogswell ’16, Jami Cogswell ’16, Director of Recreation Kevin Johnson, Alex Laferriere ’18, Ella Pinard-Bertelletto, Rachael Smith ’18, and Jonathan Gourley, senior lecturer and laboratory coordinator in environmental science.
The first group of participants arrived in El Paso on January 12 to organize the trip logistics, while the second group arrived on January 13 from China, Boston, Hungary, Miami, and Hartford. The party spent the first three days of the eight-day excursion exploring the Chisos Basin, where they backpacked to Emory Peak at 7,825 feet. Kevin Johnson, director of recreation, said one of the most memorable evenings of the journey was when everyone watched an incredible sunset near the “Window” of the Chiso, where all the water flows out of a large bowl-shaped valley. The group paddled down the Rio Grande from Rio Grande Village to the abandoned Mexican town of La Linda on the last three days of the trip.

The trip encouraged the students to work together while engaging in timely discussions. “The Rio Grande and the large limestone cliffs provide a rugged environment creating a natural border between the U.S. and Mexico. This led us to discuss the natural walls versus Trump’s proposed artificial wall,” Johnson said. In addition, the wilderness provides an environment in which to develop leadership skills. “Our students had the opportunity to explore concepts of real and perceived risk coupled with social justice, and interact with peers from different backgrounds and interests due to the absence of cell phones,” he said.

The group observed many Outdoor Education traditions that occur during each expedition. Johnson said, “One of our traditions is to allow all group members to have an equal voice. We have daily debriefs and process high and low moments during the day. We constantly take advantage of learning moments. Our daily debriefs typically take place in the evening, around a campfire or during meals.”

One major challenge that the participants encountered was the weather. Yunzhuo Zhang ’19 said, “On the first night, 60-mile-per-hour winds blew our tent away and we chased it among cacti in the dark. Having never canoed before, I am also proud to say that with my canoe partner Ella [Pinard-Bertelletto], we paddled for the first 3 miles on Rio Grande River in the most severe weather we could ever ask for without capsizing. We conquered wind, rain, and hail.”

Some of the many highlights of the trip for students were the geology lessons from Jonathan Gourley, senior lecturer and laboratory coordinator in environmental science. Zhang said, “I am an environmental science major and have taken a geology class with Professor Gourley before. He helped me connect what I learned in class to the natural world, like how the river formed the patterns you see on the limestone wall. His geology lessons kept reminding me of nature’s wonder and how tiny we are as human beings.”

The next scheduled Outdoor Education trip will involve rock climbing on southern sandstone in Tennessee during Trinity Days, February 20 and 21, and the preceding weekend. As possible destinations for next year’s excursions, the organizing committee has discussed backpacking in California’s Death Valley, sea kayaking in the Bahamas, and a return canoe trip to the Everglades in Florida, among other possibilities. To learn more about group’s activities, click here.

Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18

Photos by Tamas Lukacs