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Mountain Classroom: Kicking Off the Spring Term

Mountain Classroom

After around a month-long hiatus, the Mountain Classroom blog is back! As the first of four total blog posts, together, Molly and I (Niko) will cover just what has happened beginning from our arrival into Vegaaaaass on March 19th and covering our adventures until around April 1st.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom Spring 2024

Niko '25

Following a very early flight for many of us, our crew of seven weary kids and two slightly less tired adults piled into the Mountain Classroom van for a four hour long drive to Joshua Tree National Park. Just about an hour into our drive, upon crossing the border into California, we all abruptly learned of a Mountain tradition: dance parties. Much to Noah’s dismay, Emi and Caleb dragged us out of the bus and cranked up the music. I spoke with Emi to learn a little more about how and why dance parties became a tradition.

Niko: “How long have dance parties been around?”

Emi: “It’s a very old mountain tradition.” (Emi did not know initially but phoned a friend and was told that the running theory is that Annie MacKenzie started them during the late 90s or early 2000s.)

Niko: “What is you favorite dance party song?”

Emi: “Anything by Shakira.”

Niko: “Do you know how the dance parties became a tradition?”

Emi: “Nope!” 

Following a rather half-hearted dance party, we arrived in Joshua Tree as night fell. When the sun rose for the first time, we were able to see the giant playground that we had been sleeping in the night before.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

A sign made by defenders of Oak Flat who live there semi-permanantly (Niko Cole-Johnson)

After spending a few days exploring the surrounding rocks, vistas, and cacti, we piled into the bus for yet another long road trip. This time, we headed to Oak Flat campground to climb at Queen Creek for the next several days. 

Oak Flat is the ancestral holy land of several groups of native people including the Apache. Unfortunately, Oak Flat is sitting upon one of the richest copper reserves in the United States. A major mining corporation, Resolution Copper, wants to mine this deposit and currently owns the rights to the land. We were lucky enough to listen to and speak with some of the Apache people occupying the land in hopes of preventing Resolution Copper from beginning its operation. 

Oak Flat also happens to by just five minutes away from many multiple expansive climbing areas. When the weather permitted, (which it often did not) we climbed at “Lower Looner Land.” Large igneous spires punctuated the landscape and offered climbing ranging from beginner to advanced.

Rain and illness got the better of us a few times leading us back to Phoenix to climb indoors for a day. Soon, though, we returned to Queen Creek to climb at “The Pond Area.” After a somewhat sketchy approach to the climbs, we arrived at a natural pond high up a cliff just in sight of the highway. While many tried the various climbs, others rested, swam, and basked in the much welcome sun. Instead of climbing back down to the bus, we rappelled off the side and dropped about 90 feet down to the highway below. 

I will now hand you all off to Molly who will tell you about the next segment of our journey.

Mountain Classroom Spring 2024

Our first campsite among the rocks in Joshua Tree (Niko Cole-Johnson)

Molly '25

Thanks Niko! For the next couple of days we headed to Native Land. 

March 28, 2024

After a long four hour bus ride on the MTCLRM (our bus) pulled into the Navajo Nation around 4:40 PM. Upon arrival our group was greeted by Verrin and Oliva Kewenvoyouma, and we were quickly introduced to Aunty Alfreda. Verrin herded us over to meet the Medicine Man, Lorenzo who would be orchestrating our Protection Ceremony tomorrow. Following these brief introductions and a short tour around our group led to stacks of wood which we soon found out were up to us to cut. Contrary to popular belief, chopping wood isn’t as easy as it looks in the movies, and I found this out very fast. Having whiffed the first couple times Caleb gave me a lesson on correct form and stance of how to most efficiently chop wood. While Noah and Niko had finished cutting up at least ten logs I had finally cut through my first one. A small win but a win nonetheless, and soon I got into a steady rhythm and I started to enjoy the repetition. Everyone was then called for dinner which was Navajo tacos (fry bread as the taco shell filled with lettuce, beef, cheese, tomatoes and onions) which we all scarfed down and all went back for seconds. During dinner some of us got to talk to Lorenzo and he told us about land rights and how Indians can’t own their own land.

Then after dinner our group went into the Hogan, where we would be sleeping for the night, and sat around in our sleeping bags while the Medicine Man told us stories. Some about the different ceremonies such as ones for fire, the mountains, water, land, ect which lead to us finding out more about the ceremony we would be partaking in tomorrow. Some about how he got rid of peoples attachments (attachments are bad energy which takes control over someone). And some history about native culture and their different gods such as the Sun Carrier and the Moon Carrier which are the two main gods, the moon being a girl and sun being the boy in Native religion there is always a female and a male god for everything and are always equal.

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Molly climbing “The Razzle Tazzle Tea Butress” (Niko Cole-Johnson)

March 29, 2024

Just as the sun was peeking over the small hilltops around us, we were woken up by a vigorous banging on the door which then opened and the Grandma saying that we were going to herd sheep, sadly we didn’t get to do this job. After a 6:30AM wake up call we listened to Lorenzo talking more about how the government hasn’t done much to help the Indigenous community, then at 8AM we were served a breakfast burrito filled with bacon, eggs, and hashbrowns. Although we didn’t get to herd the sheep, we did get to chop more wood. The giant mound seemed like a daunting task but one our group readily embraced. Noah and I were able to pull out the hydraulic splitter which Noah, Rose and Toby operated for the better half of our work time. Caleb, Verrin, and others helped chainsaw the wood down to smaller bits, while Niko and I used the ax to break the wood down even more. Thus leaving Katy, Anja and Emi to pick up cut up wood and stack it. We made a fair sized dent cutting half or a little more than half of the pile, and only stopped when lunch was ready. Refueling with some chilly dogs and Gatorade our group, Oliva and Verrian, Lorenzo and his friend Rick, and Courtney (Verrin’s friend and Proctor alum) and his boys packed cars and MTCLRM to start the ceremony. Our group pulled into a small forest and walked about twenty feet from where we parked and made a circle having Oliva and the Medicine Man as the focal point. Before we begin Lorenzo asked if anyone was on their menstrual cycle to which a couple girls said yes, which was followed by an option for them. Due to this they had to decide if they wanted to wait on the bus until we finished our prayers or to take native medicine and stay. Both of the girls had been excited about trying a native ceremony and took the medicine. Lorenzo talked about traditions about coming of age and more cultural history, which led us into offerings. Each Proctor student would walk in front of the group, give the Medicine Man an offering, which in our case was $20, and we would take a pinch of corn pollen, put some on the ground then rub some in our hair and take a small bite of it. After everyone who wanted to make an offering Lorenzo started singing the prayers, there were four for each direction and a couple more after. Then our protection prayer was complete.

On our way back we stopped at the Grand Canyon, for me and about half our group this was the first time seeing this. Although it was more a tourist trap than anything else it was an experience I was grateful for. Back on the reservation we were given free time which most of us spent doing work, or writing a blog. Gathering back as a community for dinner around 8PM, where we were served Corn Soup which is a delicacy that isn’t given out often. As the darkness crawled closer Verrin made a fire which everyone sat around and cooked some marshmallows, and after convincing a couple kids I was Batman and talking we got to meet three girls who mainly live here, talking with Abby, Lilth, and Micah. They mentioned a card game called Navajo Tens which they taught us in the Hogan until Evening Meeting. After asking them to join us, they talked about what life was like on the reservation, in which they confided in us stories of their culture and what it is like to have so many people visit. Listening to how much each girl was so involved in ceremonies and the language of the Navajo was extremely interesting to hear. But they did warn that it was scary to have so much of a burden on them, how their culture was dependent on the youth but not too many kids cared to carry it on. They were very inspirational and I had confidence that they would grow their clan.

The following morning we got a sleep in which almost everyone took advantage of, and at 9AM we all sat down for breakfast which was a hardy meal of corn pancakes, hash browns, sausage, and biscuits. Lorenzo sat us down in the Hogan for the last time and told us about education and his past of being belittled and ripped off his culture. But he explained how he persevered and is teaching his grandkids and college students about the native ways of life. Before we left we were shown petrified wood and dinosaur tracks which was another way to see the history of the land. 

We said our goodbyes and thank you then headed for Tuba City. Once at Verrin’s family corn field after a flat tire, a water shop, and lunch we set up our tents and got to learn about the land's history. Pottery from previous generations was uncovered a couple years ago and we had the ability to look at the shards that were still left. Since we were staying in tents we built a fire and Noreen (Verrin’s step-mother) who made us a traditional celebratory dinner and talked to Verrin’s dad and Noreen about their childhood. Waking up to the rain and mud wasn’t ideal but our group still had an amazing time with lots of experiential learning. 

Proctor Academy Mountain Classroom

Noah scrambling up part of the approach. (Niko Cole-Johnson)

Question for the group: What was your favorite part of being in the Navajo Nation? 

  • “Meeting new people and getting to see how they live their day to day lives and helping out” -Katy  
  • “Talking to different people and how hospitable they were”-Niko  
  • “Being able to try food”-Anja  
  • "Were we slept or food”-Rose 
  • “Chopping wood”-Noah 
  • “Learning about their culture” -Toby 
  • “Hanging out with Rick” - Caleb
  • “Talking with Alfrida”-Emi 
  • “Getting the opportunity to be apart of their ceremony” - Molly

Learn more about Proctor's Mountain Classroom Program!

  • Environmental Stewardship
  • Experiential Learning
  • Mountain Classroom
  • Off-Campus Program