Prescott College retraces Powell expedition

Flagstaff, AZ – "Wow man this is so cool!"

NAU special collections librarian Richard Quartaroli shows the class several Powell related primary documents and maps.

"Powell was basically telling people, hey when you're out west you don't have the water like back east so perhaps you should have different land use policies.' That's Powell's message in a nutshell. Perhaps.' (Laughter.) In 1892 he was at a conference and told em that. They didn't run him out of town but he resigned shortly after that."

The students have become Powell geeks in the last two months retracing his expedition and studying his impact on the Colorado Plateau.

Instructor Joel Barnes says an extended field experience like this helps the students connect with the literature on a personal level.

"I think the students look at Powell as a real person Early on in the course we did a bio of every one of the expeditionary members. We would be referring to them as if they were part of the group."

Prescott College student Emily Bacon tries to read a copy of Powell's journal in his own handwriting.

"It's pretty incredible to put the pieces of the puzzle together to read John Wesley Powell's actual journal and know the story behind that."

While on their floating classroom the Prescott College group learned about the biological, geographical, socio-political aspects of the Colorado Plateau. Environmental education instructor Justin Solomon says they're teaching the students how to teach in this setting.

"If you can imagine five rafts strapped together and students giving lessons and presentations..."

Solomon recalls a few of the highlights from the last two months on the river.

"Experiencing elk above the river, the changing weather, the abundant wildlife the different light in the canyons."

For Burkett Afton it was the perfect setting for learning and personal growth.

"I could have read the Wilderness Act at a library but reading it on the river can't be described "

"Any idea what you'll do with this experience? What are you're plans for the future? I'm sure you hate that question. That's the million dollar question and I'm sure if my mom were here she'd ask the same question The fact that I was focusing my work on the course from a political spectrum kind of makes me want to go into policy on the Colorado Plateau It's kind of an overall thing that I think I was searching for for a while but it kind of came out unexpectedly on the river. That's one of the most amazing things about rivers you don't know what's going to happen even if you have a plan it's unfolding as you go."

Student Emily Bacon also had a revelation on the trip.

"We're but a moment in time in geologic history It made me look at myself and say, hey what are you going to do with your life?'"

Bacon says she plans to go into the Peace Corps.

Instructor John Farmer says reintegration has been tough for the group.

"We all experienced a little bit of culture shock we all spent a couple days being overwhelmed with emotions just reintegrating into our relationships and society and also realizing how incredibly impactful spending two months straight in the wilderness was for us."

Joel Barnes: "I gotta say when you get to the end of a long field course like this and you ask yourself or other people in the group you really pause and ask yourself which is the real world."

For Arizona Public Radio I'm Laurel Druley.