Where in the world do profusions of alpine wildflowers, wide open skyline ridges, afternoon hailstorms, orange sandstone cliff formations, thousand year-old ancient masonry villages and ten thousand year old obsidian arrowheads all occur? Really only one place: where the American Southwest and the Southern Rocky Mountains meet for an extraordinary embrace of landscape and cultural diversity.

From July 21st until August 19th, during the peak of the monsoon and wildflowers season, we traveled to Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado as part of Sterling College’s Global Field Studies programs. Our academic curriculum included equal parts natural history, ancestral cultural lifeways and expedition skills. Our itinerary took us to Bandalier National Monument, the La Plata Mountains, Mesa Verde National Park and the South San Juan Wilderness. A highlight of the course was working with instructor Matthew Brummett, who resides full time in New Mexico and is a long time instructor of wilderness skills and ancient cultural skills and traditions. As part of the ancestral lifeways component of the program we spent a week making baskets, mats, cordage, straps, firemaking kits, and gourd containers, then used these implements on a primitive outing into the wilderness. Another highlight included our final backpack, on which we spent an entire week above eleven thousand feet.

The impact of such experiences on our lives cannot be described in words. They can only really be communicated by suntanned cheeks and smiles and twinkling eyes and wornout shoes. For a million years human beings and our ancestors have walked, lived in groups of around a dozen people, told stories, spent time around fires and generally lived simply and close to the land. The Mountains and Mesas Wilderness Field Program gave us all the opportunity to take part in these ancient traditions, and taking part in these traditions sheds new light on our modern lives.•

David Gilligan is a faculty member in Ecology.

Filed Under: Ecology Global Field Studies