This piece was authored by trip leader Charles E. Horton III ’12. Horton also serves as coach of the H-SC sporting clays team.
Between May 17 and 22, 2022, six students from the Hampden-Sydney Outsiders Club completed a four-day hike in the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. Over the course of the trip, the club hiked 43.5 miles through some of the most remote territory in the Lower 48. Learning opportunities were abundant and presented themselves in many ways.
First, each student was given a cell, or area of the trip for which they were responsible, ranging from travel to weather to leave-no-trace camping procedures. Each cell lead helped plan, prepare, and execute their respective area of responsibility throughout the trip. Carrying everything necessary for surviving in an austere wilderness environment for most of a week was a learning experience of its own, even for tenured members of the club. Additionally, students interacted with native flora and fauna that are unique to the Gila Wilderness on a regular basis. The group saw elk, mule deer, javelina, bald eagles, diamondback rattlesnakes, and even encountered a pack of the critically endangered Mexican Wolf while camped at our farthest campsite from the trailhead. Students learned about the biology of each species and were even able to successfully track a herd of elk.
The return end of the trailhead was located at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument, which students visited upon completing the hike. This archeological site represents a village of the Mogollon people who inhabited New Mexico around 1,000 years ago and is well preserved because of the extremely arid climate. Upon returning to Tucson, students visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum where they learned more about the wildlife, indigenous cultures, and geology of the area where the hike took place.
Overall, the trip was a resounding success. Although the hike was strenuous, all of the students enjoyed themselves thoroughly and were able to experience an ecoregion of the United States that is close to the exact opposite of the Virginia Piedmont and is rarely seen by anyone other than those willing to exert the effort of a multi-day through hike. Additionally, the responsibility of planning and executing a trip like this provided an excellent experiential learning opportunity that the guys took full advantage of.