Previous Field Expeditions

John Huie, VVS Headmaster 1970-1974

From the school’s beginning through the Field Trip program, the most unique and significant venture we undertake, we affirm our basic values. Travel can be the most rewarding form of introspection, taking us not only outward, but inward as well. Education can be a blend of reflection and action, study and experience, thought and feeling.
Many schools offer field expeditions, but none do it the way we do at VVS. From the school’s beginning, students have been exposed to the study of people and their creations, and have an added opportunity to find out about other cultures through fieldwork and immersion. Getting students out of their usual surroundings and engaged in a culture different than their own has been the guiding force behind our Field Trips since our first trip in 1948. Trips to parts of the American Southwest that are often off the tourist route are our guide when planning trips. The outdoors play an extensive role in trip planning as well, with extended stops for rock climbing, kayaking, hiking and camping. The third essential component of a trip is service projects where each student plays an integral part.

Students are introduced to Field Trip offerings each September during our Field Trip Fair and then depart for their two-week journey the second week of November.

List of 18 items.

  • Arizona Footprints: Heritage & Service 2021

    • Addressing the VVS pillars of Service, Physical Labor, and Environmental Stewardship,
      this expedition combines essential hands-on historic preservation of cultural resources with exploration of stunning Southern Arizona.  Students will camp at the ghost town of Fairbank for the first half of the trip and will spend the second half staying in a forest service dormitory at historic Camp Rucker.  While at Fairbank, students will complete a historic preservation task for the Bureau of Land Management while also exploring captivating historic sites with a local storyteller.  They will spend time with the Friends of the San Pedro River, a group fighting to preserve and restore the San Pedro, and will understand its vital link to centuries of settlement in the area. They will also spend a day hiking and exploring the Dragoon mountains, the Apache holdout during the Apache Wars.  While at Camp Rucker, students will spend 3 days completing historic preservation projects with VVS alum and esteemed Forest Service archaeologist, Chris Schrager.  Renowned botanist, Petey Mesquitey, will lead a plant walk, and students will take time to explore and hike the nearby Wonderland of Rocks.
  • Water in the West: Changing Climates 2021

    • Water in the West is a field expedition that immerses students in the stunning landscapes and complex issues surrounding our most precious resource. With the Colorado River Watershed serving as the focal point of our trip, we will explore the ecological, cultural, and socio-political aspects of this lifeblood of the Southwest. Students will spend four days backpacking through Grand Gulch, followed by four days and three nights traveling the San Juan River on rafts and kayaks. Side-hikes to geologic vistas and places of historic and cultural significance will give participants a grounding in place. The trip will incorporate service with the intention of restoring and improving riparian and aquatic ecosystems in the desert Southwest.
  • Catalina Island: Overland & Undersea 2021

    • This Field Trip takes place on Catalina Island, one of the beautiful Channel Islands off the Southern California coast, and is split into two distinct parts; one exploring the unique terrestrial island ecosystem, and one exploring the coastal waters and kelp forests of the edge of the Pacific Ocean.  For the first part of the trip students will take an open-water SCUBA course (PADI/NAUI equivalent) in order to attempt to gain their open-water certification (there are swimming, health-related, and online work prerequisites for this course).  In the second half of the trip we will tackle the Trans-Catalina Trail, backpacking the 30-mile length of the island from north to south.  These two totally different but complementary activities - SCUBA and backpacking - will allow us to fully immerse ourselves in this very special place, emerging with new skills, certifications, and accomplishments.
  • Grand Canyon Backpacking 2021

    • Students will descend into one of the world’s most iconic landscapes with everything they will need for a week of hiking, camping, eating and exploring the Grand Canyon. The group will practice Leave No Trace camping while learning about the magic of the canyon at a walking pace. The days will be filled with challenging hikes from campsite to campsite, fun meals, comradery and profound accomplishment. The nights will be spent under the stars and the shadows of the great walls of the canyon. This expedition is a VVS classic and sure to bring stories for a lifetime.
  • Colorado Sustainability & Sense of Place 2021

    • This trip will be based out of John’s property in Durango where we have three acres and a strawbale house that borders the National Forest and the Falls Creek Archaeological Area. The students will learn about straw bale construction and sustainability while camping on our property, which was once inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellers of the region. Students will take on a sustainability project such as building a pizza oven on the property, while learning about the Ancient Puebloan culture that was present in the valley 800 years ago.  Challenging day hikes and excursions could include a guided hike to the Falls Creek Archeological Area, day hike on the Colorado Trail, which starts a half mile from the property, a day excursion to Mesa Verde, and a day hike to the Canyon of the Ancients near Cortez. The trip will conclude with a pizza party cooked in the oven that students build.
  • Death Hollow Solitude 2021

    • This unique and powerful journey explores the power of the desert to invite reverie and contemplation.  The group will spend seven nights backpacking through Paria Canyon and in the Buckskin Gulch of Utah, the longest navigable slot canyon in the world. The backpack begins near Page on the Utah/ Arizona border. Midway through our journey, Students will spend 48 hours of this experience on "solo", a day spent alone with the raw power of nature. Students will be largely self-reliant during this time, preparing meals & camp for themselves.
  • Pueblo Archaeology 2021

    • Students will gain an appreciation and deeper understanding of ancient architecture, rock art, ceramics, and other artifacts considered “footprints” of Ancestral Puebloans. The journey begins on Ute tribal land in southern Colorado, then scrambles through canyons and cliffs in Utah, and finally ends with a service project at a contemporary Hopi farm near Kykotsmovi,AZ. The trip includes daily hikes to archaeological sites, art journaling skills, and a 3-day backpacking trek. A highlight of this trip is the inclusion of Native American voices, as our trip will be joined at various points by cultural experts from the Ute, Navajo, and Hopi tribes.
  • Wilderscapes: Art & the Sante Fe Wilderness 2021

    • Combining the rich heritage of wilderness landscape artistry with Northern New Mexico’s robust local art scene, Art & the Santa Fe Wilderness seeks to immerse students creatively, physically, and culturally in the rich tradition of American Western Art.. Students will spend four days exploring the Santa Fe mountains on day hikes, maintaining a base camp in the front country. Students will then transition to a four-day, 25 mile backpack through the Taos area wilderness. All the while, students will walk in the footsteps of frontier artists whose striking imagery of the American West inspired settlers, filmmakers, and prospectors from around the world. Each student will complete artwork on a daily basis that will culminate in an exhibition of the sketches, watercolors, photographs, and other forms of artistic design they completed in the wild.
  • This Land Is Our Land 2021

    • This expedition explores the fight for public land in Southeastern and Central Utah. Indigenous peoples, ranching, mining, and recreational enthusiasts each share a claim to this land with their unique perspectives. We will be camping in Bears Ears National Monument, Escalante, UT, and Bryce Canyon National Park to explore the diverse and oftentimes intense issues facing these communities. We’ll be hiking through beautiful slot canyons and breathtaking scenery. We’ll visit ancient indigenous ruins, natural rock arches, dinosaur tracks and petrified forests. We’ll ride horses through Bryce Canyon and take a hike through the national park under the light of a full moon.
  • On The Edge

    • Combines community service, environmental stewardship, physical labor, and outdoor experiential education as students spend time camping, mountain biking, and rock climbing in two Southern Utah areas: Moab and Kanab.
      In Moab, the focus is on outdoor experiential education, team building, and camping, while in Kanab it’s on community service at the Best Friends Animal Shelter. Here students complete several animal-related work projects while learning about neglected and abandoned animals. While camping near Best Friends at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, students continue to work on team building, camp craft, and environmental awareness.
  • Guatemala

    • Introduced in 2018, this international Field Trip sees students exploring the culture, history, and diverse landscapes of Antigua and the Lake Atitlan region of Guatemala.  For the service component, the group will construct two homes for indigenous families in the village of Xepatan; work with students in Santiago studying with Fotokids, a non-profit organization breaking the cycle of poverty through training in photography, visual arts, and technology; visit Camino Seguro (Safe Passage) which provides education and training to the Guatemala City garbage dump community, and hike the Acatenango Volcano. 
  • Grand Canyon

    • is one of the most physically and mentally demanding Field Trips at VVS. After a service project for the National Park Service, students descend into the Canyon, covering over 5,000 feet of descent, shouldering packs containing food, clothing, and necessities for the next 10 days. Students cover over 50 miles, as well as an additional 25 miles of day hikes. On the final day they ascend over 4,000 feet. In return, students are exposed to some of the most breathtaking scenery in North America including the rim of the canyon,  impressive slot canyons and waterfalls, and swimming in the Colorado River.

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  • Exploring the Anasazi and Hopi

    • During the first half of the trip, students day hike to many of the ancient Anasazi ruins and rock art sites in Colorado and southern Utah, while camping out at night under the stars. Ute Mountain Tribal Park in southwestern Colorado, near Cortez is the first stop where students hike into Lion Canyon and take a guided tour of the cliff dwellings. Next stop is Bluff, Utah where Jerome West, a VVS alum from the class of ‘66, will guide students hiking to remote sites that are rarely visited. 

      The second half of the trip explores the Hopi reservation in northeastern Arizona where students are accommodated in a church in the village of Kykotsmovi. The days are spent on substantial work projects in the villages, helping families get in their corn crops, and chopping firewood. Other highlights include a visit to a Kachina doll maker and a Hopi potter, and learning about the Hopi culture.
  • Sonoran Explorations

    • Students explore the nature, food, art, and cultures of urban and rural areas of the Sonoran Desert of southern Arizona. They participate in the Day of the Dead Parade, work at a permaculture farm, eat a cactus, encounter animals, hike canyons and peaks, watch sunsets over saguaros, and make a mural with youth from another community. The service part of the trips includes working on an adobe restoration work project with Chris Schrager, VVS ‘69, who works with the US Forest Service.
  • Yellowstone

    • This adventure takes students through the canyons of Southern Utah to the northern reaches of Yellowstone National Park. The first half of the trip explores the unique rock formations and slot canyons of Canyonlands National Park and the San Rafael Swell. The trip then shifts to the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park where students volunteer time working with The Yellowstone Institute exploring geothermal pools and the backcountry looking for and learning about bison and wolves.
  • California Ecosystems

    • Explores the various ecosystems of Southern California, from the Mojave Desert basins through the coniferous forests perched 10,000 feet above Palm Springs, to the rocky Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara.  There are three main stops: Joshua Tree National Park, Santa Cruz Island and San Jacinto peak near Palm Springs. In Joshua Tree National Park and on Santa Cruz Island students participate in ecological service projects and many outdoor activities including a hike to the top of San Jacinto Peak during a three-night backpacking adventure along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail.

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  • Desert Dwellers / Escalante

    • The Escalante Canyons include some of the most remote, wild, and beautiful country in the Southwest and offers some of the finest opportunities for desert hiking on the Colorado Plateau.  This trip follows a classic extended backpacking route down Harris Wash to the confluence with the Escalante River, which is followed downstream for several miles to Coyote Gulch, the beautiful exit tributary. Side canyons that used to be the home of the Ancestral Puebloans are explored and provide the setting for a short solo camp.  This 50+ mile loop allows for a combination of tranquility, beauty, solitude and reflection and the extreme physical challenge of carrying a heavy backpack over rough terrain. Leave No Trace principles will be taught and modeled throughout, and campsites, trails, and trailheads will be improved as students pass through this stunning wilderness area.

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  • Crestone: Spirituality & Sustainability

    • During the first week of this trip, physical labor and environmental stewardship take the fore as students spend a week building a radical form of sustainable housing at Earthship Biotecture in Taos, New Mexico. The rest of the trip is spent in Crestone, Colorado, where a variety of spiritual groups and monastic sects have established centers for pilgrims and seekers. Destinations include a Buddhist Zendo, a Catholic monastery, and an Ashram where daily activities explore service, meditation, and intercultural understanding.

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Verde Valley School is an International Baccalaureate boarding and day high school for students in grades 9-12.