By Stephanie Maltarich - ASC Program Coordinator
There are many reasons why I wouldn’t recommend a June backpacking trip in the desert: hot temperatures, scorching sun and black flies. There are also many more reasons why I would recommend it: extraordinary sunsets, roaring waterfalls, vibrant wildflowers, fragrant sagebrush and the incredible night sky.
On June 1st, 2015 I set out into the desert co-leading the ASC’s first all-female backpacking trip for women with visual impairments in partnership with the Ability Experience. Our group included two participants with visual impairments, two volunteers, the Ability Experience staff member, Chris Read (our Program Director) and myself.
After a spring of way too much snow, we turned what would have been a potentially miserable snowy alpine mountaineering trip into a desert backpacking trip. Instead of slowly moving up a mountain while post holing in cold weather with soggy shoes, we chose a sunshine filled, waterfall chasing, sunset watching week in the desert along the Dominguez Escalante River.
This trip taught me that there are many different ways to “see” the world. Touching a wildflower with ones fingertips, making out the shadows of the desert walls or reflection of the moon, listening to others describe the landscape, or hiking along the trail by the sound of the footsteps of the person in front of you.
At the end of the week we all felt transformed. Maybe it was the morning yoga by the river, the endless laughter, our shared stories, or new friendships—or maybe it was all of it. I knew this experience was meaningful to everyone and I asked the group to reflect with a poem I wrote one evening:
The sandstone erodes and changes over time. It's soft and grainy surface rippled by the water and shaped by the wind. As the layers peel away walls turn to arches and it changes in its appearance and form. Yet, it remains sandstone. It is always evolving and changing over time, shaped by its experience.
We, like the sandstone, have been eroded and changed this week: standing under waterfalls, scorching in the sun, listening to crickets laughing and eating chocolate. We are like the sandstone. The elements touch our skin and subsequently our entire bodies and souls. We change with experiences and time as the layers peel away.
How are you like the sandstone? What new ripples have been carved into your skin? How has your form changed? What new layers of your mind and soul have been revealed?
Everyone had a new layer exposed, a new experience etched into a lifetime of memories. Women’s trips are important because of the community they create, the opportunity to show our authentic selves and the ability to be independent. A week in the desert chasing waterfalls taught us to be like a waterfall: make a splash, be heard and go with the flow.