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Point Reyes National Seashore - Fall 2019

Day #1

Approximately 7 miles


Another amazing and successful Beginning Backpacking Trip to Point Reyes National Seashore

Because of a few last minute health issues, this trip had a total of 4 ATLAS students.  A Senior, Junior and two Sophomores. None had been to Point Reyes before.  We left Lincoln at about 7:30 on a Tuesday and made our way through tens of thousands of commuters on the way to days not quite as interesting and fulfilling as ours would be.  By 10:45, we were checking into the Bear Valley Visitor Center, picking up our backcountry permit, and giving the students some time to explore and research in the museum part of the building.  By almost 11:30, we were on the trail headed west.

Almost immediately, the group was deep in the green tunnel of this approximately 71,000 acres of diverse habitats, including grasslands, coastal scrub, broadleaved evergreen woodlands and coniferous forests.  Students were still in their “city” heads as they walked...still talking about very urban things. That all changed after a mile, mile and a half when the group made it to Divide Meadow.  Here the group would eat lunch and do an activity called “Sound Map.” In this activity, students sat completely silently, spread out in a meadow. Their job was to note on their “map” (a page in their composition book with an “X” in the middle to note where they were sitting) every sound they heard in a 360 degreen circle around where they sat.  They made quick notes on their maps about what was heard over this 10 minute time. When finished, students sat as a group and shared their experiences. Some sounds were shared by all while others only heard by each student based on where they sat. All...without human sounds to interrupt the experience. An experience most don’t have often enough.


The next 5 miles to the campsite included a climb of about 600 feet and a drop of about 800 to Wildcat Camp situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  The group hiked through thick woodlands for most of it. The last half mile led down a very steep fireroad to the edge of the campground.   This trip is a “beginning trip” as the designated campgrounds in Point Reyes have pit toilets, running and drinkable water, picnic tables, and bear boxes to keep food safe.  None of these “comforts” exist in the other sierra backcountry spots that ATLAS travels to. It’s a nice trip for students to test out their interests to see if this is something they would like to do more of.  The group got right to work setting up camp in the way they practiced just days before in the on-site lab in ATLAS II.  Tents went up quickly and snacks were eaten. Then it was off to the beach for some down time after a day of some pretty physically demanding stuff!  


The group spent time on the beach until the cool breeze turned cold and drove them back to camp.  Once back the group set to firing up their Jet Boil stoves and cooking their dinners. The setting was amazing.  On open meadow on a bluff overlooking the ocean with just a short walk to the beach. All of this with an unobstructed view of the sky and the constant sound of the ocean waves in the background while the quail move around the campground making their silly little noises.

After dinner the group set up for a spirited game of Uno.  The group only played one game on this night as that game lasted almost a full hour.  Much different from the 10 or so games the group got through on night two.


Day #2

Approximately 10 miles


Day two started with a clear sky, moon setting in the west while the sun rose in the east.  Today was going to be another day of walking, but today would be walking with a daypack and not a backpack.  The group left at about 9:30 and hit the beach to find that tide was pretty high and still coming up. They walked about ¾ of the way to Alamere Falls to the south but decided that they better wait until the tide came down to get to the falls. So, the group turned north and hiked along the coast for about 4 miles.  In those 4 miles, the group saw whales spouting and breaching, sea lions swimming, pelicans soaring, vultures circling, and lots of insects buzzing around. The beach also proved interesting with what looked like a sea lion carcass and further down the beach a very broken down whale carcass. All of this under the beautiful sedimentary rock formations on the cliffs that backed the beach.  


Once to the furthest north the group could get with the tide, they did some more hanging out and observations before heading back.  Later in the day, students wrote their essays which incorporated experiences on the trip, things that they had learned about the area prior to the trip and things that they learned in the Visitor Center.  

Day #3

Approximately 7 miles

Late on the last night when most of the group was sleeping...a few raindrops turned into a half hour of so of rain.  That rain left wet tents on the last morning to pack up and out. But. Spirits were high as all students knew that they were a mere 7 miles from clean “car clothes” and then a short drive from In and Out.  These were the carrots that got them up the 800 foot climb and through the entire 7 miles. During the trip, students went on a mile long “solo walk” to experience the woods without the company or the sounds of others.  


Back at the car by 11:00ish to lunch at 12:30ish and back at school at 1:30ish.  An amazing trip with an amazing group of students. It was a positive experience that they will remember for a lifetime.





Zion National Park 2019

Our 3rd annual trip to this beautiful National Park on its 100th anniversary was amazing!


DAY #1


We hit the road just after 5:00am with a very sleepy group of students who, for the most part, fell back asleep almost right away once the wheels were rolling.  It was an 11 hour drive to Zion NP and during that time the group only stopped three quick times. Once in Austin, Nevada, once in Ely, Nevada, and finally in Toquerville, Utah.  Jokes were told, discussions were had, music was listened to, and more naps were taken. We arrived at the Watchman Campground at about 5:30pm and got to work setting up camp. The group had two campsites in the walk-in loop "F."  Students worked together to set up their two tents and then walked into the town of Springdale to get a quick bite to eat for dinner. The group hit their sleeping bags on the early side after a long drive and to be ready for the big hike on Tuesday.

DAY #2


Tuesday started early with students waking up at 6:15am and aiming to be ready to leave by 7:00am after packing up and eating some breakfast.  By the time all were ready and had walked over to the Visitor Center to catch the shuttle, the group caught the 7:30am shuttle up the canyon. "In 1997, visitation was 2.4 million and increasing. The shuttle system was established in 2000 to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon. In 2017, park shuttles estimated more than 6.3 million riders."

After a 20 minute ride, the group got off the shuttle at stop #6, The Grotto.  This stop is the start of one of the most famous hikes in the entire US National Park system, Angels Landing. The group crossed the hiker's bridge over the Virgin River and followed the paved trail north and up.  Officially on the West Rim Trail, it was quite a strenuous and steep uphill slog to get up into Refrigerator Canyon - an amazing deep hanging side canyon where temperatures are always cool. The steep incline let up for a little bit until the group got to an amazing bit of 1930's CCC engineering: Walter's Wiggles is a set 21 short and compact switchbacks that takes the trail all the way up to the top of the ridge above Refrigerator Canyon. After a few more minutes, the group arrived at Scout Lookout, a nice little viewpoint where we had a good look at Angels Landing and the main canyon below. This is where the group left the West Rim Trail to do the final hike to the Angels Landing viewpoint.


The final part of this hike was totally exhilarating.  The group walked on the narrow spine of the mountain and continued climbing almost 500 more feet in elevation. There are many exposed sections where you can look down on both sides to the canyon below. Plenty of chains, rails, and carved steps are provided to help in the climb. After a fair amount of hiking and scrambling, the group made it up to the final viewpoint and all their effort was worth it! Even though Angels Landing is much lower in elevation than the rims, the 360-degree view was amazing.  The group had some snacks and enjoyed the view and their accomplishment before making their way back down to the trailhead.  

After lunch back in camp, the rest of the day was spent exploring the Human Nature Center (and film) as well as the Visitor Center and outside at numerous informational kiosks about the park history.



DAY #3


Wednesday was another early day with students waking up at 6:15am once again.  Lunch was made, bags were packed and students walked over and boarded the shuttle with the aim of stop #8 - The Temple of Sinawava (the last stop on the shuttle).  The fairly flat hike up the paved one-mile Riverside trail took about 20 minutes. Many hikers turn around at this point, but not the group from ATLAS. For the majority of the day, the group hiked in knee to waist deep water with the riverbed alternating between sections of sand and sections with a lot of loose rocks and boulders. All had two hiking poles which made balance and forward progress much "less hard."  Less than half-a-mile from the Temple of Sinawava, the group passed Mystery Falls, a beautiful spot where water rolls down the sandstone walls from the canyon above. About 2 miles from the Temple of Sinawava is the beginning of the "Wall Street" section. This is the start of the narrowest section of canyon where the group now hiked in the water almost all of the time. The canyon was cold on this day. The coldest ATLAS Narrows hike ever.  The group kept lots of layers on to stay warm. 


Soon after, they passed the mouth of Orderville Canyon on the right (east) side of the river. Continuing up the canyon, the walls remained dark and massive with no high ground to climb up to in the event of the thunderstorm or flash flood. (The Narrows is closed at even the hint of rain upstream as waters can rise in a second with no safe ground whatsoever.) On the first two trips into this canyon, a small ATLAS group had continued all the way to Big Springs, another couple hours up stream.  But on this day, the group hiked about another hour to the next section which is more difficult as the canyon is littered with large boulders that block parts of the river. In this part, water is up to the shoulders and even higher. This is where the group made a decision to call it a day. The group was already struggling to keep warm, and submersion in the cold Virgin River would only make them colder.  


The hike back was as beautiful as the hike in.  The group hiked about 8 miles in total this day and made it back to camp around 4 pm.  Rest, dinner, more rest, cards and sleep.




DAY #4


Thursday was a bit of a sleep-in day and students got up and packed at 7:00am.  The hope was to get a permit for The Subway, in the southwest part of the park, but for the third year in a row ATLAS did not get chosen.  The back up plan was to hit the Observation Point trail. This is a trail the group did last year and loved. Because of a landslide just two weeks before the trip, the trail was closed.  Instead, leaders decided to take the van through the tunnel on the eastern side of the park and try something new.  


First, the group parked and hiked the Many Pools trail (also called "The Root Canals" or "The Twins").  The group carefully walked along the road looking for the path to scramble down into the Many Pools drainage.  Once in the drainage, the hiking was fairly easy as they made their way up the open wash viewing the many pothole formations that the water had carved.  A few frogs were even found in one pool shaped like an "apostrophe."


About one mile from the road, the group came to the narrow head of the canon (the "root" formation) and chose to scramble around it and continue up the drainage for about another mile.  Then, at another point, the scramble became quite strenuous and started to involve a lot of bushwacking. This is where the group plopped down for a snack before heading back down the drainage towards the car.  The group did not see a single person on this 4 mile hike. Just one lone Bighorn Sheep greeted the group about halfway up the drainage.  


The next stop in the van was Checkerboard Mesa for a view and some pictures.  This amazing criss-crossed mountain appears as a massive hill towering 900 feet above the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and resembles a giant, extended chess or checkerboard. The left to right deep scratches are due to a north to south wind direction while the vertical cracks are a result of weathering, a cycle of freezing and thawing. Change still continues in the park, so much in fact that the massive monoliths will eventually break down and once again become great dunes of sand!


The group saw a few more Bighorn Sheep on the drive back and through the massive 1.1 mile Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.  Building began in the late 1920s and was completed in 1930. At the time that the tunnel was dedicated on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel of its type in the United States. 


When the group got back to camp it was time to start their Zion papers.  They worked on these for a couple hours and then each presented their paper at the campsite with the massive sandstone walls serving as a perfect backdrop.  


The group went out for a celebratory dinner in town on this last night.  Everyone shared their favorite experiences and memories.



DAY #5


The students wanted to leave early on Friday, so all was packed up the night before with the exception of tents, sleeping bags and clean clothes.  The group go up at about 3:45am and hit the road by 4:30am. The drive back was as smooth as the drive out and the group arrived back on campus at about 2:00pm.


This was another amazing trip with a terrific group of students.  They saw and experienced things that live on people's bucket lists from all around the country and the world.  It was an experience that they will remember for a lifetime and will help define the person they will be in the future.


Desolation Wilderness


Our first trip of the 2019/2020 school year was an absolute success!


The trip was labeled an "intermediate" backpacking trip.  Two of the students on the trip had gone on "beginning" backpacking trips last school year to Point Reyes.  One student had not been backpacking with us, but had traveled with us to Zion National Park last year.  And the fourth student had never been on any kind of ATLAS trip because it was her third week in our school!  All persevered into the granite world of the high Sierras.  


The trip started with an onsite lab where students were issued gear, given food and clothing lists, and finally the group spent some time with a map of the area to be visited.  


We left ATLAS on a Tuesday and drove the two hours from Lincoln, up highway 50 to the turn off for Echo Lake just before Echo Summit.  After parking the car we surprised the students by boarding a boat taxi that would take us across lower and upper Echo Lakes.  Not only would this save us about 2.5 miles of walking, but it would be a new and different experience for all.


After a 15 minute exhilarating boat trip getting to see all of the interesting cabins on either side of the lake, the group stepped off the boat and onto the dock at the end of Upper Echo Lake.


The hike began strenuously with a 1000 foot climb over about 2 miles.  Not only was it steep, but the weather was in the mid 80s and the trail was granite.  Everything from small stones the size of pool balls to boulders the size of basketballs.  Footing was tricky. Once at the top of the climb, the group found some shade and spread out for a quick lunch. 

With a goal of about 6 miles in total to Aloha Lake, the group needed to get moving again.  The hike to the south end of Aloha Lake moved through the forest providing some much needed shade and a more comfortable trail of packed dirt.  Just as sudden as we were in the forest, the lake came into view and we popped out at Aloha Lake at an elevation of just over 8300 feet.  The trail then turned back to granite as it skirted along the lake for the next 2 miles.  The group hiked all the way to the back of the lake (just under Mosquito Pass) to look for some privacy among a heavily used area.  And privacy they found.  The six camped for two nights and saw almost no one from the site.  The spot sat directly under Pyramid Peak and snow patches at the end of August.  Numerous waterfalls fell from the cliffs.

The first afternoon was filled with building camp, swimming, fishing, eating and finally a night of star gazing.  It was an amazing night filled with stars and no moon at all.  The group was able to find Jupiter, Saturn, Pluto, the North Star, a few constellations, and numerous satellites.  But the highlight were the many shooting stars that filled the sky.  Three of the four students had never seen a shooting star in their lives.


Wednesday was a lazy morning where students got to sleep in a bit.  After some breakfast and a bit of packing for a day hike, the group set off rejoining the Pacific Crest Trail and heading north.  Students were amazed to learn that the trail they were on was over 2600 miles, started at the Mexican border and ended at the Canadian border.  And here they were on it! The morning was hot and the trail once again rocky as the group descended to first Susie Lake and then Heather Lake.  Even though it was the very end of August, the previous winter had dropped enough snow to give the group spring conditions.  Wildflowers were everywhere, the slopes were deep green and there were plenty of snow patches lingering around.  At one point the group stopped to slip, slide and throw some snowballs.  For our senior it was the first time she touched the snow.  The geology of this area was quite different with much more red in the rock coming from deposits of iron.  After about 6 miles the group arrived at Half Moon Lake.  At an elevation of 8140 feet, the lake sits right under Dick's Peak at 9984 feet.  



After a bit of lunch, some swimming, napping and fishing, the group spotted a Golden Eagle land in a tree across the lake.  Moments later, the eagle took off, dropped to the water and hit with a splash.  Almost immediately the bird took back off with a fish in it's mouth (and probably a smile on it's face.)  The group was memorized.  Another first for the students.


The hike back up was cooler than the hike down and the group made good time with the girls pulling way ahead.  Back at camp, after some swimming and eating, the students set to work on their essays.  An ATLAS tradition, students choose from one of many nature inspired prompts, write a paper and then present it lakeside.  After a 12 mile day hike, not getting back to camp until nearly 5:30, the presentations took place in the dark.  Students spoke of connecting with nature in new and exciting ways.  They spoke of the gratitude they felt for getting the experience.  And they spoke of the pull each and every one of them felt to come back.


Thursday morning started with a 6:00 a.m. wake up.  The group packed up and sleepily made their way up the trail.  The 6 mile hike back to Echo Lake was much cooler than Tuesday with much of the trip being downhill.  And again...another ATLAS tradition...In and Out Burger was enjoyed by all on the way home.


This trip was filled with many first for the students.  All are interested in taking part in more adventures.  All fell in love with nature and Desolation Wilderness.













Video HERE


One of our BEST trips EVER!


In early November, ATLAS Expedition Leaders took 5 ATLAS students backpacking.  None of the five had ever spent a night in the wilderness before, much less hiked multiple days with all their gear on their backs.  The group was specifically put together with students who didn't know each other prior to the trip.  By the end of the trip they had bonded in ways in which they would never have without coming on an ATLAS trip.


The experience began with students completing some pre-skills activities prior to a lab day.  Included in the pre-trip skills were videos on the basics of backpacking, tent setup, gear overviews. setup and use of a JetBoil stove, as well as completing an online Leave No Trace course.  Students wrote summaries of the videos and turned in their Leave No Trace certificates.


On the Monday before the Tuesday departure, students brought all their personal gear and food using ATLAS checklists shared over Google Docs to the pre-trip lab.  Students were issued gear that day which included: sleeping bags, sleeping pads, sleeping bag liners, tents, tarps, water purifiers, JetBoil stoves, canteens, down jackets, and a backpack.  Students practiced their online learned skill of setting up and breaking down their tents before doing a "gear shakedown" with an ATLAS leader.  During the "shakedown" students worked with the ATLAS leader to minimize duplicates, fine tune food supplies and do a general check for all the personal gear they were asked to bring.  Finally, students learned the proper order to pack their backpacks so the weight would distribute in a way to make the walk much more pleasant.


Day One


Students showed back up on Tuesday morning at 6:30 ready to pack the car and head out.  On the drive, students took turns reading aloud from a Point Reyes National Seashore comprehensive history text.  Students learned about the European exploration history, Spanish-American history, all about the period of time that the entire area was home to some of the most prosperous dairys

in the country and well into the founding and designation of the area as a National Seashore.


The group arrived at the Bear Valley Visitor Center at about 10 am.  While the leaders acquired the proper permits, the students took some time in the center learning about the flora and fauna of the area.  After some final backpack adjustments, the group of seven hit the trail.  


At 1.6 miles in on the Bear Valley Trail, the group took a break in Divide Meadow for a bit of lunch as well as an activity called "Sound Map."  Each student started on a blank page in their composition notebook that each carried, and placed an "X" in the center.  They were given direction that they would each find a place of his/her own to do a listening exercise.  Once students found their spot they were asked to close their eyes and only use their hearing.  Students used their hands on their ears in the same way that coyotes use the cups of their ears to listen in specific directions.  During the ten silent minutes, students listened closely and made quick marks on their paper of sounds heard and directions those sounds came from.  When the ten minutes was up, students shared the collection of sounds they heard.  Students reported hearing bees, wind, water, frogs, birds, as well as rustling grasses and branches.  Taking the time to silently listen is something we all need to do much more often.  


The group continued their hike on the Bear Valley Trail for another 1.5 miles before turning off on the Glen Trail.  Unlike the first trail which felt more like a fire road, the Glen Trail was a single track trail that students needed to walk single file.  Students walked in twos and threes switching between hiking partners often.  This section of the hike was the only significant uphill of the day so at times, breath went more towards breathing than chatting. 


After another 0.6 of a mile the group gathered back together at the next trail junction.  They would be taking a left here at the Glen Camp Loop.  This trail would meander through the dense forest and end at Glen Camp.  The campground for night number one.  Before hiking on, an ATLAS leader sent the second leader ahead and gave direction to the students for a second activity called the "Path of Knowledge." In this activity, students walked along this .09 mile section of the trail, spread out and single file, looking for something particularly beautiful or meaningful to themselves individually.  They may have felt drawn to an old tree, a tumbling stream, or a brightly colored flower or tree. Whatever attracted them they were to should stop there and try to feel it’s essential qualities for maybe 5-10 minutes.  Before getting up to walk ahead on the trail to rejoin the group, they then wrote a brief phase or even paragraph that described their discovery that would be shared later.


Once the group had all met up with the second ATLAS leader, they had a short walk into Glen Camp.  It was then time use their new knowledge of gear and tent setup to make home for the first night.  


After setting up camp and making dinner, students sat under the stars. 

The sky was crystal clear and full of stars and planets.   One student pointed out a variety of constellations she knew while others spied satellites and even a shooting start or two.  




Day Two


Students woke to a chilly clear morning free of the fog that usually shrouds the coastal forest.  After packing up, the group had a short 2 mile hike to Wildcat Camp where they would be staying on the second night.


Once at camp, the group set up camp for the second night.  The group did a much better job the second time around in choosing appropriate tent spots on their own.  Once set up, the group packed day packs and headed down to the beach below the bluff.  Tide was high so the group meandered north on the coast. Students played in the surf and the sand, and generally had a wonderful time.




Later, once the tide had gone down, the group walked along the shore in a southerly direction to get to Alamere Falls.  One of only two waterfalls that fall directly into the Pacific Ocean in CA, Alamere Falls provides a mossy green oasis.



Once the group had hiked back to the beach above Wildcat, students shared their experience from the prior day on their Path of Knowledge.   Some chose to write random thoughts about a chosen object, while others composed an entire poem in an effort to capture the moment and landscape.  Each gave a formal presentation on the beach with the Pacific Ocean as their backdrop.  


A bit later the group brought dinner back down to the beach, cooked, ate and watched the sunset.  As it got dark, they build a fire using collected drift wood.  Fires on the beach here are legal with a fire permit obtained at the Visitor Center.  It was a fabulous day.


Day Three


The last day would be the hardest.  Even though backpacks were the lightest (with so much food consumed) the group would have to hike the steep Stewart Trail and the biggest elevation gain of the trip.  Students were encouraged to "hike their own hike" in terms of keeping a steady pace that was comfortable for them individually.  The goal was for each student to find a speed that enabled them to continue forward progression without having to stop constantly.  Once at the top, students commented how much easier it was when they focused on themselves and their own comfort rather than trying to hike someone else's pace.


Just before reaching the Bear Valley Trail once again, the group stopped once more and let one of the ATLAS leaders hike ahead.  The goal was for each of the students to be able to experience a solo hike of about a mile.  Students were released about 3 minutes apart and told to walk slowly and that if they started catching up to the person in front, they should slow back down.  Once all students met back up, they resumed their hike back to the trail head.  It was one of the student's birthdays so it was decided that he would chose the venue for lunch on the way home.  After a bit of thought, he decided that he wanted to try In and Out as he'd never been there before.  He and his brother were in awe when we got there.  It was a site to behold.




Another wonderful trip.  Point Reyes serves as a terrific beginning backpacking destination.  We already have another trip scheduled for mid April and we look forward to exposing another group of students to the world of backpacking.




For the second year in a row, ATLAS traveled to Utah to visit Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.  For a second year, it was a successful and exciting trip.  All attending students developed projects designed around a personally created essential question.  Each of these projects mixed some combination of credits into their work which covered credits that they each needed towards graduation.  Credits worked into projects included Economics, Government, US History, Geography, English, Earth Science, Biology, PE and Electives.


Day #1


     The group met at the ATLAS building at 4:30 am to pack the two cars for the 12 hour road trip to Zion.  The ride started in the dark with lots of sleeping.  It continued in the light with lots more sleeping.  Finally, at about 5:30 pm the group reached the Watchman Campground to get set up and make some dinner.  Excitement was brewing for the first day of hiking.



Day #2


     Today was a bucket list kind of day for our students.  The group left early as a team.  They took the shuttle to the The Temple of Sinawava in order to walk the one mile trail to the mouth of The Narrows.  After a few pictures were taken, the full group started the walk.  Immediately, students stepped into the cold and silt filled river.  Round, slippery rocks lined the base of the river as students took their first steps.  The further they walked, the less people were around them in this now narrowing canyon.  After about an hour, the group stopped for a short break.  During this time, three students conducted a water purity test connected with Biology credits they were working towards.  While working, the group discussed their plan.  In the end, three students wanted to continue to the end of the 6 mile walk, while six students decided to turn around, walk back to the campsite in order to work more on their projects. Three students took out their water testing kit and journal to begin a water purity test

 connected with Biology credits they were working towards.  While working, the group discussed their plan.  In the end, three students wanted to continue to the end of the 6 mile walk, while six students decided to turn around, walk back to the campsite in order to work more on their projects.


     The group of three students continued upriver with two teachers.  After another hour, the crowds had really thinned out and students found themselves all alone in certain sections.  At times the water was shin deep while at others shoulder deep.  The group had to walk slowly and test the ground with their hiking poles in order to judge the depth of the water in various parts.  



     Twelve miles and 8 hours later, the groups rejoined at the campground for the day.  


     Campers were cleaned up, dinner was made and the day came to a close.  Rest was needed for another big day of hiking.




Day #3


     After a very windy night, the group got up and had breakfast in preparation for another day of hiking.  The group decided it would be better to grab Chromebooks and move over the the Visitor Center's WiFi to get some project work done prior to lunch.  Students used their essential questions to further develop their projects with the help of three teachers. 


     After a few hours of work and lunch, the group got back on the shuttle heading to the Weeping Rock stop.  Once there, the group broke into two with half heading to Weeping Rock and half heading to Observation Point.  The hike to the point was 3.5 miles and 2000 vertical feet up. 


     The group of 6 worked their way up the steeply sloped trail, grateful for the sections of shade in the very hot day.  Some of the trail was on exposed ledges, while other sections ran through shaded flat spots and still other sections ran through cool shady canyon lined walls.  With the elevation and heat of the day, the group decided that 1700 feet was far enough.  They decided to turn back in order not to push the hike too late into the early evening hours.


After a 3 mile hike back to the shuttle and another 20 minute ride, the groups rejoined for dinner, showers and rest before another big day.



Day #4


      Because Angel's Landing was closed due to trail damage and the fact that the group wasn't chosen in the lottery for permits to hike the Subway, the group decided to take a 2 hour drive north, through the eastern end of the park and into Bryce Canyon National Park.  On the drive out of the park the group saw many different rock formations than seen in the valley as well as many groups of mountain goats.  


     After about an hour, the group arrived in Bryce.  They stopped in the Visitor center quickly and made the short drive to Bryce point.  Once there the group geared up for the 5.5 mile Peek-A-Boo lolly pop shaped hike.  The trail immediately dropped 1600 feet into the canyon giving students views of the massive rock formations so very different than those in Zion.



     The group stayed together for the most part over the full hike.  The geography and geology was spectacular ad the group made their way around, through and between the amazing formations.  Students took breaks in small groups while continuing to have discussions together and with teachers about their essential questions.  


     After the 5.5 miles, the group got back in the cars before making the two hour drive back to Zion.  The group went out of a celebratory dinner after showers and then did some pre-packing to make Friday a bit easier.


Day #5


     Friday was another 12 hour drive but this time westward.  Once again their was lots of sleeping as well as snack/bathroom stops.  This was another amazing trip in which students saw and experienced things that were brand new in their lives.  All of these amazing experiences will be used to work on their final projects over the coming weeks.  Another successful trip!


For the first trip of the school year, five students and two teachers spent two nights/three days in the back-country of Desolation Wilderness just south of Lake Tahoe.  Two of the students had been on ATLAS backpacking trips in the past.  The other three students joined our ATLAS expedition for the very first time.

Day #1



After about a 2 1/2 hour drive from ATLAS, in Lincoln, we arrived at the trail-head parking lot in Emerald Bay State Park Lake Tahoe.  After getting into backpacks, the group of seven started up the trail.  Almost immediately, students came to a fork in the trail and needed to pull out their Topo maps in order to verify the correct route.  After some brief discussion centered around cardinal directions and the meaning of topographical lines on a map, a consensus was formed among the students.  The trail went left.  


Almost immediately the trail began to climb.  In the next 3.5 miles, the trail would ascend a total of over 1600 feet.  And that would only get the group 2/3 of the way to their destination.  Many breaks were taken and lots of water consumed over those miles.  The top of the pass was a welcome sight.





After about 5.5 miles of hiking for the day, the group made it to their destination; Middle Velma Lakes.  This would be base camp for the next two nights as the team explored the area.  Camp was set up, some swimming took place to wash off the dirt and grime, and finally a bit of writing in an effort to start to fully embrace the surroundings and the opportunity.  



 Day #2


After a warm evening and a good night's sleep, the group woke up to crystal clear skies and some breakfast.  Once fueled and packed up, the group set out on a big day hike.  The trail out of Middle Velma lake was a long gradual uphill.  By the time they got to Fontanillis Lake everyone needed a "pack off" break.  Sitting in the sun at the shores of this beautiful body of water, it was hard to believe that this lake freezes completely over in the winter and holds ice on it's surface well into July some years.  Today it was sunny, warm and a deep blue.  The group decided to move on up the trail and stop on the way back to camp for a swim in this very spot.



Continuing up the trail about a mile, mile and a half, the group came to the next beautiful lake of the day; Dicks Lake.  Sitting nearly at the same altitude, this lake is in a much different setting.  Unlike Fontanillis Lake with its long shape and gradual banks, Dicks Lake sits in a bowl under steep mountain cliffs and is almost perfectly round in shape.  The group stopped here to filter some water, have a snack and soak up the warm rays of the August sunshine.



Once re-energized, the group set off for the final destination of the day, Dicks Pass.  At just over 9400 feet, it would be the highest elevation of the trip.  It was two miles from Dicks Lake to the top of Dicks Pass and almost every step was up.  The group was motivated to get to the top for not only the view, but also the hard earned lunch each had packed.  At about 1:00 pm the group topped out, had a seat and soaked in the views.  To the left Mt. Tallac dominated the sky at 9735 feet.  Directly in front of the group sat Susie Lake, Gilmore Lake, Half Moon Lake and in the distance, Aloha Lake.  Dicks Peak sat to the group's right and behind it rose Pyramid Peak and Mt. Ralston. It was truly a view worth the work.




On a side trip from the pass, one of the students spotted something shiny in the distance and decided to take a closer look.  Upon further investigation the student found that it was a balloon...and a "Happy Birthday" balloon a that!  In he spirit of the Leave No Trace doctrine that students had learned about prior to the trip,  one student or another wore the balloon tied to their pack for the next day and a half.  For a while, when they passed another hiker, someone in the group explained the balloon and its origin, but by the end of the trip everyone was tired of telling the story and without really discussing it decided that whoever was wearing the balloon would smile and say "thank you" when others wished them a "Happy Birthday."  It made for a lot of laughs!




On the almost 5 mile hike back to camp the group stopped only once, for a refreshing swim in Fonanillis. One of the five students had to have a little help getting wet :)  Once back at camp, students finished up their papers to be ready to present after dinner.  An ATLAS tradition, each student chooses an Outdoor Writing Prompt, and after developing a 5 paragraph essay, and getting some feedback from a partner, they give a sunset lakeside presentation.  







Day #3


The group woke up early to pack up and head out.  All were hungry and looking forward to a meal in Truckee (the restaurant would be debated the entire hike out.)  It was a spectacular first trip of the year with a terrific group of students.  The last pictures pretty much sums up the entire trip.  We can't wait to hit the trail again soon!







We have been lucky enough to partner with SkiDUCK for our seccond winter.  Each season SkiDUCK provides over 1,000 youth with nearly 2,000 FREE days of skiing and snowboarding; including free lift tickets, rentals and lessons! We have gone twice and have four more trips scheduled for the winter!!

Here are some pictures from our trips thus far:





Five high school students went to Utah for a week long expedition.  They designed their own research projects around the National Park System.  They hiked miles on a multitude of different types of trails and soaked up information in visitor centers.  It was a trip of a lifetime!


Day #1

The group left ATLAS Learning Academy in Lincoln, CA just after 4:00 am.  Students were instantly asleep in the van and one stayed asleep over most of the next 12 hours.  Driving the "loneliest highway in America" (Hwy 50), the group set out in an easterly direction.  By around noon they were in Ely, NV for some lunch and by 3:30 PM they were rolling through the Bryce Canyon National Park entrance.  Arriving earlier than expected, they set up camp and headed out to the visitor center to do some exploring.  

After learning all kinds of interesting things, the group headed out to the canyon rim to watch the sunset before heading back to camp to make dinner and get some needed rest.



Day #2

Today started with breakfast and a camp breakdown before getting packed up for the day hike.  The plan was the 8 mile Fairyland Loop trail starting just outside the northern end of the park.  There would be no water on the hike and it was important students took plenty of food and water.  In addition, there would be practically no shade, which would prove to take a lot out of everyone in the group.  The hike started with a 2000+ ft drop into the canyon.  




Then, the trail spent the next 5 miles or so zigzagging up and down and around all the oddly shaped formations called Hoodoos.  It gave the group lots of time to have small conversations and it gave the teachers lots of time to start the brainstorming process with students about the direction of each of their project.



The group finished the hike at about 2 pm and then made the 90 minute drive south to Zion National Park. The views upon entering the park were amazing and so very different than the types of formations in Bryce.  We made our way through the middle of the park and onto the southern entrance and our campsite in the Watchman Campground.  This is a walk in campground and fairly new.  Each of the 16 sites had a tent picnic table and bear locker.  And the views from the site....well...see the picture below.




The plan was made that afternoon to hike the Narrows Wednesday and Angel's Landing on Thursday.  The Narrows is a sixteen mile section of the Virgin River which is a gorge with walls a thousand feet tall and the river sometimes just twenty to thirty feet wide.  The "Bottom Up" allows day hikers to hike 4 miles into the canyon before turning around.  The canyon starts out a bit wider and not as deep.  The further up the canyon the deeper the water and narrower the canyon.  


Day #3

The group boarded the bus at about 9:00 am for the 40 minute ride to the other end of the canyon.  Once at the shuttle drop-off called the Temple of Sinawava, it was still another 1.25 miles to the end of the trail and the mouth of the Narrows.  This is where the 4 mile hike of the river begins.  



After about three miles, there were two pools that needed to be crossed. Each of those pools went to nearly each person's shoulders.  At the end of the four miles, the group stopped in a isolated bend of the river to enjoy the last rays of sun getting into the canyon.



After lunch, to was time to hike back the four miles to the mouth of the canyon.  For the first couple of miles the group saw almost no one at all.



Back at camp it was time for dinner and some work on projects.  Students walked over to the visitor center to use their wifi with the ATLAS Chromebooks.  For a few hours, students worked very hard to continue to define their thesis statements as well as begin to outline their papers.    



Day #4

Thursday was the famous Angel's Landing hike.  Angel’s Landing is one of the world's most renowned hikes, and is an unforgettable short adventure hike worthy of all bucket lists. Anyone in an average physical condition can make the trek, but it can be mentally challenging with its steep switchbacks and sheer drop-offs. There are chains bolted into the cliff to provide secure handholds all the way to Scout Lookout. Boarded the shuttle at 8:00 am for the 30 minute ride to the trail-head where winds were beginning to blow. 

The trail out and back is a mere 5 miles.  The first two miles are filled with steep switchbacks.



While the last quarter mile went virtually straight up utilizing the chains that were anchored into the rock.




All of the students felt strongly that the effort to get to the top was well worth it as they rested with food and water at Scout Lookout.



Day #5

Because the group had heard a thunderstorm was coming late in Thursday night and early Friday morning, the choice was made to get a jump on the storm and leave Thursday early evening.  The group took a southerly route home to skirt the falling snow all along highway 50.  

This picture pretty much says it all about the drive for the students.



And there it is.  Another amazing ATLAS expedition in the books.  In this group of students:

  • None had ever seen a Hoodoo.

  • None had ever walked a "trail" in the water.

  • Some had never hiked as many miles in a day.

  • Some had never seen red dirt.

  • Some had never been physically challenged as much.

  • Some had never been out of California.

  • All were pushed harder academically than ever to create their own customized research project.

  • All did things that they will share with their grandchildren.

  • All will create projects that are worthy of college and career readiness.


Two teachers and five high school students went to Yosemite for a week long expedition.  They would be in Valley on day and night one and then in the backcountry for the rest of the week.  It was epic.


Day #1


We left ATLAS at about 7:30 today and arrived on the valley floor at 12:30. Picked up our permit at the wilderness station in Yosemite Village and we were lucky enough to get a ranger who taught a mini Leave No Trace lesson to a group of students who recently received LNT certificates through a short online REI class.

Wandered around in the visitor center afterwards and had students take pictures of items and displays that might be of help in some of their projects connected to the trip.

After a quick stop in the village store for snacks we made our way to Upper Pines Campground and got camp set up for our one night in the valley. Once done, we hopped back in the van and headed to the Yosemite Falls Trailhead to walk the one mile loop to the base of the falls.




Upon arriving at the falls we decided to boulder to the foot of the falls and some of the students hopped in the frigid water.  We then hiked back through the Yosemite Lodge property and into the meadows surrounding the Merced River. Students took in the views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, the Cathedral Spires and El Cap.   When all started getting hungry we headed back to the campground to do some cooking before turning in for the night.


Day #2


Woke up at about 7:00 to a light drizzle, broke down camp and had some food before hitting the road.

Arrived at the Ten Lakes Trailhead at 9:30 and hit the trail.

The trail immediately started to ascend and students were pumping along at a very quick pace. It wasn't long before they petered out a bit and finally had to stop and rest a bit.




The rest of our 7ish mile hike was much of the same with some longer breaks to let students catch their breaths.  We crested Ten Lakes Pass and had some snacks before hiking the 2 more miles to Lake #3. There are 10 lakes in the basin and we  decided to camp at one off the main trail to try to have a lake to ourselves. And a lake to ourselves we got.  Sitting in a small bowl, Lake #3 is amazing.




Almost all swam before snacking. Later a competitive game of Uno took place before students found quiet places to work in some writing responses to prompts they chose before the trip.

It was a cloudless night and much colder here at 9000 feet than the Valley 4000 foot elevation. A great night sleep.


Day #3


Woke up to another light drizzle today, a bit harder than yesterday. It rained on and off for about 90 minutes before we were able to spread out all our gear in the sun to dry out. We swam a bit more before hitting the trail. We walked back to Lake #1 and around the opposite side that we had come in on. After less than a mile, we rejoined the Ten Lakes Trail and headed east and up. The climb of nearly 700 feet had everyone huffing and puffing. We arrived at Lake #4 and took a short break before heading off trail for the next 48 hours. Up over a small Pass and then up another led us to beautiful Lake #5.




There was really only one viable campsite for our size group on the north side of the lake and about 100 feet above the water. We set up camp, had some lunch and did some swimming at this beautiful granite lined 9400 ft. lake.  In the afternoon, we decided to go for a afternoon day hike up to the top of the pass above the lake.   Over 900 feet of elevation, had us walking on ridges, hopping over creeks, trekking through alpine tundra, walking next to ice cold ponds, crossing snow fields, picking our way through boulders, and working to keep our footing while navigating inclined fields of scree. It was amazing and all 5 students stood atop the 10,300 ft unnamed pass with northern views into the depths of Yosemite and out at peaks topping 12,000 feet.




The afternoon was filled with more swimming, eating, swimming and student work. Just after sunset, each student stood, one at a time, with the lake as their backdrop, and presented his paper. Each shared his feelings and ideas surrounding nature in the form of a written response to an English writing prompt. All were terrific!





Day #4


No rain this morning!!  We all slept in knowing that the mileage to our next camp wasn't very far. It was a leisurely morning of sitting in the sun, a few went swimming, and enjoying our surroundings.

We packed up about 10:30 and hit the dirt. Our goal was to hike along the side of a mountain, heading for a pass above Lake #6. It was epic. With no trail to follow, the two teachers took the front and back and kept the group together but not too close. Where yesterday's day hike was filled with large boulders, today's hike was filled with medium and small rocks. This made hiking slowly and carefully our main objective. Students were spaced out at about 40 yard intervals and worked together to point out the best route for the one behind them. They often stopped and held a hand out for another as they crossed a particularly tricky section.




In the end all made it to the top of the pass and took a break for a bit before heading down the other side. The back side was very different as there were many trees, bushes and loose sand. We took it slowly as the first of the two Granite Lakes came into view. We continued to stay high and skirt the side as we aimed for the second and smaller lake that would be home for the night.

After arriving at about 3:30, the students collapsed into their sleeping pads to rest, eat and hydrate.




The afternoon was filled with much of the same and some Uno added in as well.  Early to bed as we hit the trail at 6:30 to get a good start home.


Day #5


Today was an early up and out!  Students were up at 5:30 am and out of camp by 6:30 am.  We hiked about a mile mile and a half off trail before hooking back up with the trail we came in on.  This type of trip route is called a lollipop as we came in and out on the same trail and completed a loop at the “top of the stick.”

We were back at the trailhead and van a bit after 8:00.   After a quick stop at Omstead Point for a few pictures from the very spot Ansel Adams stood, we continued to Tenya Lake for a ceremonial “get clean swim.”  After a bit of complaining that the water was “too cold” all five students completed the required “complete submersion” needed to sit in a van for the next several hours on the way home.  A stop at The Barn, in Bridgeport, CA and we were back on the road to Lincoln.  



We have been lucky enough to partner with SkiDUCK for the winter.  Each season SkiDUCK provides over 1,000 youth with nearly 2,000 FREE days of skiing and snowboarding; including free lift tickets, rentals and lessons! We have gone twice and have four more trips scheduled for the winter!!


Here are some pictures from our trips thus far.

















On January 24th we took a group of strong students from the trail-head at Castle Peak, a bit over 3 miles to the Peter Grubb Hut.  Much of the hike was through fresh deep powder and was extremely strenuous.  The group did an amazing job, powering through the deep snow.  We were so very lucky to have such a beautiful day to explore!







DECEMBER 12, 2016

Today, we headed back up highway 80 to the Castle Peak Trailhead with 5 excited and a bit hesitant students.  None had ever been on snow shoes and the amount of gear was a bit overwhelming for a few.  Nevertheless, we hit the chilly trail at about 9:30 and walked uphill on the snowy trail that's a dirt road in summer months.  


Every trip has a different focus depending on the makeup of the student group.  This trip was about getting a group of students together that didn't know each other, on an experience that they wouldn't have chosen to go on by themselves. was a day of walking in the snow.  And walk we did...until we sat down for some lunch and a "snowball fight" that lasted for a while and gleaned a lot of smiles and laughter.  


The trip was a complete success on every level.  Students met new people and some formed relationships that would extend well beyond the trip.  Students had a brand new experience in nature that they might never have had the opportunity to take part in.  And...all students reported (in a post survey) that they enjoyed the experience to the point that all 5 have either signed up or a future trip or reported that they plan to sign up.


A large focus of the ATLAS program is around relationships.  Forming and nurturing student to student and student to teacher relationships in an effort to positively effect overall student achievement.  This goal was truly achieved today and we look forward to collecting even more evidence to support this in the coming weeks, months and years.






NOVEMBER 15, 2016

Today we went on a day hike that was supposed to be a snowshoe trip.  It was changed to a day hike because we didn't have nearly enough show to snowshoe.  After parking at the Pacific Crest Trailhead off Old 40, we snapped a few pictures before heading up the trail.


The first real winter snowstorm was scheduled to arrive in in the mid afternoon and we were hoping to sneak in a 5 mile loop hike before it hit.  The morning was cold with a biting wind.  Our plan was to summit Donner Peak and then continue up Mt. Judah and loop back.  With everyone moving at their own pace, we reached the summit of Donner Peak in about 90 minutes.  The sky was a crystal blue with space ship like lenticular clouds floating above Donner Lake.




After a light lunch, the group talked a bit about options in terms of the rest of the hike.  The remainder of the loop was covered in snow.  Some students didn't feel comfortable walking the angled slope on the icy snow and mud mix.  In the end, one student joined one of the two teachers for the remainder of the 5 mile loop while the others went back down the same way they had come.




The wind at the top of Mt. Judah was in the mid 30 mph range.  We held onto hats, glasses and the mountain itself for a few quick pictures before heading back out of the wind into the safety of the northern side of the ridge.



Pedro, featured in the picture above, had never hiked in his life.  He's a runner and found himself jogging on the trail quite a few times.  Trail running just might be in Pedro's future some day.......

NOVEMBER 4, 2016

Today, we were notified that we had received a Western Placer MediCal Grant.  This grant was written to enable us to send lead teacher, Adam Salinger, to a nine day Wilderness First Responder (WFR) course taught by NOLS (the National Outdoor Leadership School).  This class and certification will provide Mr. Salinger with the training needed to quickly and appropriately respond to any medical emergencies in the back country.

Thank you so much MediCal grant committee!



OCTOBER 28, 2016

Today, we were notified that we had received the Western Placer Educational Foundation Grant (WPEFG).  We wrote this grant to help fund the transportation costs associated with the Adventure and Service pieces of our program.  The foundation did indeed see the importance and validity of our request and granted us $2000 to help cover the costs of the rest of the 16/17 school year.  

Thank you so very much Western Placer Education Foundation!!


OCTOBER 17-18, 2016

What a whirlwind of a couple days.  The first day was all about prepping.  Windows, doors, trim, gutters etc. were all taped off in preparation for painting the base coat on day two.  The district had loaned us their industrial sprayer for the two days and rain was coming, so we were on a tight timeline.  Students did virtually all the prepping.  From caulking to taping, they were amazing.  This was a prime example of an on-site Service learning project.  Service is another major piece of ATLAS and students didn’t disappoint.  Working throughout most of the day, and writing reflections about their work, students earned credits and learned valuable life skills.


Day two included the teachers using the sprayer and students doing hand brushing of much of the trim.  All of ATLAS was painted a grey for a base coat and the sky blue that matches the interior.  Students did all the clean up of tape, paper and general trash.  They also learned how to effectively clean out an expensive pressure washer and the importance of proper care of supplies. The building looks great!  Come and see it!




OCTOBER 12, 2016


Today was a banner day.  We completed the gear room!  We have written, and been awarded, grants totaling more than $15,000 for student gear.  We are still writing grants for additional funding, but at this point we have almost everything that a student needs to be safe and successful for multi-day trips in the back-country during spring, summer and fall.  We also have day trip gear for winter!  

Our gear includes: backpacks, sleeping bags, sleeping bag liners, sleeping pads, tents, Tyvek for ground sheets, waterproof food bags, Frogg Togg rain gear, JetBoil cook sets and fuel, Sawyer Filters for water purification, Nalgene Canteens, rope, gloves, snowshoes, trekking poles and pole baskets, winter gaiters and now booties.


We were lucky enough to get the help of Mr. Nelson’s father in building all of our cabinetry and now are completely organized in a way that makes giving out and collecting gear easier than ever.  Gear is also being stored properly as to keep it safe, clean and accessible.  We are ready to hit the trail!! 


OCTOBER 6, 2016

A bucket list trip it was!  Even though some of these students might not be old enough to even have bucket lists...buckets were filled in more ways than one.


We left Lincoln at about 7:30 and began on the long twisty roads right away.  The district van; not a sports car.  After making our way into the park we took Tioga Road to the Porcupine campground.  It was nearly empty.  We found two spots next to each other with enough room (only 6 people were allowed at a single site) and began setting up camp… the snow.  Yes, it had been snowing for about 30 minutes and many of our 6 had never seen snow coming out the other sky.  As with the other trip, the teachers began teaching and modeling the correct procedures for setting up camp.  Everyone was moving quickly to stay as dry as possible.




Once camp was set up we loaded the van and drove to the May Lake trail-head, our planned short trek (1.25 miles to the lake) for the afternoon.  Once at the trail-head the weather was more of a sleet than a snowfall and we decided that because of the weather, we would forgo the hike this afternoon and hope for the best tomorrow.  Instead, we drove further up Tioga Road, past the other campground and past the post office, to a huge granite monolith that disappeared into the low clouds.  Once the van was parked the students couldn’t wait to do some exploring as we had been sitting in the van for the vast majority of the day.  The rock was smooth and slippery with tiny streams running down all over.  The group explored the rock for about an hour before the cold and moisture started to soak into everyone.  The group then made their way back to the van to head back to the campsite and some dinner.



Cooking was a wet activity in the light drizzle.  Standing close to the campfire provided some relief.  After dinner the clouds parted and gave way to a beautiful sky filled with stars.  Everyone had to look quickly, as a layer of fog dropped in and blanketed everyone in a fine mist. The group visited around the campfire for quite a while and then a few at a time ventured off to their tents to get ready for the big day planned tomorrow.


The teachers woke the students at 6:00 to an icy cold and crystal clear morning.  Temperatures had dropped overnight into the high teens and all of the moisture from the snow, rain and mist had all frozen overnight.  It was easy to hear campers around the campground emerge from their tents as the crackle of ice breaking off tent rain-flys could be heard everywhere.  


After a quick breakfast we boarded the van once more and drove east on Tioga Road.  We stopped first at Olmstead Point, one of the most famous views of Yosemite.  After a bit of exploring and picture taking, we drove to the Sunrise Lakes trail-head to begin our hike for the day.  Our goal was Clouds Rest.  A 14.5 mile round trip with a total elevation gain of 1,775 feet.  A distance and elevation that none of the students in this group had ever attempted before.  Everyone was dressed in all of their layers as we hit the trail with the temperature at 24 degrees.   Cold bodies warmed up fast as the rocky inclined trail pushed everyone.  The uphill continued for about 90 minutes when we took a break on a saddle under Sunrise Peak.  Students did some reflective writing connected with their lab and also some work with their resting pulse rate; work from another lab prior to the trip.  After some food, water, work and small was back to the trail for the 4.7 miles left to get to the top of Clouds Rest.




We dropped into a valley for the next hour or so passing a small lake, a couple streams and some beautiful fall color.





The hike continued up the final assent to the top of Clouds Rest.  Students were getting tired at this point and the group broke into three smaller groups going various paces.  The last spur before the top was a narrow granite ledge that tested each of the students both physically and mentally.  Hikers needed to stay focused and diligent during this last section.




Finally, the entire crew made it to the top.  The first group had about 2 hours to take in the view and the last group had about 30 minutes.  All in all, it was a beautiful day.  The cold kept us all on our toes.  The mental and physical demands of the day were real growth experiences for everyone.  On the top, a few students continued on their writing while others did some work with their resting pulse and still others did nothing at all except try to take in the enormity of it all.



The hike down, although exhausting, was a good amount faster and we were back at the van as the sun was going behind the granite peaks around us.  On the drive back to camp, we decided to stop at Olmstead Point once more so that students could get a clear view of what they had just attempted.  They posed pointing in gratification at the top of Clouds Rest knowing something about themselves that just 12 hours prior, they hadn’t known.  They were indeed hikers who could tackle a 14.5 mile day!



Dinner that night was much the same as the first night, only much more dry.  Although students were tired, most stayed up late talking about the day and enjoying each other’s company.


By 8:00 AM the next morning breakfast had been eaten and camp had been broken down.  We loaded up the van and drove east once more on Tioga Road but this time kept going right over Tioga Pass and onto the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.  Crossing over the top, we immediately started getting views of aspen trees turning from green to yellows, oranges and reds.  We continued down the pass and headed straight for Mono Lake.  Students had never been on the eastern side of the Sierras and had never seen Mono Lake.  The group took some time on a sunny back deck of the Visitor Center to do some more writing that would help finish up projects once back at school.  After some writing, students spent time in the Visitor Center learning about the history, geology and science behind Mono Lake and the Owens River Valley.  It ended up being information that would facilitate some interesting conversations on the way back to school that day.



We stopped for lunch in Bridgeport for a much needed burger or burrito (the restaurant serves both).  Continuing on, we got more and more views of beautiful aspen colors and in Hope Valley stopped one more time so students would have a final place to do some more work on their projects.  The area was perfect to inspire these young writers.



This was an amazing trip with a terrific group of students.  This will surely not be our last trip to Yosemite National Park or the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.


SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Today, was our final lab.  At the end of the previous lab students were given lists of clothing and food that they were to bring to today’s lab.  ATLAS has all of the gear needed to go on trips, but food and clothing are the student’s responsibility.  After checking what students brought in, making lists of what was still needed, the teachers issued gear to each student.  Gear issued included: a backpack, sleeping bag, sleeping bag liner, sleeping pad, tent and ground cover (to groups of two), a down jacket, food bag, rain gear, stove and fuel, water purifier, and gloves.  Time was spent going over each piece of gear, it’s use and care for it.  Once all the gear was issued, we spent the rest of the time teaching students about how exactly to pack a backpack.  We are all ready to go.  Student will be here at 7:00am Monday!




SEPTEMBER 22, 2016

Today was the second lab in preparation for our Yosemite trip in October.  Today’s focus was on the science of nature. Our focus was on the following:


Essential Question:

Does something special and clinically therapeutic happen when people spend time in nature?


Additional Questions:

  • Is spending time in nature good for your heart?

  • Does spending time in nature increase your sense of awe?

  • Does spending time in nature help with symptoms of  ADHD, depression and anxiety?



After doing a “close read” of an article from Time Magazine, students did some work with their own heartbeats as well as some writing reflections of the article that was discussed.  This work will be used on both the trip and at the culmination of the trip to come to specific conclusions about how spending time in nature affects humans physically and emotionally.



SEPTEMBER 15, 2016

We were excited to offer our first on-site lab prior to a trip today.  The six students who signed up for our next expedition to Yosemite National Park, spent an hour in a lab co-taught by the two teacher leaders who would take them on the trip.  Today’s lab focused on Leadership.  We discussed the four Leadership Roles: Designated Leadership, Active Leadership, Peer Leadership and Self Leadership.  These would be the roles that were expected to be understood and demonstrated on the trip. The lab focused on conversation and research into the following questions:



  • Why are the outdoor leadership roles, skills and values essential for a safe, fun and growth oriented trip?

  • What are the different leadership roles in the outdoors and how can they be applied in everyday living?

  • What are the skills and values (characteristics) needed to develop your potential as a leader?



This discussion would help us move into our future labs, the trip itself and finally projects that would enable students to earn credits.

SEPTEMBER 14, 2016


We had a wonderful trip!  The night before the hike, temperatures dropped and the high mountains were covered with a dusting of snow for our viewing pleasure.  Temperatures were chilly and it was partly cloudy today...perfect for a day hike.  Students did a great job on the trek.



There were numerous ups and downs as we hiked towards Emerald Bay and wonderful overlooks with views of the entire lake.  Five of our eight students had never seen Lake Tahoe and it didn’t disappoint.  Upon reaching Emerald Bay, students looked out at Fannette Island, the only island in Lake Tahoe. Students were fascinated to learn that Fannette Island was the home of Captain Dick Barter from 1863 to 1873. The eccentric captain had moved from England and built his own tomb and chapel on the island.  They also learned that the island held the ruins of a small stone building, the "Tea House", constructed by Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight.  Mrs. Josephine enjoyed inviting guests to the island to share in a cup of tea.



After a break for lunch, and a bit of a history lesson, students hit the trail once again.  After a couple hours of hiking and some antics in terms of students running up on the trail to scare others, we arrived back at the van for the drive back to Lincoln.



SEPTEMBER 12, 2016

Tomorrow is our second trip of the year.  We were hoping to get a lab in before this trip but it didn’t happen.  We will be on the ball by the next trip.  We are heading to the Rubicon Trail along Lake Tahoe.  It’s an eight mile trail from DL Bliss State park to Emerald Bay.  We have two students joining us from Lincoln High School as well.


Students from the trip last week worked on the final touches in terms of earning high school credits from the trip.  Essays were written, PE minutes were logged and 3-D maps of the area we visited were created.  All of these projects helped students earn credits towards graduation.



What an amazing trip we had.  After an uneventful drive to the trailhead we set off for Long Lake.  We only took four students on this trip to be able to work out the kinks in our structure.  We also deliberately chose a destination that would be a short hike into base camp as this is our first trip of the program.  Our hike was barely a mile into the lake basin.  We found a perfect site for our five tents with a terrific view of the lake.  



Students were given directions and instruction on proper camp set up from choosing appropriate tent sites, tent building, and gear stowing.



After setting up camp, the group went on a 3 mile hike on the back side of the lake and up into a slight canyon.  The views were amazing back into Long Lake’s basin.  The air was a bit smokey because of some CA fires, but the students did very well.  Once back at the lake the students swam in the lake and found some good jumping rocks.




Evening was filled with lessons on using our JetBoil backpacking stoves as well as Leave No Trace ethics in terms of cooking areas and the proper storage of food and trash.  The stars came out as all retired to tents.


Day 2 started with a breakfast and a bit of morning swimming.  We then hiked back out to the van and drove up Old Hwy. 40 to the railroad tunnels at the top of Donner Summit. We spent a couple hours walking through the tunnels and learning about the history behind the building of them back in the mid 1800s.  Students asked great questions and reviewed a lot of material that they had forgotten from 4th grade Social Studies in terms of who Theodore Judah was and the sacrifices of Chinese laborers in the building of the tunnels.




After a lunch of burgers in Truckee, it was back to the trail-head for the short hike back to base-camp. Students found a rope swing that entertained them for hours in the afternoon.  That evening, after dinner, students finished a reflective essay about nature and the trip.  As the sun went down and the stars come out, each student read their essay to the group while the rest stared up at the universe and were treated to a shooting star festival.


The next morning was an early morning hike out so that we could drive down to Donner Lake for the morning.  Students lazed on a public dock and did some final swimming of the trip before making our way back to the van and back to Lincoln.


AUGUST 29, 2016

We leave tomorrow on our first backpacking trip of the school year.  We will be heading east on Interstate 80 up to Donner Summit for a 3 day/2 night trip.  We have 4 high school aged students geared up and ready for the trip.  As this is our first trip of the year it will be a learning experience for students and teachers alike.  We have the district van reserved for a 7:30 am departure on Tuesday morning.  We can’t wait!



AUGUST 22, 2016



ATLAS is up and running with 9 students.  The building is bustling with activity as we finish painting the interior and await the photo art that we have ordered to decorate the walls.  The learning rooms are slowly coming together and the gear room is in the planning stages.  We are so excited at all the possibilities.  We are also getting ready for our first backpacking trip of the school year.  Stay tuned!