By: Marta Djalleta
10. Twelve passenger vans This week I was privileged enough to be introduced to all the wonders of a twelve passenger van. Its endless car plugs to charge our various devices, its abundant storage space, its loud speakers, and its squished seats provide for a cozy ambiance and happy passengers. A good playlist and some good car snacks only enhance this magical experience. So far we’ve traveled between three states, Wyoming, Montana, and South Dakota, and both vans have driven gracefully through all states.
9. Yellowstone National Park Over the past two weeks, we have had polar opposite experiences with nature. On the one hand, we explored with only what was on our backs, a map, and a compass. We were also only surrounded by the same 17 faces for 25 days. However now, instead of a challenging hike we are fortunate enough to hop in a van and go where we please with the navigation provided by our friendly GPSs and road signs. Also rather than seeing the same 17 people, we have seen hundreds of new people, many holding selfie sticks. It is a whole different way that people are experiencing nature and one that I do not prefer. Instead of putting value to our own things we find beautiful in the back country, at national parks we are told that these sites are magnificent so it is assumed that we find value in it too.
8. The first national monument (Bear Lodge) I have never previously been to a sacred Native American Indian area. It was fascinating seeing such a magnificent rock formation that was completely natural. There was a path that wrapped around the entire tower and felt somewhat like a spiritual labyrinth. Also, while walking around we were able to see all of the colorful prayer ties and cloths that wrapped around the trees. It was really cool to see one central place where all native tribes are welcome to gather and connect with their faith.
7. The state of Montana Never have I had the privilege to grace this beautiful state but I’m so glad I got to spend one night there. Montana was exactly as I imagined it: flat, beautiful sunsets, and a cute little town, West Yellowstone, where we spent the night and had some great gourmet pizza.
6. The state of South Dakota South Dakota is filled with many sights to see including Bear Lodge, Bear Butte, and Mt. Rushmore. We were lucky enough to stop at all three. My favorite was Bear Butte, the sacred Native American trail up to a mountain where many were put up to fast for a maximum of four days. The trail was lined with trees wrapped in prayer ties and cloths. As a cohort, we had the opportunity of placing a little bit of tobacco around a chosen tree as a form of prayer. The tobacco was kindly given to us by a Lakota professor from Black Hills University, Jace, who came to speak to us about her culture the night before.
5. Toilet paper Although we were reintroduced to toilet paper on the last night when we camped close to the trail head bathroom, we had not been reunited with the plush good stuff until we got back to the NOLS Rocky Mountain branch. It was greatly missed over these past 25 days. Leaves, pine cones, and fur cones were an easy substitute but never again will I take that soft sanitary cloth for granted.
4. Fresh Fruit Although we were blessed with apples and oranges at our first re-ration, it felt like I had gone an eternity without fresh vegetation. For a vegetarian, one can only imagine the hurt that my body felt without my normal essentials. Having said that, the moment I was reunited with a fresh fruit salad was a beyond glorious moment. After having nothing but dried fruit on the trail, it was a gratifying moment to bite into a juicy blackberry.
3. Razors As much as I loved going au natural, it was rejuvenating to finally shave off my almost braid-able armpit hair and finally get rid of that leg hair that often got me confused with male legs.
2. Contact with more than 17 other people Transitioning from seeing 17 of the same faces to seeing hundreds of people at Yellowstone was a bit overwhelming to say the least. As much as I love my cohort and my instructors, it was nice to finally be able to talk to my family and friends and hear some familiar voices. I was also shocked to see college photo albums posted by my home friends on Facebook. I seemed to forget that the world kept turning while I was in the back country.
1. Last but VERY not least are the most glorious things of all: showers. After 25 days, I was surprisingly used to the smelly clothes, tangly hair, and dirty nails. However, finally washing my hair and skin under warm water was very necessary and much appreciated.