2015 Spring Break Trip

Outdoor Adventures collaborated with Alternative Breaks for the first time over Spring Break 2015 on a trip designed for students to volunteer in Taos, New Mexico and Southern Colorado doing service designed to protect America’s wild horses.  We weren’t sure what conditions we would be working under, or what exactly we would be doing once we reached the Wild Horse Mesa, located just North of Questa, New Mexico on the Colorado side of the border. We met Jim, more fondly known as Homeboy, at a gas station in Questa after a day of painting rusty panels blue, and before driving to the cabin (which is what we assumed would be a camp site). Approaching the gas station, the first thing we all saw was the port-a-potty strapped to a trailer of a navy Ford truck. The first good sign of the trip: we would have a place to go to the restroom. From there the living conditions continued to improve. Upon arrival at the cabin, Judy, the self-appointed mother of the wild horses on the mesa, told us that Stephanie had donated the cabin for our use, meaning it was now optional to brave the 20 degree nights in a tent. After the first night, only Albert Mitugo, director of Outdoor Adventures, was left outside. Nine girls, including myself and DSC_2176Samantha Reeve, the other Outdoor Adventures representative, all huddled in our sleeping bags on the floor in the cozy, 70 degrees of the heated cabin.

Throughout the day, we traveled with Judy and Homeboy around the mesa to survey the wild horses. We took notes on their coloring, age, band, and distinctive forehead markings. The goal was to create a database of all of the wild horses to prevent people from stealing them and taking them to slaughter on the other side of the Mexico border. Snow was still melting around the mesa, which made for muddy, soggy roads, none of which were paved. However, with Judy and Roy’s wild but expert driving, the trucks never got stuck. By the end of the week you couldn’t detect the blue paint under the thick layer of mud. Some of the bands were too scared of people to approach closely. We observed those bands through binoculars. On the first day in the field, we saw Maggie’s brand new colt, estimated to be only a few hours old. Claire Wilt named her Deja Blue, her last name taken from her father and lead stallion, Blue. Her mother protected her while she tried to learn to run.

After four day’s work, we had a working knowledge of the wild horse bands, and the dangers that surround them without any protective legislation thanks to presentations made by Homeboy, Judy, and Paul, a doctor who studies ecology and biology. We also had given Homeboy enough notes and photographs of the horses to create a database, which will hopefully help them in a legal battle to protect the horses from slaughter. By the time we returned home, a layer of dirt covered all of our clothes and boots, eleven strangers had become a family, and about 100 horses had become officially documented on the private mesa.

Karly Hanson- SMU Outdoor Adventures Trip Leader.

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Fall 2014 Overnight camping and Backpacking Trip

Our Fall 2014 Overnight Backpacking Trip to Ouachita National Forest in Arkansas, the first backpacking experience for more than half of our group of eleven, was an awesome adventure.

        We began the 3-day, 2-night trip by departing SMU on Friday afternoon at 4:30 pm on the dot as planned. After driving for approximately 4 hours and stopping for dinner on the way, we arrived at our campsite for the night in Daisy State Park. With the early morning and miles of Backpackinghiking we had ahead of us in mind, we went to bed soon after pitching our tents and exploring a small moonlight-illuminated lake nearby.

            The chilly air of the next morning made the warmth of our oatmeal breakfast more enjoyable. After breakfast, we packed our bags with everything that we were going to need for the next two days. We then left for the trail in Ouachita National Forest, on which we were going to hike to get to our next campsite. Thanks to the perfect sunny weather with temperatures around 60 degrees, we were able to enjoy our surroundings among the trees and have fun photo-shoots at overlooks that provided beautiful backdrops. For lunch, we ate bagels with peanut butter and snacked on trail mix, granola bars, and cookies. Once we arrived at our campsite, we set up our tents and started a campfire, which we used to roast marshmallows for our pre-dinner s’mores. Our dinner consisted of curry-flavored lentils, rice, and chicken spiced up with various seasonings. During and after dinner, we sat around the campfire and played mafia for hours. We decided to go to bed only when we were no longer able to keep the fire alive.

            In the morning, we had warm oatmeal for breakfast again before packing up for the last time. After gathering firewood for the next group of campers, we began our hike out of the forest, making a slight detour to visit a waterfall. The hike out of the forest was a different experience compared to that of the day before, as the trail was relatively flat with less dense vegetation. With the bright sun shining through the transparent yellow leaves of the tall trees, the weather was as pleasant as it was the day before.

            We arrived at a small stream marking the end of the trail before we knew it. Having only been snacking on trail mix for the duration of the hike, we were eager to load up the van and get to CiCi’s Pizza to treat ourselves to lunch. 

            ​We all agreed that this trip was a success–especially because the first time backpackers want to do it all again!

Hanna Shin, Trip Leader in training.

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Tandem Sky Diving Trip- Oct 4, 2014

Waking up at 6:30 in the morning on a Saturday sounds like a start to a terrible day for a college student, but it’s a much sweeter feeling when you wake up from sheer excitement, knowing that today you’ll be jumping out of a perfectly good plane. I had the pleasure of leading this semester’s tandem skydiving trip with SMU Outdoor Adventures, and although I had been skydiving before, I still couldn’t contain my excitement as our van departed from SMU. It’s an hour-long van ride to Skydive Dallas in Whitewright, Texas, and as we approached the site, the group’s nerves increased. We watched as the first divers of the day made their landings, knowing (hoping?) that our landings would go just as smoothly.

Our instructors at Skydive Dallas were fantastic, showing us the ropes through ground school, a training session that teaches you how to perform different maneuvers throughout your dive. Our group was all signed up to tandem dive, so we would be attached to a professional instructor who would take care of a majority of the work while we would be responsible for reaching different positions to help our instructors out with our initial jump and eventual landing.

After ground school, we didn’t have to wait very long before we were taking off in a plane, ready to jump. The tandem professional I was attached to kept feeding me instructions to prepare as we continued to climb, and at around 5,000 feet, a couple solo divers had already made the jump. As the plane leveled out its ascent, my instructor let me know that we were next. We edged toward the end of the plane and stood up. That moment when you look out of the plane at is truly exhilarating. Before I knew it, we were in free fall, hurtling toward the ground from two and a half miles up in the air. The sheer adrenaline rush at this point is just indescribable. After around a minute of free fall, we entered canopy mode, where we sailed through the air taking in the view of the Texas countryside and talking about the dive. We then approached the ground and made an excellent landing!

After everyone was done with their dives, we enjoyed a picnic at Skydive Dallas, eating as we watched divers make their landings. The whole group was so excited and proud of themselves for doing it, and it’s an experience like skydiving with the OA that allowed us to come together and have such a fun time!​

-Jackson McMartin,  SMU OA Assistant Trip Leader”

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Fall 2014 Caving Trip

This past weekend the Outdoor Adventures crew took a group of 8 to Inner Space Caverns in Georgetown, TX.  I went on this trip as a tech, meaning that I am training to be a trip leader by shadowing another trip leader.  This was also my first trip as a tech, so it was a very new experience for me on the whole.  I would say that the trip went amazingly, especially for a first trip.  We had a full day planned when we left SMU at 7 in the morning, and the most important part of the day was going into the caverns at Inner Space.  Before I get into the journey into the cave itself, I just want to say a word about the actual trip there in the van.  I didn’t really think that the drive there was all that important aside from getting us from campus to our destination.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  That first trip in the van really sets the tone to how the entire trip is going to go.  We had a great bonding experience in the van when we needed to choose some music.  Even though we weren’t all necessarily in the same year or even all in the undergraduate program, we all managed to get the awkwardness out pretty quickly and begin seeing each other as friends.  This foundation is what makes or breaks these trips, and because we had formed such a good foundation we were all able to have more fun down in the cave by making jokes and just messing around with each other like we were long time good friends.  So the journey into the depths of the caves was really unique.  Coming into the trip I really had no idea what to expect because I had never done anything like this before.  So when we got there, we all really got geared up with arm pads and knee pads and flashlights and hard hats, really the whole nine yards.  I wore all of the gear required, but I went into the cave with high expectations for myself not thinking I would really need all of this protective gear that I was just supposed to wear.  Boy was I wrong.  Not even 5 minutes into the descent and I slammed my head into the rock ceiling because I was preoccupied watching my feet and making sure I wasn’t going to fall over.  I wasn’t hurt because of the helmet that they gave us, but had I gone down under my own guide, I would have certainly not emerged as well off.  Let me set the scene down in the cave.  Pitch darkness only illuminated by our headlamps, dead quiet except for the noises that we made, and humidity in the high 90th percentile.  Needless to say it was like nothing I had ever experienced, and it was really quite tranquil, especially when we all turned off our headlamps for a few minutes to experience our surroundings.  So to get around the cave we were guided through many tight squeezes, awkward crawls, and lots of bouldering on the walls of the cave.  The obstacles ranged from army crawling through low hanging shelves of rock to headfirst climbing down a rock shaft that couldn’t have been more than a foot and a half to two feet wide.  While simply navigating the cave was an awesome physically challenging experience, we were also presented with a few challenges that we did not have to participate in if it made us feel uncomfortable.  Theses challenges were to give us all a sense of what it is like to go caving like the guides go caving.  Theses challenges normally involved squeezing ourselves out of a small tunnel by contorting our bodies into weird shapes we didn’t even know were possible.  They were definitely a motivation to everyone when we were able to do things that visually did not look like they should ever be doable by city goes like us.  By far my favorite experience down in the cave was jumping into the mud pit.  Near the end of the trip, the guides took us to the rain drain, which basically has all of the water draining into it, obviously making everything quite muddy.  They offered that we could get in the mud pit, but naturally no one wanted to be the first one in.  So I felt like it was an obligation to the group to at least have one person go in, so I took a running start and jumped head first into the mud sliding on my stomach, and then I did one of the best mud angels I have ever seen if I may say so myself.  This got everyone much more motivated to get in and participate.  It’s not too frequently that we can simply get into a pit of mud because why not, and it really was a great stress reliever simply to have nothing to worry about and act like a kid again.  I truly think this was the best atmosphere to tech in, because although the leader, Josh, and I were technically the leaders of the group, we had the guides to rely on for everything that we could and could not do.  I learned so much and experienced something I had never gotten to do before, and had such a great time meeting new people and just have fun with them.

Nick Antonelli- Trip Leader in Training

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Fall 2014 Zip Lining Day Trip

Along with others who wanted an exciting experience, I had the opportunity to fly from treetop to treetop this past weekend on our first trip of the year–Zip Lining! We met at 8 a.m. on Saturday morning and loaded up our brand new Outdoor Adventures van. After a short drive of about 2 hours, we arrived at Texas ZipLine Adventures in New York, Texas. The beautiful panoramic views that we would soon be enjoying OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAthe most breathtaking 30-plus mile views of the East Texas Countryside. The Texas ZipLine guides set us up with the proper gear and gave us a quick tutorial on how to break. Then it was off to the first of 9 platforms to finally start ziplining.

We soared above treetops, some of which appeared to be extremely close to the ziplining path. Each line got progressively longer, the longest (and most fun) being more than 940 ft. We experimented by ziplining upside down and in the “burning man” position. At first, it was a challenge for those of us who were nervous about the height, but we all finished the course. Afterwards, we enjoyed a picnic lunch on a patio with an amazing view of the surrounding area.

Our first trip was a great success. I am looking forward to future trips with Outdoor Adventures…on which I hope to see some familiar faces!

Hanna Shin- Trip Leader in training

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Outdoor Leader Training (OLT) Trip

Every year, we take new candidates for our Outdoor Leadership program on a backpacking trip through the wilderness of Carson National Forest in New Mexico. This year, we had six extraordinary candidates, who were all willing to learn new things about the outdoors, as well as share with us their own experience outdoors.

We left from Dallas dark and early on August 7th, and arrived at SMU’s Taos campus about thirteen hours later. The next day, we started out at the trail head at Cabresto Lake. New Mexico welcomed us with bright, warm afternoons and chilly nights, and the weather stayed dry nearly the whole time we were there! During this time, our current leaders taught outdoor classes to the new OLT’s, including classes on extensive Leave-No-Trace principles, map and compass orientation, and trip planning and safety. Each day, we were hiking around 3-6 miles and experiencing elevation gains and losses of anywhere from 300-1,000 feet. Other than teaching or learning in classes, our favorite pastimes included playing the card game “Palace,” star-gazing in the freezing nights, taking jumping photos in various locations, and picking (and eating) wild strawberries and kinnikinnick berries.

Overall, our trip was a huge success, and we had the pleasure of inviting every new OLT candidate into our year-long training process to become future SMU Outdoor Adventures Leaders! Thank you for such a wonderful trip, and good luck with Outdoor Leadership Training, Samantha, Kaitlyn, Hanna, Tanner, Devin, and Nick!

Jessica Garza, SMU OA Student Manager -Trips and Workshops


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SMU Outdoor Adventures Spring Canoe Trip—April 12-13, 2014 North Toledo Bend State Park

Packed up and headed out at around 8 AM, the SMU OA Spring Canoe Trip was off! At near full capacity [nine participants and two trip leaders], we started on our first leg of the toledotrip pushing toward the Texas—Louisiana State-Border. With a quick stop along the way for lunch at What-A-Burger, we arrived at our put in point [some five hours from departing SMU], Bean’s VIP Campground, on the Texas side of the Toledo Bend Reservoir. With the canoes and single kayak all packed up, the group was nearly ready to go—with the addition of an in the field clinic on paddling and canoe 101, the group was ready to embark on a journey to Louisiana. Starting in a protected cove, we made our way through some marsh like waters and then out into the open reservoir. The crossing was the “crux” of the trek to the Louisiana side; with clear blue skies, but a constant wind gust, the group battled the current pushing the boats inherently northeast. All but one boat made it across with now issues—having to deal with a flip in the middle of the reservoir was a doozy, but we quickly righted the canoe, got the participants warm and were back on track. Pulling in after around a four hour paddle, we made friends with the Assistant-Manager and Police Officer of the Park. The Officer sorted out the group with a campsite and introduced us to our camping neighbors. While collecting firewood for the evening, the group was invited to join a few of their new neighbors, the USIS’ [a social organization from the Shreveport, Louisiana area comprised of upstanding members of the community] for dinner. After a good two hours of true “Southern Hospitality” and fun, the group parted ways and we reconvened at camp and built a fire. Due to looming inclement weather to come Sunday afternoon—the trip leaders, were able to execute a contingency plan to pick up the van from the Texas side and bring it to the Louisiana side. While one leader nabbed the van, the other stayed at camp and hosted a warm filling breakfast. Upon arrival with the van, we broke down camp, packed up the canoes and hit the road headed home! We will certainly be back to North Toledo Bend in the future!

Hunter Higgins- SMU OA Trip Leader.

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2014 Overnight Winter backpacking trip

Icicles dangling from branches, leaves encased in crystal ice, and snow dusted hills encircled with a hazy fog as far as the eye can see.

Three SMU Outdoor Adventure leaders took eight students backpacking through an Arkansas Winter Wonderland Feb. 7-9. The enchanting scenery of Ouachita National Forest kept the group pushing forward in high spirits through the obstacles the wilderness cast in their paths. We hiked through 40 degree weather and mist, and then curled up in our tents through the 20 degree weather, with coyotes howling and light precipitation floating to the forest floor.

We made it to Daisy State Park a little before nine Friday night and built a fire to thaw our hands after setting up camp. Saturday morning, we woke up next to the lake with a crystal clear reflection of the hills and trees, and a mystical fog adding to the white and gray ambience only broken by a hint of dark green high in the trees, poking through the snow-covered branches.

The beauty followed us on the drive, and to the trailhead, and eventually at our campsite Saturday night. We ducked under icicles and sagging branches, we climbed over frost bitten logs, and we pushed through masses of bending trees frozen in place for five miles to our campsite by Caney Creek.

We ate two pots of pasta for dinner, and throughout the night, the flow of the nearby stream filled every silence, offering an era of peace and reclusiveness.

Sunday morning the ice had vanished. We awoke to green and brown and orange leaves, and bare branches recovering from the cold. But warm enough to melt the ice was still cold enough to send shivers down our spine. A warm breakfast of oatmeal, and we were on the trail again.

Once we reached the road, a runner team left to pick up the van, only to discover a flat tire.  Three hours of cards and random chatter later, we were actually on the road again, heading back to SMU. We made it to back the OA at 11 p.m.

The 2014 Winter Backpacking trip was far from perfect, but was made worth it by the beautiful mountains of Arkansas, and a high spirited group of students ready to explore.


Karly Hanson – Outdoor Adventures Trip LeaderOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Rock Climbing Trip 11/2/13 – Lake Mineral Wells State Park, Mineral Wells, TX

This past Saturday, two of our trip leaders, Kelly Gilliland and Manuel Familiar, accompanied by three SMU students went to Mineral Wells for a day of climbing. We traveled with six of SMU OA’s Outdoor Leaders in Training (OLTs), who spent the day learning the fundamentals of leading an outdoor rock climbing trip, as well as anchor building, rappelling, and rock site management. Upon arrival, the weather was pretty cold, but also quite sunny. We spent the morning climbing hard and warming up while the OLTs practiced anchors and rappelling. Lunch time hit us around 11:30 a.m., so we opened up the hummus and pita, set up the slack line, made some sandwiches, and relaxed in the warm sun. The afternoon proved to have much more comfortable climbing weather- there was plenty of climbing to go around. We departed for SMU at about 4:45 p.m., and kept with tradition by stopping at The Malt Shop along Hwy. 180, and the malts and shakes we bought were delicious! We got back a little after 6, and parted ways. I’d have to say, personally, this was a great way to spend a Saturday with some pretty awesome people.

Kelly Gilliland, OA Climbing Wall student MaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAnager

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2013 Fall Break – Matagorda Island Sea Kayaking Trip

SMU Outdoor Adventures hit the road at around 8 am on Saturday morning. With 6 hours in the trip van ahead of them, many of the participants grabbed some shut eye while the two trip leaders navigated their way down to southern Texas’ city of Port Lavaca. Base camp was set up at the Lighthouse RV Park, mid afternoon, followed by a group outing to Walmart. Following the Walmart outing, participants were shown the ropes on basic cooking skills and outdoor etiquette. Fry-baked quesadillas served as the evenings meal then it was movie time  (Forrest Gump) and off to bed—a good nights rest was certainly needed for the trek ahead.

Departing base camp Sunday morning was exciting because it was now time for the real deal—the paddle out to Matagorda Island. The group arrived at the Port O’Connor put-in point just before 11 am and were on the water before noon. The weather held for most of the paddle out to Matagorda up until around the half-way mark when the skies opened up. The group made the call to take refuge in the abandoned Coast Guard tower for about 2 hours until the storm had passed. The skies cleared up and the journey continued—pulling up to Matagorda Island in the mid to late afternoon. The group pulled their boats ashore and rushed to the Gulf side of Sunday Beach to take a look at their accomplishment—we’d finally made it to the island. Following the view, camp was set and dinner was had—tomorrow was leisure day!

The next day the group surfed the gulf in kayaks, had a beach volleyball tournament, soaked up some rays, and enjoyed the natural beauty of Matagorda Island. The last evening on the island was spent building and exploring group dynamics and ended with a night walk along the beach.

Tuesday Morning was a slow start, but the group made it on the water with the tides going out and the wind at its back. Making the paddle back to Port O’Connor in under two hours was extremely impressive—the fastest this feat has ever been completed in the program.After getting the boats back on the trailer and the participants into clean clothes—it was back on the road to SMU. Great trip

Matagorda tripHunter D. Higgins, SMU OA Trip Leader

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