Weekend Camping and backpacking in Arkansas- Fall 2019



It is not always common to get a diverse group of people together that clique and get along as well as the group we had on the backpacking trip this fall. A mix of undergraduates and grad students from diverse backgrounds led to a trip that was full of excitement. We set out for Ouachita National Forest late Friday evening. After driving for a while we made it to our camp site for the night in cold and rainy weather. After getting camp set up we went to bed eager for what awaited us the next day.

We started out on the trail in rainy and cold weather, but that did not get the group’s spirits down. As we walked through the mist and into a cloud, all we could see while looking out to the mountains was a blanket of gray. Although we could not see the beauty of the trees and mountains, the mist and clouds was beautiful in its own right. After hiking for a while, we sat down for lunch to rest and fuel our bodies. There was a strong consensus that bagels and peanut butter have never tasted so good. While back on the trail we saw some of the smaller aspects of Ouachita National Forest such as close to a hundred stick bugs. After a few hours of hiking we set up camp by a waterfall. We rested and filled up our water bottles. Our dinner consisted of burritos with beans, rice, and chicken which tasted nearly as good as Chipotle, except we had a much better view. At night, the sky cleared up and we could see a vast array of stars, something that is not possible within the city of Dallas. We also saw a small horned owl as we sat by our campfire.

The next day we woke up to cold weather and hot oatmeal. We hiked through rivers and were eager to get back to warm van as our feet and socks were wet and cold. We eventually got to the van and departed for our drive back to Dallas with dirty clothes, cold feet, and an eagerness to take a long warm shower. The trip was great and new friendships were made.

Colton Ciavarra, SMU Outdoor Adventures  Trip Leader

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2019 Fall Break Trip- Matagorda Island Sea Kayaking

A group of five SMU students, one Outdoor Leader Trainee, and two veteran trip leads peeled out of Airline Blvd before the sun rose. Destination? The Ocean! We chatted and jammed to classics including “Burning Up” by The Jonas Brothers on the way to Port Lavaca, building our energy and group chemistry for the kayaking journey ahead. After a quick stop at McDonald’s for some breakfast, Steve (one of the trip leaders) powered out the last few hours of the road trip to get us to the campsite safely. The participants crushed the camping lessons, learning how to cook and set up tents in the backcountry in no time!

Once we were all settled in, we headed down to the water and unloaded the kayaks. We grooved through paddling basics and splashed around in the water for about an hour. To cap it off, a friendly race to see who would be leading the pack in status the next day when we started our real journey out to Matagorda. No shocker, the tandem with an SMU rowing team member blew the competition away. On Sunday we rose early, cramming as much gear as we could into dry bags and then hitting the road once more for Port O’ Connor. We got to the shore, loaded up the kayaks, and paddled South!

On the paddling trail, the conditions could not have been better. A nice tailwind kept us cruising all the way through. We stopped for lunch, participants picking out dolphins in the Bayou as we snacked on bagels, peanut butter and Nutella. Diego taught the lesson on fingers: Nature’s PB spreader. It was tough work, but we kept pushing and made it all the way to the beach well before sunset. Everyone was exhausted, excited, having a fantastic time away from cell towers and homework assignments. We took a break to swim in the lagoon, more dolphins, crabs, pelicans, and seagulls joining us for the good time. After we had chilled out a little bit, we got to work pitching tents and setting up camp. A delicious and carb heavy meal of pasta and sauce absolutely SCHMACKED after a long day of kayaking. If only TL Jamie hadn’t forgotten the spice kit…We snuggled up in our tents and drifted off to sleep after a hard day’s work to the sound of the ocean hitting the beach just a few feet away.

Day two on the island started late and lazy. We slept in, woke up to a beautiful scene of rolling clouds and sparkling sunshine. We had a quick adventure swimming across a small channel that had opened up in the beach as a result of the previous year’s hurricane. Then had a lunch, sitting around the lovely sand art made by our participants while swapping stories about our times at SMU. Next up, lighthouse. We kayaked across the channel this time, moving with our gear and sunscreen. Steven was in-advisably shirtless. After a few hours of walking on the beach, we hoisted ourselves up on to the ledge that was inland and crawled through a field of head-high grass to make it to the lighthouse. The lighthouse was decommissioned years ago, but still stands as a beautiful landmark for the bird sanctuary that is located on the island. Dinner that night was a delicious mix of vegetable soup and ramen noodles. I heard several “that was the best meal I’ve ever had”s as we cleaned up the gear, scrubbing pots with sand and rocks before splashing some saltwater to finish the job.

On our last day, the wind shifted again! I couldn’t believe how lucky we had gotten with the weather. It was easy breezy beautiful kayaking all the way to the coast guard tower, where we roped up the kayaks and popped up for a quick lunch. I spotted a sea turtle from the tower, which made my day. Everyone was exhausted, excited to be able to see our destination. Hammering down, we finished the paddle before noon, hopped in the van and booked it to Dallas. We got back, unloaded the gear and said our goodbyes. It was an amazing weekend, with great, tough participants. Everyone learned things about themselves and how to enjoy life and the outdoors when conditions aren’t manicured and perfect. I can’t wait to hear about the next time these participants get outside, and next year’s trip!

-Jamie Paterson, Trip Leader


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Mountain Biking Day Trip

On a chilly 32-degree Saturday morning, four SMU students met at the Outdoor Adventures office in preparation for an exciting day of mountain biking. Despite it being a cold early morning, it seemed nothing could stifle the energy of the eager group. As we approached Marion Sansom Park, we we’re met with a beautiful forestland draped by a light fog with a scenic waterfall and a vista of Lake Worth: a sight so charming that it was almost hard to believe that it only lay 45 minutes away from campus!

When we arrived, we wasted no time preparing all the equipment so that the group could begin the excitement as soon as possible. At first the trails seemed daunting, but the group’s taste for thrill and adventure was to match: we sped through the trails, exhilarated by every decline, jump, and obstacle that we met. Along the trail, we were able to find a captivating waterfall to enjoy as we took a minute to catch our breathes. Before long, we continued to tackle the trails, only stopping to enjoy a brief lunch of fruit and delicious sandwiches.

Every inch of the trails was an adventure, the group being met with different declines, twists, hedges, and turns. Everyone’s thirst for one more trail seemed to never waiver. However, the day of excitement would eventually have to come to an end, and thus the group climbed back up to the car to pack up the gear and head back to campus. While exhausted, we returned very content with the day’s thrilling experience.


Alec Lebiga – Outdoor Leader in Training

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Spring 2017 Rock Climbing Day trip

At 6:45 in the morning a group of SMU students and alumni met in the rental shop to leave for Lake Mineral Wells State Park.  We left filled with excitement, Red Bull, and a new understanding of why dogs shouldn’t eat chocolate.  On the van ride there, we called the State Park when they opened at 8 hoping they would be open for climbing, and to our delight, they were! When we arrived we quickly checked in, met the lovely employees, and went straight to the crag to set up anchors.  It was now a battle against gravity for the participants.

They struggled up the limestone cliffs jamming their hands and feet in cracks and putting chalk on their hands to shield against the rough rocks.  It was certainly a test of their strength and willpower.  Did they send the routes you ask? Absolutely they did.  They were sending them all over the place!  After a couple hours of joyous climbing it was time for lunch.  With a gentle breeze and gorgeous weather to accompany us, we divulged in chips and guacamole, cheese sticks, and delicious sandwiches.  We quickly refueled and set out for another session on the rock.

Our participants continued to send route after route.  No one wanted to leave, so we just kept climbing!  However, all good days come to an end and it eventually did come time to leave.  We packed all the gear up and headed back to Dallas.  On the way home, we stopped and got some delicious milkshakes for the road.  With an appreciation for nature and sugary dairy treats we arrived back to campus tired, but satisfied with the day’s adventure.

  • Colton Ciavarra – SMU OLT
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2017 Spring Break trip

Spring Break 2017 for SMU Outdoor Adventures started with a group of 10 participants which included two student leaders (Tanner Thompson and I) and the Outdoor Program Professional (Albert Mitugo). The rest were eager participants who had chosen to be in another place different from Cancun, Mexico. We had chosen to go to Canyonlands National in Utah, which is not exactly a stone throw away from Dallas. So we left SMU at the crack of dawn (4.30 am to be exact) on March 11 and drove 10 hours before we spent the night in Bernalillo, NM. The next day, we drove the rest of the way and camped at The Needles Outpost, just outside of the National Park.

On the morning of March 13th, our group, led by Tanner and I (we were five in number because permits allow only up to seven individuals in a camp site) began the first leg of a 23 mile expedition in Canyonlands National Park. The other group of five was led by Albert on another route. As one of the group’s leaders, I was excited to put all of the work I spent planning this trip into action. We started in (relatively) unremarkable terrain, there were a few raised chunks of rock around us maybe 50 or 60 feet high, but other than that we were surrounded by scrub trees, cacti and bunch grasses. That quickly changed as we ascended from the trailhead, however. The soil under our feet soon turned into solid sandstone, and the small gulleys to either side soon became 200+ foot vertical cliff faces. After we had gained enough elevation, we were able to see the snowy La Sal Mountains in the distance towering over the desert canyons. The walls of these canyons seemed like they were made out of clay by a kid in kindergarten. Each rock feature was so exaggerated and bulbous, it seemed like I was looking at impressionist art. After about two hours of hiking we climbed the saddle into Elephant Canyon, which surprised me with its colors. Junipers and firs with dark green needles were contrasted by the deep oranges of the canyon walls. Add the clear blue sky into the picture and it seems like these colors were deliberately chosen for this place. Soon we were on the canyon floor in a dry riverbed, which made me feel tiny. It’s one thing to be on flat land with trees three or four times your size above you, but the walls of this canyon that engulfed us were easily 350 feet tall. They greatly restricted our visibility and dropped the temperature by at least 10 degrees (which was much needed, might I add). By this point we were within a mile of our campsite, so we took a quick snack break and kept on trudging through the sandy riverbed. We got to our campsite in about 45 minutes, exploded our packs, and got out everything we needed to make cheesy pasta, the perfect reward for a full day of hiking.

The next day, we had to climb out of Elephant Canyon and make the descent into Squaw Canyon. And I really do mean climb. When we got to the saddle between the two canyons, all we saw was a 20 foot rock face in front of us and a metal ladder made of rebar bolted into the rock. This ladder was built and maintained by the Park Service (whom I trust very much), but it was a scary climb nevertheless. My group made the climb up to what was at the time (and still is) the best view we had of the park. We were able to look down into both canyons and note the differing colors and geology, all with the snowy La Sal Mountains still towering over us from 50 miles away. There was another ladder set up for us to descend into Squaw Canyon, and to be safe I set up a pulley system with the webbing and two carabiners I was carrying so we didn’t have to climb down with our packs on. The rest of the day was uneventful as a day in Canyonlands could be. For most of the afternoon, we stayed hiking on the sandstone tops of the canyons, exposed to the forgiving March sun and the cool wind that effectively canceled it out. Towards the end of our hike, we dropped down onto the canyon floor and hiked our way to the second campsite of the trip in the center of Squaw Canyon.

In the meantime, Albert’s group hiked into Squaw Canyon and out of it into Long Canyon in the first day of hiking. On the second day, they hiked further up Long Canyon before getting to camp.

The third day was a layover day, meaning we didn’t move camp. So, we packed the essentials for our day packs and hiked to the Albert’s group that was camped about 3 miles away in Lost Canyon. It was immediately clear that Lost Canyon was ecologically and visually different than the last two canyon systems we had hiked in. The valley floor was overgrown with deciduous trees and reeds, with enough water to keep them alive until at least the next rain. We hiked along a stream that was not flowing, but it absolutely wasn’t dry. We took this opportunity to fill up on water. Soon after our water break, we met up with the other hiking group. They had set up camp in a shady spot behind a large rock outcropping. We hugged, exchanged stories, and were quickly off to our day hike. We hiked about five miles towards Peekaboo Springs, a spring on the east side of the Park. Our hike took us along the roofs of the canyons. Towards the end of our hike, we discovered the reason for the name “Peekaboo”. There was a gap in one of the canyon walls, about 4 feet by 4 feet. Looking through it, we could see the hike down to the spring as well as the rest of the canyons in the park. It was not a forgettable view, to say the least. At this point, we decided to turn around and head back to camp. When we got back, we said our goodbyes and parted ways until the next day.


The following day was the last day of our trek. We had plans to meet with the other group at a trail junction about a mile north of our camp and all finish the hike together. Because we only had to hike a mile, my group got there an hour and a half before the meeting time. We chose to spend this time as an extended lunch break. Finally the other group caught up to us, and we hiked the last mile out together. The only notable things from the rest of the day are the ice cream I ate and the shower the program paid $3 for, which was worth about $30 to me. The next day we packed up, put on our normal people clothes and began the 16 hour drive back to Dallas.


Michael Weiss- SMU Outdoor Adventures Trip leader.

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OA Spelunking!


Early on Sunday (Oct 2, 2016) morning some daring students set off to Georgetown Texas for an active day with SMU Outdoor Adventures. A couple scratches and a whole lot of mud was to be expected, but we didn’t bring sunscreen today since we were spending the entirety of our day underground. For four hours we traveled off the beaten path in Inner Space caverns down tiny tunnels. We held our breath and sucked in our stomachs as we squeezed through narrow paths. We dragged ourselves through mud and dust as we traveled through holes a mere eighteen inches in diameter. We set a new record for most amount of time spent in absolute darkness.

But it wasn’t all hard work, we came across a wide variety of beautiful crystal formations slowly growing among the stalagmites and stalactites. Formations with wild names such as, the wedding dress, three sisters, and spear head. Many of these formations were hundreds and even thousands of years old. We also came across a number of massive fossils ranging from fractured Mammoth tusks and prehistoric American camel bones to the shells of Ammonites.

We even did a bit of swimming! Unlike past caving trips, Inner Space Caverns had experienced an unusual amount of rain fall which turned an atrium filled with mud into a five foot deep swimming pool! We even had a chance to float through a few tunnels that had only been partially submerged. This gave us the great opportunity of cooling off and cleaning up at the end of our tour. Never before has a caving expedition surfaced from Inner Space Caverns looking so clean, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t come out dirty.

When we finally crawled out from the dark we showered off, changed into dry clothes, and snacked on sandwiches. Yet another successful weekend excursion before setting off back to campus do get our homework done and study for those midterms.

Henry Copeland, OA trip leader.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Zipping around, Sept 2016

Early sunrises are not typically part of my morning routine, however, when donuts and zip-lining are calling to me, I don’t mind an early wake up. Arriving to the SMU Outdoor Adventure rental shop, I realized everyone was feeling the effects of an early morning, but even under the groggy eyes I could feel the anticipation and eagerness for our adventure to take place. Twenty minutes later when we pulled up to the donut shop, I am pretty sure all regrets of losing sleep were gone.

With stomachs full of sprinkles and glaze, we hit the road and let the sleep leave our eyes. The one and a half hour drive was filled with my questionable music taste, and I am pretty sure I gave the foreign students a twisted perception of what Americans listen to.

There was small chit chat, all along the inclined drive to the location, but when the narrow dirt road opened up to a clearing that overlooked several acres of land we were all too eager to stay quiet. The employees were welcoming and seemed just as excited to see us. In no time we were strapped into harness with baggy construction gloves on our hands and bulbous hard hats on our heads. As expected, this was the prime time to have a mini photoshoot. From here everything moved fast, we learned the proper techniques of stopping and next thing we knew we were standing on platforms that swayed thirty feet in the air. Anticipated silence turned into screams as one by one each of us dropped of the platforms to ride the wires between trees. Shockingly enough, our group of college kids were relatively quiet compared to the shrieks of the grown adults following behind us.

As we swung from tree to tree the lines grew longer and faster and soon enough we were voluntarily jumping off the platforms to reach max speed. The true challenge came with line number six when they gave us the option of flipping on the zip line. Some of us dared and some of us didn’t, but regardless, it was nine hundred feet of view over the scenic hills. We thought that was going to be the thrill of the day, until they began to lead us on a small trek up through the woods.

Little did we know, we were on route to fly down a 1500 foot monster. Even the climb to the zip-line was treacherous because they had setup a short ropes course to reach it. We had reached such top speeds flying down that you could feel the heat coming off the line. This was hardly noticeable though considering we were flying over a large valley that had rivers and expanses of wildlife. The scene was so impressive that the true difficulty was remembering to stop yourself.

After the course was over each of us sat down to a hearty lunch. Needless to say, everyone took a post lunch nap on the car ride back. This trip however, was one for the books.

Bela Lacayo- SMU Outdoor Adventure Trip Leader in Training.


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Zip Lining Day Trip- September 19, 2015

Last week I had the pleasure of embarking on one of Outdoor Adventures’ many trips. This time we headed down to New York, Texas to try out zip lining. Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of this particular New York, because nobody else has either. As the road narrowed from the dense foliage on either side encroaching into our lane, I wondered if our leaders actually knew where we were going. But sure enough, five miles past the last sign of civilization, the trees parted revealing a gorgeous estate with rolling hills in all directions. I felt as if we had stumbled on a zip liner’s paradise. The family who run this company had their eighty-five year old house transported here as the center, and began setting up a network of lines which connected the hilltops all across the arZippingea. In a matter of minutes we were covered head to harness in safety gear and prepped for takeoff. The moment when you step off the platform, your heart drops into your stomach as the zip line takes you on a thrilling ride through trees, over lakes, and on to platforms. Everyone around was all smiles and full of enthusiasm, making the trip all the better. It was a fantastic way to spend my Saturday afternoon, and the free Popsicles at the end topped off the day perfectly.

Henry Copeland – SMU OA Trip leader in training

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Paddle Boarding Day trip – Sept 12, 2015

Sunny skies, slight breeze, full van, the first ever Outdoor Adventure Paddle Boarding day trip was a success. Eleven of us packed into the van at 9 a.m. Saturday Sept. 12, and we headed to White Rock Lake. Despite the Saturday morning wake up call, the van was buzzing with both experienced lake goers and first-timers.


We unloaded the van on the west side of the lake, next to one of the boat docks. We gave the participants grapes, clementines, and granola bars for breakfast while Manuel and I went over basic water vehicle safety and a quick how-to for paddle boarding, kayaking, and canoeing. 

 We were on the lake by 10:30. Excited participants flocked to the far side of the lake, proud and excited of their new-found paddling skills. After reaching the east shore of the lake, some paddle-boarders decided they had fallen one too many times, and switched out with the kayakers and canoe team in the water. 

 That’s when the wind picked up. It was noon, and with our goal of leaving by 2 p.m., Manuel and I knew it was time to start the struggle back to the west shore for lunch. He raced off, as best as he could in his kayak, and I hung back with the new group of paddle-boarders to make sure they were able to fight the strong current. After an hour-long struggle, the last of us made it back to the dock, and Manuel was already busy on the grill. 

 I took up the position of sue chef, and within a few minutes the first batch of burgers was ready for the eager, hungry participants. 

 After a leisurely lunch, everyone pitched in loading up the van and trailer, and a few extra curious students learned how to strap in the boats to keep them stable while on the high way. We made it back to campus at 3 p.m., just in time to catch the start of the Boulevard happenings before our game against UNT. 

Karly Hanson, SMU OA Trip Leader


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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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