Menlo School 2022
May 25, 2022
When we arrived in Arizona and left the airport, we immediately felt how hot it was—93 degrees. We devoured wraps and loaded the trailer before starting our journey to Dead Horse Ranch. It was about an hour-long drive. Along the way, we appreciate the AC in the car and ate cuties. We also admired the landscape outside of the car: gigantic green cacti standing above smaller brown brush, dotting the rocky hills of the desert. The sky was clear and gorgeous, and we could see around us for miles. When we got closer to Dead Horse Ranch, we began to see an abundance of greenery and trees.
When we got to the park, we unloaded the cars and sorted into our rooms. After that, we had a few minutes of wandering time to get familiar with the cabins—our wooden boxes to call home for the night (with AC!!). We played a few get-to-know-you games and set ground rules. Then, we packed our day-packs, filled our canteens, and drove 5 minutes to a nearby trail. Hiking for about 45 minutes, we got to see an old monument, and lots of greenery on the river which was different from the cactuses and brush we had been surrounded by. The gorgeous green river explained all of the greenery in the middle of the desert. After making our way to the vans and driving back, we did a rotating get to know you circle and got to bond with our peers. We had salads and sandwiches for dinner, followed by some group reflection and night time activities. The sky was beautiful at night and the stars were super bright compared to California.
We had so much fun our first day and truly enjoyed getting off our devices and finding company in nature, our peers, and our chaperones.
by Maya D. and Makenna O.
May 26, 2022
Today we had a lovely breakfast ordered by Steph and Victor and we left Dead Horse Ranch at 10 in the morning. We were on the road by 10:45, headed to our first stop: a shopping center in Flagstaff. The drive was an hour and 15 minutes and we had lunch there on the patio. Then we embarked on our three-and-a-half-hour drive to Pinon. The road was pretty bumpy at times, but the view was fantastic. We saw a lot of mountains and big rocks, as well as horses and cows.
Upon arrival at the Reservation, we were immediately greeted by some sheep and their sheepdogs. The dogs were super friendly and there’s even week-old puppies in the main house. A few of us helped make fry bread for dinner, which were used to make Navajo Tacos that were absolutely delicious. Toppings included beans, cheese, tomato, lettuce, and more. We also got pink lemonade. As we ate dinner as a group, we got to watch the beautiful sunset and listen to stories from the people who live here.
Tonight, the girls get to stay in a traditional Hogan made of Ponderosa and Juniper logs and with a dirt floor. The Hogan was hand-built by our guide Roberto and it is one of seven in the area. Tonight, the boys are staying in tents, and we’ll switch in two days so that everyone get the opportunity to stay in the Hogan. We’re all going to bed soon, laying on foam pads on the ground like true campers.
by Sarah and Julia
May 27, 2022
After spending our first night in the Hogan and tents, we were served a wide spread of breakfast foods from eggs to toast to traditional white cornmeal made from corn grown here. Following our delicious breakfast, we all gather together in the Hogan to learn from Roberto about Diné food sovereignty and youth activism. Roberto led us on a tour of the property and we explored some of the traditional methods they use for farming and watershed management.
We returned to the Hogan and set up some tables to enjoy our lunch. We assembled croissant sandwiches and ate refreshing watermelon. Roberto talked to us some more about corn and their special preparation of it in the form of hominy. Yelo demonstrated the process for us of boiling the dried corn with the juniper ashes. We were able to do our part in this process by stripping the leaves from the juniper branches. The leaves were burnt in order to create the ashes required in hominy preparation.
Following the juniper ash making, we spent some down time, setting up solar showers, making friendship bracelets, and relaxing. For our dinner, we were able to sit under the newly constructed kitchen patio and enjoy a meal of homemade tortillas, mashed potatoes, roast beef, gravy, corn, peaches, and iced tea. To finish up our day, we took a short hike up Sliding Rock to watch the sun set and just take in our beautiful surroundings. We gathered together on the patio to all debrief the day and share our takeaways and reflect on everything we had learned.
by Desiree and Annika
May 28, 2022
When we woke up this morning and stepped out of our beds, the first thing we noticed was the strong wind blowing dust in our face. This fierce weather changed our plans, but nonetheless we had a very memorable day. First off, we had a delicious breakfast of blue corn pancakes and blueberry compote. From there, we spent the next three hours in the Hogan learning about Diné culture. Roberto gave us a presentation on the challenges that corporations pose to the Diné wool economy, and with this in mind, we watched a demonstration of weaving with traditional Diné patterns. Throughout the presentation, elders passed around some of the weaving products they had made—including saddle rugs, dresses, and wall hangings—and we admired their art firsthand. All of their products were made from wool from the Churro sheep, which has very course, durable hair. Many of the rugs we held incorporated natural dyes to form intricate geometric patterns. After the weaving presentation, we learned how to make the blue corn pancakes that we ate for breakfast, only this time we used white corn. We ate these pancakes, paired with pasta and vegetables, for lunch. This meal was a great opportunity to learn from the elders about their experiences growing up on this land in the mid 20th century.
After lunch, we set out on a hike with Roberto as our guide. We drove for four miles, seeing wild horses and cows in the fields on the side of the dirt road. Once we at the foot of the mountain, we hiked for about 30 minutes, until we reached a cliff with ancient rock carvings. These carvings included drawings of birds, snakes, bighorn sheep, and people, and Roberto told us that they may date back all the way to the Ice Age. From the top of this cliff, we had a stunning view of the valley: the sky was bright blue, and the wind was carrying dust across the land in a way that looked like rolling fog.
After a long hike, everyone was very hungry and looking forward to dinner. We ate a stew with mutton and corn that we had prepared the previous day. After dinner, we set out on a sunset hike. Once we reached a cliff with a scenic view, we sat in a circle for a group meeting, where we reflected on all that we learned today. It was a very special moment. On the way back, we did a 10-minute solo walk, where we were alone with our thoughts under the stars. This experience reminded us to be present and appreciate for this experience.
by Jane and Tudor
May 29, 2022
Today was our last full day on the reservation and it was much windier than yesterday, in fact, the weather report had a red flag wind advisor. We had French toast, bacon, and oatmeal for breakfast. During breakfast, many of the groups had time to interview people for their projects as we waited for the wind to die off a little.
After breakfast, Roberto took us on a walk around the eastern crop fields and showed us certain plants and their origin. As we walked around the field, Roberto shared many of the irrigation techniques he has employed to combat the strong water current of monsoon season.
Then, Roberto gave us a demonstration of the planting technique they use that is similar to those used by Diné ancestors. The way he showed us was by sticking a shovel into pre-dug holes and lifting the first up a little bit. Then, he used a traditional Diné seeding stick to poke a hole for the seeds to be dropped into. After that whole metal can was used to water the corn or squash seeds. Split into corn and squash groups, we planted an entire field of corn and squash.
We then had ham, baked sweet potato with a marshmallow top layer, and a salad for lunch on the kitchen patio. After cleaning up, we convened in the hogan for a talk on the history of the Navajo Nation’s geography. Specifically, where the Diné have lived through time, Diné creation stories, and the challenges the Diné face today with resource exploitation and its numerous effects. Through her own lens, Louise, our speaker, went on to speak of the unjust medical system full of inexperienced medical students, malpractice, and untested experimental drugs.
After the workshop, Roberto taught us how to clean and process sheep and goat hides. Something that was interesting about the process is that sheep brains are used to process the hides since they absorb all the stuff that was left over from the cleaning. Part of the cleaning process was scraping off the fat and extra meat that was still there after skinning with some metal tools. We then ate dinner, which was hamburgers, hotdogs, and potato salad.
Because of the wind, we had a lot of downtime in the hogan, and we debriefed and reflected on the day and our time on the reservation. Then, we got ready for bed and cleaned up, attempting to leave no trace.
Norberto and Jackson
May 30, 2022
We started the day at a late 6:30 am with breakfast burritos and a lot of packing. The boys spent the morning taking down the tents, and the girls tidied up the Hogan. We enjoyed our final hour petting the dogs and saying our goodbyes. After we said goodbye to Yelo, Roberto, and the rest of the people who took care of us for the week, we all loaded up into the vans for our next activity: a hike.
We drove an hour to Canyon de Chelly and switched off into an open-air truck to take us to the top of the canyon. Before venturing down the trail, we spent ten minutes scouting out the valley and enjoyed the breathtaking view. With the start of the hike, we spent thirty minutes descending down a steep trail filled with tunnels and rocky terrain. Once we reached the bottom of the canyon, we spent another thirty minutes talking with the merchants and buying some jewelry. We continued the hike with about eight miles of trudging through the sand and admiring the ancient pueblo ruins. After reaching the end of the sand, we started the hike back up and took in the final stunning rock structures surrounding the canyon.
We ended our day by driving three and a half hours to our final destination for the day. Our cabins in Flagstaff are where we spent the rest of the night, enjoying dinner together and reflecting over our unforgettable experiences. We discussed how we would live life differently back at home, and how we could continue to expand the lessons that we learned on our week at the reservation. We would like to formally thank all of you parents for supporting us in this trip, and allowing it to be as successful as it was. A special birthday shout-out to Beckett’s mom, Kimberly, we hope you had a great day. Please remember to arrive at the airport at 7:05 PM tomorrow at American Airlines Terminal 1. We are excited to see you all tomorrow!