Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A week of archaeology in southwest Colorado with junior high students

"You've done a lot of Scouting, church, and school activities with your boys over the years," my wife said one day months ago. "Now it's time for you to do some activities with your daughter." She was right, of course.

Having been a dad involved in Scouting and church young men groups, it has been pretty natural to attend Scouting and church youth events with my sons over the years. It hasn't been as natural for me to attend youth events with our daughter. But I could see my wife's point. Thus, I committed to be a chaperone on my daughter's week-long junior high trip.

Actually, the trip was only for 9th graders who will be moving to high school next season. The school did this trip for the first time last spring and it was so popular that faculty and staff decided to repeat the event this year.

Given the number of students, teachers, and chaperones attending the event, it was decided to rent 15-passenger vans rather than chartering a bus. The teacher leading the tour and school administrative personnel worked for months with service providers to prepare for our week.

Extensive and well organized information about preparing for the trip was provided to attendees (and their parents), preparation meetings were held well in advance, and a final meeting was held just a few days before the event to review the students' packing jobs. This allowed us on the morning of departure to move from gathering to leaving within a short period of time.

We spent much of that day driving to the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center near Cortez, Colorado. Three other schools spent the week at Crow Canyon with us. One was from South Carolina. Some of these school groups were comprised of 6th graders. Younger students participated in activities that were appropriate to them while older students participated in somewhat more advanced activities.

One TripAdvisor reviewer wrote, "Crow Canyon Archaeological Center is a world-class archaeological education center and campus hidden away near Cortez, Colorado. ... Crow Canyon (CCAC) holds summer field school activities for children and adolescents. It has living quarters on the premises as well as a group dining facility for class participants and staff. ... Classes are also offered for adults as well as a summer lecture series, and an international travel adventure series. Housed on campus are various archaeology research professionals (archeo-botanists, field archaeologists, etc.) as well as a talented education staff. There is a small museum store and guest area on campus and an authentic replica Anasazi pit house. CCAC is a working educational institution managing archaeological digs in the area as well as classes. Well worth a visit! Fascinating place!"

I agree. Having attended many Scout and youth camp facilities, I was surprised by the quality of our group's housing. Our "cabin" was a modern facility with three rooms that each hosted four bunk beds (8 beds in each room) and two rooms that could fit 3-4 people, roomy bathrooms, and a nice porch area where we held group gatherings. Meals were served in the lodge. The (nice) Gates Building includes offices, classrooms, and lab facilities.

The faculty and staff at Crow Canyon were superb. Each group was assigned an educator who worked closely with the group throughout the week. We loved our educator, Cara so much that the school has requested that she be assigned to our school's group next spring. (Yes, the school has already signed up for next year. Crow Canyon is that good.) Our group also worked with other educators in various workshops. Each educator was professional and knowledgeable, and interfaced well with the students. Very impressive.

Workshops were, well, work. They were quite rigorous. Each student received a workbook that they used throughout the week, building on knowledge gained step by step. But the workshops were also intriguing and engaging.

After spending one afternoon on a simulated excavation in one of the lab rooms, our group spent an entire day excavating at the Haynie site under the close supervision of professional archaeologists. This was tedious work but most of our youth worked quite diligently. Nearly everyone unearthed ancient artifacts that were marked and set aside for cleaning, cataloging, and analysis.

We toured Mesa Verde National Park at the end of the week with our assigned educator. I have been to Mesa Verde on other occasions, but this time was so much more meaningful because we had a much greater awareness of what we were experiencing, having spent the week learning about the ancient inhabitants of the area through many hands-on experiences. We also had a personal guide in our educator.

While at Mesa Verde we took a tour of the Balcony House cliff dwelling. The park ranger who led the tour was a remarkably spry and sharp 70-year-old Native American fellow. Not only was he very knowledgeable, he had a marvelous sense of humor that kept us all engaged. At the end of the tour he expertly played a beautiful song on a Native flute to honor the ancestors whose home we were visiting.

In the middle of the week our group took a break from Crow Canyon to go river rafting. As luck would have it, the day we had arranged months in advance turned out to be the nastiest weather of the trip, featuring cold temperatures, thunder, rain, snow, and hail.

While on our way to Durango, the rafting company called and said that it wasn't safe to do our run that was scheduled for the Piedra River. Upon arriving at the Mountain Waters Rafting Company we consulted with the staff. They felt comfortable offering us two or three runs down portions of the Animas River that runs through the town of Durango.

In hindsight I see that the rafting experience we ended up with was much better suited to the nature of our group than the more adventurous Piedra River trip would have been. As it was, we donned wetsuits and made two runs down segments of the Animas River in rafts and inflatable kayaks. It was cold, but we had a blast. They offered us a third run, but everyone was done by the end of the second run.

I can't say enough good things about the Mountain Waters Rafting staff. Not only were they highly trained and extremely competent professionals, they were very fun to be around. They pulled together our tour on the fly and made it work for us. They also served us hot chocolate and lunch. I heartily recommend Mountain Waters Rafting. Don't just take my word for it. Check the TripAdvisor and Yelp! reviews.

On the way home from our week at Crow Canyon we stopped at a tourist trap south of Moab, Utah called Hole N" the Rock, where we took the 12-minute tour. The home built inside sandstone caverns is remarkable. But to me this this place seems pretty strange and quirky, like any number of other odd roadside attractions that dot the American landscape.
The stuffed horses and mule in the living room of the house creeped out one of our teachers. After hearing the story about how the critters were obtained, she quipped about the guy coming home and saying, "Look what I found frozen to death in the hills. We're going to put them in our living room!" As we were driving away she said, "There's a place I don't ever have to visit again." The kids, on the other hand, were quite entertained.

During our week away from home our community of travelers grew much closer to each other. Pretty much everyone reported greatly enjoying the trip. But after a week away, even with good accommodations, everyone was ready to go home. My daughter feels like this was a valuable experience. It didn't make her want to become an archaeologist but she now has a much greater appreciation for that science and for the cultures we studied.

This was not an inexpensive experience. Many students worked to earn money for the trip. In addition to the amount paid by students (and chaperones), the school covered another portion that was undisclosed, although, it was hinted that it may have been about half the cost.

I also wish to add that Crow Canyon isn't just for school or youth groups. Anyone who is interested in the cultures of early peoples of that area or who has yen for archaeology is welcome to inquire about visiting. It was a very enriching experience for our group and for me personally. I am grateful that I was able to share this experience with my daughter.

This isn't the last adventure I will have with my daughter. Due to her interest in theater, I auditioned with her and we both landed roles in a community theater production that will play this summer. It's already turning out to be a lot of work. But that is a topic for another post.

Friday, May 11, 2018

A longtime LDS Scouter's thoughts on the LDS Church discontinuing Scouting sponsorship

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood...

Last May I wrote, "Scouting will continue. The LDS Church will continue. Both organizations will continue their partnership for now, although, it seems clear that the partnership must ultimately cease at some point." In October I wrote, "I suspect that the fact that [the Church] will ultimately leave Scouting can't help but diminish its influence with the [the BSA]. Each of these two organizations must pursue the paths that make the most sense to them."

We now know that the formal relationship between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America will cease at the end of 2019 (see joint statement by the LDS Church and the BSA announcing their upcoming divorce). I'm not prescient. It has just seemed quite apparent to me that the LDS Church and the BSA had been on diverging paths for a long time so that they would eventually part ways.

BSA membership has been declining for a number of years and the organization has been struggling to find relevancy in a changing culture. The BSA's own studies show that most parents of Scouting age youth see Scouting as old fashioned and not relevant to the needs of their kids and their families. The BSA must change that or the organization will die.

Some of the decisions made by the BSA as it has tried to reorient to modern social patterns have seemed calculated to alienate the Church. A serious rift developed between the two organizations during the summer of 2015 and people held their breath while the Church re-evaluated its relationship with the BSA (see my 7/17/2015, 7/27/2015, 7/30/2015, and 8/26/2015 posts). On August 26, 2015 the Church all but said that the days of that relationship were numbered.

The Church began sponsoring BSA units 105 years ago when the Church was largely a North American concern, mostly centered around the Wasatch Front and nearby areas, with a small number of members scattered around other parts of the world. During the post-WWII era both organizations aligned well with the mainstream American ideals of stoicism, patriotism, and conformity to societal norms.

I became a Cub Scout half a century ago as the tumultuous cultural revolution of that era started to get into swing. After decades of cultural shift, mainstream American culture now identifies more strongly with the ideals of authenticity, social responsibility, diversity, and inclusion. Scouting has gone through some tough times as it has struggled to keep up with these changes.

During my lifetime the LDS Church has become a multinational concern in a big way. More than half of its members now live outside of North America. While Scouting is also a worldwide movement, its offerings differ dramatically from country to country. For at least 15 years the Church has been up front about wanting to develop streamlined youth programs that meet the needs of its youth membership around the globe. Church leaders have bluntly stated that due to the diverse nature of Scouting programs in various countries, Scouting couldn't be part of that solution in the long term.

Many surmised last May when the Church announced that it was discontinuing its sponsorship of Varsity Scout and Venturing units that the move was a precursor to the Church discontinuing all Scouting sponsorship. It turns out that they were right.

Some surmised that LDS Scouting would die as soon as Church President Thomas S. Monson did; that his strong support of Scouting was the only reason the Church continued its relationship with the BSA. Despite this week's announcement coming four months after President Monson's passing, I still feel that this view is quite cynical and hardly in keeping with the doctrine of how the Lord runs his church.

My point is that no one should be much surprised by the dissolution of formal ties between the LDS Church and the BSA. Still, it seems jarring to many of my associates who have been strong Scouters, even as Scouting's critics are cheering the move.

More than 50 years ago as I attended Cub Scout pack meetings when my older brothers were in the program. I wanted to be a Cub Scout so badly that my teeth hurt. It was similar when I was nearly old enough to move up to the Scout troop. And again when I had the opportunity to become a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's national honor society.

Throughout my adult life I have striven to keep the oath I took when I became an Eagle Scout "to give back more to Scouting than it has given to me" by serving in volunteer Scouting positions at the unit, district, and council levels. Over the past 50 years Scouting has given me irreplaceable experiences and has brought me into contact with wonderful people that I never would have otherwise known. I have seen many young men become high quality adults through Scouting. I deeply cherish the meaning Scouting involvement has brought into my life.

This has all been possible only because my church, the LDS Church, has sponsored Scouting. I seriously doubt I would have been involved in Scouting at all had it not been for the fact that my local congregation sponsored Scouting units when I was younger.

I'm not naive enough to be unaware of those whose LDS Scouting experiences have been quite different than my own. The program isn't equally administered and doesn't equally appeal to people. As noted above, it has also been obvious to me that the Church and Scouting have decreasingly fit well together over time. I cherish what has been. But I understand that it's time to move to a different paradigm.

The next phase for the 10 Scout councils that presently have significant numbers of LDS sponsored units is going to be painful. They now have a year and a half to become what the vast majority of Scout councils have spent decades becoming. Instead of focusing mainly on relationships with the Church, these councils are going to have to work to build community sponsored units where there is little precedent for such.

This means building nearly from scratch a framework that aligns potential sponsors (schools, civic groups, businesses, etc.) with willing participants. Where will the funds come from to fund the activities of these units? Where will they meet? How will recruitment occur? These are just some of the challenges ahead for Scouting in these councils.

While there are many Latter-day Saints that support Scouting, my gut feel is that only a small percentage of Church members currently involved Scouting will move to community units. I told my wife that I expect the number to be about the same as the number of LDS families involved in competition league athletics. Most will see Scouting as overlapping with the Church's new youth programs and will see little need for the duplication.

I strongly suspect that some Scout councils currently dominated by LDS sponsored units will end up collapsing and being combined with other councils. I empathize with those whose jobs will be affected. Many of them are friends of mine.

This D-News article does a good job of discussing what might become of the properties owned and operated by some of these councils. Some of the officials quoted seem to expect the facilities to largely continue to operate with Church groups as customers. It is noted that the Church has few large camping facilities in these areas. Many people who have minimal understanding of the property issues involved think that the Church will simply buy many of these facilities from the Scouts.

It's probably going to work out quite differently than either of these parties seem to think. There are a number of complex issues involved. Some properties, such as my beloved Camp Loll are only leased from the Forest Service. A few others have ownership arrangements that could cause the properties to revert to the original donors.

Scout camps that serve mostly LDS populations tend to keep costs down by enlisting staffers who work essentially for free or close to it. This is strongly facilitated by the LDS-Scouting pipeline which has provided the necessary volume of willing participants. Without that pipeline it's going to be very difficult to recruit sufficient staff without paying them an acceptable wage. But paying staffers even minimum wage would increase camp fees beyond what most LDS groups would be willing to pay. Many LDS families think Scout camp fees are too expensive as is, despite prices being far lower than most other Scout camps around the country.

My Scout council has eight major camps: 5 for Scouts, 2 for Cub Scouts, and 1 for high adventure. Some of the Scout camps also offer high adventure programs. Filling these camps has become increasingly difficult. Camps have switched some weeks from Scouting activities to Young Women camps, youth conferences, and family camps. Yet some of our camps have still been struggling to remain viable.

Some camp properties sit on land that is now prime recreation real estate. Their current values are so high that I can't imagine that Scout councils won't quickly sell them when these councils are hurting for funds and are operating the camps at a deficit anyway.

Another question is how much camping LDS youth groups are going to do. We haven't seen the Church's new youth programs yet, so we don't know. But the Church recently revised its Young Women camp program (see Church article) to allow for flexibility with camping out. Girls can participate in the Young Women camp program without actually going to camp. Camping has always been a strong feature of Scouting, but it hardly seems essential to the mission of the LDS Church. Why would anyone think that the Church's new youth programs are going to strongly promote camping?

As a Scouter I have seen a huge drop in camping interest among LDS families in my area over the past three decades. It used to be very easy to find 13-year-old LDS Scouts who had completed at least 15 nights of Scout camping during the previous two years, which is one of the qualifications for joining the Order of the Arrow. Although the actual number of LDS Scouts in my area has increased during that time, only a tiny fraction of 13-year-old LDS Scouts in my area today have done that much camping.

The rare LDS Scout troops around that actually have monthly camping programs often find that boys won't show up for the camp outs. Parents offer excuses such as wanting to take the family to the movies.

I'm not trying to downplay the importance of family together time. I'm merely trying to illustrate that the enthusiasm for camping isn't what it once was. I'm trying to show why I think that it's going to be impossible for the affected Scout councils to retain all or even most of their camp properties.

It's not really possible for me to put into words the emotions I feel about my years of LDS Scouting. It has literally been a lifetime of experiences. But I'm not crying about the end of this era. I have seen it coming for a long time now. 2020 will bring a whole new set of challenges and opportunities for the Church and for the Scouts. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

My role in that process isn't at all clear to me at this point. But my wife, who is Cubmaster in a Cub Scout pack sponsored by the Church, has more than mildly suggested that come 2020 it will be time for us to shift our service efforts to a different focus. We'll see.