This week I had the opportunity to travel to New Mexico with my supervisor, Ben Baldwin, to attend the Southwest Conservation Corps’ Ancestral Lands ceremony. The Ancestral Lands program is a conservation corps program in which native youth volunteer to participate in crews. There are three different types of crews with youths varying in age from late high school to young college students. There are chainsaw crews, GIS crews and farming crews.

A makeshift camp replica at Fort Union National Historic Site. The ruins of the former soldier barracks can be seen in the background.

A makeshift camp replica at Fort Union National Historic Site. The ruins of the former soldier barracks can be seen in the background.

After preparing the route and trip cost through the concur system in the office on Monday and Tuesday, we set out for New Mexico Wednesday morning. The drive to Gallup, NM is approximately 8 hours long, but we made some rest stops for food and a short visit to Fort Union National Historic Site (above) on the way.

Cooking chopped vegetable on an open fire we started in the morning.

Cooking chopped vegetable on an open fire we started in the morning.

Indian fry bread being prepared on a hot stove.

Indian fry bread being prepared on a hot stove.

Green chillies on the grill.

Green chillies on the grill.

On Thursday we went out to the home of Ancestral Lands coordinator, Chako. As people arrived we helped to prepare food in the native tradition. We cut, peeled and cooked vegetables for stews and stir fry. Indian fry bread was made along with handmade tortillas pressed thick along a grill. I had the opportunity to talk with kids who participated in the program. They told me about their experiences and how it changed their lives. How it saved one student from alcoholism in a small town, how it encouraged a young girl to get an education degree and pursue a career as a park ranger, and how it showed a boy he had the potential to chase his dream of becoming an ESL teacher in Asian nations. Each crew member was recognized and we heard speeches from their crew leaders, many of whom had participated in the program before being enlisted as leaders. We ate and celebrated there accomplishments while also preparing for what the next step in their careers could be.

Petroglyph National Monument visitor center.

Petroglyph National Monument visitor center.

The next day we had a long journey home, but we managed to stop at Petroglyph National Monument just outside Albuquerque, New Mexico. Youth corps were just showing up to the site to take part in an education program at the monument. We looked around a short trail near the visitor center before driving the remaining 6 hours back home to Denver.

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