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crew traverses Desolation Canyon on the Green River.
Out of the classroom and into the field, a group of UNT students
left the campus and headed for unfamiliar territory.
In the pre-dawn hours, 22 students and professors from the Institute
of Applied Sciences and the biology and environmental philosophy
programs set off for an environmental excursion down a Utah river.
grew out of a need for field experience to complement classroom
instruction. The 11-day trip, conducted last summer, was preceded
by a three-week course on water issues in the West. The students
mission was to discover the truth about those issues firsthand.
participating in this field trip, students from a variety of disciplines
became aware of competition for water and what that means for the
future, says Tom LaPoint, director of the Institute of Applied
Sciences and the course project leader.
Environmental researchers say that water scarcity may be the most
underappreciated global environmental challenge of our time. In
the United States, groundwater is being pumped faster than it is
being replenished, and rivers such as the Colorado and Rio Grande
no longer reach the sea year round. Over the next quarter century,
the number of people in countries unable to meet their domestic,
industrial and agricultural water needs is expected to increase
Field trip faculty wanted to expose students to issues of water
scarcity and competition in a wilderness setting. Participants also
learned about the impact of water, and the lack of it, on vegetation
Hole in Utah meanders around canyon walls.
caravan drove for two days, through Amarillo and Raton Pass in New
Mexico, before reaching Colorado. The crew camped in southwestern
Colorado about 40 miles east of Grand Junction and 7,000 feet above
As they drove into Utah, the days were warm, while the nights were
20 degrees colder.
In the middle of June, in the high desert, we didnt
expect it to be that cold, says environmental philosophy student
Thad Haas. Then a cold front surprised us. Not everyone was
prepared. Those who brought tents shared their shelter with those
who had none.
Haas says they put in their boats at Sand Wash, Utah,
on the Green River five hours and 90 miles north of their
destination, the town of Green River, Utah.
LaPoints boat carried most of the cargo, while four other
boats primarily held passengers. The crew headed south on the river,
paddling through the rocky terrain of Desolation and Gray canyons.
A captain commanded each boat. Every passenger learned his or her
role. Some leaders were in charge of cooking and rafting, while
others collected data on water quality, insects and hydrology.
group poses in front of the petroglyphs of ancient cliff dwellers.
to the river
were students learning their roles, but they were also learning
about their environment.
Riding the rapids of this river, you get the feeling the desert
is alive wildlife, insects and now people inhabit it,
says Haas. I began to relate to the river and to understand,
in seeking sources of drinkable water, that this beautiful place
required much of me.
Environmental science student Tami Barry agrees.
The sights were incredible, she says. As we moved
down the river soaked I gained a greater appreciation
Barry explains their river journey in terms of a Riparian ecosystem
plants and trees growing near water. She noted that salt
cedar trees lining the Green River virtually eliminated any native
species. These trees demand much more water than native plants and
their shade inhibits the growth of sun-loving native cacti and other
I learned a lot about vegetation where things will
and will not grow because of elevation and rainfall, she says.
I also learned what I could do when faced with a scarcity
of drinking water.
A kayak approaches Steer Ridge rapids.
water everywhere . . .
call it Green River for a reason, says Haas. Because
of the silt, the water was like green pea soup and not fit to drink.
As they rowed down the river, the crew members filtered and shared
drinking water until they reached the next clean feeder stream.
After filters became clogged with bacteria and solids, iodine was
used to purify water. Gatorade was added for taste.
A gallon of water a day was required to quench the thirst of active
students. As rafters sought new sources of drinking water, tension
among them increased.
I didnt have enough water, I became grumpy, got a headache
and grew very tired, says Haas. Thats when one
of my crewmates, Lynde Dodd, offered to share her water with the
rest of us.
When youre in the middle of the wilderness, you realize
these people are your life source, says Haas. I looked
to my captain for guidance and my crewmates for support.
I learned a greater appreciation for nature, says Barry.
I want to give others the chance to experience what I did
thats why its so important to conserve nature
The crew members finally reached their destination a little
soaked, a little wiser. They not only learned about nature and surviving
the scarcity of water, but they also learned about themselves and
At the end of the trip, LaPoint was satisfied with the results.
We discovered our own limits as human beings, he says.
What we needed to exist on led to an immediate appreciation
of the water needs of our own group.
By exposing the students to this field trip, weve armed
them with tools of awareness and conservation.