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True North's 6-day Deer Hill Expedition!

True North just returned from a 6-day trip with Deer Hill Expeditions. 10 students spent the week kayaking, rafting and camping on the San Juan River. To all of our supporters,

We hope this letter finds you doing well, prospering, and enjoying all that Colorado summers have to offer. True North has had an exciting and busy summer with students, conducting outdoor activities, service opportunities and enjoying the freedom to gather following a tumultuous year. We want to express our deep gratitude for your support and belief in the True North mission, which allows us to provide year-round, positive youth development programs.

A True North group of ten students and two staff have just returned from a six-day rafting trip on the upper San Juan River with Deer Hill Expeditions. The trip was self-supported, meaning that students cooked all their own meals, set up their tents, and even managed the ‘groover.’ To quote one student, “It was the most fun I’ve ever had”! We would like to share the life-changing experiences of our staff and students and touch on the memories that we will cherish forever.

At the boat ramp in Mexican Hat, Utah, on our final day of the trip. All ten students, two True North staff and two Deer Hill Instructors are pictured.

Deer Hill Expeditions has been in operation since 1984, offering wilderness and service experiences for teens as well as customized group programs, specializing in outdoor education programming for young people. True North has collaborated with Deer Hill in the past for a service trip to the Navajo Nation. Our staff began working with them in February of this year to offer a custom river trip for True North students. This six-day trip included one day at the Deer Hill base camp in Mancos, Colorado, followed by five days on the San Juan River. True North applied for, and was generously awarded a scholarship from the Deer Hill Foundation to cover a portion of the trip costs. This trip would not have been possible without your support and the Deer Hill Foundation’s scholarship.

Rivers have long been the connective tissue of civilizations, and in fact, a single river, the San Miguel, connects the three high schools and communities that True North serves, covering over 2,000 square miles. When presented with the chance to collaborate with Deer Hill, we jumped at the opportunity to offer a multi-day river trip for True North teens from Telluride, Norwood, and Nucla high schools. The San Juan River flows through the Colorado Plateau, encompassing portions of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona, where it flows into the Colorado. The San Juan River is also at the heart of the Ancestral Puebloan culture and contains many remains of this ancient civilization along the river and throughout the region.

The group is sitting in what would be the kitchen of an Ancient Puebloan cliff dwelling overlooking the San Juan River. Every day the group participated in Deer Hill’s traditional ‘circle’ of sharing and listening.

This trip allowed ten True North students to experience the history, culture and geographic characteristics of southwest Colorado and Utah. True North’s staff were able to participate on a level that gave us time for in-depth conversations and connection. Deer Hill’s Instructors guided students every step of the way in: camp setup and take-down, meal preparation and cooking, backcountry safety, reading the river and rapids, paddling techniques, landmarks, cultural significance of rivers and historical land and water uses. Each evening was concluded with a “circle” where Deer Hill staff reviewed the important logistics for the following day and students and staff shared their answers to a thought provoking question. Questions ranged from “why are you here?” to “what do you say to yourself when you make a mistake?” And “how do you think you could be kinder to yourself?” The final night of the trip, the question was two-fold: “what do you want to take home with you from this trip, and what do you want to leave behind with the river,” followed by “what was your favorite part of the trip?” The answer repeated most often was, “my favorite part was building on both new and old friendships…. and all the laughter.” One student expressed that it would not be his last time on the river and he anticipates returning as a guide one day.

As students explored ancient Puebloan ruins, watched Great Blue Herons soar above the canyon, felt the water wash over them, they each experienced their own unique connection to the people and environment that surrounded them. On day 3, one student exclaimed, “I think I forgot what my phone looks like!”. The ten students came from Lawson Hill in Telluride, Norwood, Nucla, Naturita and Bedrock, forming lasting friendships and memories with new friends and old. This trip was also a unique opportunity for True North staff to build rapport and deeper connections with the students.

All the students were able to paddle a “Duckie”. These are similar to inflatable kayaks and gave students the opportunity to learn new paddling techniques and enjoy the rapids on a closer level.

As we embark on another school year, we are confident that these students will carry the True North spirit with them, sharing their experience and memories with other students all year long. This momentum will help us grow our new student recruitment and student enthusiasm behind all of True North’s programs.

Please make sure to check out the full photo album from our trip on our social media, or We can also share our album with you upon request from google drive.

We sincerely thank you for supporting True North and the teen population of San Miguel and west Montrose counties. We look forward to continuing to offer these life-changing experiences to the young people of our region.

With deep gratitude,

Vivian Russell & Loren Knobbe

Students learning how to scout a rapid.

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