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Schools & Program Visits - August, 2002 Issue #96 

Skyline Journey
Nephi, Utah
Mark Wardle – Program Director

Lon Woodbury &
Kristie Vollar’s
Visit on June 16/17, 2002

[Lon’s remarks appear in italics.] Skyline Journey’s specific goal is to be an “Emotional Growth” wilderness program, rather than a more clinically- oriented wilderness therapy program. Linda Houghton has been working with them for certification as an Emotional Growth program, thus they are looking for kids with behavior problems arising from bad attitudes and immaturity, rather than a pathology that needs treatment. A key to their program is utilizing peer pressure as a motivator for the kids to improve.

After driving through the small town of Nephi, we reached Skyline Journey’s small office building where Counselor, Mark Wardle, gave us a quick tour, and his father and mother, Lee and Alberta Wardle, took us to lunch before taking us to the field.

From the home base in Nephi, we began our long drive to join the “Horse Clan”, driving west an hour and a half through Delta, then turning onto a dirt road that appeared to lead nowhere. 45 minutes later we finally turned onto another dirt road near the House Mountain Range, where I spotted SUDS, the traveling shower, which I recognized from an early picture [Woodbury Reports, Sept. 2001, NL # 85] and from my visit in March.

Since Skyline uses a satellite GPS system to locate the campsites, we knew where we were going, but when we arrived, there was nobody in sight. Mark used a CB radio to call to the Horse Clan for precise position. Tammie, the lead staff of the Horse Clan quickly responded that she had seen us drive past and was coming out to the road to meet us.

I grabbed my gear for what would end up as a pleasant trip “Back to the Wilderness”. We walked a short distance into the camp where the students were sitting in the only shade around. By then it was late evening and the dessert heat was somewhat bearable, though definitely shorts weather for this North Idahoan girl.

Mark took the staff to the side, allowing Lon and me to interview the five students. Each of the students in this co-ed group wore a yellow t-shirt, with four staff members all wearing white. After talking with the students, Lon and Mark drove away, stranding me in the wilderness for the first time since my initial wilderness experience in 1993, though this time, I was only there to observe.

The students quickly refocused after the disruption of our arrival. They began their evening work on their ‘trails’, the emotional growth assignments designed to guide self-discovery through a series of tasks and projects. They also started dinner preparation using a small cook-fire built on a tri-pod to ensure easy cleanup and no-trace camping. The large Dutch oven filled with potatoes, onions and polish sausages was set on top to cook.

The students don’t go hungry; the amount of nutritious food provided would feed a group of about 16 including staff and students. Alberta prepares the meal plans and packs the coolers that are delivered to the next campsite, thus creating the student’s motivation to hike, knowing that the next meal awaits them there.

Our dinner consisted of the campfire stew with plenty of tortillas to wrap it in, an apple, and chocolate milk. After dinner, everyone checked their feet for hotspots and blisters and checked themselves over for any new scrapes or scratches.

Skyline Journey offers a 28-day and a 60-day program. One boy, in the longer journey, was especially excited that evening, as Mark had brought him one of his last assignments, "trail seven", which he was eager to start working on.

I watched the creative way the staff handles unattended gear: the offending student may choose between writing an essay, or doing a ‘song and dance’ in front of the group. I watched this help bond the group and raise the student's self-esteem.

The newest student, a sad little girl asked me about my experiences. When I first met her, she was strong minded and stubborn, at times saying, “No one is going to change me, so why can’t I just go home?” When asked to memorize counting in Ute in exchange for a coke, she'd mumble, “why should I bother? I don't care. I don't even want a soda anyway,” as if waiting for someone else to say the same.

After working a little longer on their trails assignments, the students worked together to clean up, then brushed their teeth before going to bed. We discussed our feelings in a circle and the students shared short poems written earlier in the day when they were on solo. The staff later explained that the poems were a writing assignment about an issue that had arisen earlier that day.

After waking at 7:30AM, the students finished their morning 'hygiene' before packing camp. Each day the staff chooses a student as Daily Clan Leader, who organizes the group, delegates chores, and leads the group for the day. By 9:00 am, camp was packed and we had eaten. Skyline Base made a routine call to get the 'needs/ wants' list, and the staff guided the students to clear the campsite, making sure to leave no trace of human activity.

One student received a consequence: for each swearword he uttered, he had the opportunity to choose a rock. When he refused to pick out three rocks, a staff member chose them for him, to carry in his pockets for the day.

The day heated up quickly. Though each student had been drinking water, each was asked to drink a whole water bottle and apply sunscreen before we could leave. After they refilled their bottles, we circled up for a "Feeling Circle" before beginning our hike. Tammie called Skyline Base to inform them we were heading to the next campsite before we started over the arid landscape, behind our leader.

We hiked about 2 ½ hours, arriving at the next site before noon. One boy struggled climbing the last hill and everyone in the clan supportively cheered him on. We rested for a few minutes in the shade before the students were instructed to work on their homework, trails, or other therapeutic assignments. The students anxiously awaited the arrival of Lee and Alberta. Everyone, including the girl who “didn’t care”, was now eager to show that they now knew how to count from one to five in Ute so they could receive their promised reward.

When the supply truck appeared, the students rushed to get up and watch them drive across the arid desert roads, chased by a veil of dust. The students took turns giving hugs and unloading the supply off the truck. First the boy who had been there the longest, recited his numbers. After everyone had recited their numbers, Alberta handed out Vanilla Cokes. She looked each student over while Lee talked with the staff about the day’s events. Lee showed my dad how to find the petrified skeletons of trilobites, the first free swimming creatures of any kind, that are deposited in the slate surrounding the new campsite.

The student’s new campsite on the side of a hill offered a spectacular view of the desert’s rolling hills. They had arrived shortly before noon after an easy two-mile hike from last night’s campsite, a typical daily distance for the program. The distant mountains were blue from the summer haze, and the students were settling in and preparing for the afternoon heat. Lee and I arrived with water and food supplies after spending a comfortable evening in an air-conditioned motel room. That’s right, I chickened out on the offer to spend the night with the kids in the field!

The students seemed relaxed and excited to see what treats “grandpa” Lee had brought them. Both in my visit the night before, and in the next morning, the group seemed to have a feeling of safety that allowed each student’s issues to be discussed freely. They showed a determination to progress on the “trails” each needed to complete in order to finish the program.

A 'Feeling Circle' was then called, and we shared around the circle, saying our good-byes. I was amazed at the changes I had witnessed over night in all five of the students. Though not finished with their journeys by any means, yet, for example, the sad little girl’s attitude had changed to a sense of surprised pride about her emerging leadership abilities and self-esteem. My visit in March, and the safety I felt on this visit left me impressed with Skyline’s philosophy, and helped me to enjoy a night back on the trail.

Skyline Journey is about one year old. The key to their operations is Mark Wardle, who in the past has held positions of increasingly responsibility at RedCliff Ascent, On Track and Sage Walk. Skyline Journey is a family business with Lee and Alberta Wardle actively involved in the administration, and acting as “grandpa and grandma” to the kids during supply trips. Part of the program is their high expectations for the kids, and part of the result is that the kids desire to please Grandma and Grandpa.

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