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Posted November 30, 2003 

Founders of Modern Wilderness Movement Honored in “Clan of the Hand” Ceremony
Redcliff Ascent
Enterprise, Utah

By Mitch Cole, Information Manager,,

RedCliff Ascent recently held a ribbon cutting ceremony at the Outpost, a newly developed skills camp that will also serve as a graduation facility and ceremonial area. In keeping with the ceremonial intent, an authentic replica of a Chaco-era Kiva has been built on site. Many hours of labor went into the rock laying and backfilling, and the end result is breathtaking: a true representation of what an ancient Kiva was really like.

In conjunction with the completion of the Outpost project, RedCliff established the "Clan of the Hand", an honor society of the men and women who have made the most significant impact in the industry of working with troubled youth in a wilderness setting. The first honorees were the five most influential men behind the modern wilderness movement: Larry Dean Olsen, Ezekiel Sanchez, Dave Wescott, Doug Nelson, and Larry Wells. Each honoree was presented with a beautiful chief's blanket and taken to the Kiva for a special ceremony inducting them into the "Clan of the Hand". There, they left their handprints in red ochre on the stones of honor inside the Kiva.

Larry Dean Olsen, a graduate of BYU with a degree in Education, is the author of numerous articles and the book Outdoor Survival Skills, which has been on the bestseller list for over 30 years. He is also a founding member of the National Association of Therapeutic Wilderness Camps, and the ANASAZI Foundation, a non-profit wilderness treatment program for troubled teens and their parents. Most of us in the wilderness field recognize Larry Dean Olsen as the "father" of the modern wilderness movement.

Currently Larry Dean Olsen runs ANASAZI with Ezekiel Sanchez. Ezekiel, the oldest of 16 children, attended BYU on a scholarship where he met Larry Dean Olsen, who invited him to participate in a wilderness survival course that Larry had organized. Ezekiel's talents for wilderness survival were quickly appreciated and Larry invited him to join him on his staff. Ezekiel worked with many BYU survival groups, and later also taught seminary classes at a Navajo reservation in Arizona. He acted as the Director of training at the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He and Larry Dean Olsen established the ANASAZI Foundation in 1989, and to this day they are still involved in its operations. Ezekiel and his wife Pauline were named the Arizona Parents of the Year in 2001, and won the Excellence in Parenting 2002 National Award from the National Parents Day Council.

Larry Wells was first introduced to the wilderness concept through his own experiences as a former inmate in the Idaho Corrections System. Early on Larry realized the therapeutic value of the outdoors and began to work hard to make outdoor therapy a viable alternative to incarceration after his release. Ultimately he became the volunteer coordinator for Volunteers in Corrections in Idaho. After Larry Wells read Larry Dean Olsen's Outdoor Survival Skills, he was so impressed that he contacted him and sought advice on how to start an outdoor program in Idaho. He began a non-profit program to help corrections youth and began taking youthful offenders out in the wilderness to help them work out their issues. Larry Wells worked with many youth programs through the years doing contract work. In 1988, Larry began Wilderness Conquest, now called Wilderness Quest. Larry Wells has helped thousands of youth achieve better lives through his efforts.

Dave Wescott was first exposed to the Wilderness program idea through Larry Dean Olsen's "480" course at BYU. He rapidly developed an interest and began helping to run programs for the BYU outdoor department then eventually went on to the University of Colorado where he finished his graduate work. Then he went to Stillwater, Oklahoma to develop a National Indian Recreation Training Program and worked there for two years before moving to Rick's College to head the new Outdoor Department. Five years later he struck out on his own, purchasing the Boulder Outdoor Survival School (BOSS) from longtime friend, Doug Nelson. Dave ran BOSS for 12 years, ran the first Aspen Health Services therapeutic program, and also helped create the Alta Training Systems to develop a national standard for youth program instructors. Dave still runs the Rabbit Stick events and has a turn of the century village, which teaches skills such as blacksmithing, timber framing, and boat building, at Teton, Idaho.

Doug Nelson got involved in the BYU 480 program in 1971and stayed with it until it was no longer offered. He began Boulder Outdoor Survival School in the spring of 1978, running it successfully until he sold it 8 years later to Dave Wescott. He also began Aspen Achievement Academy along with some friends and colleagues: Keith Hooker, and Doug Cloward. Doug has given numerous lectures and workshops on Wilderness Survival/Treatment programs.

There is no way we can completely tell the tale of all the many thousands of lives these men have touched or the significance of the impact they have had on the wilderness industry as a whole. The best we can do is say a heartfelt "Thank You" and express our deepest gratitude for a job well done, and for lives which have exemplified service in its highest form. The Clan of the Hand ceremony was truly a moving experience for all who participated, and holds a special place in the history of RedCliff Ascent.

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