When campers come to AstroCamp, the cool classes and challenge of the ropes course are just part of the benefits. With our camp located right next to the San Bernardino National Forest, students can gain a better appreciation for nature; made stronger by engaging in the day/night hike and wilderness survival courses.
There are several hiking trails nearby students and campers can follow with their instructor, but the most common one is an offshoot of the nearby fire road. Students don’t just learn from being out in nature, but actually learn about the things they’re passing along the way. After their initial climb, there’s a quick water break where students learn about two of the most common trees we have in and around camp: the manzanita and the Jeffrey pine.
The manzanita, seen here, is also called the “zombie tree” because of its special adaptation to the desert climate. Sections of its body die and the bark shrinks back in periods of low rainfall, but these are revitalized once the rain returns. Any hiker learns that while its name may come from the small fruit it produces, anyone eating them will get sick. The Jeffrey pine draws students in because of a chemical inside it that smells like butterscotch, but that chemical is actually toxic and quite flammable.
From there, the hike diverges to a narrow trail splitting off from the fire road. Along the way, there are many opportunities to see nature in action, like trees filled with acorns by woodpeckers, hoping to keep them from squirrels, or ivy taking over the oak tree above.
While hikers are looking down, making sure they don’t trip on roots or leave the path, the Coulter pines above hold a surprise. Coulter pine cones are HUGE, growing over a foot and weighing between four and ten pounds on average. The trail avoids the drop zone for these behemoths, which are nicknamed “widowmakers” for obvious reasons.
A common stopping point on the trail looks over to Lily Rock and also happens to be a great echo spot. It’s hard to demonstrate echoes in a classroom, so this is just one more unique experience to our hiking classes.
At the top, we’ve reached an overlook for all of May Valley. This is a great time to sit and just reflect on everything around you. During the night hikes, groups often have moments of silence up here to just reflect and look up at the stars. It’s one of the experiences students say had the biggest impact on them during their stay at camp.
Sadly, we can’t stay up the mountain all day. Once everyone’s had some time to rest, reflect, drink water, and maybe play some games with their instructors, it’s back down the trail to camp.