Friday, August 29, 2014

Girl Scout Cookies take Troop #14318 to Colorado

We love hearing about the awesome things our Girl Scout troops do with the funds they earn in the Cookie Program. Who knew selling a box of Thin Mints could take you around the country - or even around the world, like Troop #14318 is planning to do next! These Cadettes spent a week in Colorado this summer - read on for all their fun adventures, as told by Troop Leader Jennifer P.

By Jennifer P.
Leader, Troop #14318

Our Cadette troop recently returned from a fantastic week-long trip to Colorado. The trip may have been just a few weeks ago, but these girls started dreaming about an out-of-state trip to see mountains more than four years ago. Every cookie season, the girls set aside about half  (at least $1,500) of their cookie money into a special trip account. Last summer the girls brainstormed on where they wanted to go. They considered the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and even the Cascade Range in Washington. After listing the different activities and producing reasonable budgets, the girls chose Colorado.

The girls decided to fly to Colorado, instead of drive, for one very important reason: out of the seven girls going on the trip, only two had flown before. They knew that in another few years, they wanted to plan an international trip, and we decided it was a good idea to try a 2.5 hr flight before we board a 16 hr flight. The girls and I carefully planned our agenda, chose flights that fit into our itinerary and researched the different lodging choices. We thought we were ready for everything and anything!

Adventures in air travel
So early on Sunday morning, August 10, all the girls gathered in my driveway. We loaded our gear, said our goodbyes and were pulling out for the airport when I noticed our flight status changed from "on time" to "canceled." After many phone calls to United Airlines, we found out we wouldn't be leaving for another 10 hours and that our seats were scattered all over the airplane (and I was actually not ticketed a seat yet). We waited about five hours, then headed to the airport hoping we could catch an earlier flight or try to at least get our seats together (and secure a seat for me).

We stood in so many lines, just to hear that we had to wait and see if other passengers would be kind enough to switch seats so our girls could at least sit with a buddy, but at least they finally had a seat available for me. While standing in line to board, we still had seats scattered everywhere and not a single one of us were seated next to anyone else in our group. Several couples that had overheard our girls talking about how nervous they were to fly and how they really wished they could be near their buddy decided to change seats. All our girls ended up seated next to a buddy! With big smiles and a happy heart, we boarded our plane and left for Denver!

Supermarket sweep
We landed in the dark, so the girls still could not see the mountains as we drove slowly out to our cabin in the Mt. Evans Wilderness Area in the Arapaho National Forest. We found out that grocery stores in small towns close early. We arrived at the Safeway with 10 minutes before closing and grabbed a variety of things to feed ourselves dinner for that first night and breakfast and lunch the next day. So much for the carefully thought out meal plan and grocery list we had made! We felt like we were playing some kind of grocery store game show from Food Network, rushing the basket down aisles and wildly tossing food in while trying to put together something that resembled meals! When we got back to the cabin, we realized we forgot so many important components, so dinner was really not dinner but more of a "come see how creative you can be to feed yourself."

Welcome to Colorado
The next morning, at 6 a.m. the cabin was flooded with orange light reflecting off the mountains that were all around us. We woke up the girls so they could see the beautiful mountains and the Chicago Creek that ran not five feet from our front porch. It was breathtaking! We dressed, ate and packed our bags for our first hike. We headed just 25 minutes north of Mt. Evans to St. Mary's Lake and Glacier Park. We parked at the base of the mountain and hiked through Alpine Forest to reach the lake and glacier. We started around 10,000 feet and finished around 10,848 feet. Most of us were dealing with at least some altitude sickness, and we took many breaks to reach the glacier. There were many rocky ascents that required us to lean forward and use our hands to help pull ourselves up some of the paths. It was exhilarating for the girls, but very difficult. The girls even found a beautiful waterfall along our path, and we stopped there for a bit before heading up to the lake.

Once we made it to the lake, the girls were amazed at how beautiful and serene the glacier lake was and then they noticed the glacier just a little further up. Another short 5-10 min. hike, and we were playing in the snow! For many girls this was the first time they actually played in real snow! They had a snowball fight, made many mini-snowmen and hiked up the glacier about 50-100 feet and slid back down where I would catch them. After a quick lunch at the base of the glacier, we hiked back down the mountain (oh, so much easier).

 Exploring the mountains
Once back at the cabin, the girls panned for gold in the Chicago Creek and then we headed back to the grocery store to get actual meals for the rest of our trip. We knew we had a big day ahead of us, so we went to bed early. On Tuesday morning, we rose early, packed up again and headed up Mt. Evans. There is a road you can drive up this mountain that lets you park and hike out into many different natural areas. The girls saw many animals that were new to them, such as marmots, bighorn sheep, mountain goats and chipmunks. We choose to visit and hike the following natural areas:

1.  Subalpine Forest Area
2.  Mt. Goliath Nature Area (and the Nature Center where we received a tour and history of the Bristlecone Pines by a Park Ranger) at 11,540 feet
3.  Upper Goliath Trail at 12,150 feet
4.  Summit Lake at 12,830 feet
5.  And finally we parked at the Summit Lot and hiked the final 250 feet to the summit at 14,264 feet

That last hike to the summit was extremely challenging for us. The oxygen was very thin, and the hike was steep. The girls had a slight dizzy feeling from such high altitudes and the difficult climb. It took A LOT to get up that last 250 feet of mountain. The view from the summit was spectacular and made it all worth it. It was mostly adults at the summit and many congratulated the girls for making it to the top once they found out we were from Houston - something I think really made them feel like they had accomplished something amazing. We had a quick snack at the summit, snapped lots of pictures and then started making our way back down since we knew bad weather was due to blow in soon. Once back at the cabin, we ate and finished the steps to earn our Junior Forest Ranger Patch and Pin. We then headed out to the ranger station in Idaho Springs to turn in their booklets, take the Junior Forest Ranger oath and be awarded their official patch and pin. Since we were already in town, the girls wanted to wander through the tiny little town square where there were local shops and museums.

Winding Trails
On Wednesday morning, we packed up all our things and left the beautiful cabin. We drove a few hours west to the town of Glenwood Springs. The drive was crazy, with many 8 percent grade changes while winding around mountains. Mrs. Sarah and I arrived white-knuckled and a bit dizzy, and even some of the girls felt a bit icky from the constant up and down of the mountain highway. The girls were still interested in trying a local Polish restaurant we had found online, and after a full meal of pierogies, kielbasa, stuffed cabbage and potato pancakes, we were ready to head to our hotel.

Thursday morning, the girls were so very excited to head to the Glenwood Springs Adventure Park on top of Iron Mountain! Sadly it was raining and so foggy you couldn't see 10 feet in front of you. We threw on our rain jackets and headed up the mountain anyways. Once up there, we discovered some of the rides were actually open, and we were practically the only ones there! We rode the Giant Canyon Swing, the Canyon Flyer, ran through the life-size maze, watched a 4-D movie, drank hot chocolate and played laser tag while it rained. Finally, the clouds lifted, and we were able to ride a few of the other rides. We decided to head back down to the hotel for lunch, and we tossed all our rain jackets and wet shoes in the dryer. After lunch, we headed back up Iron Mountain for even more fun, including an amazing cavern tour.

Sweet treats
Friday morning, we packed up once again and headed back to Denver. On our way into town, we stopped for a very tasty tour of the Hammond's Candy Factory where we found lollipops bigger than our heads and tons of candy cane flavors. Later that evening, we decided to finish our trip with a pit stop at Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. None of these girls had ever had a "Hot Now" doughnut, and were surprised by the super nice staff that handed them a doughnut directly off the conveyor belt after they had just passed through the waterfall of glaze. We had seven very happy girls! As a bonus on the way to Krispy Kreme, we all saw the most bold and beautiful double rainbow we had ever seen. A great way to wrap up our Colorado trip!

Ready for the next adventure
Saturday we flew home, and it was great to see our families again. I think all the girls had a great time and tried things they may not have tried before. Most of these girls have been together in this troop for seven years and have grown very close. Watching them grow up together and move from little Daisies that we took to the airport for a plane tour to the amazing Cadettes that actually took a plane to tour the mountains has been so rewarding. Most of them have already started dreaming about the international trip they want to take in another four years, listing possible places such as India, Paris, Japan and London. The girls also took advantage of the time they had together on this trip and have started brainstorming on their upcoming Silver Award Projects. I can't wait to see what they do for their communities!