Mountain Classroom: Winter 2022-2023 Hits the Road

Posted by Mountain Classroom


For the 52nd year, Proctor's Mountain Classroom program immerses a group of ten students alongside two faculty members in the backcountry around the United States. The first three weeks of winter Mountain Classroom saw the group explore Florida before taking a two-week break and returning for the remainder of term in the American Southwest. Read reflections from Yamni '24 and Will '24 below! 


Yamni '24: Wakulla Springs - It's So Pretty It Will Make You Sing

Tuesday the 6th was marked as a question mark on our calendar. The group and I were curious as to what that meant after previously coming off of a rest day. With our instructors telling us nothing but to be ready to walk and bring gear to swim we were excited. We loaded into Deb and set off on the adventure.


Upon arrival we were very hungry and curious as to not only what Wakulla was, but to what animals it homes as well. We set up for a quick lunch break where we got just a hint of what the spring had to offer.


We were scheduled for a 12:30 tour where we got to meet Colin Johnson, a tall ranger with a deep country voice. Colin stated he was known as the singing ranger, then he proceeded to bust out his acoustic guitar and sing a song for us. He sang about a wide variety of animals we would soon see during our two mile boat ride. I couldn’t help but smile as we spotted a wide array of birds, tons of alligators, and “bales” of turtles. The real crowd getter was when a group of manatees swam and splashed all around and under the boat.


After our tour not only the students of Mountain Classroom but the instructors as well swam in Wakulla Springs. In the same water we saw alligators only moments before.



I thought my day couldn’t get much better when suddenly me and the group were ordering ourselves Ice-cream (on Jeff’s dime of course) and browsing through the Wakulla Springs gift shop.  We piled into Deb once more, all clamoring about our exciting day filled with highlights. With Wakulla Springs in our rearview mirror we set off for another adventure.


William '24: Anastasia State Park 

Each touching down with the dregs of wakefulness, the 2022 Winter Mountain Classroom group formed a line of sleepy travelers and their luggage at the Jacksonville airport baggage claim. Around the corner our pantry, closet and mobile homestead DEB waited to bring us to our first tropical home, Anastasia State Park. A greeting party in the form of mosquito swarms gave us their all causing quite the panic as we unpacked our bags and settled into a new nomadic life.


Interestingly, the mosquitos never bothered us much outside of the park. While life at the beach was fun, Florida and the south east have much more to offer than sandy dunes, salt wort, and swat-able pests. We were ready for a taste of the real deal. Three nights in long leaf pine forests left a lasting impression of how immensely different and diverse North American forest ecology can be. But three nights swiftly came and went. Dirty, exhausted, but happy campers soon appreciated abundant running water, showers, and real toilets in a Wakulla County Campground. We learned how to do laundry in the field, saw the Gulf of Mexico, and went to one of the largest freshwater springs in the world while preparing for our next grand adventure in the Okefenokee Swamp.



As part of this preparation we ventured into our most exciting territory yet: Walmart. Our most alien expedition explored a bustling understory of shopping carts, stands of cereal, and chirps of the crash registers punctuating clanks of overloaded carts. After baking on scorching hot pavement, final organizations were completed before spending one more night in civilization. Saying goodbye once more to DEB, our last trip in the south-east wilderness began. While some canoes did veer from their courses, the comfort and lack of back pain paddling provided was welcomed. On either side, huge alligators lined the swamp canal banks, some floating just visible over the water and some warming up in the hot and inescapable sun.



A peculiarity of camping in the swamp is the question of where to do it when there is no solid land. Luckily for us, no tents were pitched on marshy soil. At various points along the wetland’s channels, floating platforms provided cramped but solid spaces to cook and sleep and all included luxurious outhouses. Each morning on the water we were greeted by deer, herons, egrets, and alligators. There was no respite from spectacular views and fantastic wildlife.



Again leaving the wilderness ready to see DEB again, the Mountain Classroom crew has been back in Jacksonville preparing for a relaxing Winter Break. See you soon!

Click here to see more photos from Winter 2022-2023 Mountain Classroom!


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