By Alison Masselli
Five years ago, my Girl Scout troop sat down for our usual monthly meeting. Piling into the Western Ridge Clubhouse, we always knew what we could expect: friends, fun, and a few goofy comments. What we didn’t expect was to hear a proposal that would change our troop—and our lives—in ways we couldn’t imagine.
When the entire group had arrived, our troop leader, Heidi Brown, had a surprise for us. Always with her ear to the rail, Mrs. Brown had heard about a high school troop who recently took a trip to Mexico for their senior trip and she asked a few of the girls to talk to us about their experience. They told us about their time in Mexico and the fundraising they did to make it happen. When they finished, we were all thinking the same thing: “Let’s do that!”
At the meeting, Mrs. Brown tossed around several possible travel spots, both in the U.S. and abroad. We started brainstorming fundraising methods and set plans to begin to pay for our adventure. We started small, first with a yard sale, and worked our way up to organizing a dance for incoming sixth graders at Henley. As we got older, we worked at U.Va. football and basketball games and other John Paul Jones Arena events. We even started our own recycling collection business in Western Ridge, which continues to run today. We had bake sales, we made holiday wreaths, we had car washes and of course we sold the fabulous Girl Scout cookies.
Finally, after two years of hard work—with a lot of laughs along the way—we neared our goal of $30,000. We contacted a local Charlottesville business called Grand Classrooms that takes groups to the Grand Canyon and surrounding areas. They helped us plan and guided us once we arrived. This trip would change our troop in several ways, allowing us to grow as individuals, friends, and create fond memories together that we’ll always cherish.
Fifteen 16-year-old girls and three moms left out of Richmond Airport June 13. We arrived at the airport wearing the matching T-shirts we had made earlier in the week and we eagerly awaited our boarding call. After a layover in Atlanta, we landed in Las Vegas and met our two guides for the week: J.T. Maxwell and David Smith. From there we headed to the Hoover Dam, taking hundreds of pictures along the way.
The next morning we awoke early to drive to the canyon with the prospect of a ten-mile hike. Mules carried the supplies needed for our two-night stay at the bottom of the canyon. On our backs we carried just 4 liters of water, sweatshirts, and of course, our cameras. The hike was initially steep but leveled out after the first mile. The hike took most of the day, but it was fun. Close to the beginning of the hike, we met up with our other guides who would be with us for the rest of our time in the canyon, Karne, Bob, and Omar. The guides were instructional and made us stop often for water and a snack from one of the snack bags. In mid-afternoon we were just half a mile short of our camp when we reached Havasu Falls, one of the two waterfalls that we visited. We were hot and the man-made “pool” at the bottom of the fall looked very inviting. The water, with its blue-green hue, looked nothing like east coast lakes or the ocean. We swam in Havasu before continuing on to our campsite. Along the way, we passed a village where an American Indian tribe lives and we were able to see their homes, school and much of their community. The Havasu people are the only permanent inhabitants in the Grand Canyon and have lived there for more than 800 years. When we arrived at the camp site, our guides had already set up the kitchen area and our tents. We kept our belongings in them and chose to sleep under the stars on a tarp.
The next morning our guides took us to Mooney Falls. A 210-foot waterfall, Mooney Falls demanded a challenging descent in order to reach the bottom. The course took us through small tunnels until the path transformed into a “semi vertical rock climb,” requiring us to use chains as handholds and to go down several ladders to reach the bottom. We were told to use extreme caution, but with our guides’ help and encouragement, we all reached the bottom. We explored the falls and swam until it was time to head back to our campsite.
The next morning we awoke before sunrise to begin our ten-mile hike out of the canyon. One scout, Becca Dallas, was slightly injured when she slipped on a rock at Mooney Falls and limped back to the campsite. Dallas was unable to make the hike out of the canyon on foot; she rode out on horseback accompanied by one of our guides and another volunteer scout, Emily Moffett.
The next day was spent on an inflatable motorized pontoon-style raft boat down the Colorado River. The trip took three hours, as we stopped along the way so the boat guide could give us information about the river and show us things in the rocks, such as a rock that had hieroglyphics from hundreds of years ago.
While we were stopped, we decided to run into the water, even though the temperature was a frigid 47 degrees. All of us sprinted into the water and very shortly the majority of us raced back out. However, Dallas, Becca Stoner, Liz Noonan, and Kelly Abrams took a dare to see which of them could last the longest in that frigid water. The four girls stayed in the water for about seven minutes until they all came out together shivering. We hopped back on the boat and rode on, eventually getting caught in a thunderstorm with heavy rain. By the time we reached the ferry landing where we got off, we were all soaking and made a wild dash for the vans.
“For most of us, it was the trip of a lifetime. Not just being there, but what we did to get to that point,” said Brown. “I think the Grand Canyon trip was the icing on the cake.”
Other places we traveled to include the Grand Canyon National Park, which offered amazing views of the South Rim of the Canyon. We also went to Page, Arizona, to see Sunset Crater National Monument and we toured Wupatki National Monument.
On our last day we arrived in Las Vegas and had a chance to see the sights there as well as dine at Planet Hollywood before we caught a late night flight home to Virginia. I hope everyone, especially young girls, will read this with their friends and say, “Let’s do that!”