In the spirit of choosing our own adventures, we decided on Monday to split into two groups: Abby and Ole headed off towards the crimson rock spires surrounding the town for a hike while Hannah, Mike and I opted to have our own “urban” hiking adventure. We set off from the Super 8, our home for this leg of our trip, towards a part of Sedona referred to as “Uptown” where a bustling mélange of spiritually-inspired curio shops, eateries and art galleries can be found. Along the way, we had the rare opportunity to watch a black widow spider digest its prey and sample some prickly pear fruit picked freshly off a roadside cactus, which caused an unfortunate (albeit minor) allergic reaction in one of us. We had walked nearly 3 miles before we realized that our destination was much farther than it had seemed from the comfort of our plush seats in the Carpe van! After relaxing over hot apple cider and a stunning view of the Sedona Red Rocks at a local cafe, we decided to head over to a shop called Sedona Story which sells crystals, regional crafts and New Age art. The group reconvened for our weekly Thai coconut curry soup tradition, a collectively co-created dish which seems to reach greater culinary heights each time we make it. We finished the night off with a rendezvous with Danielle from Kykotsmovi and her two girls treating ourselves to some late-night sweets at a Flagstaff candy shop and a cinnamon roll hug.

Tuesday (or Boooo-day) was a hauntingly good time as we explored the historic mining town of Jerome known amongst other things for its ghosts sightings and odd happenings. Situated on a mountainside above the Verde valley, Jerome was once known in the roaring ‘20s as a “billion dollar copper camp” run by the Phelps Dodge Mining Corporation. These days, museums and gift shops with crumbling facades line the streets that we explored before heading to the Gold King Mine to wander amongst rusting machinery, dilapidated buildings and a saw mill established in 1914 that still operates today. We ended our night on a cultural tone celebrating the Hindu New Year, called Diwali, with a chillingly beautiful performance of song and chanting with Denisse Jonsson in a tradition known as Kirtan. We enjoyed two amazing vegetarian meals that day, including one at a local eatery called ChocolaTree, which provides 100% organic vegetarian meals, prickly pear kombucha and an array of amazing homemade chocolate candies, and another one with those celebrating Diwali with us at the Sedona Center of Vedic Culture.

The next day carried both a change in physical landscapes and a sense of focus as we transitioned from a spiritually, introspective Sedona experience to one of academic and political overtones. Our drive to Tucson saw towering red rocks fade away to large expanses of flat land adorned with giant saguaro cacti. We arrived at BorderLinks, self described as an “international leader in experiential education that raises awareness and inspires action around global political economics.” BorderLinks runs educational programs that focus on immigration, community development and social justice as it relates to the US/Mexican border. We met with trip leaders Madeline, Margie and Katrina, who gave us an orientation for the 10 days to come that we were going to spend together exploring this important–yet largely misunderstood–issue.

During the first couple days of our stay at BorderLinks, we received a brief history of the border with Margie and Madeline, where they described its evolution from a relatively fluid crossing zone to the heavily militarized and fortified area that it is today. After lunch, we headed to the federal courthouse in downtown Tucson to observe the “Operation Streamline” initiative in which undocumented migrants “face criminal prosecution and potential prison sentences in addition to formal deportation from the United States” via an expedited process that convicts up to 70 people per day in Tucson alone. (Source: No More Deaths) As we filed into the courtroom and took a seat in with other interested citizens, we witnessed a somber scene involving migrants seated in large numbers chained at the arms and legs, appearing before a judge to plead guilty for crossing the border without authorization and receive their prison sentences. We have a necessary debriefing session afterwards in a grassy area outside the courthouse to share our thoughts and feelings about the experience.

During the day, we were fortunate to meet with two human rights activists including John Fife, a Presbyterian minister who was one of the leaders of the Sanctuary Movement , in which individuals living in the US provided a safe haven to asylum seekers fleeing civil conflict in Central America in the early 1980s. We also spoke with Mike Wilson, the Policy Director of the Border Action Network, who described the harrowing humanitarian crisis involving an astonishing number of migrants who die each year in the Sonoran desert of dehydration and heat exhaustion while trying to cross the border to seek economic opportunities to support their families. In one of its initiatives, the Border Action network places water stations throughout the desert for thirsty travelers in efforts to decrease the number of people who perish on the journey. After paying due respect and reflection time to these powerful speeches and testimonies, we took an opportunity to unwind and re-center ourselves at an outdoor music performance put on by a Mexican folk musician named Salvador Duran, who describes himself as someone who “paints music and sings his paintings.”

We ended the week with an insightful presentation by Kat Rodriguez from the Derechos Humanos (Human Rights) organization on the violations of human rights taking place in the borderlands of the U.S. and Mexico. Later, we went to the Border Studies Symposium, a project that our Program Director Amanda Rader has been working on since August. The students presented some information, reflections and gratitude towards the people who supported them along their three-month journey. We could not help but notice the similarities of the Border Studies group to our own and I have to admit that some of us got a bit teary-eyed at the prospect of having to perform a similar closing ceremony not too far ahead of them. That night, we joined the group for a beautiful Mexican feast at a host family’s home. We sat outside on a warm desert night, chatting and laughing around the fire, enjoying each others’ company in jovial moments of connection and warmth.

All and all, this leg of the journey has inspired both immense personal evolution and an awakening to the pressing social issues that lie mostly hidden beneath the surface of this mainstream American life.

-Heather