Vacation becomes life-changing experience

The following is from Kelly Daniels, who writes of her families first trip to Coyote Trails 9 years ago:
“An unexpected, unforeseen outcome from a vacation with my kids that created a profound impact on my life.
Three years ago I read a true story about an 83 year old Apache Elder that taught a white boy from the age of 7 – 17 the love of nature, how intricately we are all a part of it,  the importance of protecting it for future generations, including the impact on the world if we don’t start changing the way we are doing things. I found out that little boy grew up to start family camps to share these teachings with others and has been doing this for 20 years.. This became his mission in life.
39805_1500496283090_7579528_nI thought this would be a fun thing to do with my two boys ages 7 and 11. I happily suggested it to my husband who was not quite so enthusiastic about the idea. He thought surely there were nature camps closer to Kansas. And besides, the thought of hanging out in the forests of Oregon with a group of tree huggers learning about Indians was not his idea of fun. Well, I’m not one to give up too easily when my heart is saying, “this is what you must do with your boys”. So when the boys asked me what I wanted for Mother’s Day, I said, “A trip to Oregon”. My husband finally gave in and gave me “permission” to go, but had no intention of joining us. So I persuaded my 65 year old mom to camp with us in the mountains, of course complete with air mattress and pillow and food being prepared for us. I failed to mention the debris huts she would be building, along with the mud she would camouflage her entire body with and the blind fold walks in the dark. (Just a few minor details.)
38705_1500501443219_6446777_nI admit on the drive out I had my doubts.
My parents decided to make a road trip of it, see the country and rented an RV since plane tickets were so high. One day as my boys were eating their pizzas on their sleeping bags and spilling garlic butter dip all over the beds we would be sleeping on in the wilderness where bears lived, I did have a moment of losing it. I felt kind of bad when I saw the look of fear on their faces when I told them that bears love garlic butter and they knew I thought we were all going to die.
Little did I know that the entire essence of the trip was all about going beyond your comfort zone and making it to the other side with a renewed sense of strength, when you come to the understanding that you can survive almost anything. (And I thought we were just going to hang out and watch the boys learn about Indians.)  I came to find out the idea was that we weren’t to really know about anything that was going to happen, were allowed no cell phone, watches, or electronics of any kind, no sugar, caffeine or any other comforts of scheduling and having some sense of control about what is happening in the days ahead. It was a lesson in learning to surrender to living in the present moment, roll with the flow, and trust. Lay that vacation on your mom and kids.
38678_1500496483095_4100424_nThe first night we went to the open screened in lodge to eat dinner, the beautiful feast that lay before us was an amazing sight before my eyes. Unlike the hot dogs and smores, this was a lovingly prepared healthy feast. My children saw a different story. They just looked at the organic vegetables and grains and whispered, “Where have you taken us and where is our food?” McDonald’s suddenly looked light years away. It was a beautiful thing. They were trapped and I was not responsible for the menu, where I normally gave in too easily. I knew that eventually they would get hungry and have to eat something and the real crazy thing was they started to not only like it but crave it. The variety of food they ate changed before my eyes. It was the first miracle I experienced on this thrill ride.
I just thought we were just going to all hang out together in the woods, but they whisked the kids off on their own adventures while they had something else in store for us adults. We were given questions to ask and sent out alone in the woods to reflect and journal.  I found this interesting and decided to flow with it. I found a rock in the shape of a heart and decided it was a sign that I was here to learn about my heart. Not really what I was expecting, but I was cool with that. Little did I know that walls that I had formed through years of numbing, would be a bit emotional as they came tumbling down. I had no idea what I was in for.
By the end of the week, we were all completely transformed human beings. When we first arrived we were nervous and jittery, couldn’t sleep on the ground with all the weird silence all around. But within a few nights, we were not only sleeping soundly but beginning to have a sense of this being the way life is supposed to be. We became connected to this group of people like we had never been connected to any group before. We were enduring this new adventure together and getting a sense of what it must have been like to be in a tribe. My boys were not fighting anymore and were actually hugging a lot. They were kind and peaceful and had a renewed sense of self esteem and love for everything. By the end of the week, we didn’t want to come home. We cried when we left, feeling overwhelmed with the thought of returning to Kansas and all the turmoil we were accustomed to living with in our normal, average, all American lives. Schedule, perform, compete and watch our lives pass before our eyes.
39869_1500499043159_1276686_nOn the way home the boys didn’t want to sleep in the RV, they were more comfortable in a sleeping bag under the stars. Walking into our home and looking at all our stuff was a bit overwhelming. I watched as the boys tensed and returned to their old routines, but only partially. We were all changed undeniably. And I was ready to make some more changes.

My family’s mission in life changed that week.

We had had the opportunity to reflect on what is truly important. And the impact we saw on a simpler lifestyle and immersing ourselves in nature had an undeniable effect on us that we would never be able to forget.
The changes in our family have been many. My oldest son has his own website for his artwork that he sells to raise money for the environment. He has been on television programs, radio shows, newspapers, and won national environmental art contests and given speeches to Senators and State Representatives in Washington DC on the importance of supporting environmental bills. There are bills that have been signed because of him. He has spoken at environmental programs and events. He has shirts in retail stores with his artwork on them and gives a portion of all his sales of all his artwork to environmental groups and Coyote Trails School of Nature in Oregon.
1795500_10152314954139470_1182268181_nMy youngest son takes his friends out on trails in the woods we made behind our home, taking them on adventures to the creeks and teaching them to climb trees. It is amazing how nervous even boys are now to take their shoes off and walk in the creek and have never climbed a tree. Nearly every 11 year old that visits is afraid to go in the woods. He is already a teacher. He throws himself in the creek with wild abandon, catches crawdads, and sneaks up on animals in the woods.  Frogs sit on his hands and look at him like he’s a friend and baby ducks snuggle in his arms. He’s our true nature boy. He’s going to change the world someday.
10393593_10204042912463833_4407682820200308130_nBefore I left on my trip my sole business was The Kelly Gallery designing portrait art of  families in the Kansas City area for 20 years. Since I’ve returned from this trip I still run my business but I now am involved with a few other extracurricular activities.  I  began after school programs on nature awareness and skills. I now teach school programs on Native Americans and their traditional respect for nature and the importance of protecting the environment. I speak on radio programs for survival skill for children. I have coordinated and run weekend family camps for the last three years in Kansas. I facilitate archery camps on empowerment for women And teens. As well as week long camps retreats for women, families and children in the Midwest to teach more about the importance of getting ourselves and our children outside and away from the electronics. I’ve seen first hand the unbelievable impact nature has on us and am determined to share this knowledge with as many people as possible. I am working with others to raise awareness with Organic food and creating healthy snack options for children and families.
10505566_10204042825541660_6904285223415063502_nIn an age where it is vital that we start becoming aware and changing the way we do things, we need to get ourselves and our children out in nature. We need to give our children the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature like many of us did when we were kids. We need to give them the opportunity to not be afraid to be in the forest that they are being taught is important to save. In order for them to want to make change they need to have the opportunity to love nature with their hearts and souls. The way I have found to do this is to be in an environment where you are safely immersed in wilderness for an extended period of time and taught the joy of living simply. Giving our children the opportunity to walk in places that change them into calm, loving, giving people they were meant to be is a priceless gift. It is time to reconnect all of us to a part of ourselves that is quickly being lost.
10473425_10204043182430582_381949452677084675_nThis camp changed our lives in many ways. My oldest son now 20 received a $100,000 scholarship for college based on an essay about his experience and growth at Coyote Trails.
My youngest son now 15 last fall went to a coming of age teen vision quest at Coyote trails that was one of the most incredible experiences of his life. This summer he will be following the footsteps of his brother and be interning in Oregon at this camp for 8 weeks. I’m so excited for both of their futures. And I give a huge amount of credit for the nature experiences that helped them through potentially difficult teen years. It taught them to feel good about themselves and the world around them, how to relieve stress in their lives and about the things that are truly important in life. Living your passion, living simply and taking care of this precious planet are just a few of the important life skills they walked away with. I’ve not found anything else in this society that can do what this camp did.
10636268_351740101658516_2235891733106046172_nEvery family should have this experience. I am so grateful for the instructors and this camp experience that has changed my life and the life of my boys.
 Kelly Daniels”



8 thoughts on “Vacation becomes life-changing experience

  1. Cynthia, what an inspiring story of courage and transformation–thank you! Thanks also to your sons, who are so generously sharing the gifts they received at Coyote Trails. And finally, thanks to all my good friends at Coyote Trails for their openhearted welcoming of any and all who want to share in the bounty of nature. Though it doesn’t usually make the daily news, this is the spirit that’s changing the world.


    1. Thank you Brandt, for your encouraging words. The story Kelly Daniels tells about her family’s experiences are heart-warming and inspirational. I haven’t been with Coyote Trails long, but I met Kelly, Ben and Sam at Fox Trail this past summer and all three of them were amazing. In fact, seeing how all of the children at camp responded to their experiences on the mountain had a profound affect on me. I had become cynical about the future, but seeing those kids relate to the earth in many respectful and joyous ways instilled hope in me once again. I can’t think of a better gift to give your family than a Coyote Trails experience, and the benefits continue way beyond those of individuals and families.


  2. Wow. I just read all these comment. Wow.
    I took my family to Coyote Trails 9 years ago and fell in love. We had the same experience as Kelly’s family did. It has nothing to do with having money or not having money. Over the years I know people who had nothing….literally nothing!….make their way into these programs. People living at a poverty level. Names are popping into my head right now and I’m smiling because I love those people and I know the experience with Coyote Trails changed their lives. I am so very proud of that.
    To “Just one old man”, the thing I want to say the most is that you are NOT JUST one old man. Get rid of the word just. It isn’t ok. Because at Coyote Trails we are taught to respect our elders. Always. And we refer to our elders and Grandfather and Grandmother. Why? Out of respect. Because, Grandfather, YOU are our elder, our mentor, our teacher. YOU represent knowledge and wisdom that we are yearning to learn. We need you.
    Grandfather, come to Coyote Trails and join us if you wish. This place is different. It would be an honor to have you here. Come and bring an open heart and we will receive it openly. But I must warn you. If you come, your life may be changed forever. I’ve seen it happen, over and over again.
    If you need help to make it happen, just ask. I will help chip in and I’m not rich enough to even own my own house. But to change a life, that is a priceless opportunity and I personally will sacrifice to make it happen for you. Come on in!! Blessings!


  3. As I work both in the office and as an instructor, I have seen that we (Coyote Trails) do all we can to get under-privileged folks/youth/families to our camps. For example, we completely funded 6 kids (some of it grant money, some out of our pockets) just this past summer from Title I schools in Medford to go to our Fox Trail Adventure — kids who brought one change of clothes and had to borrow a sleeping bag and tent. We took care of their needs, facilitated this experience for them, and being able to be out in nature for a full week learning the ways of old changed their lives. We’re checking in with their parents a few months later and the feedback has been incredible, that this one week literally changed the trajectory of their lives “for the better.”

    So I encourage all not to think these programs are just for rich folks — EVERYONE needs the opportunity to fall in love with the outdoors, and we live by that.


  4. I understand and acknowledge the frustration of One Old Man that often times it is those with the ability to pay that receive such wonderful experiences. However, as Joe stated, this organization provides scholarship to those in need at the expense of getting ahead financially. I also happen to know that many of the instructors for CT are in that food stamp category and choose to do this work as it fills them on a deeper level. I have found that many non-profits offer these programs and many people with means give to those less fortunate to help improve the world- often times it is those with the ability to pay and that have such experiences that choose to give back…. I would also like to remind those with this point of view that a walk in the woods is free and food stamps can actually be used for healthy food choices and even redeemed at Farmer’s Markets in some states. There are many choices out there and we are in charge of how we approach all aspects of life.


  5. Nice reminder “One Old Man” as ten years running now Coyote Trails has provided scholarships to over 273 individuals and families and has never turned away any student for an inability to pay. As it states in our print materials we are here to get this knowledge to as many students who openly seek it.


  6. I am the wife of “Just one old man.” He speaks his truth and I agree with him. I also am the grandmother of the young men who went on this journey. I went with them for their first two years.


  7. Obviously a truly life changing experience for an upper middle class Kansas family. “Every family should have this experience.” Well, guess what, not every or even most families have the resources, are not able to lift their eyes long enough from the day to day work required to feed their families to have this experience. No where was it said or even alluded to in this essay about how the food stamp family can have this opportunity. Maybe they should look up from their organic, two car lives and search out a few of the poor who are always with us and pay for their opportunity to immerse them in this mind and heart changing nature experience. “We get by with a little help from our friends.”


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