The following article is part of a series of blog posts from the Holcombe family. Peter, Kathy, and their Keystone sixth grader, Abby, are sharing their adventures with Learning Liftoff as they journey on an 18-month tour of the country’s national parks. And, Abby is taking her high-quality education on the road with The Keystone School, a fully accredited, online private school.
Life on the road is completely unpredictable, and a regular schedule is virtually impossible. Our daily life is dictated by a plethora of factors that are completely outside of our control. No matter how carefully we structure our time, the weather, a flat tire, congested traffic conditions and/or a lapse of cell service/Wi-Fi all have a way of meddling with the best laid plans. So, we have learned to roll with what life gives us and look at all of the detours as opportunities to slow down and appreciate the many great things around us that we might have otherwise overlooked. It’s these unpredictable events in our schedule that was a factor in our choosing The Keystone School for Abby, because it gives us maximum flexibility.
Our recent adventure in Big Bend National Park, which lies along the U.S./Mexican border in Texas, was a perfect example of the chaos that commonly accompanies adventure. While we had originally planned to spend each morning in Big Bend focused on school for Abby, and then explore the park in the afternoon, we lost cellular service the moment we crossed the park boundary and, therefore, the ability for Abby to do her school. Fortunately for us, the flexible nature of Keystone Online, allowed us to postpone her assignments for the five days we spent in the park and focus on the wonderful opportunities to learn about a completely new environment and culture that surrounded us.
The first day we were in the park, we kayaked through Santa Elena canyon on the Rio Grande River—the natural boundary between Mexico and the United States that runs through a gorge flanked on either side by thousand-foot rock cliffs. With just a few paddle strokes across the gentle current of the river, Abby found herself in a completely different country. While there was no discernible difference in the terrain between the U.S. and Mexico, there was a very different way of life that was delineated by the river. The leisurely lifestyle of the retired American snowbirds who headed south to escape the doldrums of a northern winter was a stark contrast to the subsistence farmers that resided just twenty feet across the river as they scraped together a meager livelihood raising produce and livestock.
Day 2, we hiked to a natural hot springs that lies on the bank of the Rio Grande. On our way to the spring, we passed a colorful blanket laid on the ground with hand-carved walking sticks and small sculptures of scorpions, snakes, and other desert dwellers. Next to this display of trinkets was a tin can where interested tourists could leave payment for their souvenirs. We looked around and spied a family on the Mexican side of the river watching us through binoculars—clearly these were their products. Periodically they would swim across the river and collect the fruits of their sales.
The last three days we spent hiking through the park and discovered road runners, javalina (a relative of the pig), coyotes, and more. Abby enjoyed learning about an ecosystem that must have inspired the Road Runner cartoons and her exposure to the unique culture of the border community was a terrific supplement to her traditional education. During the next few days following our foray into the desert Southwest, Abby intensely focused on catching up on her missed assignments. After a couple of long days, she was back on track and ready for the next adventure.