Five Gremlins, and Something Somewhat Meaningful

Recovery in the red rocks of Utah

Before the Spanish conquistador Coronado lead his soldiers into the southwest of what is now the United States. Before Columbus sailed for the New World. Before the Anasazi built the huge multistory structures in the canyons of the western desert, there were groups of peaceful people living here in the mountains and deserts of central Utah. Formerly referred to as the “Fremont” now more correctly known as “ Ancestral Puebloan” These people lived in pit houses, and in what we call “overhangs” or “alcoves” Great arched shallow caves which face the south thereby catching the suns warmth. They farmed, raising the three sisters -  corn, squash and beans. They hunted deer and other game. Their tools were made from the flint-like chert stone found here – atlatl spear points, and knife blades. They built with timber and mortar. All that is left is what is made of stone, the land, and the views. We went to experience all three.

I didn’t know the area we were going to this week, but my fellow guide Jack, knew it well. It is an area on the east side of Boulder Mountain. Several creeks run into this area. It is below the cold of the mountain, and above the heat of the desert. It’s where a lot of ancient people liked to live.

We started the adventure by camping at the head of Sulfur creek canyon. There had been a lot of rain, and camping spots were not plentiful. In fact I don’t believe we had a 24 hour period this week without rain. We found a spot at last, and as we looked around the area, found stone circles, remnants of ancient homes. There were also two shallow overhangs that gave shelter from the rain. Some of us slept in those. The hike the next day was about 6 miles on the map. Having not been there, I didn’t appreciate until later how many turns and twists the canyon had that were not shown on the map. By the time we reached our destination by the side of Pleasant creek, we were absolutely beat. The hike had kicked our butts, and that doesn’t happen all that often to me.  About 15 minutes before reaching our camp site, tempers were flaring, and conflict began. After dinner and a warm fire, issues were processed, and everyone was happy again. This was a pattern for the rest of the week.

It wasn’t comfortable.

It wasn’t really fun.

It really brought out the issues that each client very much needed to face, and deal with.

It was very good.

We found many flakes of chert. We found quite a few broken stone knives. We found many broken spear and arrow heads, and Jack found some whole, unbroken arrow heads. All of these we left on the land where we found them. We toured the alcoves where the ancient people lived. We looked at and felt with our hands the grinding stones they used for preparing corn. We found pieces of ancient corn cobs. We saw the petroglyph writing they left in the dark patina coated sandstone walls.

One day as we climbed up out of a canyon, within a mile of our destination and without any warning, lightening struck overhead. It was closer than I have ever felt it before, and closer than I ever want to feel it again. After picking myself up from the ground where I dove during the flash. I yelled out to the young men to run to medium sized trees, and crouch under them, with lots of space between each other. I have never seen our clients comply with a request so quickly, and without discussion. Backpacks were dropped right where they had been standing, and they literally ran to do as I’d asked. A few more cracks of lightening, and the rain came down in a deluge that lasted about 20 minutes during which time we kept in contact by voice. We were soaked, we were cold, we were shook up, and we were alive. Some of our clients got pretty cranky after that, (nothing new for the week), some got shaken into good moods, and one young man said he felt as if his life had been taken and handed back to him.

It was an emotionally charged, and trying week. So much good came out of it. So much progress was made, and so many breakthroughs for these amazing young men.

We ended the week as a much stronger and coherent group. With deep respect and understanding of each other.

I want to thank you parents again for the privilege of working with your sons. They are becoming good men.



PS. The clients named this adventure.

The Healing Wilderness: The Legacy Outdoor Adventures Course Area

Fishing Drug and Alcohol RehabLegacy’s course area is comprised of over 2500 square miles of public land administered by the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.  The lower elevation desert country to the east of Capitol Reef National Park is warmer and dryer than the higher, more mountainous areas in the western part of our course area.

We use the San Rafael and Henry Mountain desert areas more in the winter due to the warmer temperatures and less snow.  It is a great area for canyoneering, hiking, exploring, and observing wild horses and desert bighorn sheep.

We spend most of the summer months in the mountains.  Fishlake, Thousand Lake, and Boulder mountains have over 75 square miles of area at elevations over 11,000 feet.  There are hundreds of small lakes and vast expanses of forest.  Boulder and Thousand Lake are plateaus with rolling hills, patches of timber, and meadows resembling arctic tundra.  Wildlife includes mule deer, elk, and antelope as well as coyotes, bobcats, and even a few bear and mountain lion.  The mountains are great for hiking, fishing, and climbing peaks.

Native Americans have lived in this area for nearly 10,000 years.  Archeological studies have found human artifacts intermingled with the bones of wooly mammoths and extinct camels and horses in desert caves in the area.  There are many locations where we can observe ancient rock art in the form of petroglyphs and pictographs.  It is not unusual to find artifacts when hiking.  Arrowheads, scrapers, pottery shards, and grindstones are reminders that others were here first and had found a way to live in harmony with this amazing land.  When early settlers first arrived in the area in the 1860’s, Native Americans were still practicing a nomadic lifestyle as they had for millennia.

There is power and healing to be found in the wilderness.  A young man seeking refuge from the ravages of substance abuse or addiction can find peace.  Coupled with comprehensive therapy from a master’s level clinician, the wilderness affords space to slow down and re-connect with what really matters in life.  We facilitate weekly adventures such as canyoneering, summiting mountain peaks, fishing, and wildlife viewing.  These fun and engaging activities offer a great deal of support for people trying to make change in their lives.

Mountain Biking for RecoverySeveral of us who work here at Legacy grew up in this area.  These mountains, deserts and canyons shaped us as we matured from the boys that we were then, to men that we are now.  To be able to facilitate a condensed version of that journey for the young men who come to Legacy to work with us is deeply meaningful.  Whether standing on a mountaintop or exiting a challenging canyon that tested us to the core, we find ourselves surrounded by great things that make us feel small and at the same time, small things that make us feel great. We can all benefit from an experience like that.






Relapse Prevention in the Canyons: Training ourselves to be aware of and deal with Triggers

Relapes Prevention - Dealing with TriggersRelapse prevention is an important topic in substance abuse treatment. At Legacy Outdoor Adventures one topic of relapse prevention we focus on is education, awareness of, and how to deal with triggers.

What are triggers? Triggers are things that induce an emotional response in us that can lead to obsessive thought or behavior around drugs and alcohol. A trigger could be a smell that we associate with using. A trigger could also be seeing someone who we associate with using or going to a place we used to use. It could be hearing a song we have listened to while using. Triggers often appeal to the senses. There are also emotional triggers. Something that creates stress, anxiety, anger, or depresses us can be a trigger. When using drugs or alcohol all the time, all of these things can create a conditioned response that makes an addict obsess and crave drugs and alcohol.

This week at Legacy we worked on creating awareness around the things that trigger us and tools to help deal with them. We incorporated this with a canyoneering adventure. Canyoneering is descending technical slot canyons by hiking, down climbing, and rappelling through the canyon. It requires teamwork and good communication to navigate and descend the canyon safely and efficiently. After gathering all the equipment we needed to descend the canyon we began our approach hike from the trailhead. The first half mile of the hike was flat and did not offer much of a challenge. Then we came to a trail that lead straight up hill where we would gain 700 feet in elevation over the course of ¾ mile. At this point we sat down and took our packs off and had a discussion about triggers. We defined what triggers are, what experiences people have had being triggered, and what specific things trigger us. We then talked about specific tools we use to fight triggers. Then we introduced the idea of a trigger buster. A trigger buster is a tool to interrupt the internal response that the trigger causes and reconnects us with our purpose in living a life of meaningful recovery. The trigger buster starts with awareness that we are being triggered. Then we take a deep breath to calm ourselves and slow down our thoughts. Then we have a mantra that we tell ourselves that connects us to our purpose. After explaining what a trigger buster was we all took a few minutes in silent meditation to think about our trigger buster and develop a personal mantra or saying that we would tell ourselves when things got tough that would connect us back to our purpose. Everyone shared their saying out loud and we began the hike up hill. When the hike got tough we encouraged each other to take a deep breath and say your mantra. “Be Strong” “God, grant me the serenity.” I have the freedom to choose to be me.” “I am capable of dealing with hard times in positive ways.” “I want to make my Grandpa and family proud.” These were some of the mantras the members of the group shared.

The most fear, stress, and anxiety inducing thing encountered canyoneering is often the rappels and because of this response that it creates we wanted to use the rappels to practice our trigger busters. When each member was half way down the rappel his partner below would take him on belay so he could let go of the rope with both hands. With both hands free of the rope each member practiced taking a deep breath and saying their mantra. One group member stated that he realized the purpose of this exercise and saw the value in it. “If I can learn, practice, and condition myself to practice a trigger buster while hanging off the side of a cliff on a rope I will be able to do it when I am tempted by something in my regular life. But I know I have to practice it so it becomes my natural response to dealing with stuff when it comes up.”

This canyoneering adventure proved to be a successful one. Not only did we have a great time hiking, exploring, rappelling, climbing and celebrating recovery but we also learned about addiction, triggers, and how we deal with triggers.  The canyon helped create a meaningful setting for us to teach and talk about relapse prevention and having meaningful recovery.

Working with triggers in wilderness therapy


Making a Bow Drill Fire – Video

Here is staff Curtis making a bow drill fire.



Adventure Moduals

Legacy’s adventure modules are solidly based on the concepts of “Safe, Fun, and Meaningful”.  We engage our clients in activities that encourage individual participation, build group cohesion, develop self-confidence and self-efficacy, and provide meaningful challenge and a sense of accomplishment. Treatment goals are deliberately addressed through impactful adventure activities.  Adventures last 5 days followed by 2 days to stand down, engage in therapy sessions, and re-outfit for the next adventure. Some of our most common adventures include:

Technical Canyoneering:

Canyoneering is the activity of descending technical canyons by hiking and rappelling down obstacles.  People travel from around the world to go canyoneering in Legacy’s course area.  We have the equipment and expertise to guide our client teams down through some of the most spectacular canyons in the world; right here in our own backyard!  Some of our favorites include Chimney Canyon, Eardley Canyon, Little Iron Wash, Baptist Draw and Upper Chute Canyon, and our “secret” gem, Pete’s Dragon, which we scouted and pioneered ourselves.

Adventure Backpacking:

Legacy operates in some of the most spectacular mountain and desert terrain in the world.  We hike across 11,000 foot plateaus and through deep canyon gorges.  The beauty and solitude of the Sweetwater Canyon defies description.  The grandeur of the Chute of Muddy Creek leaves a powerful impression on anyone who has ever visited.  The areas where we hike and camp are the areas you see on postcards and panoramic photos of the desert southwest.

Mountain Summits:

TWe have several mountain summits within our course area that serve as solid objectives for an adventurous group of young men to conquer.   Mt Hilgard (11,533 ft), Mt Ellen (11,522 ft), and Mt Terrill (11,547 ft) are some of our regular targets.  These summit adventures involve a one or two day approach hike followed by the actual summit attempt day.  The exhilaration and sense of accomplishment a young man feels standing “on top of the world” is difficult to describe.  Sharing the experience with a team of brothers makes it even more powerful.

Backpack Fishing Trips:

Boulder Mountain has over a hundred fishable lakes, most of which are accessible only by foot.  Our fishing adventures are relaxing and gratifying.  Hike, fish, camp, repeat.

Wildlife Adventures:

We plan specific adventures around wildlife observation during peak seasons.  We observe and photograph wild horses in the Link Flats area of the San Rafael Swell.  We hike into the Fishlake Mountains to call and observe rocky mountain elk during the rut in September.  We watch desert bighorn sheep jousting and head-butting during their rut in November.  There is a large free ranging herd of American bison in the Henry Mountains that we locate and observe.

Mountain Biking:

Central and southern Utah has some of the best mountain biking routes in the world.  People travel from afar to enjoy what we have at our doorstep.  We ride in the San Rafael Swell, the Henry Mountain desert, and on top of Boulder Mountain.  Riding bikes is fun but we make sure we include the meaningful part too.

Canyon Adventure

Crack CanyonEach week the clients and staff are given a position for the week.  We have Expedition leader, Equipment Coordinator, Lead cook, Navigator, Safety Officer, Expedition Photographer, Assistant Cook, and expedition Assistant.    These change from week to week.

At the beginning of our week we sat down with the team and determined we wanted to do Temple Mountain, and some canyon.  We planned the route with the Navigators help looking at the Maps and reading descriptions of hikes.  We planned meals with the cooks.  Talked to the safety officer to go through any issues we may run into, and what our roads mean with the expedition leader.

We found many challenges this week, including the weather and fatigue. We did Ding and Dang Canyon quicker than we expected and worked together well in helping each other over large cracks working on bridging and stemming.  We got a late start to Crack and Chute canyon due to slick conditions, fatigue and lake of time.  The group together made the c all to head back down crack canyon instead of doing the entire loop through chute.  The last canyon we did was Little While Horse, it was our only sunny day, which made for a lot of running water.  We ended at a great sport next to a running stream, that was great for meditation.

Two peak experiences stand out for us this week, week one beginning in dang canyon , we stemmed over 20ft crevasses a few of the clients were a little anxious around it, but with the help of teammates   we were able to make it down very safely. The second is a fire clinic put on by Client (JA). The client learning has some serious difficulty learning how to build a fire, after 3 hours no one had even bust a coal. So client (JA) had to make the fire that night.  The next morning, Client (JJ) woke early and busted a coal into flame, that night client (RW) busted a coal into flame, both over coming and doing what they didn’t think they could.

We dealt with a lot of weather this week, a few days of snow and one night of rain. We came together as a team to get proper shelter up, to stay dry and warm, making sure we were using the proper layering with our clothes, working at a team to get fire in a time of need.   The team became each other allies working together to ultimately accomplish more.

Crack Canyon

Petroglyph Hunting

San Rafael Swell Head of Sinbad PictographsTo prepare for our adventures we examined a map illustrating the topography of the Head of Sinbad where are team would set out to find 12,000 year old petroglyphs. We assigned jobs and set goals to accomplish while we were out.

This week we formed a new team so our primary challenge was to form a good bond with each other, so that we could accomplish the tasks at hand as cohesively as possible. Another challenge we would overcome was dealing with the cold weather by creating fire using primitive bow-drill sets that each team member would make by hand.

After establishing camp, getting our gear and lunch packed, we set out on a hike to find the petroglyphs painted on the side of a tall mesa. We hiked through snow from camp covering a few miles until we reached the base of the mesa, we then walked along the edge of the mesa until we found the petroglyphs drawn on the wall at a site thought to be a ceremonial site used by our ancestors about 12,000 years ago.

In our reflection of what we say we tried to imagine what it might have been like to live back in that space and time, following the herds of animals that roamed the area.  It was a powerful experience for all of us to think about.  It is hard to comprehend how much time has passed since those drawings were made and to hypothesize what they might have meant.

San Rafael Swell Dutchman's Arch Black Dragon

Mountain Biking

To prepare for our adventure we assigned roles for the week to each team member. After these roles were established our expedition leader and navigator (CC and RS) planned and organized our adventure and the routes we would take.


To begin our adventure we backpacked out in the back country for 3 days, a total of 14 miles in 3 days. Each night we set up camp to have dinner and group around the fire. We packed up in the mornings.  On the fourth day we met up with the other team and took their bikes and other gear. To do the mountain biking part of our adventure we hiked from our campsite all the way back to where we started the trip.


The nights were cold and the hikes were long, but we stayed in good spirits and delved into our psyches each night.  We analyzed our lives and talked about our recoveries and about men we want to be and working towards that.  We bonded as a group over the newest member’s life story as well as during our hikes and bike ride.


Upon return we all felt a sense of accomplishment in the air as we reflected on what we had accomplished this week. The longest distances we hiked the inspiring groups we held and making it through -20 degree temperatures during the nights.  All of this made us stronger as individuals and  and very strong group.

Depths and Heights

SummitFor Team One, we would leave into the field with less definition of what defined us, whereas Team Two had given themselves mustaches.  They were team mustache!  But who were we?  Even when the mustaches were chanting down at us from the top of Steele Butte and across South Creek we didn’t know the answer.  Whoever we were, we were not the guys to try to identify ourselves just because another group had.

We went out on Friday and walked over rugged terrain to an old Freemont cliff dwelling.  For such a new group the hike was a real challenge and the men looked quite worn out for the most part upon our arrival, and many for this reason quite disinterested in the actual dwelling with its evidence of long ago days and perhaps simpler way of being.

On Saturday we climbed Steele Butte, most of us.  There were a couple of gentlemen who were perhaps, a little too afraid of heights for this one.  There are rare occasions when all or part of the group does not complete an event.  I find that if we process it well afterward, there will be as much, if not more to take from the experience.  This proved to be the case.  There was such a tender outpouring of courage and ferocious support of one another around the fire that we discovered who we are as a group, the Sensitive Spartans.  Let all Mustaches beware.
For the final day of the adventure we awoke to a world brightened by the white snow.  It was that first day when the weather changes and nothing works right or easy for anyone.  We were undaunted and combined with the Mustaches to climb Mt. Ellen with her 11,522 ft. peak, most of which was veiled in cloud and receiving extreme winds and more snow.  This time we all managed to arrive at the top together in the first “snow ascent” of Ellen.

Many of us had carried rocks to the top symbolizing resentments each wanted to release.  We trudged through whiteout conditions to the summit.  We gathered in a large circle laying down our stones in turn and naming them aloud.  By coincidence or act of God, depending on your world view, at the very instant when the last stone was placed down, the sky cleared above us and we were bathed, albeit briefly, in a warm golden light.

I felt the group engulfed in a new confidence, seasoned now by cold and peril, heights and depths, insights and reflections.  We were bound by an intoxicating respect for each other, genuine expression, and adventure.

Charlie Hopper, Senior Field Guide

Fishing Adventure to Miller Lake; Almost.

I took a trip with a friend to Miller Lake to see a group last Friday. They planned on fishing. They got there and everything looked good, went to bed and in the morning the lake had frozen over; no fishing.