As adolescents navigate the challenges of growing up in today’s fast-paced world, mental health issues can arise, affecting their overall well-being. Fortunately, mental health travel experiences offer a unique and effective approach to support the emotional and psychological needs of teens. From immersive nature retreats to therapeutic adventures, these programs provide a healing environment for teens to explore, learn, and grow. In this article, we will delve into the myriad of benefits that mental health travel can offer teens. Drawing from our students’ experiences of service trips to Guatemala and adventure trip to Havasu Falls, Arizona, we will explore how these programs contribute to their healing and well-being.
Service Trip to Guatemala
Each year, some of the students at Discovery Ranch South‘s residential treatment center get the amazing opportunity to travel to Guatemala for an immersive seven-day service trip. There is something to be said about experiencing the culture of countries very different than our own. The students that take part in this trip, have life-changing experiences meant to open their eyes to the wide world around them.
As part of the trip, our girls volunteer as teachers for impoverished kindergarteners teaching them English. The girls form a special bond with the kids they teach and gain valuable perspectives on their own lives and problems. Discovery Ranch girls have also taken part in painting murals and painting the outside of school buildings. Another aspect of the trip is getting the chance to tour the city, and taking part in different cultural activities. These help our girls experience the reward of cultural immersion.
Culture, Service, and Growth
Every trip has been an amazing experience for those who participate; each one is unique in not only the experience itself, but the activities and opportunities that are available. Some of our trips have involved working at daycares, while other trips our girls have worked teaching English to elementary children. Discovery Ranch South also keeps the main therapy goal in mind when these trips are planned. One such healing ritual our girls have taken part in involved writing a letter to someone that they cared deeply for. The girls then hiked into the Guatemalan mountains to plant a tree with their letter. This symbolic journey shows the healing power of nature and love.
Discovery Ranch girls also learn the importance of true service. By juxtaposing our girls with the lives of the poor children they are teaching, our girls gain a greater sense of empathy. Outdoor Recreation Director, David Mosse who plans and accompanies the students on the trip described the girl’s first experience with the kids, “[They were] filled with apprehension and excitement as they entered the room. The girls soon found themselves immersed in their lesson and doing a wonderful job of bridging the language barrier and interacting with the kids. I was blown away by their willingness to be silly with them and also present the information effectively.” Many of our girls come to Discovery Ranch South with relationship struggles; they have a hard time making and keeping healthy relationships. Part of the Guatemalan experience is trusting our girls to put aside their own problems for a greater purpose. The students that go on this trip, come away from it with a new life perspective. By moving forward with love in all aspects of life, our girls begin to heal themselves.
Of course, our girls also come on this trip for cultural fun! Some trips have seen our girls making chocolate with the country’s oldest chocolate making families, shopping and exploring the Spanish Colonial city, visiting the Presidential Palace and city square, and taking a city tour all over Guatemala City. Our girls have also had the opportunity to see the Iximche Mayan ruins. After the tour of the ruins, the girls get to participate in a Mayan Fire Ceremony. The purpose of the Mayan Fire Ceremony is to cleanse, heal and give protection to those involved. It is one of the ways the people of Guatemala stay connected to their Mayan ancestry. At the ceremony, the girls learn their Mayan symbols, which are similar to animal totems found in Native American Culture. On the final day of the trip, the girls have the opportunity to visit Antigua, the original Spanish Colonial capital of Guatemala. In Antigua, the girls get to experience an authentic Guatemalan market. At the market, the girls get to interact with the locals, as well as try their hand at negotiating prices on items with the sellers. Every aspect of the trip opens up our students’ eyes to the world around them.
There is so much for the girls to take away from this trip to Guatemala; from all the culture and history they learned, to the positive impact compassion and service can have on others. For many of our girls who get to go on the trip, it is an experience like no other.
5-Day trip to Havasu Falls, Arizona
Havasu Falls: Located outside the boundaries of the Grand Canyon National Park and not accessible by road, this beautiful blue-green waterfall oasis serves many tourists and visitors each year. The blue-green pools and clear water – minus the occasional flash storm that causes the water to turn chalk-red with mud – are part of Havasu Creek and eventually run through the small town of Supai, the capital of the Havasupai Indian Reservation. The ever-changing landscape of the river and formation of pools are due to the large amounts of calcium carbonate in the water that settles on anything that falls into the river causing constant change and its distinctive travertine formations.
Discovery Ranch South‘s Recreation Director Jared Robinson shares in his own words the Havasu Falls 5 day experience with us:
“The last week in October we took a small group of students to Havasupai in the Grand Canyon on a 5-day backpacking trip. Those of us going on the trip gathered the week before to discuss the details of the trip and to make some of the meals and pack our food for the excursion. It was fun to see all of the excitement and anticipation that the girls had in getting ready for the trip.
The morning of the trip we packed out backpacking packs full of everything that we would need for the week; sleeping bags, clothes, food, bowl, water bottle and bladder, tarp, sleeping pad, among other essentials. We were, by some miracle, able to cram everything into the packs, with a little effort, and sometimes with a lot of effort. 🙂
We hit the road and realized that we had left a couple things behind so we turned around and grabbed them and finally were on our way by around 1 pm. We drove through Las Vegas, Kingman and finally arrived long after dark at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn and RV Park around 7.45 pm, just before the rustic restaurant closed, thank goodness. We hurried in and had a great meal, delicious handmade burgers, and fries (or whatever you ordered really), before setting up camp by the light of the super bright full moon.
It was rather chilly when we woke up that morning and we discovered that there was frost on everything! All of our stuff was wet and/or frozen; even the windshield on the van was frosted over. So, we hung our stuff on the trees or fences, in the sunlight, and then drove down to the motel lobby (very rustic, nostalgic, original, and kinda creepy place) and had the continental breakfast while our stuff was attempting to dry. I must admit that I was pretty stoked when I found out that the campground had a continental breakfast and hot showers at no extra cost.
In time, our stuff dried out and we were able to pack up and get back on the road. On our way out of the campground, we decided to stop and take a picture with the bright green Brachiosaurus. We hopped back into the vans and commenced the 1 ½ hour drive to the Hilltop parking area at the edge of the Grand Canyon. We had lunch and greeted the Mules at the top of the canyon. We then donned our packs and started down the 8-mile trail to the village of Supai.
We stopped every hour for about 15 minutes to rest and grab a snake, I mean snack, and then continued on. We arrived in the village after about 5 hours on the trail where we checked in and got our permits. Upon check-in, even though I had called to confirm the dates of our trip several times, they said that our last night was the 29th instead of the 30th like we had originally planned/reserved. So that meant that we had a little extra food with us for the trip but other than that it didn’t affect us all that much.
After check-in, we continued down the trail for another couple miles to the campground. The majority of us arrived at our camp spot just as it was getting dark enough to need a light. We then set up camp quickly, had dinner and went to sleep.
We woke up on Wednesday morning and we built a shelter out of our tarps first thing as I saw the weather forecast was some rain possible that day and for sure on Thursday. We used several sticks, 70’ of parachute cord, 40 lbs of rocks, 5 tarps, 2 trees, 2 bushes, 2 crevices in the cliff and even a tent stake that we found to build the shelters. It was a great team-building exercise for us. We affectionately called it “The Blue Fortress”. Even a few passersby commented on the creativity that was used to construct such a magnificent work of art.
After our home away from home was complete we headed to Havasu Falls and some of us played in the water, even though the air temperature wasn’t exactly So. Cal weather. We ate lunch and moved about ¾ of a mile up the trail to Little Navajo Falls and played for a while there as well. We had a great time climbing around on the travertine deposits and in and out of the pools created by the mineral water. After hanging out there for a while, we hiked the 1.5ish miles back to camp. and had dinner and chocolate fondue for dessert with dried mango and crystallized ginger and hung out until it was time to go to sleep.
In the middle of the night, the forecasted weather became a reality for us so jumped up and made sure that everything was covered as it started to sprinkle on us. It sprinkled on and off for a while until it was time to get up and it let up for a while so we could have breakfast. We then hiked down the trail to the 190”+ waterfall called Mooney Falls. We took pictures and hiked through some tunnels to get a better look. After we emerged from the tunnels we started to head back to camp and it started raining pretty consistently. We took shelter in a largish/smallish cave and told jokes and stories. We then decided that the weather wasn’t going to let up so we went back to our camp quickly and found that some of our stuff got a little wet so we added a tarp on the open side of “The Blue Fortress” to keep more rain out and it worked wonderfully!
After the camp was all waterproofed as could be a few of us hiked the 2 miles back up to town and had a good look around, grabbed some postcards, stamps and even stopped in at the little restaurant and had some onion rings. We headed back to camp and had dinner and Rocky Road Chocolate pudding for dessert.
Interesting Fact: The Supai community is the only place left in the USA where their mail is delivered by Mules! (SupaiUSMailMules by Elf – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons)
Friday morning we got up a little early and started getting our stuff dried and packed for the hike back to the top. We started out a little later than I would have liked as we had to dry out some of our stuff. We stopped at the village for a break and to fill up our waters. From there we made the long trek to the top, stopping for 15 minutes every hour or so. We made it back to the van in 3 separate groups. Everyone did a really great job. I was very impressed by the morale of the group and how encouraging they were of each other.
We loaded up in the vans after stretching and grabbing some snacks and a couple victory rounds of Hi-Chews (the candy). We then commenced our journey back to the ranch. Most, if not all of the girls slept for a good portion of the drive back, however, no one remained in the van when we pulled up to IN-N-OUT for dinner. After dinner, they fell asleep again as we made our way back from Arizona to Nevada to Arizona to Utah and then to the ranch. We pulled in late that night and it was super funny watching the exhausted girls do the Zombie walk back to their cabins to finish off their good nights sleep.
I must say that I was very impressed by the girls and how they handled all of the challenges that they faced with on the trip. They are strong young women who are going to do great things! I’m so blessed to be able to work with them. Thank you so much for trusting us with your daughters as they work through their challenges and discover hope, passion, and perseverance in the face of life’s adversities.”