Alumni Interview Corner

April 28, 2022
Dear Gulch Community,

Below we have three very special interviews hosted by our very own, Master of All Things Rocks A.K.A The Rock Doctor, Brad Jeffrey, Ph.D., enjoy!

Joe Herrera Jr.

Outfit Expedition, 1981-82, Prairie Trek Group I, 1983-84

Gulch resident artist, 2021-present. 

Hey Joe, how’s it going?

Hangin’ in there, how about you?

Pretty good, hangin’ in there as well.

I’ve been gathering firewood, trying to get ahead of this storm.

How did you find out about Cottonwood Gulch?

Well, I was born into Cottonwood Gulch.  My grandfather is Tom Henio, so through my mother, through my family – my cousins.  As soon as I was old enough, I went to the Outfit.

Knives made by MDT 2021, from railroad steel found at Basecamp.

What are some of your favorite memories with the Gulch?

There was a lot!  Of course, backpacking in the beautiful country.  I had some great counselors – Monty Billings, Mr. Van, Scott, Doug, Richard.  We went out there and learned about a different country.  I was born here in the red rocks and didn’t really get out much, and it was the time to travel and see something new.  Some great moments were sleeping on the edge of Canyon de Chelly in our sleeping bags, and there was a meteor shower that night.  That was pretty beautiful, watching meteors almost constantly all night.  

How did your time with the Gulch impact your life today? 

Growing up Navajo, the Gulch introduced me to different cultures, including people from back east and around the world.  There were a lot of similarities among us, we all liked the outdoors, we all went camping with our families.  We all worked together; everybody brought their own thing to the table.  I loved campfires at night and singing DSB.  I still sing that to myself sometimes when I’m out in the woods!

You’ve been making some sweet knives out at Basecamp with trekkers.  Tell us a little about how that came to be.

I loved it, my Dad and I started doing it as a hobby, and we got into it.  To me, it was kind of like a tradition.  My grandfather Tom Henio was out at the Gulch teaching silversmithing, and my mother and aunties are teaching weaving.  So, it meant a lot to me to be able to go out there and teach something also.  Help the kids look at an old railroad spike in the field and see your knife right now.  I enjoyed seeing the final products.  They were beautiful, I was amazed, and I enjoyed seeing the kids’ happy faces when they built something with their own two hands.  There’s a lot of history with the narrow gauge railroad out at Basecamp, and that knife is Gulch all the way.

Why is supporting the Gulch important, particularly for scholarship donations?  

As a child from the Res, that wasn’t really allowed in that outside world. It gives someone less fortunate an experience they’d never have where they grew up.  And nature is so unbelievable; it’s great to share that with kids.  And it’s great to share that with kids, maybe from the city, and let them know that there is more than their world.  There’s this whole wide world, and thank God a lot of it is nature.  It made me want to travel and see the world.  I joined the military and brought a lot from the Gulch to communicate with people from different places.  The Gulch gave me the urge to travel, see the world, try new things, eat other food, and experience different cultures.  

Do you have any advice for future trekkers?

Enjoy the moment.  When you get there, enjoy the moment.  Feel the Earth talking to you, feel the trees, feel the spirit around you.  Walkout in the meadow with flowers, find somewhere quiet, and sit by yourself.  Feel what you’re doing, feel the Earth, and feel the spirit of the forest, of the rocks, of the river.  And the food always tastes better out there!

If you could summarize your experience with the Gulch in just one sentence, what would it be?

I can’t do it, not in one sentence!  Breathtaking, knowledge-gaining, soul-cleansing … the wind through the trees.  Learning about the outdoors, learning about different cultures and traditions.  The Gulch means a lot to me.  It’s like home.  I walk the cabin loop, and it brings back many memories.  


Deb Korol

Deb and Bill at Monument Valley in 2019

Turquoise Trail Expedition, 1962.

Family Trek, 1991.

Scholarship donor, 2014-present.

Hi Deborah!  How are you?  

I’ve been reminiscing on the Gulch.  I was so excited about my own camp experiences. Still, the school programs, firewood collecting, and the food drive for the Navajo Nation all sounded so exciting and an excellent use for the Basecamp facilities during the Covid pandemic.

How did you find out about Cottonwood Gulch?

I grew up in Baltimore, and I had a friend with an older brother who came to the Gulch and liked it a lot, and we had a lot of shared passion for the outdoors.

What are some of your favorite memories with the Gulch?

First, I never imagined we’d be riding in the back of pickup trucks with seats, and we had water bags that went on the mirror and evaporated, and during the day, that’s how we got drinking water.  Another was we were invited to a Navajo coming-of-age ceremony at Basecamp.  Later on, my husband and I, and our two kids, attended a family trek with Lucy Kluckhohn-Jones.  We were near Telluride and had a square dance with someone who had a guitar.  Just one guitar and we were out dancing under the stars.  We picked a summer project for the Turquoise Trail, and mine was studying the wildflowers.  We picked them, pressed them, identified them, and still have a lifelong passion for wildflowers.  

How did your time with the Gulch impact your life today? 

My husband’s first time in the Southwest was on Family Trek. We decided to retire to Nevada, and we still hike and bike a few times each month at Red Rocks Park in Las Vegas. But I’ve always wanted a New Mexico license plate!

Why do you support the Gulch, and particularly the scholarship fund?  

Deb and Bill with their children Elsa and Wilson on Family Trek, 1991

I think it’s so important to support places where kids can have unbelievable experiences because you just don’t know what will resonate there and change the course of their lives.  We didn’t have diversity on the TT trek when we were there, and I think it would be even richer of an experience to have participants who were from there join us.  

Do you have any plans for any upcoming visits to Basecamp?

We visited last summer, and we were taken all around and saw the new TT loop and looked at the kitchen, and we always drive in if the gate’s open and check it out if anyone’s around.  The work with the conservation corps, thinning and cutting the forest, is significant.  It’s protecting the land.  

Do you have any advice for future trekkers?

Be present in the experience.  Just be present.  And the silence – you can’t get silence anywhere. Appreciate the silence. It’s the one thing that you can’t control anywhere else.  

If you could summarize your experience with the Gulch in just one sentence, what would it be?  

It was a life-enriching experience.  We’re happy to support it.


Zeynep Oguzer

Art and Music Trek, 2021.

Hi Zeynep, how’s life?

I had a recent performance at my high school, and I’ve been busy filling out college applications.  

How did you find out about Cottonwood Gulch?

I learned about Cottonwood Gulch through Discover U.  I wanted to learn more about music, so I found Art and Music Trek online.  Summer camp was something new for me, and AMT was involved with things I like and wanted to learn about.  

What are some of your favorite memories with the Gulch?

Sleeping outside and watching the stars, outside of our tents.  We tried to find constellations.  I’ve never seen stars like that, we could see the Milky Way.  Being on the road, going to a lot of places, meeting different people and different artists was such a great experience.  I especially loved the S’mores in the Ponderosas.  

How did your time with the Gulch impact your life today? 

My time with the Gulch impacted me more than I thought it would.  I wrote about my experiences in my college essays, I loved writing about the Gulch and what I learned there.  I feel more responsible – being by yourself and with friends gives you responsibilities, with chores like dishes, and everybody has something to pitch in and do.  

Why is it important that the Gulch offer scholarships to help kids and young adults attend our summer treks?

Scholarships are really important because I wouldn’t be able to afford it otherwise.  I received an opportunity that changed my life.  I knew that I was lucky to get the chance.  

Do you have any advice for future trekkers?

AMT 2021 on their Road Loop

Sometimes it gets hard, especially at the beginning.  But when you’re patient, try to fit in and find the positive things.  Focus on what you can get out of the trek, and your experiences there.  Enjoy the moment, be in the moment while you’re there.  Losing our phones was actually helpful to live in the moment and connect with other people.  

Put yourself back in time to a place in New Mexico, and describe the moment.  

The night sky before bed, full of bright stars, constellations, faraway city lights, and dreaming.  

If you could summarize your experience with the Gulch in just one sentence, what would it be?

“Seize the moment.” 

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