PRICE -- Halfway up the mountain the girls were done hiking.
Their legs hurt from scrambling over loose rock and gravel. The downward slope looked awfully steep and there was no trail to follow in either direction.
But in the end, the four teenagers, who had never climbed a mountain before, rose to the occasion and reached the archeological site at the top.
"It makes me feel special to be on top of this mountain," said De'Jarae Walker, 15, standing on the yet-unnamed peak, the site abandoned by the original inhabitants long ago. "I've never climbed this high, and I've accomplished it, conquered that fear."
The Ben Lomond High School junior and three other high school students were part of Project Discovery, a weeklong archeology camp for teenagers. The camp, in the depths of Nine Mile Canyon, is sponsored by the Colorado Plateau Archeology Alliance, whose researchers have worked in the area for many years.
The archeologists invite the students to do the field work with them -- a mix of job shadowing and hands-on experience. CPAA is an Ogden-based nonprofit organization that surveys archeological sites, contracting with companies and other organizations.
In its second year, the workshop's goal is to introduce young people to their country's rich history -- not only a look back but also an investment in preserving these sites for the future.
"We create an ethic among the younger generation about the importance of resources," said Jerry Spangler, executive director of CPAA. "We're trying to explain to the youth why it is important, because I'm not sure our generation has been very successful."
The four girls were new to almost everything they did that week, such as climbing mountains and learning about artifacts. Beyond archeology, this camp was about expanding their horizons and pushing perceived limits.
After learning the difference between pictographs and petroglyphs, after they had mapped a site and sketched rock art, there was more to discover.
"I thought we were gonna be at a real campground, not in the wilderness," Dalia Acosta, 15, bursts out. Giggles from Walker and LaDrena Tucker, 16, follow.
The experience was new to them, they said, sitting on freshly folded sleeping bags in a tent that was as clean as a dining table before a festive meal, their clothes neatly stashed in three piles.
At first they felt out of place among a group of teachers and archeologists who talked shop nonstop. But as they got to know the people, it became easier to blend in and a spark of excitement appeared in their eyes every once in a while.
"That's why I teach -- I just try to turn them on to learning," said Mark Elzey, the students' biology teacher at Ben Lomond High School, who joined them on the trip. "Too often these days it's more about the test than the learning. Whether they pursue science or not, this is a major growth experience -- they're pushing their comfort zone."
Elzey's students on the trip were all volunteers. From the beginning, he was impressed by their drive to volunteer and by their good attitude.
"This is Utah and they are Utahns, and it can give them a pride of place," he said. "Part of the objective of this program is to give them a sense of pride in their history."
The canyon was well-suited for hosting the camp, Spangler said. Archeological sites are never far away, and the kids can venture from the camp without getting lost, or return from a walk for a lunch break to escape the day's heat.
Once or twice a day the group of about a dozen people headed out to seek a seemingly unending supply of art and artifacts left behind by people long gone.
"When you discover something on your own, it becomes part of who you are," Spangler said. "This area of the canyon is totally undocumented -- that's pretty cool."
Layton High School senior Meghan Broadbent was one of the students in last year's camp and has returned several times since to learn from the CPAA members.
Doing archeological work gave her a new perspective, she said, "a little love and passion" for understanding the connections between the past and the present. It has also made her appreciate basic things in life.
"I look at how things were and how they are now. You look at all the luxuries and see that they're unnecessary. Plus, nature makes me happy."
The 17-year-old already blends in with the others and says she has found a path that will help lead her to a future profession.
"I want to do something outdoors, with my hands," she said. "I'm trying to do as much field work as I can get under my belt."
CPAA members are experts at assessing a site for its age and location, squinting critically and spending minutes hunched over shards hardly distinguishable to the untrained eye from the rocks surrounding them.
A new perspective
But with wisdom and knowledge of his ancestors, Rick Chapoose Sr., a Ute tribal member and regular volunteer with the group, brought the stories of the canyon alive. He hoped to plant in these youngsters a respect for his people.
In times before reservations, many tribes passed through the canyon, and the Utes share an especially strong connection to the land.
Chapoose views the archeological sites as significant. But to him, the plants by the river, the rocks lining the canyon walls and the wind blowing along the cliffs also tell a story.
"There are a lot of plants that would be classified as obnoxious weeds. To me they are life. They are family. That's how I view them."
He looks into the distance where the sun disappears behind the mountains and the stream gurgles quietly below. Through his eyes, all has meaning. Archeology is an integral part of how he connects to his past.
By passing on some of his knowledge to high-schoolers, he hopes they will learn to appreciate his people's heritage so that it still may be there in another thousand years.
To De'Jarae Walker, at an age when thoughts of aging have not yet been given serious consideration, this idea is nearly incomprehensible.
"One day we are going to be ancient, that's crazy." she ponders, as LaDrena Tucker sings along to a pop song playing on her iPod.
Spangler is satisfied with the progress the students have made in the few days since they left home.
As he looks over the camp while the girls cool their feet in the shallow stream, he says, "This is an amazing place, and they are part of a continuum. There is more a sense of place than individuality. When you come here, you realize that people have had the same emotions and fears for thousands of years. If they take a little bit of that home, it's been a success."