Lit candle in front of a sugar skull set up on a decorative table for Dia de los Muertos.

Concrete to Canyon and Bringing the Canyon to the Concrete!

As the seasons change, so do our duties here in the Park! The first year weeks were the education team’s Concrete to Canyon programming. Each week elementary schools from Las Vegas and Mesquite, Nevada would send a class of fifth graders to spend 3 days and 2 nights in the park. Our job was to guide them around the park, teach them about the water cycle, geology, and the food web as well as other core concepts. The best part about this program was helping the students connect with nature and their local national parks!. For many of them, it was a brand new experience, getting to camp out in the outdoors and participate in hands-on learning. 

While the programming kept us busy, October was also Hispanic Heritage month! My supervisor and I took the Loteria game we made for Latino Conservation Week and made it into an educational pop up that we did at the lodge for junior rangers. Along with the public programming, one of my supervisors suggested doing a sugar skull workshop for park employees. I was onboard with the idea and was put in charge of creating a PowerPoint talking about Día de los Muertos and its importance in Latino and Hispanic culture. My supervisor and I found a cultural center in nearby Las Vegas that holds a festival for it every year. We decided to apply to build an ofrenda, or altar, for the festival. We decided to dedicate the ofrenda to one of the first Latino park rangers, George Melendez Wright and to the 21 California Condors who perished from avian flu early this year. 

The festival was a two day event. The first day we packed everything in the van to drive it all down to Las Vegas. Once we got there we found our spot and began to set up, making sure everything was perfect for the ofrenda. The festival was not just for ofrendas, they also had booths where people sold goods, delicious food trucks, and musical and dance performances throughout the day. 

People would stop by to look at or take pictures of our ofrenda. Every few minutes, someone was interested in the ofrenda and would ask who it was made for, what’s the story behind the binoculars, and most of all, did we have a pet condor? While we did not have a pet condor, it allowed us to talk about why we chose to place a condor skull on the altar and the story of the 21 condors. We kept a tally of all the people we interacted with, from telling the whole story, to just answering a short question, to someone commenting on how beautiful the altar is. At the end of the two nights, the total count was about 400 interactions. 

I learned a lot from this experience. On the logistical planning and programming side, I learned about how long it can take to get every aspect of a program done on your own. The research took a week for both the ofrenda and the sugar skull workshop. Creating the PowerPoint presentation, information sheets, and program outlines took another. I also learned about the subjects I was presenting about. Growing up, my parents did not do any of the traditions of Día de los Muertos. That was mainly because in their home country of El Salvador, they celebrate it much differently than Mexico does. Most people in El Salvador congregate at the graveyard where their loved ones were buried, leaving flowers and reminiscing about their loved ones. All countries and people celebrate differently, and this was overall a great opportunity to learn about that aspect of Latino culture.       

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