Adventure abroad: From islands to church camp, memories abound

June was been an incredible memory-maker for me.

My favorite pastimes are spending time with my two granddaughters, adventure travel, wildlife and nature. June had all these rolled into one.

Visiting the Galapagos Islands has always been on my bucket list. In early June, seventh-grader Chloe and I embarked on a 10-day National Geographic Photographic and Natural History Expedition to the incredible archipelago of the Galapagos Islands.

These islands have been formed over millions of years by a phenomena called uplifting in which the islands gradually rise from the sea.

The Galapagos National Park is one of the best-managed and most strictly protected national parks in the world.

Each day we visited several islands, each of which has a very different ecosystem. We rode Zodiacs to shore and disembarked either on sandy beaches (wet landings) or jumped onto large lava rocks (dry landings).

It didn’t take long for me to come to the conclusion that my goal for the trip was to come home in one piece. I accomplished this with only a few bruises and all bones intact. Chloe hopped over lava rocks and boulders like a pro.

Our first stop was Santa Cruz Island, which is home to marine iguanas which are found only in the Galapagos. These incredible animals look like prehistoric creatures and were in abundance everywhere we went. We saw East Pacific green sea turtles and their nesting sites. What an incredible start to an amazing adventure.

Watching Chloe as she absorbed everything we saw and did was something I will always treasure. She took copious notes on all our walks and hikes. Her journal could be a term paper it was so detailed. Her work resulted in the on-board naturalists naming her a junior naturalist and giving her a cap with that designation on it.

One of the highlights was our snorkeling adventures. Both of us are experienced snorkelers and took full advantage of the opportunity to snorkel with sea turtles, Galapagos penguins, flightless cormorants, sea lions and fur seals (really sea lions), and, yes, sharks.

We had four professional photographers on board to give us instruction on photographing wildlife. All of them have done work for acclaimed publications. They worked with Chloe on how to best photograph wildlife with her point-and-shoot camera. She has some incredible photographs as a result and has a real eye for photo composition.

During our full-week adventure, we saw how each volcanic island, some young and still actively growing, others succumbing to the forces of erosion, has its own unique character. The wildlife and flora reflect these differences, and each landing had its own special flavor.

Two islands have a small community and airstrip, but otherwise there is no human habitation on the islands.

Each group, with no more than five to 10 people, had a certified naturalist and one of the photographers. We never saw another tourist ship or other tourists at any of our stops.

The highest point in the archipelago is the Wolf Volcano on the island of Isabela, by far the largest of the islands. In late May, this volcano had a massive eruption, and the caldron is still highly active. Seeing the brilliant red of the active volcano against the night sky with the Milky Way visible was an awesome sight and certainly one of the highlights of the expedition for both of us.

On the western coast of Isabela, we visited a marine reef that was uplifted almost instantaneously in 1954 by as much as 15 feet. This left marine creatures high and dry, and evidence of this can still be found.

We hiked through mangroves, stony terrains, mature forests and snorkeled in a cove that was a one-time pirate haunt. We saw huge giant Galapagos tortoises that were more than 100 years old and were hatched when no living person on Earth now was even born yet.

These are all memories of a lifetime, and I have to pinch myself to make sure it all really happened.

Shortly after arriving home, the memory-makers continued. Eight-year-old granddaughter Lucy invited me to go to church camp with her for three days. This was a beautiful camp set in Brown County.

(Thankfully, the seven grandmothers had comfortable accommodations.)

The 15 campers were from ages 5 to 8 years old, Lucy being the oldest.

Rain and mud describe the first day and a half. Campers were not fazed. Lucy went for the polar-bear plunge each morning at 7. I didn’t. By the end of the second day, Lucy had a mixture of papier mâché and mud in her hair and on her clothes. It didn’t bother her one bit.

The next day dawned with no rain. We canoed in the morning. Lucy rowed from the front and me from the rear. After going in circles for the first 15 minutes, I got the hang of it. Lucy already knew what to do.

We hiked through the forest to the outdoor chapel in the woods. There were gullies to go up and down, mud holes to traverse but beautiful scenery. Once we got there, it was a meaningful place to worship.

It was inspiring to watch Lucy consoling a homesick young girl and helping the younger ones with their activities. She was a leader and loved every minute of it — mud and all.

Nothing is better than making these memories with my granddaughters (and surviving in one piece). I cherish the opportunity to watch them mature and have these remarkable experiences, which I hope are memories they will cherish and help mold their lives.

Beverly Gard served 24 years in the Indiana Senate before retiring in 2012. She is a Hancock County resident.