By Rachel Kuc’
This summer 52 kids from the Questa area participated in the Vida Summer Camp, a day camp organized by Localogy in partnership with Vida Del Norte, Taos Behavioral Health, Questa Farmers Market, Questa Stories, Yoga Sala, Trout Unlimited, The Questa Economic Development Fund, Questa Public Library, North Central Food Pantry, and the Village of Questa. Vida Camp was based at the Cisneros Youth and Family Center in Questa and also explored our resilient watershed and foodshed with trips to local farms and streams.
Campers made new friends and practiced new skills. Several older youth participated in the camp as junior counselors, which included attending an intensive pre-camp training to learn skills crucial to making the camp a fun, safe, and rewarding experience.
This year, Vida Camp held three weeklong sessions. Every day-camper arrived at the Youth and Family Center at 9 am. On rainy days, campers stayed in the Center, playing games and doing arts and crafts. The Youth Center’s proximity to Questa Municipal Park and the Questa Public Library created many opportunities. The library welcomed campers to their summer reading program events, such as visits from the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s ZOOmobile, a magician, and Twirl Taos—who helped the campers create and invent.
Campers and staff visited local farms and watersheds: they toured an irrigation system in Costilla—from field to headwaters—with Majordomo Victor Mascareñas. Victor talked about the acequias and about the importance of water and irrigation to the vitality of the land, our people, and our culture. He talked to the children about the power of communicating with plants and coupled with willpower, how this plays a big role in the growing of seeds. This was great advice and also a good metaphor for finding success in other aspects of life. Victor says that “An acequia is like an abrazo, a hug. It is like an arm that comes out and gives a community a hug and it holds us, and we can live here as long as we take care of our acequias because it is an arm off the river and that is what we live on.”
Victor invited the campers to cool off in one of his ponds for some memorable, muddy fun! Afterwards, campers took a trip upstream to see where the water comes from before it feeds the fields. The camp bus followed the Rio Costilla up to Valle Vidal where they met with Toner Mitchell, Trout Unlimited representative (and regular contributor to The Questa Del Rio News!).
Toner showed them photos of cutthroat trout (New Mexico’s state fish), which are native to the streams in this region. He explained how the dam helps to protect the cutthroat (who live upstream), from the other types of trout living downstream. Toner asked, “Who is the Majordomo for these fish? It’s you guys! It’s all of you guys! You gotta take care of this river like it’s your own because it is your own. Right? It’s your water, it grows your food. This belongs to you, you are going to take care of it and hopefully you will enjoy it a lot.” After visiting the dam in Valle Vidal, the campers made one last stop along the Rio Costilla to enjoy more time playing in the water before heading back to Questa.
Another day the campers split into three groups to visit different farms. One group went to local herbalist, gardener, and Iris Herbal business owner Cathy Hope. Cathy invited this group of campers to explore her gardens and talked to them about the various native herbs that she has lovingly grown. A group of younger campers visited Virsylvia Farm, owned by Amelia and Tyler Eshleman, to meet and play with their goats and their other animals. The third group visited Big Wheel Farms, run by Localogy director Daniel Hutchison. They helped irrigate the wheat crop, which was fun—yet very messy—and it sure looked like they enjoyed getting covered in mud.
Some of the campers learned to make tortillas and butter outdoors, with the help of local cook and baker Wendy Medina. Wendy taught the campers how to mix the dough with their hands and make butter in a jar. She brought her grill and griddle and helped the campers cook up a bunch of fresh tortillas that everyone enjoyed.
Vida Camp was sometimes messy, sometimes hot, sometimes cold, sometimes wet. Every day was a new adventure—from painting a mural with Winter Ross, to nature journaling with Tallie Segel in Columbine Canyon, to planting trees with Gaea McGahee at the farmers market. It was a fun way for the kids to enjoy the summer together. It was also a great opportunity for the junior counselors to gain valuable experience and for other members of the community to engage with our youth and share some of their knowledge and skills.
Taos Behavioral Health continued to host the camp through July. This summer’s Vida Camp would not have been possible without the involvement of the Village of Questa, all the groups that helped organize it, and the individuals who participated to share their knowledge. The camp staff, including junior counselors, worked hard every day to keep the camp running smoothly. And lastly, it couldn’t have happened without the kids who came to have fun, and their parents and caretakers who made this summer one to remember, full of growth and learning.
Vida Camp’s Photography Program
By Patrick Hutchison
As a visiting photographer, I gave campers the opportunity to learn about photography in daily sessions. The children explored the mechanics of their cameras by adjusting them manually, like “real” photographers. Along with thinking about basic photography concepts like time, light, and framing, participants had room to experiment and play. One significant activity involved working with Questa Stories to help document precious objects brought in by fellow campers. For these portraits, the kids focused carefully on presenting details and capturing the character of objects and people. Other projects involved documenting the camp experience, including Questa’s History Trail, hikes and games with their friends at camp, and the natural world around town.
Vida Camp and Questa Stories
By Claire Coté
Vida Camp worked with Questa Stories to share “object stories” with campers and junior counselors, who had been invited to bring something meaningful with them to camp. Each person was asked to tell the story of their chosen object: what is it? how did you get it? why is it special to you? Questa Stories representatives Claire Coté and Sarah Parker recorded these reflections and they will become short audio stories. (Thank you to QEDF for use of the Questa Visitor Center and to the Questa Creative Council for use of the Youth Center Art Room for private spaces for audio recording.)
Patrick Hutchison, director of the Vida Camp photography program, then led his team of photographers in taking portraits of the objects and their owners. When editing is complete, these videos may be shown as part of the Vida del Norte “Thursday Movie Night” series. “There is a nice reciprocity in this project. We get to see and hear what each camper or junior counselor chose to bring, a little view into their world—and it provides each of them with an opportunity to share and reflect on something meaningful in their lives,” said Claire.
Questa Stories was also “on the scene” recording on the day that Maria Gonzalez took campers on a walking tour of the Questa History Trail. First the group gathered and reflected on the layers of geological and human history in this place, passing around small artifacts found nearby, examples of basalt and obsidian. Then the camp split into two groups; one walked the History Trail and discussed local historical themes, while the other stayed at the farmers market site, making adobe mud and planting seedlings in raised beds. Then the groups swapped places; it was a good day of hands-on historical learning and activity. Big thanks to Gaea McGahee, QEDF, the Questa Creative Council, and Maria Gonzalez!