Explore, enjoy, and protect the planet

Joaquin's Blog

Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 17:38

I had fallen asleep in Austin, TX, waiting for my flight, which had been delayed five hours by a thunderstorm. When I woke up, the departure lobby was empty…

I jumped up, ran to my gate, and miraculously, my plane to San Francisco was still boarding. I was finally on my way back to the bay!
Over the past two months, I had travelled more than I’d ever imagined, met like- minded young people across the nation, and discovered places important to both our country and to me personally. How do I even begin to sum up this whirlwind adventure?
I think the most important part was working and adventuring with people who are engaged in protecting our planet. Through my relationships with them, I have developed a clearer view of how I might apply my photo and video skills to conservation causes. As I begin my senior year in college, I’ll be searching for employment opportunities in this direction.
In August, I headed out for my last summer adventure. Joining a Chinese youth group headed to Mt. Diablo, I felt the familiar excitement of discovering a new place but also a sense of nostalgia -- wanting to hold onto this summer forever as its final days closed in.
As usual with Inner City Outings, we had a blast. During the day, we hiked the grassy slopes of the mountain, famous for views of up to 200 miles on clear days. At night, we scared away marauding raccoons and played camp games such as chubby bunny (where contestants attempt to speak clearly while filling their mouths with as many marshmallows as possible). We were particularly happy to spend an afternoon at Rock City – an area of the mountain known for its unique organic-shaped rock formations. As I climbed one of Rock City's mini-peaks with three of the kids, I snapped some final photos – pictures that will always remind me that an internship spent exploring, enjoying, and protecting the outdoors is truly the best on Earth. Check out my photo gallery:
Missed my previous adventures? Watch the videos here:
Sierra Club Inner City Outings is a community outreach program that provides opportunities for urban youth and adults to explore, enjoy, and protect the natural world safely and responsibly. There are 50 volunteer-run ICO groups spread throughout the United States. Every year, these groups conduct more than 800 outings that serve approximately 14,000 youth. For more information, visit http://


Wednesday, August 8, 2012 - 16:34

McKinney Falls State Park closed at 10 p.m., and the gate blocked traffic from entering till morning. My friend Tami was NOT okay with dropping me off at the gate, mainly because I had no idea where I was supposed to be camping, and a violent thunderstorm was rolling in. The gate was locked with only a small chain….

I was tired. I’d just flown up from Puerto Rico, coming off an exciting and exhausting week with the Sierra Student Coalition, and was here in Austin, Texas, for an Outdoor Nation Summit. A hotel had been booked for me in the city, but what kind of outdoor youth ambassador would I be if I left all the kids out in the inevitable torrential downpour and did not join them? That would be unforgivable.

I decided not to break the chain and instead saddled up my gear, said goodbye to Tami, and headed into the blackness of an unlit state park at midnight with no moon.

It was really, really dark. My flashlight beam looked tiny as it swept across the road and over bushes full of chirping crickets. I decided to head toward the center of the park, but as time passed this plan seemed more and more useless. There were just too many areas where my group might be camping. Then, headlights -- salvation! A car full of campers from my group was returning to their tents after exploring a waterfall.

Half an hour later, I was all set for the night, welcomed into the camp of a youth group called Friends of the National Forests and Grasslands in Texas. They were a lively bunch -- dancing, singing, and playing games as lightning and thunder crashed overhead, creating a spectacular show!

During the night, the skies opened, and I dreamed I was a stowaway on Noah’s ark, only we had hit an iceberg and were sinking. The flooding in our tent was mild compared to most, but by morning we were more than ready for hot coffee and a change of clothes.

At Outdoor Nation, the main event was the planning of grassroots projects that will get more Americans outdoors. Participants formed regional groups and discussed initiatives such as community gardens, bicycle building, and nature-oriented art programs. I joined a group of college students from Houston who wanted to promote environmental conservation by presenting "nature shows" to area schools. After a full day of hashing through concepts, we voted on which projects would actually be funded by Outdoor Nation. My group's program, called Warriors of the Wild, was one of eight winners!

As I waited for my flight back to San Francisco, another thunderstorm broke overhead, temporarily shutting down the airport. My flight had been scheduled to leave at 8 p.m. but was now pushed back to midnight or later. I bought a hot coffee, laid out my sleeping bag, and gazed out through the foggy glass -- watching the weather and feeling quite at home.

Convinced I would wake up when my flight was announced, I let myself drift off to sleep.

When I awoke the lobby was empty... [to be continued]




The Outdoor Nation Signature Summit is a two-day event with 250 of your peers working together to find solutions to the challenges that are keeping people indoors.  For more information, please visit http://www.outdoornation.org/.



Monday, July 30, 2012 - 11:54


Puerto Rico! I set out to join the Sierra Student Coalition's Summer Leadership Training Program -- and discover my homeland along the way.

I landed in San Juan with no contacts, no addresses and only a vague idea of what I would be doing on this beautiful island. What I did know, however, was that this was my family's homeland, and I was here to discover it for the first time.

I walked outside the airport and spotted a guy about my age nervously checking his cell phone. I'd heard that an SSC envoy would be meeting me and, since he looked the part in khaki shorts and a pink T-Mobile tank top, I went up to him.

"JOAQUINNN SOSAAA!" he exclaimed. "Welcome to the island!" I had made my first friend of the week -- Jose Coss.

That evening was a perfect kickoff to the week --– we ate arroz con habichuelas (rice and red beans cooked by Jose's mother) while gazing out over the bustling city of San Juan. Later, we loaded the jeep and headed inland to Adjuntas, where the SSC training program would take place.

As the road wound upward into the mountains, dense fog engulfed us -- so bad we had to reduce speed and put on our emergency flashers. Some drivers seemed less concerned and raced by, only visible for seconds before they disappeared in the mist. Jose was on edge and asked me to play some music to help him relax.  So to boost his courage I played "Hero" by Nas. The song worked more like a caffeine boost, however, and inspired him to stop being a wimp in the right lane and drive like a man, meaning in the left lane.

The only advantage of driving in the left lane is that you are farther from the steep precipice waiting to claim your life. We got to Adjuntas, possibly on prayers alone.

Over the weeklong summer leadership program, our group of 32 students and leaders brainstormed strategy, campaign planning, grassroots outreach, and other topics vital to youth who want to create change. When not in learning sessions, we ventured into central Puerto Rico's rainforests, or "bosques," to learn about the plants or search out hidden pools to swim in. I was shocked to hear that these same forests have been in the sights of both big mining and natural gas companies. So far, though, local campaigns have thwarted their efforts.

By the end of the week, I felt really at home in Adjuntas, where the mountains keep the weather cooler than on the rest of the island. My very limited Spanish proved not to be a roadblock in connecting with my new friends, and I was already thinking of ways to return to the island in the future.

On my last day, before flying on to Texas, I explored Old San Juan, the city of my grandfather, and Cataño, the city of my grandmother, with my friend Mario. As I watched the sun set from Castillo San Felipe del Morro, I reflected on adventures past and contemplated the future -- on to Austin! 

The Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) is a broad network of high school and college-aged youth from across the country working to protect the environment. The SSC is the youth-led chapter of the Sierra Club, the largest and most effective grassroots environmental organization in the nation. With more than 13,000 students and 250 groups nationwide, the SSC develops environmental leaders through our award-winning grassroots trainings programs. For more information, please visit http://www.ssc.org.


Thursday, July 19, 2012 - 11:19

Wow, what an incredible week! Weeks like this justify the title of this internship – the best on earth. Right now I’m in Puerto Rico for the annual Sierra Student Coalition summer training program, but I’m taking a moment to reflect on my Fourth of July holiday with the our nation’s military families.

I left San Francisco on Monday, July 2, headed to Jackson, WY, in the heart of Grand Teton National Park.  There, at the Teton Science School, I joined a National Military Family Association retreat with families from all over the country. Over the Fourth of July holiday, we hiked, canoed, watched wildlife, and took in the magnificent Teton scenery -- a great American treasure!
Tuesday was the most enjoyable day of the retreat for me. In the morning I joined a small group of three families to canoe across String Lake, directly beneath Mount Moran. I initially took my canoe partner for an experienced outdoorsman by his looks, but it turned out he had only canoed once before -- and that ended in a capsized boat! 
On this particular morning, the wind was picking up and causing choppy conditions on the lake, so I was slightly concerned. This time, however, his strong paddling and my sure hand on the rudder kept us afloat as we navigated the entire length of the lake and back to our launch point without incident. The other canoes all returned successfully as well, with soaking-wet clothes the only cause for complaint!
That afternoon, I joined a different group of families for a scenic raft trip down the Snake River. As a photography student, I have long admired Ansel Adam’s famous photos of the region, and to be rafting through it at sunset was like being in his work. The wildlife was terrific as well. Along the shore we saw two bald eagles, three beavers, and many moose -- some very close up! As the sun set behind Grand Teton, I was awed by the rays of light falling over us – what an inspirational sight!
Later in the evening, I ran into the mother from one of the families I had been canoeing with. We got to talking about the lifestyle that comes with a military career, and I was surprised to learn just how often these families must relocate their homes and lives for their job. This particular family had raised their children all over the globe, from the U.S. to Germany to Korea, but they wouldn’t have had it any other way! I have always respected military families -- but after this trip I feel even more grateful to them for their service. 

The Military Families and Veterans Initiative is a program within Sierra Club Mission Outdoors, an initiative to connect people with the wonders of the outdoors.  MFVI works to ensure that those who defended our country and their families get to enjoy the land they served and experience the restorative powers of nature.  For more information and future outings, visit http://www.sierraclub.org/military.  
Friday, July 6, 2012 - 10:59

We are heading out to remove graffiti and repaint old picnic stands. We couldn’t ask for a more wild place to volunteer to keep the outdoors beautiful. This is Pyramid Lake, Nevada!

Standing on top of Indian Head Rock is like standing at the helm of a huge ocean-going vessel. The view stretches in every direction, and nothing in sight seems to be as high as you are. Only this rock is not in the ocean – it’s on the shore of Pyramid Lake, a massive body of water in northwestern Nevada that is untouched by development. Situated in a seemingly endless desert valley, the lake is considered by the native Paiutes to be a spiritual place, and rock formations here have been sacred to their elders for centuries.
Recently however, oblivious visitors have tagged these rocks with graffiti, saddening the Paiute elders and marring the rocks' natural beauty.
Enter Sierra Club Family Outings, and a day teaming up with the Paiutes to work on removing these ugly marks!
“It won’t come off!” Ben, a fellow volunteer, told me as we scrubbed and scrubbed the porous rock surface for hours in an attempt to remove the paint. Every hour or so we took a quick break to explore the complex caves within the rock. Some had rays of light shining in through small cracks above us. Really cool! By the end of the day our scrub brushes had lightened the graffiti, but not removed it. Note: Next time, bring a sandblaster!
Check out all the photos from my trip:

Sierra Club Family Outings are filled with fun activities to keep kids (and adults) entertained from breakfast until bedtime. Days are spent hiking trails, swimming in lakes, or exploring local attractions; evenings include nature programs, crafts, and games. On a family service trip, children learn to be good stewards of the environment on fun, kid-centered projects. For a schedule of upcoming family outings, check out the web site. And check back here to see the video of Joaquin’s adventure at Pyramid Lake!
Tuesday, June 26, 2012 - 12:55
We left Grant Union High School, in Sacramento, CA, at 7am. Seven vehicles
carried our group of eleven volunteers, eighteen high school graduates, and
innumerable pounds of supplies and equipment. It would be my first time to
Yosemite, and most of the kids’ first time as well.
These were not just any kids, though. They were the top scholars in their class
at Grant, and part of the school’s GEO Academy - a division providing a rigorous
environmental science and design curriculum. After four years of hard work, this was
their celebratory senior trip. Most had never spent a night in the woods, and each of
them was excited for this three-day adventure to such a renowned destination.
Along the route to Yosemite, Kitty, our trip leader, recounted the story of Theodore
Roosevelt’s historic campout with John Muir in the park, during which Muir
convinced him to return the land to federal control. That was the first step in
Yosemite becoming a national park.
As we drove into the valley, I couldn’t help but put my camera down and gaze in
wonder at the granite cliffs towering above our SUV, and the giant sequoias growing
straight and tall from the valley floor. It was among these trees that we pitched camp,
my new “Minibus” tent feeling quite secure below the canopy. Nearby, some of the
boys set up their tent, close to the camp’s perimeter, to ensure an easy midnight
sneak away to scare other campers or to lie by the Merced River and watch the
Much of our time over the next few days was spent hiking, gathering firewood,
cooking, and playing games around our campsite. Yosemite Falls was our first
hike, and along the way, the students got their first glimpse of local fauna - a doe
and her fawn, feeding in one of the numerous meadows. On the second day, we
paused from our fun for a volunteer project of repainting old trash cans. Through
this small task, we not only helped keep the park beautiful but also fostered a sense
involvement in the park’s well-being.
Before we left on the third day, both volunteers and students embarked on the most
challenging hike of the trip – ascending Sentinel Dome. While not as challenging as
the better-known Half Dome, Sentinel offers a similarly stunning panorama view of
the Yosemite's glacially carved valleys and peaks. As I raced two of the students to
the top, someone shouted, “It feels like Everest!” None of us were mountaineers, but
we felt similarly accomplished!
Thursday, June 14, 2012 - 19:27

Hi everyone! I’m Joaquin Sosa and I am this year's Sierra Club Outdoor Youth Ambassador, otherwise known as the Best Internship On Earth! I still find it hard to believe that I was chosen over a hundred other candidates for this incredible position. As I begin a summer of exploring, connecting, and sharing across the country, I feel excited for adventure, but also a sense of responsibility to fully communicate my experiences to you all.

In this day and age, some might ask the question, who needs wild places? Why do we need nature and the outdoors? Being outdoors is fun and healthy, but as I travel I hope to discover more answers to these questions.

I’ll be participating in an array of Sierra Club Mission Outdoors outings, including Volunteer Vacations, Inner City Outings, Military Families and Veterans Initiatives, and Local Outings, as well as other exciting programs at Outdoor Nation and at the Sierra Student Coalition training in PUERTO RICO!! Look out for videos, blog articles, and photos to stay up to date on these happenings.



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