Filtered sunlight falls on Maria Phelps as she tends to a skillet of scrambled eggs.
The 15-year-old from Tuscaloosa, Ala., has helped prepare breakfast for herself and seven other teenage campers at the Askey Farm every morning this week.
The group made the roughly 650-mile field trip from Holy Spirit Catholic School in Tuscaloosa with their teacher Debbie Samaniego for a hands-on, pioneer experience.
The farm, just off Farm Road 2264 south of Decatur, is owned by Cathy Askey and her family, who are cousins of Samaniego.
It’s the land that’s been the focus of the trip, the teacher said.
“The Askey family has been here since the 1860s,” she explained.
The 1,000-plus acre farm offers a cross-section of Wise County’s early history.
Each day students scoured the fields and forests near their camp for nails, horseshoes and broken bottles, evidence of the area’s early settlers.
“When you find stuff, it’s pretty satisfying,” 14-year-old Tru Livaudais said.
Hunting for artifacts also serves as a way to distract the group from the ominous midday heat , 11-year-old Holley Foster said.
“My least favorite thing is how hot it gets in the afternoon because everyone gets irritable,” Foster said. “Having something to do helps.”
In addition to prospecting for Wise County’s ancient relics, the students have had lessons in animal science.
Alex Kincaid, 13, said his time in Decatur has taught him more about animals, both domestic and wild.
“It was cool because I’m never really up close with animals,” Kincaid said. “I mean, I have a cat at home.”
The farm presented a unique setting for teaching more than just history and science lessons, though. Students were responsible for maintaining their campsite, in addition to doing their own laundry and cooking.
“Tuscaloosa doesn’t have places where you can do all of this,” Jackson Kapera, 14, said. “We’re very self-sufficient here.”
To simulate a pioneer lifestyle, the group spent each night together on a flatbed trailer covered by a tarp, which simulated a traditional covered wagon. Students washed clothes in the nearby creek and hung them on clotheslines to dry.
Living conditions at the farm inspired a sense of appreciation for the work that goes into basic day-to-day tasks.
“The simple things are really enjoyable,” Maria Phelps said. “Like when you get that sandwich in the middle of the day, it’s amazing. It’s the best sandwich you’ve ever had in your life.”
Samaniego and her students planned to visit the Fort Worth Stockyards Saturday and make the trip home Sunday.