Students conquer the campus wilderness

This group of students even brought a pool to cool down in during Camp Elliott.

Photos by Ralph Freso

Andrew Coffey managed to procure a hose to freshen his luxurious pool at Camp Elliott.

“I pawned off a Stampede (drink) on the construction guys. Ask for a hose, and you shall receive,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I AM in business and marketing.”

Camp Elliott, a Grand Canyon University student campout on the Quad, fills a square of turf and trees with tents and hammocks outside GCU Arena, where students vie for prime seats to Friday’s Midnight Madness.

A lone student’s tent is illuminated as night falls over Camp Elliott.

It's a planned community, sort of a suburb of GCU Arena without an HOA: There was stuff floating in Coffey’s kiddy pool  – grass, leaves, a sheen of slime -- with no one to call.

“We’re guessing that is sunscreen,” he said.

Coffey’s group of six young men share the pool “deck,” complete with overhanging tarp and a large cooler as a sofa of sorts, with a group of six young women.

They are freshmen and have learned from seniors like Coffey.

“At first I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Taeya Gonzales.

They quickly found out this is real backcountry camping. A girl in the group was stung by a scorpion a half-hour after they set up on Monday.

It was fun after that.

 “You meet so many people,” she said. “They just come up to you and start talking.”

Students play spike ball during Camp Elliott.

Coffey claims a lot of studying is going on but, when pressed, confessed.

“We hang out, play games. We’ve got a TV, a pool, an ice chest with Stampede,” Coffey said. “And we try to stay out of the sun.”

The goal is to try to be the first to charge into GCU Arena for the event that officially opens GCU basketball teams’ practices but also is a big, entertaining show. Havocs leaders issue campers numbers based on their arrival, and it gets them into the event sooner.

It’s grown since GCU student Daniel Elliott, its namesake, first erected a tent in 2015. This year it wasn’t as crowded, but Elise Whitman shouldn’t have to worry in her pursuit of getting in the front row – she’s No. 8.

She has never camped in her life, never slept in a tent and was sitting with No. 68, who wasn’t aware of the total price to pay for such a lofty number.

“It’s been hard. I was going to drop out the first day. It was so hot, and having to walk back and forth from class ...” Emma Wesselman said. “The sun was blaring off my laptop, and I was squinting so hard.”

And, yet, it’s a good day.

“I’m eating Cheetos. They aren’t even mine.”

Sophomore Corran Gustafson, first to arrive at Camp Elliott, gets an unexpected ride in his hammock.

Whitman even joined an impromptu camp worship on Tuesday night, when a friend pulled out a guitar and led songs because they were missing The Gathering.

“It didn’t sound good, but that’s not the point,” Whitman said.

Other nights at camp included talent shows and movie nights.

While some students, such as Hannah Coulter, say Camp Elliott is simply a practical pursuit of good seats and prizes, junior Winston Spencer seems to revel in his set-up -- a large open tent with big roll-down windows, a sitting area and a speaker playing “Out of My League,” by Fitz and The Tantrums.

“I want to experience this the best way possible,” Spencer said. “Not only do I get to meet wonderful people, when I get in (the Arena) it feels like I earned it.

“And my friend is out here with me. We hang out and have a good time and talk a lot. Our friendship grows when we do this.”

Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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