They asked for the dirt on dirt.
And they got it.
Actually, they got prize-winning "dirt" on dirt.
Backcountry Experience in Durango sponsored its fourth annual Outdoor Writing Competition this year, with the general theme of "dirt."
Schools in the area were invited to participate, with students asked to write a personal narrative on the gritty topic.
The contest rules called for students to select a writing mentor to complete the writing, editing and revision process for the essays.
Students also presented their material to an audience of Backcountry Experience staff members and friends as well as parents, teachers, school officials and family members.
The results speak for themselves.
"While lying in the dirt, my mouth fell open, and as I inhaled, small particles of dirt flew into my mouth and landed like snowflakes on my tongue. At that very moment, I had perhaps the best and worst idea of my life - I could eat dirt."
Durango High School junior Bentley O'Quinn won third place in the high school semantics showdown with her colorful take on eating dirt.
Fellow DHS student Stephen Sebestyen, a senior, was the first-place high school winner with his cycling-driven entry.
Here's a sample: "I chuckled to myself as I pushed my bike harder and faster, dodging rocks and cutting around trees. 'It's too muddy and wet to ride today. You won't be able to make the descent,' my dad had said shortly before I left. Ah, ye of little faith. This was the best ride of the year."
Joe Sebestyen served as the writing mentor for winner Stephen Sebestyen.
Karla Miller was O'Quinn's mentor for the writing project.
"To an archaeologist, dirt is a new experience just waiting to happen, a new discovery to be made. For many people, dirt is an opportunity, a means of accessing joy. But, to her, it is just something to make her toes gritty," wrote Corinne Sohle, a DHS freshman who was second in the competition.
Trish Sohle was her writing mentor.
The middle-school authors added their unique perspective on dirt. Dylan McClain, a sixth-grader at Miller Middle School, wrote: "We kept on playing in the mud, sinking lower and lower over time. Soon it was up to our chests. Then, a thought popped into my mind: How was I going to get out?"
McClain, with writing mentor Robert Aspen, finished second in the middle school contest.
Angela Grogan, a seventh-grader at Escalante, won the division. Dominic Schiavone served as her mentor.
"We took turns sitting on the rock ... The rock was shaped like a bed that had the head raised up a bit. We dubbed it Lounge Chair Rock," Grogan wrote.
Bonne Metheson, a Miller Middle School eighth-grader, won third place with her essay: "In the middle of the night, there was a bang of thunder and a flash of lightning that lit up the whole sky. I tried not to pay attention to it and go back to sleep. But then, I felt something wet and rough slowly creep up onto my fingers."
Becky Rockis of Backcountry Experience said their company sponsors the competition to strengthen the skills and knowledge of the writing process for all students. She said they also tried to stress the importance of utilizing a writing mentor.
The public-speaking portion added another component for the project, Rockis said.
"This is one of the most important aspects of the competition, because students have the opportunity to practice their public-speaking skills in front of a group of people from the community," she said.
A reception was held May 13 at Backcountry Experience to honor the award-winning writers, who also collected a bevy of prizes for their efforts.
The students won items like personally sized and fitted Osprey backpacks and Vasque hiking boots. A Mountain Hardware tent was awarded, along with a Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag.
"It is so important today for kids to have the opportunity to write about the outdoors, because it is an excellent way for them to express their creativity and ideas," said local freelance writer Erinn Morgan, author of Picture Yourself Going Green. "And the ability to flex their pens under the watchful, guiding eye of a mentor makes the experience even more meaningful."