"The scenic drive was so gorgeous it made me homesick," eighth-grader Kierste Badger wrote in her journal, describing how she had been moved by Utah's beauty.

Utah is Keirste's home. She has lived in St. George for four years and has only been to Salt Lake City once, she says. "I haven't seen much of the state."But Keirste has been seeing a great deal of Utah during an intensive two-week bus trip sponsored by Project 2000 that ends Saturday.

Project 2000 is a community group that promotes discussion about what our state should be like in the next century. For a fresh look at what makes Utah unique, the organization decided to send 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds to every county in the state. KUTV sponsored this particular activity (along with Lewis Brothers Stages and other corporations), sending a film crew along to record Utah through young eyes.

Children from school districts throughout the state tried out for the project by writing essays. Part of their task as they tour is to keep a journal recording their impressions of the state. The students are to mention what if anything frightens them or excites them about the state's future.

The Deseret News caught the group of 20 youngsters and their chaperones one week into the trip. By this time they had found friends and become seasoned travelers. They were used to the fast pace of their day.

During the first week they met the governor, toured Hill Air Force Base and Union Station in Ogden, visited a monastery in Huntsville, saw the Festival of the American West in Logan, rode the Heber Creeper and met the mayor of Heber City.

They visited the Jordanelle Reservoir site and listened to an environmentalist and the construction contractor debate the merits of the dam. They went to Sundance (caught a glimpse of Robert Redford), visited the Dinosaurland museum and quarry and Flaming Gorge. They also visited a recently closed coal mine in Emery County, where they listened to Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, discuss the area's economy.

They rode horses at Pack Creek Ranch, stopped for the afternoon at the Navajo Indian Reservation, saw Lake Powell and Hanksville, hiked at Capital Reef, boated on the Green River, toured a fish hatchery, camped out in Loa and collected colored sand from caves in Kanab.

In short, fueled by juice and crackers and other food donated by local merchants ("We had chicken AGAIN," wrote one traveler), they've held to a harrowing schedule.

Before they can really describe our state, they'll need time to reflect on all that they've seen. They'll need a quiet place in which to write - away from the teasing, laughing and singing of their cohorts.

But in the meantime, perhaps we can get a preview of what they'll say by learning which events have made the strongest impressions so far.

A visit to the Catholic monastery in Huntsville, Weber County, provided one memorable stop.

"None of the monks have their heads shaved and all of them talk. That was sort of disappointing," wrote Colby Johns of Salem, Utah County.

Kierste wrote, "The monastery made me feel weird. They are really religious, so we couldn't talk at all." (At certain times of the day the monks pray silently.)

Jamie Jorgensen of Sigurd, Sevier County, was struck by the fact that the monks don't marry or have children. She considered that an amazing sacrifice. Cameron Copeland of Sandy didn't fully comprehend that the monks don't marry, confusing the quarters for women visitors with a place for the monks' wives to stay.

Later Kierste explained, "When you think of Utah you just think of Mormons. I am LDS myself. I mean I know we have Catholics. But I never knew we had a monastery."

Though Jamie is from the rural town of Sigurd, she'd never ridden a horse alone until this trip. "My family did have horses but we sold them," she explained. She found her ride scary ("I said a prayer.") and exhilarating. Kierste hadn't ridden before, either. She thought it was scary and "a blast."

At the Jordanelle Dam site, the youngsters heard adults wrangle over two sides of an environmental controversy. Several of them, at least, found that disturbing.

Robert Woodbury, Petersboro, Cache County, wrote, "We finally left at 4:35 after an hour of yelling by each side." Colby wrote, "It confused me that it could or couldn't be good. I wish they'd stop (construction) until they get this worked out."

Tuesday found the Project 2000 youngsters touring Zion National Park, eating pizza for lunch, then heading off into the desert to stroll around the old mining camp of Silver Reef, Washington County.

That day, the bus drove through a crayon-colored scene: red rocks, bright blue sky, green cottonwood trees. The guide for the day, Bart Anderson, referred often to the year 2000 and delved back into pioneer times as well to add perspective to the present. "By then Zions Park will be closed to cars," he said. "When you visit you'll walk, ride a bike, or take an open air bus. By the year 2000 parks may be one of the last places you can go to be alone."

As he rode along, Cameron Copeland listened to the guide while he played solitaire and glanced out the window.

"You know," he confided, "I've always lived in Utah. But now I know Utah."