Saturday, October 16, 2010

What does the smell of Fall look like?

Fridays Outside! October 8th

Today's amazement started before we even arrived at the Mountain Park Environmental Center with several deer in the fields beside the road.

Then couple of very impressive bucks came running along the road beside us before actually leaping the fence and crossing the road directly in front of our van!
once we arrived at the Pueblo Mountain Park we dropped into the Horseshoe Lodge to get water, a radio and a couple of knit caps just in case. It was a chilly morning.

We then drove up to the Tower Trail-head and began our hike.

Along the way we took notice of the increased signs of Autumn's arrival, the changing colors of the leaves, the reddening of certain beautiful grasses, the many dry seed heads of grasses and flowers. We talked about these changes at length as well as about the weather and the particular changes we noticed in each of the ecosystems we visited.

We stopped for a break, deciding it was first snack time. In a pleasant and automatic manner, the boys got out their nature journals and began writing and drawing. Sumner piped up with an idea he was having for a poem and it became the thinking point of the day:

"What does the smell of Fall look like?"

I liked their enthusiasm about writing more poems, and they sat for some time thinking and writing and drawing in silence. It was a very peaceful moment. Just before we left this spot we found a very cool dried Earth Star mushroom.

As we hiked along we noticed signs of Deer and Squirrels as well as even finding some not-too-fresh Bear scat. We remembered the Bear that we never saw last week on the Mace Trail and wondered if it was the same. We talked about the large territory large predators such as the Bear and Mountain Lion need and why it is important to have large areas set aside for wild life to live according to their nature.

The smell of fall looked like many things to us: the oak leaves turning red and gold, the red dirt trail beneath a gray sky, dry pine needles and leaves sailing in the breeze, the Nuthatches and Black Capped Chickadees flitting from tree to tree, the early morning blanket of cloud, the blush of the leaves of grass, the tall seed-heads waving in the slight breeze, fleet shadows of clouds slipping in silence over the forested face of the ridge in the distance, the lizard scuttling through the dry and fallen leaves, the crispy lichen on rocks with it's curled edges awaiting the coming precipitation.

At a junction in the trail where the high trail leads up to the Fire Tower and the low trail follows a ridge-line towards Lookout Point there is a Peace sign along the side of the trail made with small palm sized and smaller rocks. I often have to stop here and maintain this small but important mnemonic device and this time was no different. A few of the rocks had been scattered either accidentally by the hooves of horses and careless riders on the trail or perhaps intentionally by someone, which seems unthinkable, however, one can never tell why people do things. It was a good place to discuss Peace and Love, Compassion and Kindness and thoughtful nature of creating small simple artworks or little shrines like this to plant seeds of Peace for others.

Further up the trail we discussed the art of trail creation. A lot of design and thought goes into the creation and maintenance of the trails in this Park and others. We talked about the switchbacks, how they can take us up a steep hill in a fashion which is less strenuous while at the same time channeling and slowing the rainfall runoff in a way that it soaks into the immediate area better instead of running off quickly and eroding away the hillside. Several areas of this trail where the trail one is on and the trail ahead after a switchback are fairly close show obvious signs of people not understanding or respecting this art of trail design and not following the way of the trail when hiking. We discussed how to walk on a trial and why we shouldn't take the vertical shortcuts between sections of the switchbacked trails. Where others have done this repeatedly the water erosion has created obvious damage to the hillside and trails. We did a bit of light work moving sticks and things across these rogue shortcuts to discourage their use.

At the top of the hill sits an old Fire Tower which we were able to climb safely and look all around the area in 360 degrees. What a view! We discussed the history and use of the Fire Tower and other towers like it and tried to find Pueblo and the Reservoir in the far distance.

The tower was a good place for lunch and more journalling. I had brought along my Native American cedar flute and began to play as the boys wrote in their journals. This evolved into a period of time where we just laid back and watched the clouds in the sky as they moved and swirled and swelled and morphed fluidly from shape to shape while I played flute. It was quite a relaxing break.

We hiked into the forest south of the tower to some big and very Old Trees which I had met before which I wanted to visit again, hug and introduce the boys to.

We finally hiked down and made our way to another picnic shelter to rest, eat our afternoon snacks and do more journal writing. We had had a long day and a long hike. Autumn was in full swing and we had really got out there and experienced it!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Welcome to October!

Fridays Outside October 1st

Today’s Fridays Outside program started out with a little snack time and then a recap of some of the insect information we had gone over before. This time however, we focused on an interesting subject, the Gall Wasps!

We had noticed these small orb-like growths on many of the oak leaves in our past hikes and this time we decided to learn more about them.

First order of business was an explanation of the Gall Wasp, how it differs from fly's and bees, it’s life cycle. It is a Terrestrial Insect and it lays its eggs on leaves instead of underwater like the Aquatic Insects we studied down at the pond. We talked about the mystery of why the trees the eggs are laid on form strange orb-like cases around the eggs. Inside these galls the wasp larvae mature, nourishing themselves with the nutritive tissue of the galls which protect them.

Scientists are still not sure if the cause is a mechanical part of the trees response to the eggs, a chemical response from something injected by the wasp itself, or a viral trigger!

There is still mystery out here in the woods, there is room for explorers and scientific discovery!

We went out for a hike on the Mace Trail to talk about the fall leaves which doubled as a Gall Wasp Scavenger Hunt. We found many Wasp Galls and talked about them and imagined the different kinds of wasps that would emerge from them.

On this one we could see the hole where the Gall Wasp exited the gall after metamorphosing into an adult.

Many of the Oaks were in beautiful full color!

We noticed a small Pine which seemed to be quite Different than other young Pines in the area. I suspect that it is not a Ponderosa Pine nor a Pinon Pin but another variety. It had long needles like a Ponderosa Pine, but it's trunk did not have the vanilla scent of a Ponderosa.

Along the way, the Mountain Mahogany caught our eyes. These drought tolerant shrubs are found in the hot dry ecosystems of the Park and much of Colorado. An interesting thing about the Mountain Mahogany is its ecological adaptation. The seed is tipped with a feathery spiraled plume. Seeds are wind-dispersed, and the wind aids fallen seeds in corkscrewing into the sandy/rocky, nearly humus-less ground of the dry desert-like Mountain Shrubland ecosystems where they are prevalent.

We also got to discuss the parasitic nature of the golden Dwarf Mistletoe.

Part of the way up we reached a nice cool section of Douglas Fir ecosystem and stopped for a break. While the boys drank water and relaxed on the side of the trail I read them a book I had brought along, The Legend of Tunuri and the Blue Deer.

Just as we finished the story another group of hikers came down the trail and warned us that there was a Bear up the trail a bit further. We made a safe group decision to head back down the trail and headed back for an early lunch.

After lunch we wrote in our nature journals for awhile, drawing pictures and writing about our experiences. We even drew pictures of the many kinds of wasps we imagined might have emerged from the various galls we found.

Next, we made our way down to the pond where we washed and cleaned the deer print casts we had made the previous trip.

After the plaster casts were cleaned and set out to dry we switched gears but stayed at the pond to make Nature Boats! This was something we did on a previous Friday but the boys wanted to do it again.

So we went about finding natural materials to create our boats with.

There were many creative designs and we had to use our problem solving skills to get them to float or not flop over.

We discussed balance and weight distribution and put it to use in an experiential manner.

When we had made a boat we set it afloat. . .

. .. sometimes it worked.

Dragonflies dive-bombed our boats, even landing on them from time to time!

The wind came up periodically and moved our boats around the lake, some straight across, and some (to our amusement) round and round in tiny circles!

When we were done, we bombarded our boats with pebbles and sticks and pinecones. Boys will be boys!

After this we went down to the covered Picnic Shelter to snack and write more in our journals. We discussed writing nature poems about Fall and the boys came up with a few poems each:

The Fall is Falling










and condoing

now it has been

200 days Fall

has been dazed!


Fun is Rhyming

huge rock climbing

big hat tying

ribbon writing

snowball fighting

bike race timing

fun is rhyming


It was another good Friday Outside, the end of Summer and the first day of October. You could say we were celebrating.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Animal Tracks and Signs

Last weeks Fridays Outside program started off with a few games before moving into a discussion about animal tracks and signs. We discussed the ways that animals move and how they leave tracks behind and what specific details to look for in a track to determine the animal and the direction of travel. We also discussed the various signs one might find in Nature such as remains of things they were eating, bones, feathers, fur, scat, dwellings etc.

This was followed by visiting a trail of several Bear tracks recently discovered in the Mountain Park!

We discussed the track and the animal which left it before mixing up some plaster and pouring it into the track to make a cast of the track as a permanent record of the animals' visit to this ecosystem.

We would have to wait for it to dry though, so we moved on.

We went on a hike into the Devils Canyon area in search of more animal tracks and signs, finding many signs, but few tracks. We also found quite a variety of fungi and had some talks about Decomposers in the forest and their importance to the cycle of life.

After lunch we moved up to a nice spot to do some writing in our Nature Journals about our mornings activities and discoveries.

After this we went for a short hike and found some deer tracks. We made plaster casts of the tracks for each student and then returned to the bear track to lift it from the dried mud and clean it off. We had a perfect cast of a young bears front paw!

This Friday we are going to continue our adventures as Nature Detectives looking for animal signs with a special focus on the amazing variety of Gall Wasps to be found in the Mountain Park.

Fridays Outside at the Mountain Park Environmental Center

A program designed to offer Grades 3-8 students hands-on educational & recreational experiences in the ideal outdoor classroom of Pueblo Mountain Park in Beulah, Colorado.

� Experiential environmental education activities include hiking, animal tracking, tree study,
snowshoeing (weather permitting), Nature games, Nature art, music, orienteering, journaling, and
much more;

� Activities integrate Physical Education, Science, Geography, Language Arts, Math, and Health,
facilitated in a fun and active manner;

� Separate program for grades K-2, 3-5, and 6-8;

� Low student/instructor ratio with trained outdoor educators;

� Indoor spaces available when weather conditions require them;

� For Beulah students: 8am � 12:30pm, round-trip transportation provided from Beulah School,
cost is $18 per day;

� For Pueblo students: 8am � 1:00pm, round-trip transportation provided from Raptor Center in
Pueblo, cost is $21 per day;

� Students bring own lunch, snacks and should dress for outdoors;

� Limited spots available, registrations taken on a first come/first served basis;

� Registration required for each month; for more information, or to register your child, call 485-4444
or email