Pueblo Mountain Park...upine?

Saturdays outing with the Pueblo Youth Naturally group was a lot of fun! Rangers Sandy and Pine joined these kids after they had been sledding and exploring for the morning and went over some basics of animal sign tracking. Some of the kids had been students in Earth Studies and remembered some of the material from their lessons in prior years.

An amazing experience occurred when tracking along South Creek near the southern boundary of the park. A gnarly windfall in some deep snow forced us to ascend the creek bank and into a fairly open stretch of ponderosa pine ecosystem. Suddenly we came upon an uncommon phenomenon, a White Fir with the bark stripped from nearly every limb.

The bark stripped from the branches lay in a very noticeable layer of small (3” x ¾”) strips around the base of the tree from trunk to drip-line.

I wasn’t sure what animal had done this damage to the tree, but I assumed it was stripping the outer bark to get to the sugary carbohydrate-rich inner bark. When I consulted Ranger sandy Christensen about this animal sign she felt that it was a sign of porcupine, an animal we often do not think of as inhabiting the Mountain Park. A bit of research confirmed Ranger Sandy’s suspicion and closer examination of the bark-strip laden area beneath the tree turned up some unmistakable porcupine scat and quills!


Earth Studies Session 4: Mammals & Tracking Comes to an end.

The Earth Studies session on Mammals & Tracking has just come to an end. We had many great days of tracking with all the fresh snow. A few warm afternoons allowed some muddy conditions for wildlife to impress their prints into which we often found frozen the next day . . . perfect for showing the details of wildlife identification through the use of track analysis!

Several areas where the snow we had about a month ago melted down kids were able to identify areas where deer had bedded down. When we examined these closely we even found some deer hair to identify and match up with the hides we have as teaching tools in the classroom. We also ran across a very interesting site where something had been killed and eaten. Although there were no bones or flesh left behind, we did find frozen blood, entrails and a lot of hair. From the hair and remains we think it may have been a raccoon, perhaps eaten by a bobcat or other predator. There were many days when these kids exclaimed that it had been the best time out to the park yet!


Winter Break Camp: Day Two

Today we continued to have fun in the snow, carving out new trails in our snowshoes. Many campers brought sleds and we headed down the snowy roads and into the wooded hillsides to some awesome sledding areas! We found a decent run someone else had made, but soon found a great place to create our very own sled run! Once we had it carved out and smoothed pretty good with a few practice runs we were able to get some speed. Lots of laughing echoing through the stillness of the snowy woods as some campers caught some serious air time on small bumps in the runs.

After lunch we continued work on our snow tunnels and were able to actually connect several of the tunnels together right at the end of the day!

Winter Break Camp: Day One!

Winter Break Camp started out great with many veteran campers from previous camps this year and even some kids who have been coming for years!

Right away we geared up for cold, snowy fun as we have gotten a ton of snow at the Mountain Park this year. A quick snowshoe demo and we were off on a snowshoeing adventure in search of a great sledding hill.

Along the way we tossed a few snowballs and had a lot of laughs and even a few snowshoe humorous complications as it was some of these kids first time in, as one camper put it, "these fascinating contraptions."

We made our way to the meadow and made a huge maze of tracks to play tag and had snowball fights and built snow-crust castles that resembled Stonehenge.

Later we began a task that will take us all week to complete doing a little each day . . . carving out ice tunnels in the big mounds of hardened frozen snow piled up by the snowplows in the park over the last few weeks. We hope to connect all the tunnels and be able to slide down through them!


Winter has arrived!

October brought with it a few inches of snow (7.6" to be exact)...that was ok. Then November left another 15.8" -- that was better and it seemed as if winter was off to a pretty good start. We're only a few days into December, and we've already had 30.3" of cold powdery snow (plus some chilly temps) this month. That totals 53.7" of snow (which contained 3.67" of moisture). The last four seasons have been really dry, so I am thrilled to see winter 2012 off to a snowy start. For comparison, all of last winter saw only 74.3", and the historic dry winter of 2002 brought only 48" total of snow. So, we are indeed off to a good start (the average annual snowfall for the past couple of decades is about 115"). Incidentally, the snow shoeing and cross country skiing in the park are excellent...the unplowed upper road is where I'll be heading later on today. Here are a couple of photos I took a few minutes ago...it's a winter wonderland out there, with the sun working its way through.


Winter Wonderland Classroom

The Mountain Park has been receiving a lot of snow lately and the kids absolutely love it. Although there are a few days where the schools will opt out of participating in the days session due to weather conditions, most schools and classes do not stop when we get a good snow.

If the snow is deep enough the students don snow-boots and it's class as usual . . . although it's quite a different day from one spent indoors sitting at a desk. These students hike through out the snowy forests and get all of their days worth of educational standards by using the various aspects of nature as teaching opportunities.

One of the focuses for this month is the biology and identification of the trees in the Mountain Park. There are six prominent types of coniferous trees in the park, two Junipers, two Pines and two Fir. Although there are many differences between the different trees, the students are taught to focus on a few easy to discern traits such as the type of leaf (needles or scales) and their arrangement.

For example, the Douglas Fir [left] has very green needles that grow from the branch in all directions (like the spokes on Douglas' bicycle wheel!) . .

while the White Fir [right] has slightly bluish-green needles which are almost twice as long and typically grow from the sides of the branch and curve upwards.

It's also a great opportunity to begin to prepare them for next sessions focus which is on Mammals and Tracking by pointing out the occasional signs and quite frequent tracks of the various animals which make the Mountain Park their habitat.

Often we find the tracks of mule deer and fox and at times we have even come across tracks of wild cats such as the bobcat that we saw and got photographs and even a little video of last year. Of course various animal scat, especially from the many deer that visit the park, is quite prevalent and provides not only some frequent laughter from the students but also a lot of opportunities to segue into many on-topic conversations.

We also find signs of squirrel activity; the ponderosa branch tips on the ground around the drip-line of the trees, some of which have been stripped of their needles and bark due to the squirrels eating the sugary inner bark.

~Ranger David "Pine" Martin
Environmental Educator
Mountain Park Environmental Center


A warm Day of Rocks and Soils and Mysterious Tracks!

The rescheduled school for yesterdays Earth Studies session was very lucky. An unseasonably warm day greeted us on our arrival to the park and we spent the day learning about Geology and Soil. The recent snow and subsequent melting combined perfectly with this days warm weather allowed us to get a really good sample of the soils in each ecosystem while enjoying the sunshine. It also made for a trail full of animal tracks in the now mostly dried mud of the trails. Stories played out in footprints abounded as the kids deciphered the mysterious language of the trail before them.

The hike into Devil's Canyon was magnificent and the water flowing under the ice was moving in dark and mysterious blob-like forms which completely captured the kids attention and brought up conversation about how it was like the blood stream of our bodies. Their personification of it was a great segue to speak to the importance of water on the planet as well as in such a dry state as Colorado. It was a great day out and the kids had a blast!