Tuesday, April 06, 2010


I am happy to say that as a family, we definitely are getting out and enjoying Nature. Whether it is going on a hike, planting flowers, collecting bugs, reading about different species of birds, or simply playing in our backyard; we are reaching our goal of basking in Nature's glory. And that's good news.

However, recently my husband and I have been discussing how we should start teaching our children about how things work in Nature. I'm not just talking about identifying trees, birds, animals, etc..., but about Nature's ecosystem. We want to teach them about the order of things, the relationship animals have with their environment (and vice-versa), and the impact humans have (good or bad) on Nature.

We want our children to understand that they should not only enjoy their environment, but also respect it and realise that as human beings we have to take care of it. But most importantly, that they, as individuals have a positive role to play in making that happen.

In essence, we want them to learn about the environment in terms of conservation, restoration, and sustainability (hence forward, I will call this "CRS").  Again, that's good news.

So where is the bad news, you may be asking by now? Our kids are four and two years old.

Due to their young age, we are finding it a tough task teaching them about Nature's CRS.
Of course, we've just started broaching this task, and will be hitting the library for books on how to explain this intricate and expansive subject to preschool children. And in a future blog post, I will share the titles of the books we have found to be helpful in this endeavor.

In the meanwhile, I told my husband that the best thing to do is to start incorporating the lessons of CRS in all of our future family outdoor expeditions.

That's how our hiking trip to The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge became a reality.

I can easily write a 30 page report about the Refuge...but I won't. Instead, I will encourage all my blog readers to check out the their website and read specifically the overview section, to understand why the The Rocky Mountain Arsenal is a perfect place to educate children on environmental issues. 

In short, the Refuge started out as farmland, and then became a weapons manufacturing area during World War II.  After the weapon factories were closed, the land was found to be highly contaminated. In the 1980's the Army and Shell corporation began a massive land clean-up under the supervision of the all three levels of regulatory agencies (federal, state, and local). The discovery of roosting bald eagles at the site ensured the involvement of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife in managing the wildlife in that area. Soon after, Congress passed a law designating the area a wildlife refuge. It is estimated that the clean-up of the Refuge will end sometime in 2010.


And so we went!

The Refuge has nine miles of trails. It was a cold breezy January day, so we decided to loop around the lake...which was frozen solid. Our little girl was in such awe with the beauty of the lake, that we had to nudge her a couple of times in order to get her to move along.

A lake for Mary.

Another view of the frozen lake.

It was just too pretty, and we had to take more pictures.

Me taking pictures!

Our princess found her first scat! She wanted to identify it. Woo hoo!

Close up of the scat...from the shape, and the trace of gray hair in its outer layer, we believe it came from a Coyote.

Now it was peanut's turn to be awed!

"Mommy, ice!"

The family...trying to move along.
"Mommy, what is this?"

My dear, I believe these are cattails!


We can't stop taking picture of this beautiful frozen lake.

Loved this! It started our ecosystem conversation with our four year old!

Bonus! We found tracks! We believe they belonged to a Mule Deer.

Next, my daughter found these round pellet-like scats! Thus, confirming the tracks we found close by were from a Mule Deer.

 A great picture to keep for future reference on identifying Blue Grama grass.

Ditto for the Sand Bluestem grass.

Such a majestic tree! I had to take a picture!

It was cold, but very scenic. It inspired me to start taking black-n-white pictures.

Peanut, enjoying being outside in Nature.

Another majestic tree in the distance.

Simply, magical.

This device is used to track the animals the Refuge have been able to tag in the area.

Our kids, loving their hike. I love how they're each going at their own pace.

These trees were so eerily mesmerizing.

Our little man could not believe there was still snow on the ground!

Beautiful sky!

Once our hike was done, we ventured inside the Refuge's main office and took a look at their little museum. It was a wonder! A surprising find!

Here is peanut looking at stuffed Coyotes. We see live ones all the time near our house (our house is off of a natural reserve), but this is the closest I want him to get to one in real life.

I loved this part of the museum. It showed the different types of grass in the area, and how tall they could get.

The Refuge cannot escape its history. And I loved how they displayed WWII, and the impact the chemical warfare factories had on the land and the environment.

Our four year old little lady, is starting to get the picture of how an ecosystem works! LOVE, LOVE, LOVE IT! What an education going to the Refuge was...

Some times taking the kids to the museum is difficult, because usually kids are not allowed to touch the things that are on display. And, as an adult, I understand the reasons why this is the case, my kids do not. So I was so incredibly happy to see this display!
Please touch...

...don't mind if I do!

Too bad I took such a crummy picture of this display. This was a phenomenal education piece for my daughter and our goal to teach  her about the ecosystem and CRS.

This simple display, explained so much about the ecosystem of the Prairie. It was so informative, and kept her attention for a very long time. She had so many questions, that my husband and I had to take turns reading to her the signs on the display about the different animals in the Refuge, and how their co-existence was important for conservation and sustainability of the land.

Of course, being the four year old that she is, she was most struck with the idea that the Eagles preyed and successfully ate the Prairie dogs. But it was a good discussion, and an opportunity to be able to explain to her the concept of overpopulation and the impact on an ecosystem. We detailed for her that if the Eagles didn't eat the Prairie Dogs, there would be an overpopulation of them that would have a negative effect on the land's ecosystem.

It was an awesome conversation to have with her.

Display table of nests, and eggs from the different birds in the area.

I loved these. They were small with reddish-brown dots!

Close-up. I believe they were from the Western Meadowlark bird.

A Bullsnake!

I wasn't going to write about this, but I found that it was necessary to blog about. When we got to the Refuge, we immediately smelled a foul stench in the air. At first, we thought that perhaps we were smelling the Bison scat (yes, this Refuge has Bison, roaming on parts of their land), but no...it turned out that there was a nearby landfill. At times, we could smell the rotting heap of garbage during our hike. I guess it all depended on which way the wind was blowing. Of course, this did not ruin our trip to the Refuge, but it was a little disappointing. Of course, it did lead us to talk about the importance of recycling with our little ones. So I guess it was a bitter-sweet bonus of our outdoor adventure at the Refuge.

Another picture angle of the landfill.

A close-up of the landfill.

Another thing we noticed on our way out of the Refuge: Colonies of Black-tailed Prairie Dogs!

A little closer...

It wasn't close enough for the princess...we had to get out of the car!

She got to see them up close! This is her doing her happy dance!

I want to see more!

Here you go!

She was so close, she actually heard their barks! What a great way to end our trip to the The Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge!

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