A glistening blanket of snow greeted our students as they pulled up to the basketball court Tuesday morning. They rushed out of the bus and immediately flocked to the mounds of snow all over campus, creating their first snowmen of the winter season. The excitement spread like a wave from the students to the staff, and carried over to the many adventures that followed that week. Things started with an epic game of Predator/Prey. The students adapted different roles within the food web and hunted for food, water, and shelter. As in nature they learned the benefits of behavioral adaptations such as ambushing and stalking their prey. In this particular game, the insects bore the hardship when they were attacked from all sides by the lizards and snakes. The students really embraced the trials and tribulations most animals deal with on a daily basis.
The enthusiasm from the snow and Predator/Prey carried over as the students tried out their trail reading skills while summiting Rock Point. They put to use their ethnobotany expertise by identifying useful plants along the way and even stopping for a quick snack followed by dental hygiene with some hiker’s toothbrush.
Our week came to a close surprisingly fast, but new adventures awaited the staff that made the trek to Utah for some skiing and snowboarding. The 9-hour arduous journey provided to be well worth the drive with great snow and a friendly mountain atmosphere. After rejuvenating ourselves it was time to meet our new group of budding naturalists.
Bright and early Tuesday morning our new group arrived starry eyed and full of questions. The students instantly started exploring their new environment and soaking in as much information as nature and the outdoors could provide. They were like sponges about to explode. Their first night at Pathfinder Ranch was dedicated to investigating the night sky. Although there were some clouds, no one’s spirits were extinguished as the students created their own constellations in the Milky Way.
The rest of the week was met with challenges and new experiences for both students and staff. Students were able to test their climbing, riding, and archery skills. The staff was challenged to push themselves to keep up with the expanding sponge-like minds of their students. Some of Pathfinder’s favorite critters helped in this challenge by teaching our students key ecology concepts as well as exposing them to a love for animal care and the environment. A final challenge from Mother Nature that was met with some reservation, but mostly excitement by the end was the hike to a geographical wonder, the Land Bridge. There’s nothing like almost three inches of snow to end a trip to Pathfinder Ranch!
And remember “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dragonfly and Your Pathfinder Naturalists
Every Friday when we meet for our staff meeting we start out by sharing our thorns*, roses, and buds. The thorns are our rough points from the previous days. Our roses tell about the highlights and moments where we laughed. We save the buds for last. The buds tell about what we’re looking forward to down the road.
One of my buds recently has been the arrival of the wet season. The idea of me being excited about rainy and snowy weather would likely raise an eyebrow or two among the other outdoor education staff here at the ranch. After all, I’m usually one of the first to opt out of any scenario where I might end up cold and wet. Still, it’s a bud nonetheless.
Why? It’s because the precipitation now and in the coming months will ensure that there will be life throughout the valley and mountains later in the year. Without the rains we would miss our Desert Sand Verbenas, Goldfields, and Miner’s Lettuce. Should the snows pass us by the frogs and toads would have no vernal springs for their tadpoles. I’m also pretty sure Dandelion and Dragonfly would be really disappointed if they didn’t get to go sledding at least once this winter.
In the past couple of weeks we’ve run the gamut of weather at the ranch. We’ve hiked in t-shirts in the sunshine, woken up to a fresh blanket of snow over the ground, seen ice on the lake, and endured three-day stretch of gloom and drizzle. As cold as it’s been at times there has even been a sighting or two of lizards. Lizards! In January! The grass is starting to peek through the sand down in the wash, too. Winter can be so weird here. I like it! What’s your favorite season of the year?
OTR (On The Road): If you’re looking for someplace to go enjoy the wet season I’d recommend checking out Tahquitz Canyon down in Palm Springs. We visited there recently to learn more about the cultural history of the area and about the local plants. It’s a great place to learn about the Cahuilla even if it’s your first encounter with their culture and traditions. The 2-mile roundtrip hike up to the huge waterfall at the end of the canyon trail will make the trip totally worthwhile! Be aware that there is an entrance fee that goes toward taking care of the canyon and sustaining the Agua Caliente band of the Cahuilla.
That’s all for now from the ranch. I hope you are enjoying the weather wherever you are!
Your favorite naturalist ever,
“All seasons have something to offer.” – Jeannette Walls
* Did you know roses don’t actually have thorns? They have prickles instead. Thorns are really modified branches or stems; prickles are a bit like nature’s equivalent of having spiked hair.