Tips to help you connect your family to nature!
Shooting for the moon is a phrase that implies something is an unattainable target—but is that true? NASA is shooting for the moon right now with their Artemis 1, the first of the Orion Spacecraft. This unmanned moon launch is the first of many scheduled flights that will orbit the Moon and send several satellites out to collect data for future manned missions taking astronauts to the Moon’s surface. The subsequent Artemis missions will be the first manned flights to the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, 50 years ago. These series of flights are intended to set up a lunar station for sustainable exploration beyond the Earth’s orbit—the possibilities are endless!
Reaching the moon by spaceship is only our most recent relationship with our orbiting orb. The Moon has played an important part in our lives as humans for millennia. For most of our history, the Moon was the only source of illumination at night. It helped travelers navigate, and enabled people to work at night. It has signified wisdom, intuition, birth, death, reincarnation, and fertility, and has long been integrally tied to farming. The first astronomers created calendars from changes they saw in the Moon and linked those changes to the four seasons, crop planting, and harvesting. Many turns of phrase refer to the Moon, such as “once in a blue moon”, “many moons ago”, “promise the moon”, “over the moon”, “baying at the moon”, and let us not forget about honeymoons! We eat Moon Pies and look for the Man in the Moon, listen to songs like “Moon River” and read books to our children such as “Goodnight Moon”. Its magnificent presence in the sky has permeated our lives on every level.
So, what do we see when we look up into the sky and see the Moon in its various stages? First, we need to know that the Moon revolves, or travels, around the Earth every 28 days, just like the Earth revolves around the Sun every 365 days. As the Moon revolves around the Earth it also rotates on its axis just one time during that 28 days, which means we always see the same side of the Moon. The Earth, on the other hand, rotates on its axis once a day—or 365 times in one year—as it travels around the sun.
Why then do we see the Moon in its different phases or shapes? Sometimes we see a full moon, sometimes only a sliver or crescent moon based on the Sun’s reflection off the lunar surface. The Moon’s phases are created by the position of the Moon relative to the Earth and the Sun. A new Moon occurs when the Moon, Earth, and Sun all lie approximately in the same line with the Moon between the Earth and Sun from the Earth’s perspective. The side of the moon facing the Earth is completely dark because it has no sun reflecting off it. On the other hand, a full Moon occurs when the Moon’s revolution around the Earth puts it on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun. The Sun’s rays then reflect off the full lunar surface that faces the Earth.
The eight basic phases of the Moon can be seen in this graphic:
There are four primary phases: new Moon, first quarter, full Moon, and third quarter. The secondary phases are waxing crescent, waxing gibbous, waning gibbous, and waning crescent. Waxing means an apparent growth of the Moon’s image each night, always getting larger from right to left. Waning means the image is shrinking, which also occurs from right to left as you see the Moon’s image in the sky.
This graphic shows the position of the Moon and the Sun during each of the Moon’s phases and the Moon as it appears from Earth during each phase. Not to scale. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
One of the most interesting concepts behind the Moon’s phases is that the Moon, along with every other object in the sky, is in constant motion. The light we see from the Moon is a reflection of our Sun’s rays based on its position in the sky relative to Earth, not from Earth’s shadow as some believe. Also, its rotation around the Earth affects more than just our language and farming rhythms. The Moon’s diameter is about one fourth the of the size of the Earth’s width, making it Earth’s largest and only natural satellite. Its huge mass results in gravity that tugs at the Earth’s oceans to move in a pattern we call the tides. As the Earth rotates the water bulges out on the side closest to the Moon and the side farthest from the Moon, creating a high tide. As the Earth continues to rotate through its 24 hour cycle most shorelines experience two high and two low tides per day, spaced 12 hours apart.
Being Earth’s closest neighbor in space, it is no wonder the Moon plays such an important part in our everyday lives. Learning the science behind the Moon, its phases, and its effect on our planet is just the first step to learning about what lies beyond its orbit. From Apollo 8 to Artemis 1—to the Moon we go!
Cody Davis is a long-time participant in Grand Valley Adaptive Climbing Club, and has helped to create community with newer participants. Photo Credit: Sloane Milstein
Playing outside is an important part of growing up—there’s a wealth of evidence that time spent outdoors increases resiliency, promotes mental health, and teaches children skills that will help them grow into happy and healthy adults. If your child has a disability, though, it can be challenging to find outdoor activities that are accessible to their needs, and especially group activities that allow opportunities for important social connections and peer support.
We are fortunate to have a number of organizations serving the Grand Junction area that specialize in facilitating affordable activities for kids with disabilities, and their families. This is not an exhaustive list; as you get involved with the local community of adaptive athletes, you’ll find many more opportunities beyond those listed below. Here are a few places to start:
Colorado Discover Ability (CDA) is a well-known local non-profit that specializes in year-round adaptive outdoor recreation programs. In summer they organize rafting trips, cycling, and summer camps that are accessible to all. In winter they pivot to adaptive snowsports with well-qualified instructors who can teach kids to use a sit ski, ski with a vision impairment, and many other types of adaptive snowsports. More information is available at cdagj.org, and CDA also has numerous volunteer opportunities available if you’d like to help out.
Ever heard of hippotherapy? No, there are no hippos involved—it’s actually therapeutic horseback riding, and local organization Harmony Acres Equestrian Center offers this service to both kids and adults with disabilities from their location in Loma. Through their therapeutic horseback riding programs, they use “specially trained instructors and well-trained horses, along with a team of volunteers, [to] work with individuals to target goals that improve physical movements and development, speech, emotional/behavioral regulation, core strength, and mood.” They offer their services on a sliding scale, with the goal of making this unique and wonderful recreation/therapy available to all who might need it. Visit them at harmonyacresec.org to learn more. Other local providers include Grand Valley Equine Assisted Learning Center in Fruita (gvequineassistedlearningcenter.org), Metaphorse in Montrose (metaphorse.com), Dare to Dream in Delta County (daretodreamincorporated.com), and 4 Leg Adventures in Delta County (4legadventures.com) also offer various equine therapy sessions.
Sports are an important part of growing up for a lot of kids, and the social skills and support received through team sports can help your children grow into well-rounded adults. Our local Challenger Baseball team makes the sport of baseball accessible to all kids ages 8 to 18 (or up to 21 if still enrolled in school), with any type of developmental or physical disability. They also get to hang out with the JUCO players once a year, which is a big deal for the baseball fans! Find out more at challengerbaseball.net
If you’re looking for an adventurous (but safe!) activity, check out the Grand Valley Adaptive Climbing Club (GVACC). Accessible to kids and adults of all abilities, this climbing program is prepared with the equipment and expertise necessary to get anyone to the top of the climbing wall. While the events take place indoors, once you and your child are more comfortable with climbing it will allow you to pursue outdoor climbing programs through organizations like Adaptive Adventures, which usually organizes at least one ice climbing trip each year in Ouray. GVACC typically meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Grand Valley Climbing gym on 25 Road, but the schedule can fluctuate—check the Facebook page for the exact date each month: facebook.com/GrandValleyAdaptiveClimbingClub
Regardless of the type of activity your children are interested in, we’re very lucky to have a lot of organizations doing great work in our community to make athletics and the outdoors available to every kid, of any ability level. Take advantage of all that’s offered, and help your kids grow into happy and healthy adults surrounded by a network of their peers!
Many little hands release a Wilson’s warbler after it was banded at Ridgway State Park. Students observe and assist bird banders as part of the Rocky Mountain Bird Banding Project at Ridgway and at the Audubon Nature Center at Connected Lakes in Grand Junction. The banding operation occurs annually in early September.
Chick-a-de-de-de-de, chickadee in the tree, I see a chickadee, chickadee in the tree.
Making up quick songs while hiking with little kids is a fun way to connect and remember birds. Chickadees are a favorite for kids and adults of all ages because the words we use to describe their song is also their name!
Another fun bird call to listen for is the Ruby Crowned Kinglet. It is called the “cheeseburger bird” because the mnemonic for its song is “cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger”. Mnemonics (words to help us remember) are fun and easy to learn. Visit Augubon.org to learn some tricks on remembering bird songs. (https://tinyurl.com/remembering-bird-calls)
How do you spark that interest in nature with your kids? Summer is a great time to start thinking of ways to get your young ones out there and engaged with the outdoors. It could be as simple as buying a pair of binoculars and a basic bird book, or taking walks in the woods to just look and listen. Get them prepped with anticipation by going to the library and checking out some books about nature. There are many children’s books that can introduce kids to the wonder and beauty of nature. Some even provide a variety of cultural interests. One example is a children's book about the endangered Golden-cheeked Warbler and how it became part of a movement to embrace Indigenous languages in Mexico (tinyurl.com/the-tale-of-one-tiny-songbird). Image courtesy of Audubon Society.
(image courtesy of audubon.org)
Audubon is all about getting out there and appreciating nature and birds! Their website has so much information; it is worth a browse to get a few DIY summer camp ideas. Their page - JUST FOR KIDS! (Or kids at heart) “aims to bring together activities from across Audubon’s national network of environmental educators, including the classroom curriculum Audubon Adventures, plus related DIY activities and content from Audubon’s editors.” (tinyurl.com/audubon-afterschool-fun). There are even events for family participation – to help you and your kids contribute to citizen science projects. Here is an example of a virtual event on the site: tinyurl.com/audubon-afterschool-fun
One doesn’t need to be an expert; maybe just being a “student” along with a child is a fun way to learn and bond together. The more kids love and understand our natural world, the more they will want to protect it. www.audubon.org/news/easy-ways-get-kids-birding
Cornell Lab of Ornithology also has many resources on their website. Check out their bird sleuthing curricula (www.birdsleuth.net) which uses bird watching to get young people enthused about science and nature. This Bird Sleuth video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=d5OPTvrHh0U) encourages students (or anyone!) to get outside, watch birds, and take part in citizen science.
There are several citizen science projects through Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, such as the great backyard bird count. www.birdcount.org . Also, a fun app to use on your phone while out in the field is iNaturalist. www.inaturalist.org/. It has a variety of uses to not only record what you see with pictures and descriptions, but other users can help you identify your plant, bird, bug, or whatever else you’ve seen in the natural world.
Who doesn’t enjoy seeing a butterfly, flitting around some flowers? Because they are pollinators, it is important to protect these wonderful creatures. Since they are an “indicator species” (project the health of the environment), awareness of their importance is increased. Ridgway State Park started a citizen science project through the Colorado Butterfly Monitoring Network in 2017. Interested volunteers attended a training at the Butterfly Pavilion in Westminster, Colorado in 2015. There are now five routes in the park consistently monitored by volunteers. The idea is to expand this to other areas on the Western Slope next year. If you’d like to learn about starting a route for you and other families, please visit butterflies.org/research-and-conserve/butterfly-monitoring/.
Here is a suggestion for a fun summer garden project to help monarch butterflies – establish a certified “waystation” for these critters to stop and rest during migration. Monarch Watch also has links to other monarch butterfly projects (www.monarchwatch.org/waystations/).
Looking for more action packed activities in the outdoors? Try orienteering with your kids! It’s a great way to learn how to use a map, a compass and learn to observe subtle landscape features. There are many sites for guidance before you head out with your kids such as rainydaymum.co.uk/orienteering-with-kids/.
Geocaching – It’s like a treasure hunt! Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use a GPS or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called "geocaches" or "caches", at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world. It’s fun for them to see what “treasures” people have left behind in the “caches” and its great activity to lead you to explore places that you never thought of going. Go to www.geocaching.com/play to find out more and look at the available apps.
With each interaction in nature, children can acquire a sensitivity to nature’s elements. The more kids love and understand our natural world, the more they will want to protect it. Nature experiences can light up a spark of fascination and curiosity, and elicit many questions. Whether it involves plants, birds, butterflies or other critters, citizen science projects are a great way to engage your child with nature.
If you want to learn more about what other citizen science projects are out there including planets, plants, weather and even ticks, Popular Science has a website for that: www.popsci.com/story/diy/citizen-science-guide/ . This site provides links for those projects and other resources. So, get out there, have some fun, and do some science!
Local elementary students show off the rewards of their school garden. Farm to School Programs address the health benefits of growing a gardens. Kids learn to grow their own food and can bring those skills home to add to the food on the table. In addition, growing your own veggies reduces your foodprint.
Who doesn’t love a juicy, delicious cheeseburger? Food is necessary to our survival, and each meal can be a tasty and creative eating adventure. While you are grocery shopping, eating a gourmet meal or enjoying a family picnic, be aware that our food system is a major contributor to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses resulting from deforestation, food processing and food waste. The upside is that your family can make small changes in the way you manage food that can make a significant difference in reducing food waste and reducing your “foodprint”.
A foodprint measures the environmental impacts associated with the growing, producing, transporting, and storing of our food— from the natural resources consumed, to the pollution emitted, to the greenhouse gases released.
There are many decisions about what we eat and reducing our foodprint, including access, affordability, health and culture. There is not one prescribed diet or consumer choice for everyone. However, there are different ways individuals can make an impact on their foodprints. You can go to www.earthday.org/campaign/foodprints-for-future/ to learn exactly how our meals affect our planet, and the system that fills our plates every day. This site also offers recipes to eat better for ourselves and our planet.
Locally grown products are generally more expensive than what you can buy from corporate producers, which may seem odd when there are fewer transportation costs for locally-produced food. However, corporate producers benefit from the economies of scale. Depending on how you decide to tackle the reduction in your foodprint, it could actually cost you more if you want to support local growers and avoid corporate products. There are still some inexpensive options for reducing your foodprint.
Much of the food produced worldwide is wasted through processing, and once it gets into homes a significant amount of food is thrown away. Food waste in America has skyrocketed in recent years, with 206 billion pounds of food waste generated in 2018, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (see Food wastes in America: Facts and Fiction, Ryan Cooper, Director of Circular Economy Solutions, August 25, 2020). In the United States, 30-40% of food is wasted through processing, post-harvest or by simply being thrown away. When we toss still-edible food into the trash it ends up in landfills where it breaks down and releases carbon dioxide and methane. This accounts for 8.2 % of the total human-made greenhouse gas emissions according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (https://www.earthday.org/our-foods-impact/).
As a global citizen concerned about caring for our planet, you are encouraged to evaluate your food choices and consider adopting a few new behaviors:
Food security is the physical and economic ability to access affordable, culturally-appropriate and nutritional food. Unfortunately, many people are currently food insecure and cannot acquire adequate food to meet their needs. This is a real issue locally, nationally and globally. In 2018, 14.3 million households were food insecure in the U.S according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Many countries that experience food insecurity are large producers of grain and corn, only to use that food to feed livestock to meet the increasing global demand for meat or to make ethanol fuels. A lack of adequate, nutritious foods can increase the likelihood of many health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and mental health. Shifting weather patterns that result in more frequent flooding, drought and wildfires will have significant impacts on our global food supply. The situation will worsen in communities that lack food security due to financial and social limitations. This is not only an environmental issue, but also a human rights issue.
Food insecurity influences our local communities here on the Western Slope of Colorado. To get a closer look, consider volunteering at a local food bank. You may be surprised by the amount of perishable food that is donated by grocery stores each day for quick redistribution, and the number of families in need in our community.
We all need food. So let’s work as a community to fight food waste, eliminate food insecurity and improve our foodprint - everyone benefits. Think in terms of efficient foodprints. Less processing, less transportation, and less global demand. These are big, overreaching concepts in the way we view food, but if we start at a personal level, we can influence decision makers, store owners, restaurants, and public institutions to make broader, more efficient food choices. As the human population continues to surge, the global food system must become more efficient at meeting worldwide nutritional needs. Advocating through actions to reduce our foodprint will also help drive societies towards developing more productive and equitable processes for feeding the world.
Check out the Earth Day 2022 action, science and education toolkits: Deeper Dig into Food Sustainability for more on this topic (www.earthday.org/our-toolkits/)
Do you really need that shirt? When you buy new, buy just what you need, buy for value and durability, and wear your new clothes for longer before replacing them. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average person throws away around 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles every year!
Clothing choices are an easy first step in reducing our carbon footprint. By extending the active life of our clothing by just nine months and cutting our consumption of new clothing we can significantly reduce our contribution to fashion’s carbon footprint and worldwide waste. According to the Council for Textile Recycling, the average person throws away around 70 pounds of clothing and other textiles every year! That’s a lot of waste that could be diverted from our landfills.
Textile production requires energy, and many fabrics use synthetics that are made from petroleum and fossil fuels. The clothing you choose has an impact on the carbon footprint created by the clothing industry. The fashion industry fuels textile consumption, which in turn increases the carbon footprint at levels that can give motorized travel and energy production a run for their money (www.earthday.org/our-toolkits/). You can choose to make clothing choices that reduce your carbon footprint and improve our planet’s soil, fresh waters, and oceans.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
Let’s take a closer look into the current fashion industry. Fast Fashion is the design and production of high volumes of low quality garments bringing cheaply made, trendy styles to the consumer. Many “fast fashion” brands earn millions of dollars by selling large numbers of cheap garments. These are the items that end up in the landfills. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans send more than 11 million tons of textile waste to landfills each year. These are mostly synthetic garments full of toxins, heavy metals, dangerous dyes and countless other chemicals that rarely break down. Instead, as they lay in landfills, toxins are released into the air and local water systems adversely affecting the health of the local residents and animals.
Fast fashion also affects the health of consumers and garment workers. Harmful chemicals such as benzothiazole—linked to several types of cancer and respiratory illnesses—have been found in apparel on the market today. Our skin is the largest organ of the body, and wearing these poorly made clothes may be dangerous to our health. Garment workers for many brands are paid well below the minimum wage, and in many instances work in substandard conditions.
In addition, the more clothes we buy, the more clothes are shipped from foreign manufacturers. Transportation costs have a huge impact on the carbon footprint of our global system. Collectively, as consumers, we can use our buying power to encourage the fashion industry to change its current business model based on price, volume, and transportation needs, and move towards a more sustainable and ethical future.
How do you care for your clothes? Whether clothing is new or second-hand, an everyday item or a special heirloom, all clothing lasts much longer with some simple, basic maintenance. As an added bonus, proper care saves money in the end and can have important earth-friendly consequences. Did your mom pass on these laundry tips?
Love our trees! Nature is our powerful ally in restoring and investing in our planet! Forests and other nonagricultural lands absorb a net of 13 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to the EPA. (photo courtesy: Friends of Youth and Nature).
It’s April, and with it comes the arrival of spring − finally! Daffodil bulbs are emerging, bees are searching for pollen, hawks and owls are nesting, and rivers are beginning to flow with runoff. April is the month to reflect on all the benefits we get from nature and appreciate our surroundings: the open spaces, clear blue skies, and a diversity of wildlife, just to name a few. It is also an opportunity to celebrate and redirect our attention to improving where we live! April is the month to refocus once again on caring for our planet. Earth Day is celebrated on April 22 and with this celebration comes heaps of information, activities, ideas, and suggestions that can revitalize, energize and direct us to do what we can to invest in the future of our planet, whether that’s a small lifestyle change or full out involvement in a large-scale environmental campaign.
We have come a long way in the last 50 years. The first Earth Day happened in 1970, and was the birth of our country’s modern environmental movement with an emerging consciousness bringing environmental concerns to the forefront. The impacts of 150 years of industrial development had left a growing legacy of serious human health and environmental impacts from oil spills; factories and power plants polluting the air; raw sewage, toxic dumps, and pesticides polluting our drinking water; the loss of wildlife habitat and remote, pristine landscapes; and the extinction of many native species. Groups that have been fighting these losses individually began to unite around shared values. Earth Day 1970 achieved a rare political alignment, enlisting support from Republicans and Democrats, rich and poor, urban dwellers and farmers, business and labor leaders. By the end of 1970 and for several years after, these efforts led to the creation of environmental laws including the National Environmental Protection Act, the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. These laws have protected millions from disease and death and have saved hundreds of species from extinction.
Fifty years later, we now have clean air with air quality indexes, clean water with drinking water standards, protected watersheds and wildlife habitat, species protection and restoration programs, congressionally designated wilderness areas, and an awareness of how our health, longevity and happiness is deeply connected to our environment.
Just like caring for, maintaining and improving our homesteads; it’s time to look at the bigger picture − our planet. But, how do you invest in our planet? Unfortunately, humans are still affecting our environment - some impacts are on a small scale, while others are large and far-reaching. The over-arching environmental consequence of our actions and lifestyles choices are contributing in varying degrees to changes in our long-term weather patterns. Of course, there are many variables affecting these patterns; some are a natural warming progression of our evolving planet, and some are accelerated by human activities. Temperatures are rising, snow and rainfall patterns are shifting, and more extreme climate events, like heavy rainstorms and record high temperatures, are already happening. Many of these observed changes are linked to rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (methane, nitrous oxide, water vapor and fluorinated gases) which trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the planet. Whether you believe these changes are natural or human causes, you have to agree that we all can do more to lessen our footprint on the planet and live more responsibly as global citizens. The extent you want to lessen your footprint is up to you but now is a good time to rethink and reimagine what changes you want to make to do that. Changes can range from riding your bike for errands or buying a gas economy/electric vehicle, to consciously purchasing greener products, and products with less plastic packaging. This is the time of year where every publication will have advertisements on buying green, earth friendly, sustainable, and reusable products.
There is good news! We have a very powerful ally in restoring and investing in our planet! Lucky for us, the planet is equipped with a powerful tool for stabilizing the climate: nature itself. Did you know that the total amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the sea is 50 times more than the carbon dioxide content of the atmosphere, and 20 times more than the amounts of carbon dioxide produced on land by plants and soil? (Bagusche, Frauke, 2021 The Blue Wonder, Greystone Books). In addition, forests, particularly tropical forests also help prevent the most dangerous effects of climate change. Conserving these types of ecosystems can be more cost-effective than many human-made interventions. For example: preserving natural coral reefs can be four times cheaper than building a sea wall for coastal protection, even after 10 years of maintenance costs.
There is a lot of information about the status of our planet and how to invest in its restoration. One way is to become aware of the 11 climate change facts you need to know www.conservation.org/stories/11-climate-change-facts-you-need-to-know). Next, learn the extent of your carbon footprint. Conservation.org has a questionnaire that models how much carbon dioxide one generates in a year at home and through travel along with the number of trees needed to mitigate your carbon footprint.
Small lifestyle changes are a first step towards investing in our planet. Download Earth Day 2022 action, science and education toolkits (www.earthday.org/our-toolkits/) to help you brainstorm solutions for you and your family. For teachers, there are a myriad of activities, resources, calls to action, suggested extensions and interdisciplinary opportunities for all age groups in each Restore Our Earth Toolkit.
Take a moment to reflect on how much better our environment is 50 years since the first observed Earth Day. By working together, we can successfully make changes in policy, business practices, and lifestyles to improve our environment. It begins with awareness, which leads to action. Take some small steps this month to reduce your carbon footprint on our planet!
Nature can be a great outdoor classroom for our children. It is a win anytime you take a child on a field trip in a forest or local park, but it is even more of a bonus when you can tie an outdoor adventure with something they are learning in school—like math!
Math can be very hard and abstract for some children to understand, but finding actual physical items can help make sense of the concepts. You might be surprised to learn that many objects in nature relate to math. Here are some ideas to get you started in helping your child observe and discover math in nature on your next outdoor adventure.
What child does not like water? Find a pond, puddle or river, and drop a pebble in. What do you see? The ripple effect is a concentric circle. The circles seem to grow and get bigger and bigger. Concentric circles are different sizes but originate from the same center point. You can also find this on a tree stump. The rings on the tree stump are not just the age of the tree, but are circles that originate from the same center point. Finding a spider web for some is quite frightening, but take a closer long look at the web. It also has concentric circles. Can you think of a food that is used in lots of your favorite family recipes? Onions. They are not great to eat by themselves, but fun to explore the circles.
The Fibonacci Sequence was discovered by and named for a 12th century Italian mathematician. The sequence is a series of numbers where the next number is the sum of the previous two numbers. For example, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144 … This sequence of numbers pops up in nature. Have any ideas where? Take a closer look at some of those beautiful wild flowers that will be popping out in a few months. Count the petals on a sunflower, a black-eyed Susan or a daisy. Do the numbers look familiar? Sunflowers most often have 55, 89 or 144 petals. Black-eyed Susan’s often have 13 and daisies have 34 to 89.
Related to the Fibonacci Sequence is another math concept called the Golden Ratio. Finding examples of the Golden Ratio is not hard. It can be as simple as a houseplant or as complex as an expansive spiral in the galaxy. The Golden Ratio is tied to the numerical pattern discussed above. Take two consecutive Fibonacci numbers, then divide the second by the first and this quotient will approximate the Golden Ratio as the Fibonacci numbers get bigger and bigger (144/89 = 1.61798 while the Golden Ratio is approximately 1.61803). The ratio of the length to the width of a Golden Rectangle is approximately 1.61803. Golden Rectangles occur everywhere in nature. If you measure your arm length and divide it by your shoulder width then you will probably get a result that is very close to 1.618 or the Golden Ratio! How many other examples of this phenomenon can you find? When the Golden Ratio is applied as a growth factor you get a type of logarithmic spiral known as the Golden Spiral. Some cool examples are the chameleon tail, sea shells, ammonite fossils, ocean waves, flower buds, snail shells, whirlpools, pine cones, sunflower seed heads and hurricanes to name a few.
Fractals are another intriguing mathematical shape that we can find in nature. A fractal is a self-similar, repeating shape. This means the same basic shape is seen again and again in the shape itself. Mathematically, they can be created by seeding iterative functions with random complex numbers. Now, ask yourself where can I find these? They occur just about anywhere in nature such as ferns, trees, roots, snowflakes, frosted car windshields, leaves, patterns of streams, rivers, coastlines, mountains, waves and waterfalls.
These all seem a bit complex, but it’s fun to explore the numbers behind them. Let’s talk about something a bit more practical for some. When walking on trails do you ever wonder how tall the trees are? One method of indirect measurement involves measuring the shadows cast by objects. Here is how it works. If a 6-foot man casts a 4-foot shadow then a 60-foot tree would cast a 40-foot shadow assuming that the man and the tree’s shadows are measured at the same time and same place. This is an application of similar triangles. The angle of elevation of the sun is the same for both the man and the tree while the altitude is perpendicular to the horizontal and, because these two angles are congruent, the triangles are similar and, therefore, their sides must be in proportion. So, if a 5-foot girl casts a 4-foot shadow and a beautiful Colorado Blue Spruce casts an 80-foot shadow, then the tree must be 100 feet tall! How do you measure the height of tall trees on a cloudy day? Well, that is an application of trigonometry and a topic that can be easily researched on a rainy day.
If you are interested in exploring nature and how it relates back to math, do a quick search on the internet. You can find all levels of fascinating information. Then take your new found knowledge outside and start exploring and observing.
They love their jobs! The foresters, wildlife biologists, recreation specialists, hydrologists, archeologists, wildland firefighters, engineers, park rangers – just to name a few who have careers working in the outdoors. These positions can be with state or federal agencies, tribal governments, nonprofits, or environmental consultants. Why do these professionals enjoy their jobs so much? They are working for the great outdoors with a mission of managing our natural resources and providing quality recreational experiences for the public.
So, how do you get one of these careers? It’s never too early to plant the seed in our young people to let them know that these jobs are out there. Elementary school field trips can be the first exposure many children have to learn from resource specialists about the natural landscapes near them. This could be a winter field trip to the Grand Mesa to learn about snow science and where our water comes from, a ranger-led hike in the Black Canyon to learn about geology and native species, or a tour of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde National Park to learn about the lifestyles of indigenous peoples. Students get to see these professionals in action and get a taste of what their jobs might entail.
All 6th graders in the D-51 school district participate in the Outdoor Wilderness Lab (OWL) where resource specialists lead them through various hands-on activities designed to give them a glimpse of ecological concepts at work during a three day workshop in Gateway, Colorado. Fourth graders in Montrose County School District participate in a one day natural resource festival where they are introduced to various natural resource concepts such as groundwater models, Colorado River flow issues and more. Delta County 6th graders participate in Cottonwood Days in the Gunnison Gorge National Conservation Area focused on teaching kids about “Leave No Trace” principles, native plant and animal species, aquatic organisms and how all of them are connected through the web of life. Through these festivals and workshops, students interact with specialists passionate about sharing their expertise. Coupled with family day hikes, car camping, fishing excursions and backpacking trips, kids get to test the waters on adventures with friends and family, and get a comfortable feel for being outdoors.
Other opportunities to encourage an interest in science, nature and outdoor adventures are available through volunteerism and internships. Youth learn some intangibles like leadership, teamwork, communication, environmental stewardship and civic engagement, as well as various skills like trail building, invasive species removal, tree planting, maintenance, construction, fence building, habitat improvement, community clean ups, and mentoring younger kids. These types of programs can be a pathway to an interesting seasonal job and eventually a fulfilling career.
Through volunteering and internships young people have a platform to show their initiative, and desire to work hard as a team player. These are key characteristics employers are looking for in potential job candidates during hiring events. Working as a volunteer or intern is a chance to gain experience and start building references for future jobs. Ultimately many of the resource science jobs require a degree in natural resources, but there are some positions in these areas that do not require an advanced degree.
Friends of Youth and Nature (FOYAN) has developed a list of various summer volunteer, internship and even paid summer jobs with links to the organizations providing these opportunities for our youth—visit outdoor-jobs-for-teens. Now is a great time to plant the seed, do the research and make the contacts to find the outdoor experience for the summer.
Here are some ideas to give you a snapshot of what opportunities are out there:
Most city recreation districts hire high school students as assistant counselors for summer camps, after school programs, swim aides and life guards. Age requirements vary but generally start at 16 years of age. Check the website of your local parks & recreation department, because they are starting to hire now.
EUREKA! McConnell Science Museum welcomes volunteers from 5th graders to adults. Student volunteers help clean and maintain exhibits, socialize animals and help younger students in the museum. Volunteers are also welcome to be Monument Stewards, a volunteer restoration group that meets weekly at the Lunch Loops, helping with various tasks such as maintaining transplants of native plants, pulling weeds and more. Monument Stewards is facilitated by Colorado West Land Trust and EUREKA! McConnell Science Museum. Information on these two programs can be found on their website.
Are you into mountain biking? Little Bellas’ success is powered by inspiring mentors that are passionate about riding. This is an incredible network of outdoor-oriented, fun women who are truly the heart and soul of Little Bellas! Junior mentors (high school students ages 14-17) and mentors (women ages 18+) are needed to help encourage young girls wanting to learn how to ride mountain bikes.
Southwest Conservation Corps hires Youth Conservation Crew Members as part of a day crew or camping crew for high school students ages 14-18 who want to gain more skills and are interested in working outdoors serving their communities. These are paid positions, with a time commitment of 32-40 hours per week. Currently crews with this organization work out of Salida and Durango.
Riverside Education Center- hires former students as recreation camp counselors, and tutors. Tutors work during the school year and counselors work with youth outside during the summer camps. Check their employment webpage for details
For those teens passionate about horses, the Grand Valley Equine Assisted Learning Center has volunteer opportunities for those interested in a variety of roles such as side-walk during therapy sessions, leading horses, helping to set-up and organize fundraising events, and more. Contact them at GVEALC@gmail.com for more information.
For a career in wildland fire, get the basic training and certifications you need close to home. The Collbran Job Corps Center and the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest will be hosting a basic wildlife fire certification course (S-130/190) Feb 28- March 4. This will be partly virtual and partially on-site. (Ages 18-37). If you would like more information email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Wildland Fire Training Center in McClellan, California also offers a Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program (ages 18-37). This program develops the knowledge and basic skills necessary to work as a wildland firefighter. Selected applicants will attend a 3,000 hour on-the-job learning program, which includes a two month-long residential firefighting academy.
One way to get involved in an outdoor experience is to volunteer on a stewardship project as a family. Volunteers for Outdoors Colorado- motivates and enables people to be active stewards of Colorado's natural resources. Throughout the year, various groups such as the Grand Valley Trails Alliance, mountain bike groups (COPMOBA), and the Grand Mesa Nordic Association host work days to build, or maintain trails. These are good events to see if your teen is really into this kind of work.
Some early interactions with nature, or a few awesome outdoor experiences, could be the spark that triggers your child’s interest in the outdoors. This could be just the thing that helps shape their character, build a work ethic and expand their interests, which could lead to a future career in the great outdoors!
When most of us think of snow, we think of fluffy six-sided flakes collecting on our nose and eyelashes, snow families popping up on our lawns, and winter conditions arriving in the Colorado mountains. What you might not know is that our view of snow is limited by our language.
Other languages in the world have many more words for snow than the English language, primarily based on their culture’s relationship to snow. The Inuit culture has 50 words for snow, describing not only its shapes but also human interaction with the snow. Aput, for example, means “snow on the ground,” and qaniy means ``falling snow”. Piqsirpoq means drifting snow, as opposed to qimuqsuq, which means snowdrift. The Sami, indigenous people of northern Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Russia, have at least 180 words for snow and ice. For example, Skava is a thin layer of frozen snow; Vahca is loose or new snow; Moarri is the kind of frozen surface snow or ice that breaks and cuts the legs of animals; and Ciegar is a snowfield that has been trampled and dug up by reindeer.
Internationally, avalanche experts have classified snowflakes into three basic snow shapes: column, plate, and the one we traditionally think of as a six-sided star—the stellar snowflake.
Of course, there are many variations of these three basic classifications based on size and how they clump together as they form when drifting down through the atmosphere, but believe it or not snowflakes continue to change even after they reach the ground! Wind can tumble them across the surface of the snow, breaking off pieces of the flake. Even under the surface, snow continues to change as more snow builds into a thick snowpack. Snow and ice sublimate continually, turning directly into water vapor, and when this happens inside the snowpack that water vapor can refreeze onto other snowflakes within the snowpack, creating platelike sliding surfaces that create the avalanche conditions to which Colorado is so prone.
Any 6th grader who has participated in a Knowledge Bowl competition can tell you that in the United States the state with the most recorded avalanches is Colorado. That is because the way our snowpack traditionally accumulates creates the perfect conditions for avalanches. With our mountainous terrain, we have many slopes of 35-50 degrees which are the most dangerous for avalanche conditions. Many winters, like this year, we get a significant snowfall early in the season, and then do not get more snow for several weeks. When this happens wind and sun can create a hard crust on the surface of the snow on which new snow can easily slide. In addition, the temperature difference from the surface of the snowpack to the base is often significant, with snow surface temperatures in the single digits while at the base of the snowpack the temperature is a constant 32 degrees. This temperature difference, or gradient, causes large plate crystals to form under the hard crust. These plate-like crystals are often called “sugar snow” and act like ball bearings. When the snowpack does get a significant addition of new snow on top, like we have experienced recently, one of two types of avalanches can occur on mountain slopes. A point, or loose, avalanche can slide on top of the hard crust underneath, or if there is enough weight with a new wet heavy snowfall the sugar snow underneath can collapse creating a dangerous slab avalanche.
So, how can you safely play in the snow in Colorado? The Colorado Avalanche Information Center has a program called “Know Before You Go.” First, and most importantly, stay out of harm’s way. There are many safe places to recreate in the mountains, like on the generally flat top of Grand Mesa with groomed trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, sledding, and snowmobiling. There are only a few easily avoided slopes where avalanches can occur. Bring water, healthy snacks like nuts and cheese, and extra clothing with you to make sure you will have everything you need for a fun day. A thermos of hot chocolate can warm you inside and out! Colorado also boasts many downhill ski areas, such as our local Powderhorn Ski area, where ski patrollers control the designated ski slopes for avalanches to keep patrons safe.
If you do plan on recreating in Colorado’s backcountry where avalanche conditions are present, you need to be as prepared as possible before you head out the door by taking a free online Know Before You Go (KBYG) avalanche awareness class at kbyg.org. There are also many on site or classroom avalanche courses available that teach you how to recognize and avoid avalanche terrain, how to dig a pit and analyze the stability of the snowpack, what gear you should take with you in your backpack for safety, how the weather affects avalanche conditions, and how to look out for the safety of every person in your party.
With just a little preparation, you and your family can have many hours of safe winter fun playing in a crystalline world on our public lands. Stay safe out there and have fun!
Courtesy: Passionate People Team (passionatepeople.invacare.eu.com)-Five Fabulous Wheelchair Activities for Kids.
It’s not easy growing up in a world that isn’t always designed with your needs in mind. The challenges of everyday life can be considerable for kids with disabilities, and they also have to learn how to operate in a world that can be inaccessible while at the same time learning all of the other standard kid things that are part of becoming an adult. Time spent outdoors can bolster mental and physical health, build resiliency, provide educational opportunities, and contribute to a kid’s overall wellbeing, but finding ways to spend time in nature can be a challenge for those with limited mobility.
If your kid has trouble with balance and proprioception, or if they use crutches, a wheelchair, or another mobility aid to get around, there are a lot of opportunities to still get outside in safe and accessible ways here on the Western Slope.
We have a number of excellent parks in and around Montrose, Delta and Grand Junction. The Fish Tale trail in Ridgway State Park provides wheelchair accessible fishing access on the shores of Ridgway Reservoir. Fishing is a wonderful and fun outdoor activity to share with your kids, and provides hours of entertainment as well as a direct connection to nature when you do catch a fish. See our previous article on fishing with kids for more details on equipment, fishing licenses, and other things you need to know if you’re planning to take your kids fishing. Ridgway State Park also has wheelchair-accessible campsites and picnic areas if you want to make a longer weekend trip.
You have to love the Uncompahgre River Walk in Montrose. What a highlight of our community thanks to the efforts and planning of the Montrose Recreation Department. There are two paved designated access point to the river trail that are van-accessible with striped access aisles. A good map and description can be found on All Trails. One of the access points is the West Main Trailhead, just beyond the W. Main Street (State Route 90) bridge over the Uncompahgre River. The path heads north for approximately 1.5 miles and ends just beyond the Colorado Outdoors development. To the south, the trail crosses the river twice as it runs through Cerise Park, Baldridge Park, and Ute Park. For most of the route, the trail remains on-corridor and passes behind the Ute Indian Museum where the surface changes from concrete to gravel shortly after. The trail provides spectacular vistas of the San Juan Mountains to the south, the Uncompahgre Plateau to the west, Grand Mesa to the north, and the Cimarron Ridge and rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to the east. You may spot a bald eagle or two fishing the river during the winter!
Confluence Park in Delta provides 7 miles of trails along the Gunnison and Uncompahgre Rivers through the riparian cottonwood galleries. Approximately 4 miles of the trails are four feet wide, on grade and constructed with smoother surfacing that doesn’t get muddy. There is an ADA accessible fishing peninsula to entice your child to try a little fishing; and it’s a great place to spy snow geese and other winter waterfowl on the lake.
Don’t forget about our incredible National Parks. While some of them have truly accessible trails that allow people with limited mobility to experience the parks, there are always beautiful views to be had at the various lookouts and visitors centers. Our own Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park here in Colorado is not accessible as far as the interior goes, but most folks go just to look at it anyway—it’s a pretty incredible view! There are a number of accessible viewpoints where you can get the full experience including the Visitors Center, Pulpit Rock, Chasm View, Sunset View, Tomichi Point, and just driving along the canyon looking out the car window.
Venturing a little farther afield, to the top of Colorado National Monument, the National Park Service has not only a nice paved path around the Saddlehorn Campground that provides a pretty outdoor setting and beautiful views, but they also have the wheelchair-accessible Alcove Nature Trail. This is a dirt trail, but it’s wide and level to allow access for people with limited mobility. Note: As of November 2021 the park rangers said the trail has experienced some damage from runoff during recent rain events, so it may not be as accessible as usual right now. They do plan to fix it, but could not provide an estimated timeframe.
Arches National Park out in Utah has a number of stunning scenic areas along the loop road that will provide quite a view, and they also have a fair amount of trails and facilities that are wheelchair accessible (a detailed list can be found on the NPS website, and park staff can always guide you in the right direction once you’re there).
National Parks are fee-based, so you do have to pay to get in. However, be aware of the Interagency Access Pass; this pass is honored nationwide at all Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and US Fish & Wildlife Service sites and is free to those with a medical determination and documentation of blindness or permanent disability. This pass grants access for the pass holder and any accompanying passengers in a private (non-commercial) vehicle, as well as significant discounts on camping and other amenities.
There are some great opportunities to spend time outdoors, without the need to navigate sometimes treacherous terrain found on many hiking trails in Grand Junction area. Canyon View Park and Lincoln Park both have nice, long paved trails, as does Long Family Memorial Park in the Fruitvale area.
And don’t forget about the wonderful Riverfront Trail we’re so lucky to have here, it’s a great and accessible way to cover a lot of ground on a comfortable trail right by the beautiful Colorado River. Take a detour onto Watson Island, a popular place to play disc golf, and you can meander around several pathways while spending time outside.
A little farther west, in the James M. Robb Colorado River State Park, is Connected Lakes. This is a beautiful area with paved trails that meander around several inviting lakes, which is an excellent place for anyone to walk and is wonderfully accessible for wheelchair users. Since it’s in a state park the visit does require paying for a state parks pass; if that’s a limiting factor, Colorado Parks & Wildlife has the Centennial Program to provide parks passes at very low rates for income eligible Colorado residents (more information is on their website at cpw.state.co.us/centennialprogram).
If you’re looking for something a bit more rugged than the paved trails mentioned so far, there is a dirt trail out at the Lunch Loops area that’s been specifically designed for handcycles called “Short & Cranky” which is more accessible than your typical Tabeguache-area trail. It is still a mountain bike trail, though, so don’t expect perfectly smooth sailing—but that’s part of the fun! If you don’t have access to a handcycle, it also makes a good hiking trail that’s a bit more mellow and less steep than other trails at Lunch Loops.
Even farther west, the Fruita Paleo Area provides a short (under a mile) sandy but level trail with over 20 interpretive signs describing the area’s geology, fossils that have been found there, and the dinosaurs that once inhabited the area. The trail isn’t perfectly even and may not be entirely accessible for wheelchairs, but it does provide a short, easy hike with some very interesting natural finds for those with limited mobility.
While not on the Western Slope exactly, our neighbors to the east in Aspen have a few options that could be a new venture and worth the drive!
You may have heard of the iconic Maroon Bells, a breathtaking pair of peaks that have been the muse of many a photographer and painter. Below their towering, majestic forms lies Maroon Lake, which is worth a trip of its own just to see the incredible views. The upper part of the trail is paved and entirely wheelchair accessible; the lower section is gravel and fairly level, and may be suitable for wheelchair access as well with some assistance.
Also near Aspen are the Braille and Discovery Trails. They start from one parking area, but are two separate trails. The Braille Trail was designed specifically to be used by people with visual impairments, with a rope along the trail to serve as a tactile guide and interpretive signs for both sighted individuals and braille readers that teach about plants and animals in the area. The Braille Trail is not wheelchair accessible. Its partner, the Discovery Trail, is a short loop (around a quarter mile) with a packed sand/rock surface providing accessibility to wheelchair users. It also has several wheelchair accessible picnic areas along the route, so be sure to pack a good lunch to enjoy!
It’s important for anyone to have access to and spend time on our public lands and in the outdoors, and even more so for kids with disabilities who are facing some unique challenges as they grow up in a world that isn’t always easily accessible to them. Whether you’re visiting a local city park or one of our 63 incredible National Parks, take the time to get your whole family outdoors to experience our awe-inspiring natural world. Everyone is happier when they spend time outside!
Looking for ideas on getting kids with disabilities outside? Check out: Fabulous Wheelchair Activities for Kids (passionatepeople.invacare.eu.com), Plant a Seed and See What Grows (seewhatgrowas.org) and Outdoor Activities for Kids with Special Needs (https://www.cerebralpalsy.org/blog/outdoor-activities-for-children-with-special-needs)
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