Lake vs. River Ecosystems

Yesterday was Wednesday, and that means River Classroom! We missed two of our scheduled trips this month due to PARCC testing, but fortunately we were able to reschedule and make up one session yesterday. Students met at the picnic area below Abiquiu Dam. Our mission: explore the Rio Chama and Abiquiu Reservoir!

We’ve taken many trips to the Rio Chama this year, and most of these have examined the river or its water in a somewhat myopic way. We’ve tested water quality, identified benthic macroinvertebrates, surveyed vegetation, calculated river velocity, and learned all that we can about this riparian ecosystem. This trip was all about placing what we’ve learned in the larger context of the Rio Chama watershed.

Exploration Step 1: Climb the very steep hill adjacent to the picnic area.

Students head up the steep hill.
Students head up the steep hill.
Headed up!
Headed up!

Climbing this hill was really fun for all of the students. A few scampered up quickly. Many were challenged by the terrain. Everybody practiced great route finding and teamwork. Once at the top, students were excited to explore.

Exploration Step 2: Look at rocks!

We took ten minutes and searched the hillside for the most amazing rock we could find. Each student selected one, and then we went in a circle and discussed their rock. What type do you think it is? How do you think it may have formed? This was a nice review of the types of rocks and the rock cycle, which we covered last year.

Exploration Step 3: Discover Landforms and Watersheds

Our next task was to draw the landforms around us. We complete this activity with many of our groups because it’s an effective way to notice shapes.

A group of students outlines the landforms across the canyon.
A group of students outlines the landforms across the canyon.
Students draw the landforms down canyon.
Students draw the landforms down canyon.

As students completed their drawings, we discussed what we saw. What are those mountains in the distance? Why is there a canyon right next to us? What caused the Espanola Valley? What is a watershed? Surprisingly, many of the students had not heard of a watershed. We discussed this concept in depth, and then we pulled out a map of New Mexico. Students identified our current location, identified where the Rio Chama starts, and found where the Rio Chama merges with the Rio Grande. We discussed water usage- why should we care about this water?

Next it was time to hike back down the hill for the students’ favorite activity: lunch!

Headed back down the hill
Headed back down the hill.
students in a row
Students all in a row!

After lunch we had a short discussion of the Rio Chama. We made a list on the white board of characteristics of the riparian ecosystem. Everybody had great suggestions. After this discussion, we headed up to a completely new location- Abiquiu Reservoir!

Exploration Step 4: Hike along Abiquiu Reservoir

We went for a hike on a trail from the Visitor’s Center. Students had instructions to notice how the lake and its surrounding area differs from the Rio Chama.

Headed down an easier trail this time.
Headed down an easier trail this time.
It was a gorgeous day for a hike!
It was a gorgeous day for a hike!

At the campground, we took a minute to look out at Abiquiu Reservoir. I asked the students, “Where is the Rio Chama?” Everybody pointed toward the dam. Nobody could figure out where the upstream branch of the Rio Chama was. Again, we looked at the landforms, and several students figured out that it must be in the canyon to the north.

Checking out Abiquiu Reservoir.
Checking out Abiquiu Reservoir.

We also discussed the dam. Why is it here? What is its purpose? What animal in nature also builds dams (a resounding shout of “BEAVER!” answering this question)? Unfortunately, we were soon out of time, and we had to head back to the Visitor’s Center, where we did our reflections out of the wind. Students were asked to draw diagrams of a riparian ecosystem and a lake ecosystem and explain how they are different. As usual, they did a great job.

This student included a key.
This student included a key.
Another fantastic river ecosystem
Another fantastic river ecosystem
Most students included macroinvertebrates in their riparian ecosystem.
Most students included macroinvertebrates in their riparian ecosystem.

It was another great day in River Classroom, and we can’t wait for our next trip to the Rio Chama!

Christy

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