Exploring an Aspen Ecosystem

One of the goals of our programs at NMWC is to get students outside and having fun. Observation skills are a very important part of science, and sometimes taking students outside to a new place is all you need to get them thinking about and observing the world around them.

Last Monday, the 7th graders at McCurdy Charter School took an adventure to the Santa Fe National Forest. We hiked on the Aspen Vista trail and learned about aspen ecosystems. Aspen are a really neat species. Not only do they spread in a really interesting way, through rhizomes, but this trait means that stands of aspen are the largest individual organism on Earth. Additionally, they recover well from wildfire and avalanche.

Students headed up the trail!
Students headed up the trail

While we’ve already had our first snowfall in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, we still observed some gorgeous fall colors in some of the aspens.

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A trail with plenty of room for everybody!
A trail with plenty of room for everybody
A few students enjoying the colors
A few students enjoying the colors

While we were out and hiking, we discussed the different types of evergreen trees along the trail. We identified fir, spruce, and pine.

Checking out a pine tree
Checking out a pine tree

Of course everybody enjoyed the snow as we hiked higher up the trail.

Taking a flying leap into a snow bank!
Taking a flying leap into a snow bank

We found a neat spot to eat lunch.

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We love these aspen trees!
We love these aspen trees!

After lunch, we continued up the trail a bit farther until we found a nice spot to sit and observe silently for 10 minutes. Ten minutes with no talking isn’t easy for a 7th grader.

Hiking on snow!
Hiking on snow

Our students made some fantastic observations.

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We had a fantastic hike and ended up accumulating 3.72 miles as we progressed up to 10,500 ft. This is nearly 5,000 vertical feet higher than Española, and the students did a great job comparing the aspen ecosystem with that around Española. The variety of elevations and habitats is one of the characteristics that makes New Mexico so unique.

Christy

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