Meet our 2016-2017 River Classrooms: Española Water Scholars

We’ve been working with the 4th-6th grade GATE students in the Española Public School District for five years now, and we’ve had some really great students. Last year some of our students expressed interest in continuing with the River Classroom program after completing 6th grade. Our answer? The Water Scholars!

This program encompasses 7th-10th grade GATE students from the Española Public School District. Last year we had a pilot version of this program in which students built their own kayaks from scratch. This year, with all of the participants returning and with a greater number of students, we decided to take a slightly different route.

Many students aren’t familiar with the wide variety of ecosystems found across New Mexico. Our students are very knowledgeable about riparian habitats, thanks to their time in River Classroom, but this year our Water Scholars will be exploring different habitats across the state, collecting environmental data as they go.

Our first expedition was to Abiquiu Lake to discuss the lake, the plants and animals found there, the source of the water, and the importance of water to New Mexico.

Getting boats to the water as a team
One of our students brought the kayak she built last year


Once again our partners at the US Army Corps of Engineers were on hand to loan us life jackets and talk about water safety
Some of our students are becoming serious paddlers and got gloves to wear!
It was a gorgeous day to be on the water!
We even got a chance to swim and jump from some low rocks.


After our adventure on the water, we put our boats away and reconvened to discuss the ecosystem we’d been observing all day. For each trip students fill out a chart with details about the typical elevation range, precipitation amounts, animal/plant life, soil characteristics, sample food chain, and potential effects of climate change for each ecosystem.

We look forward to exploring the diverse habitats of New Mexico with these students!

Summer Science Camp #2

Another fantastic Summer Science Camp has come and gone, and once again we had an excellent group of kids! This camp was held at Abiquiu Lake, thanks to our partnership with the US Army Corps of Engineers. Campers came in from Santa Fe, Española, and Abiquiu to explore the habitats of Abiquiu Lake and learn some place-based science. This week was particularly hot, and we were fortunate to have the lake as a place to cool off!

Decorating science notebooks and discussing the plans for the week


Weighing a plastic cylinder full of rocks to estimate its density
Testing our evaluation of the object’s density to see if it’s buoyant enough to float
A ranger from USACE discussing buoyancy and water safety with our campers
A camper getting fitted into a life jacket thanks to Abiquiu Lake’s life jacket loaner program
Learning to tie a new knot that is useful for tying up boats
Knot-tying session
Cooling off in the waters of Abiquiu Lake
Practicing teamwork


Exploring the lake shore after a kayak excursion


Trying out a new mode of transportation on the water
Setting off on a hike in the Jemez mountains to learn where our water comes from
Sketching a wildflower so that we can identify it later
Watching a coyote move through a meadow
Setting up emergency shelters
Students set up their shelters with very little help!
Emergency shelters turned into emergency ponchos as a quick afternoon shower passed over
Roasting marshmallows at our camp out
S’mores are one of the best parts of camping out!
Enjoying a night in the tent

We had a fantastic week of camp. Why can’t we do this every week? Thanks to The Pantry Restaurant for their generous sponsorship of this camp. We wouldn’t be able to do this without our sponsors!

We do have one more science camp taking place this summer at Heron Lake State Park near Tierra Amarilla, and this camp still has a few openings! If you know a child in the area who would like to participate, send them our way.

2016 Chama Summer Camp

Summer Science Camp #1

Last week was NMWC’s first Summer Science Camp of the year! This camp was generously sponsored by Owl Peak Farm in La Madera and brought in campers from La Madera, El Rito, Ojo Caliente, and Española. Students met at Bode’s General Store each morning, and we headed up to Abiquiu Lake for a day of fun in the sun!

First things first: we learned how to use compasses to guide our adventures
Hiking around the lake



Exploring the rocky areas around the lake

On Monday after our hike, we learned about buoyancy.

Before heading into the water we got an expert water safety talk from our local USACE rangers
Each camper was fitted with a life jacket. Students got to wear these jackets for the entire week thanks to Abiquiu Lake’s Life Jacket Loaner Program.
Each day we worked on our knot skills

On Tuesday we expanded our knowledge of buoyancy by building model boats.

Designing and building model boats
Each camper designed his/her own boat


Each design was different
Testing out boats on the lake. They all float!

Building model boats and learning why they float helps us understand why our canoes float.

It takes teamwork to get our boats to the lake!
A short tutorial on paddling
Taking the canoes out for the first time!
Paddling around the lake
A quick swim after canoeing

On Wednesday we headed up into the Santa Fe National Forest to explore a slightly different ecosystem and learn about where our water comes from.

Hiking into a gorgeous meadow
Learning how to sketch flowers so that they can be identified later using a book

On our mountain adventure we learned some basic survival skills and used our newfound knowledge of knots to build emergency shelters from ponchos.

Testing an emergency shelter
Some of the emergency shelters were pretty intricate!

On Thursday we headed back to Abiquiu Lake for a canoeing excursion and a picnic lunch on an island.



The whole gang, courtesy of one of our camp moms. Thanks, Valerie!




After this big day of exploring and playing in the lake, we headed to our group shelter for our Thursday night camp out. The campers put their tents up all by themselves (for the most part).

Tent assembly

Right after we put up our tents, a dark line of clouds approached.

Playing chess, unperturbed by the approaching storm
Watching the storm approach

Fortunately, the storm missed us, and the campers were happy spending a little time playing chess before dinner.

Roasting marshmellows for s’mores

On Friday we headed back to the lake for a half day of swimming and playing in the water before it was time to go home.



Returning our life jackets to USACE

We had an absolutely fantastic week with these great kids, and I think everybody learned a lot about science and about New Mexico’s precious water resources. We can’t wait for our next camp!

Handbuilt Kayaks Making a Splash in Abiquiu

Yesterday was a big day for our 7th-9th grade students from Española. After months of hard work on their handmade kayaks and a brief test float, it was time for a celebration of our adventure.

Unfortunately, as is common with spring in New Mexico, the weather didn’t quite cooperate. It was cloudy and quite cool.

Getting some instructions
Carrying boats to the lake

We do have some very exciting news- Kelly Gossett from New Mexico Kayak Instruction generously donated paddles for our students!

Picking out a paddle


Once again our fantastic partners with the US Army Corps of Engineers at Abiquiu Lake were on hand with loaner life jackets.

A brief water safety talk
Getting life jackets

Our students demonstrated that they know how to launch their own boats and began to paddle!

Finally on the water!



Due to the weather (and very high waves thanks to high winds), we decided to hang out close to the ramp. Lake temperatures are still very cold!



We caught our students showing off a bit this time as they became more familiar with their boats. We saw many kayak races and even some students paddling backwards!










We saw lots of big smiles!


After paddling all around our cove many times, our students worked up an appetite. We headed for our group shelter to roast some hot dogs!

Warming hands on the grill


Our students’ families joined us for this celebration of the hard work our students have put in this year.


At the end of the day, our students carried their kayaks up from the lake, loaded them on their vehicles, and headed off.IMG_8266



Before our students left, we conducted a little interview in which we asked the students how they enjoyed building their kayaks and what they felt they learned. Along with the comments about students enjoying the work with power tools and exploring the lake, we heard this:

“[My favorite part of building kayaks was] working with each other as a team and getting to know each other better.”

“[I learned that] you don’t have to buy everything. You can make your own.”

“[Building kayaks has] built my self confidence because I was able to know that I built something and it worked well.”

Keep an eye out for our students paddling around local lakes this summer! We’ve gotten them hooked on having fun on the water!


Capillary Action in Abiquiu

The school year is winding down, and we’re still trying to get outside as much as possible with our students! Yesterday our 4th-6th grade GATE students from Española headed back up to Abiquiu Lake to learn more about plants.

We began by taking a few minutes to finish those projects I keep hinting at. Our Open House is coming up on May 19, and our students are pretty excited to show off their projects!

Putting final touches on a project
Putting final touches on a project

Some of our student had already completed their projects, so they got to work helping us set up an experiment for later in the class. We collected some leaves and put some in a ziplock bag and others in clear bowls of water.


Our goal for the day was to learn about how plants take up water and how the process of cellular respiration works. We spent some time explaining these concepts and discussing the difference between cohesion and adhesion.


Reviewing past notes


We found a great activity to demonstrate capillary action that allowed us to drag out the food coloring. Our students took detailed observations as the colored water moved up the paper towel and mixed in the empty cup.




We also learned about stomata and transpiration!




At this point we were ready to check on our two experiments. We found that the leaves in the bag were surrounded by condensation- water left the leaves through transpiration and then condensed on the bag.

When we checked our leaves in the bowl, we did see small air bubbles on the leaves that had not been there when the leaves were placed in the water!



We also took a few minutes to investigate whether we could see the stomata on a leaf using clear nail polish to create a slide.

After all of this sitting and taking notes, everybody was ready to move. We headed out on a hike to investigate plants around the lake. We frequently stopped to discuss plants that we saw, whether they were native or invasive, and why we suspected they were growing where we found them.


Wildflowers are blooming!
Pointing to a particularly pretty rock and debating its formation



What a great group of kids!

We had a wonderful day learning all about plants and how they work. We only have one more session before the end of the year. We just wish we could keep teaching these kids all summer!

Building Kayaks: Our First Test Float

Our year-long endeavor to build kayaks from scratch passed a big milestone last Friday: our first test float! We headed up to Abiquiu Reservoir with our boats. Our partners at the US Army Corps of Engineers let us borrow some of their loaner life jackets (If you’re ever up at Abiquiu, check it out! You can borrow a life jacket for free!).

As soon as the students arrived, the wind picked up. With overcast skies and water temperatures in the 40s, we were all really motivated to stay dry.

First things first: discussing safety in the water
Trying on a life jacket





“Who wants to go first?” “ME!!!”

Our students couldn’t believe that the day had arrived. We found out that none of them actually expected the kayaks to float! Fortunately, they were wrong.

First kayak away

We were lucky to have a few sets of parents show up to watch this initial boat launch. They watched from shore as our students got comfortable paddling around in a sheltered cove.


Big smiles on every face









Many thanks to one of our fantastic moms for taking this photo of the entire group!

Our kayaks turned out beautifully, and they performed well on this test float. We’re really looking forward to our next class when (we hope) the weather will be better so that we can explore the lake ecosystem using human power!

Stay tuned for video from this outing!


2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake

Last Saturday we hosted our 2016 Eagle Watch at Abiquiu Lake! This event is held every year in conjunction with our partners the US Army Corps of Engineers. Every year citizen scientists from northern New Mexico come together to count the number of bald eagles on the lake. Data from mid-winter eagle watches all over the country are combined to get an idea of how our national bird is faring.

Enjoying coffee and donuts in the Visitor Center.
John Mueller, Park Manager at Abiquiu Lake, welcomes the citizen scientists to EagleWatch 2016
Katherine Eagleson, Executive Director of NMWC, discusses bald eagles and their habits.

After a brief talk on bald eagles in New Mexico, some threats to these birds, and comparisons between juveniles, sub-adults, and adult eagles, participants headed outside to get a look at at least one eagle. Maxwell is a mature bald eagle housed at NMWC. Unfortunately due to his injuries, he’s not releasable.

Maxwell and his handler, Scott Bol
Maxwell is always a crowd favorite

After learning all about bald eagles, participants broke up into groups. Two groups went out on USACE boats to count eagles from the lake, and several groups went to fixed points on the land. All groups had radio communication and the lake was divided into sectors so that we made sure not to double-count any eagles.

USACE rangers hand out life jackets for people going out on the boat
Watching for eagles

Spotting eagles was a little more difficult this year, thanks to more snow than usual. We ended up spotting 10 eagles, although 2 of those were golden eagles (one adult and one juvenile). Of the 8 bald eagles spotted, only one was a sub-adult. This number is much fewer than last year, but it’s important data that will help us determine how bald eagles are doing as a species.

This event is always held on either the first or second Saturday of January. Join us next year!