Exploration of a Bosque Ecosystem

Earlier this week our 7th-10th graders from the Española Public School District took advantage of the gorgeous spring weather and ventured out to Pilar, New Mexico to explore a bosque ecosystem along the Rio Grande.

The bosque of the Rio Grande is a lovely and unique environment that encompasses the riparian forest and floodplain around the river. Willows and cottonwood trees are common native vegetation, although invasive tamarisk has taken over in many areas.

We began the day with some time to explore and take notes about this ecosystem and its characteristics.

Students practiced making objective observations of several trees in the bosque.

Because of the recent warm temperatures and melting snowpack, the Rio Grande is running pretty high. The nearest stream gauge reported a discharge of around 1200 cfs, and the water level had been steadily rising.

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Students along the Rio Grande

 

After a quick lunch break, students hiked up to a bench in the Rio Grande Gorge. From this perspective we had a fantastic view of the bosque ecosystem, as well as the rocks that surrounded us. We discussed the geology of the area and the Rio Grande Rift.

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Exploring the rocks of the Rio Grande Gorge

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Regrouping to fill out our ecosystem worksheet

After all of this exploring, we needed a break in the shade. We took advantage of one of the gorgeous group shelters in the new Rio Grande del Norte National Monument to rest in the shade and fill out our ecosystem worksheet. We spent some time comparing this ecosystem to the others we’ve visited.

We had a fantastic trip, and our students now understand a great deal about the bosque ecosystem. Next month we’ll be on to a different location!

Exploring a Piñon-Juniper Ecosystem

Last Monday our 7th-10th grade Water Scholars from Española began our week in the best manner possible- by hiking and exploring a new place outdoors!

We headed into a canyon near Abiquiu to seek out pinon and juniper trees and check out some of New Mexico’s unique geology.

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Hitting the trail

Our students have learned a little bit about geology in school, but we expanded their vocabulary to include the words conglomerate, fault, and rift.

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We found some gorgeous rock formations and a mini arch.

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Examining a stratigraphic diagram of the area and pointing out layers
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The mini arch

After a weekend of clouds and rain, everybody enjoyed being out in the sun.

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By lunch time, students were actually seeking out the shade!

 

We also discussed pinon and juniper trees and their importance to this ecosystem, as well as to our lives.

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Checking out the trees

After lunch, we filled out our ecosystem discovery worksheets and compared this area to the last place we visited.

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Some of the gorgeous Entrada sandstone we hiked through

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We had a fantastic hike, and we can’t wait for our next trip with these wonderful students!

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.

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

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

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.

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Getting some instructions
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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!

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Picking out a paddle

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

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A brief water safety talk
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Getting life jackets

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

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Finally on the water!

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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!

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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!

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We saw lots of big smiles!

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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!

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Warming hands on the grill

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

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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

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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!

 

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.

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

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“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.

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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.

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Big smiles on every face

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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!

 

Building Kayaks: The Final Coat of Paint

Spring has officially arrived, and our kayak builders are right on schedule to finish their boats in time for good weather. This week our 7th-9th grade students from Española put the final coats of paint on their boats. Our launch date is quickly approaching!

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Shaking up a can of paint

Each student designed his or her own boat and selected colors.

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As the coats of paint were layered on and the end of our winter-long project drew near, smiles got wider and wider!

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Of course, with painting there was a little bit of time where all we could do was sit and watch the paint dry (and discuss buoyancy)…

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… and then we got back to painting!

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Mixing a custom color

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We’re really looking forward to getting these boats in the water! We’re also looking for paddles for these boats, so if you have an older one that you wouldn’t mind donating, please give us a call (or send us an email)!

Painting Kayaks

Last week our 7th-9th grade GATE students from Española met again to begin painting our kayaks! It’s pretty exciting to see these boats coming together, so I’ll let the photos do the talking.

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Our resident road runner came by to check it out (it’s in the back by the edge of the sidewalk).
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Sealing a few last seams
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Sealing a few last seams

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Putting on a first coat of white

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Taping up the kayaks to add personalized designs
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Opening a few colors

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Each student got to choose their own colors and design.

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We’re getting so close to finishing these. One more painting session and a few more little details, and we’ll be out exploring lake habitats!