Exploration of a Bosque Ecosystem

Earlier this week our 7th-10th graders from the EspaƱola 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.

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.

Exploring the rocks of the Rio Grande Gorge


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!

Modeling Watersheds with Santo Domingo

Last Thursday we headed south to Santo Domingo for another day on the Rio Grande. The weather was absolutely gorgeous, and all of the students were ready to learn.

We began by discussing the Rio Grande- where does it begin? Most of the students thought that the Rio Grande starts at Cochiti Reservoir! Almost everybody was able to pinpoint the pueblo on drawing of New Mexico, and so we pulled out a map and added the Rio Grande and some of its tributaries.

This began a discussion of watersheds- what are they? Why are they important? Where does our water go?


Right about the time we were discussing this, a truck drove by and threw two giant bags of trash into the river. While it was absolutely horrifying to witness, it made for a good teaching moment. We talked about where the river goes and who will have to deal with that trash. Then we talked about what would happen if somebody upstream of the pueblo threw trash in the river.

After this discussion, the real fun began- students hiked up the river to the sandy arroyo where the Galisteo meets the Rio Grande and made models of watersheds using whatever they could find. At the end of class, everybody got together and demonstrated their watersheds by pouring water into them and explaining their design. Everybody did a great job!

A snowy mountain at the head of a watershed
Water rushes down a boulder-filled channel and into a lake
A “beaver pond” fills with water, thanks to the work of our dam-building beavers
Students were very creative in using resources they found around them- check out that vegetation!
This river has some nice meanders

We also discussed the importance of meanders and the difference between healthy riparian ecosystems and unhealthy rivers. Most of our students made great, healthy rivers. Those that didn’t were able to explain why their river wasn’t healthy.

Great job once again, Santo Domingo!


Exploration on the Rio Grande

Last Thursday NMWC staff headed back down to Santo Domingo. Fortunately, the weather was much improved this time. The morning was pretty cool, but the sun showed its face, and it was a fantastic day to explore the Rio Grande Bosque.

We began the day with a trash pick up, and students collected three massive trash bags full of trash! We also hiked around the bosque and looked for signs of life. Students made some great lists, which included coyote scat, kangaroo rat tracks, a bird’s nest, a burrow, and feathers. We were able to find over 20 signs of animal life in each group! This helped us discuss the bosque- what lives here and why?

A hellgrammite discovered by our students.

A trip to the river isn’t complete without donning waders and exploring the water. This time our students were introduced to kick seine nets. We found quite a few benthic macroinvertebrates, including dobson fly larva (see photo), midges, and caddis. We discussed what these bugs mean for water quality. The next time we visit Santo Domingo, we will test water quality and compare our results to the survey of benthic macroinvertebrates!


Rainy Day on the Rio Grande

On Thursday, December 4 we headed down south to visit Santo Domingo for our first official day on the Rio Grande. The weather forecast was awful, but we were hoping that the rain would hold off until the afternoon.

Our students at Santo Domingo had never been to the river with us before. Many had never put on waders, so much of the day was spent discussing wader safety. The study site on the Rio Grande isn’t as deep as the study site on the Rio Chama, and the water flows quickly. It’s a difficult spot to learn to wade. Fortunately, the students were smart and picked up on it quickly.

We also began exploring benthic macroinvertebrates, which the students all remembered from our last session. The water temperature was much too cold for students to be picking up rocks, so the instructors had the chilly task of supplying everybody with a stone and a loupe. We found quite a few caddis (and a caddis house) and a few snails. Everybody got to see a benthic macroinvertebrate on their rock. We began discussing what these indicator species can tell us, and then we went back in the river to find more.

Unfortunately, the weather only held out for a few hours. When the first group of students returned to school for lunch, the cold rain set in. We huddled in the back of the truck, hoping for the rain to stop. Because we are scientists, we had to measure exactly how cold it was (it felt colder).

Current air temperature- too cold for kids in t-shirts!
Current air temperature- too cold for kids in t-shirts!

By the time the bus returned with the second group, the rain was only getting harder. Few of the students had rain gear, so we had to cancel the second session. I guess that means we just get to go back!


First Day at Santo Domingo Pueblo

This year, for the first time, TWC will be working with 4th grade students at the Santo Domingo Pueblo! This program will be very similar to River Classroom, except that we will take students to the Rio Grande on the pueblo. Our initial explorations of the area reveal a very different selection of benthic macroinvertebrates, and we are excited to test water quality and explore the bosque.

Our first class day in October didn’t go quite as planned due to a last minute cultural day at the pueblo, but we met with students at the school to give them an introduction to the program. The kids learned about benthic macroinvertebrates and their importance to the ecosystem. Before showing the students photos of benthic macroinvertebrates, we had them guess what they looked like and try to draw their guess. As you can see, the students did a great job!

A student's guess at what a benthic macroinvertebrate looks like
A student’s guess at what a benthic macroinvertebrate looks like

Students also learned how to use a compass to find direction. We practiced finding headings in the library, and nobody got lost!

We look forward to meeting with the students again in November and exploring the Rio Grande!