On Sept. 8, 2022, 4th, 5th, and 6th graders from Alta Vista Elementary ventured out to Wild Rivers for a day of training to become Junior Rangers. Six staff and 48 students headed out after breakfast in one of Charley’s buses to the Wild Rivers Ranger Station along the Rio Grande Gorge. We arrived to find the parking lot was set up as an outdoor classroom. Head BLM Ranger Tim Long greeted us and we moseyed up to the amphitheater to begin several hours of instructions.
A Junior Ranger Guidebook and pencil were handed out and class began. First thing Tim had us do was divide up into classes and quiet our minds by taking in the scenery. After a couple of minutes, we started into the manual. LEAVE NO TRACE was the object of the course.
The first principle we talked about was KNOW BEFORE YOU GO. Make sure you have the right gear, water, and a map before you head out into the wilds. STAY ON THE TRAIL to keep down erosion and minimize the potential for getting lost. When you find beautiful rocks and plants and things along the trail leave them there for the next person who comes along to enjoy. These things belong to nature and not to you.
PACK IT IN PACK IT OUT. Whatever you bring in with you, bring it back. Help keep the forest pristine by packing out any trash you find. Respect wildlife and don’t feed them. Be respectful of other campers and keep the noise down. Don’t build your fire on the ground. It destroys the soil and can leave hot roots which can start a fire after you leave. Bring along a steel pan or fire pit that stands above the ground. Mostly have FUN, be safe, and leave no trace.
After this introduction the different groups split up and went to one of three guided stations. Our group of 5th graders ended up at the Pollinators tent. Here we learned about what types of bugs and bats pollinate the flowers to produce fruit and seed. We also learned some flower anatomy. Bugs, flies, and bees crawl all over these flowers and pick up pollen which they carry to the next flower. It can then produce seeds and fruit. Lesson learned: BE KIND TO THE POLLINATORS!
From the pollinator tent we sauntered over to the PACK IT IN PACK IT OUT demonstration. Our guides told us stories of having to clean up campsites; because some campers don’t clean their camps when they get ready to leave. They talked about managing your personal waste by burying your poop and carrying out the “paperwork.” Respect the campsite like it was your friend’s living room. We did an exercise where everyone was given a colored flag to plant in a small section of forest where they would want to poop. When all the classes got done it looked like a graveyard of scat. It left an impression!
Our last lesson of the morning was the WILDLIFE tent where we identified skulls, scat, and skins. Our guides led us through identifying beaver, bobcat, skunk, weasel, and coyote furs. They had multiple skulls of rodents and carnivores. Watching him pick up the “scat,” even though we knew it was rubber, left some with the willies.
We finally made it to the water and snack tent and were entertained by Tim telling stories about a gold-mining hermit and Arsenic springs. He told a lively story about a hermit’s tall tales to keep people away from his spring.
Before lunch we returned to the amphitheater and were sworn in as official Junior Rangers. A badge of honor was awarded to each student. Then a lunch of sandwiches, fruit, and dessert was hungrily consumed.
After lunch and a short walk, Charley arrived with the bus. It was a full day of activities and students were relieved to get some rest on the ride back to school.