Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Partners in Eco-Education: National Park Service, Tucson Audubon, and Lauffer Middle

Lauffer Middle School and Tucson Audubon's Youth Hiking and Naturalist group the Trekking Rattlers is off to a great start this semester. We've teamed up with Saguaro National Park and the National Parks' Centennial Celebration to offer a series of Parks-specific events for students.

The partnership kicked off with a BBQ and night hike with Park Rangers in Saguaro's West unit. Using black-lights, we counted ~75 scorpions along the hike and learned about scorpion biology.

An interpretive Park Ranger introduces the students to the Park
We were treated to a stunning sunset as we set up the BBQ
December brought cooler temps and the annual storming of Wasson Peak, Saguaro National Park-West's highest point at 4,687'. The challenging 7.4 mile hike tests the legs and the mind, so we always make sure to warm up and stretch those muscles before we really get going:

Views from the trail into Avra Valley are stunning!

Along the way we spot gilded flickers, Gila woodpeckers, and the occasional phainopepla and black-tailed gnatcatcher. Tracks of deer and javelina follow us up the hills. Although this hike is mainly just a hike as it takes so much effort to get to the summit, there are occasional chances to stop and learn about plants and signs of wildlife that we encounter along the trail.

As we ascend the peak, the temperature rises faster than any of us had hoped. The day's forecast for a balmy 77F feels much hotter while we climb higher under the gaze of a full and unrelenting sun.

The saddle between the east and west sides of the Tucson Mountains makes a good almost-halfway place to take a break and recharge for the steep country ahead
Steep climbing but still smilin'

Above it all, at last!
White-throated swifts and grasshoppers cheered us to the top. By the time we'd finished lunch atop our sweeping summit perch, many students--promised access to reserve water should they finish theirs--had summarily drained their supply. This author's water bottles were thus emptied in no time at all. Luckily, I'd brought along a big bag of clementines that I produced at the 11th hour of communal exhaustion. We took the King Canyon wash channel back to the trailhead, stopping at the well-known Hohokam petroglyphs.

Seven miles hasn't diminished the power of a good day out in nature. I am betting they had no trouble sleeping that night, though.

The Trekking Rattlers will be partnering with Saguaro National Park for several more events this season, including citizen science and volunteer service learning activities. Stay tuned for more updates...

*All photos taken by Lauffer Middle School students and Tucson Audubon staff. Thanks to Tucson Audubon volunteer Tim Helentjaris for generously donating cameras for this project.