Tag Archives: nature walks

Nature studies galore at Estes Park

After our adventures at DetCon1 last week, we met up with my wonderful in-laws at the YMCA of the Rockies Estes Park Center, where they were cabin-camping with the kiddo (hence letting us have our first kid-free vacation in many years).

I had no idea a place like this existed.  It was simply mind-blowing, how big this family camp is and how many activities they have.  I only wish we hadn’t been so tired and eager to get home, as we could have enjoyed it even more.

Many of the activities were free classes, and plenty of others charged a reasonable fee.  There’s also a day camp for kids age three and up on weekdays.  Free classes included things like tree art (gather your own twigs, leaves, pine needles, etc. and glue them to paper), photography, exercise classes, you name it.  The complex had a pool, tennis courts, craft center, mini golf, pony and horse rides, exercise track, picnic areas, miles and miles of hiking trails, restaurants, lodges, cabins… I could go on and on.

We had two wonderful days of watching a little girl take in nature.  We went hiking around a high mountain lake in Rocky Mountain National Park just a few minutes’ drive away.  We hiked around the huge YMCA campus, and attended a cookout.  Precious treasures were collected, in the form of sparkly pebbles, a ceramic horse she painted herself at the craft center, and countless twigs and dandelions.

Wildlife sightings included deer, hundreds of blue dragonflies, a baby rabbit, chipmunks, ground squirrels, prairie dogs, ants, roly-polies, deer, birds, and fish.   We ended each day exhausted by both the hiking and the high mountain air, and thoroughly enjoyed it all.  I love watching my little budding scientist at work, discovering the world around her.  If time off and budget permit, I would love to go back for a full week next summer and let her experience the day camp.

Where is your favorite place to experience nature?

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Nature Walks: Feeding My Kid’s Curiosity and Hoarding Habit.

We do a lot of miles out with the stroller, my daughter and I.  And the dog.  Crazy border collies need lots of exercise.  The miles with the stroller started as a coping mechanism when I was in grad school with a new baby, and turned into some of our best mother-daughter bonding time.  This has the added bonus of giving dad some time to himself while we are out, and giving me some much-needed exercise.

Our jogging stroller has seen several hundred miles, a 5k, two 10k’s, two half marathons, and a whole lot of short and long days out on the pavement.  For our off-road days, we worked our way up from the Baby Bjorn to a Kelty backpack to a Deuter backpack as she got too tall for each.  She’s  now just on the edge of too tall for the stroller, so I’m in the process of trying to convince her to actually ride her bike, which she is so far not terribly enthusiastic about.

When we started going out on walks, I dubbed them nature walks – and they really were, even on sidewalks in the suburbs.  She pointed to stuff she was interested in, and I picked it up for her (within reason, of course).  As she learned to walk, she insisted on getting out and collecting her own things.  We added to the ever growing pile of treasures on each walk.  At one point it seemed her singleminded purpose in life was to collect every single pinecone in a five-mile radius.  Then the focused shifted to leaves and flowers.  For a few weeks it was rocks.  I drew the line at dirty feathers and ants, but she was always allowed to look, if not touch.

The rule about ‘nature stays in nature’ is always firmly enforced around here, her various collections remaining in a bucket just outside the door.  Periodically it mysteriously winds up empty (I have NO idea how that happens!), and the collecting stars anew.  Since we moved a year ago, the collection at our new home usually consists of shells and rocks from our nearby beach park, and the ever-popular dandelions.  Not too many pinecones around here.  It doesn’t matter where we walk, though, she always manages to find some nature.  This is the kid who managed to find a stick and a leaf in the middle of a giant paved event center parking lot at an RV show, after all.  She will find something to make the walk a nature walk.

I love watching her choose, collect, and study her finds.  Children are natural scientists.  They are curious and eager to learn.  I know the eight millionth time she asks for a leaf or a rock or comments on how pretty a seagull is, I can’t let myself get snappish or ignore her.  I have to at least force a, “Mmm, hmm, that’s a nice one!” because I don’t ever want to be the cause of that spark of curiosity going out.  My job is to kindle it.

These days our route has shifted focus over to wildlife available for viewing rather than on finding favorite collectables.  When we head out it’s now, “Do you want to see the ducks, the seagulls, dogs, or cats?”  This determines whether we go to the park by the slough to see the ducks and geese, the popular walking path to see everyone else’s dogs, the beach for the ever-present seagulls, or to see where all the stray cats live at the edge of the port.  Any walk is a nature walk for a kid, no matter where you live.

Lately the favorite is cats.  Depending on the day and weather, we see somewhere between two and fifty of them living at the promenade by the port.  I’m sure they live there because they can enjoy lots of tasty sea creatures and rodents while living in the nooks and crannies of the seawall boulders.  Today was a pretty busy cat day, and we captured some pictures of some of the finer specimens of feline-hood.  Oh geez, I’m about to post a whole bunch of cat pictures on the internet…

But before I get to the cat pictures, let me just put a plug in for taking your kids to go play scientist in nature.  Enjoy how curious they are and what astute observers they are.  Try to encourage your kid, even if you really aren’t thrilled that she found that anthill.  Agree to sit down when you get home and google the plant or bird you didn’t recognize so you can both learn something new.

Today we also got a great lesson in animal behavior and camouflage – just try to spot the cat in the first picture.  The boulders are excellent for lots of different cat colorations to blend into, and we got to observe firsthand just how varied the species is when it comes to color, fur length, size, and temperament.

Animal camouflage with protective coloring - can you spot the kitty in this picture?

Animal camouflage with protective coloring – can you spot the kitty in this picture?

Displaying group behavior and variation in coloring

Displaying group behavior and variation in coloring

We were able to observe hunting behavior of the species
We were able to observe hunting behavior of the species

A particularly handsome specimen

A particularly handsome specimen

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