NOS Mission

Nevada Outdoor School inspires exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat and dedication to community.
This is the spot for us to share stories, fun ideas or general musings. When you aren't in here, we hope to see you out there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Beating the Winter Blues

For those of us who are summer lovers, we are nearing our breaking point with all this cold!  The short days, intensified by the common cloud cover this time of year, can make some of us grumpy and groggy.  We appreciate those who love winter and relish the opportunity to ski, snowshoe, ice fish, and snowmobile, more power to your brave and warm souls and thank you for reminding us that there is good to be found in this dark and cold season. 

One of the greatest things about living in northeastern Nevada is that year round there are things to be done outside.  Between our mountains, reservoirs, and miles of open spaces, we have many choices and opportunities for outdoor recreation.

This year snow on the valley floor continues to elude us, but when the white-stuff does fly, Elko Snobowl Ski and Bike Park at the top of 5th Street, about 5-miles out of town, offers 700 vertical feet of skiing, with 100-acres of open bowl skiing.  There is a rope tow and a double chair lift.  Snobowl caters to beginners and intermediates, but anyone can get out and enjoy what it has to offer.  Check out their Facebook page for the latest information.   For those who are more experienced and like to head into the mountains, reports from Ruby Mountains Heli-Experience website indicate that skiing is happening, with early conditions.  Skiing is a great way to get out with your family and make some memories.

Because skiing can be an expensive sport with gear and ticket prices, snowshoeing offers another solid family outdoor adventure at much less of a cost.  For fun family adventures one does not need to invest in high-dollar snowshoes, most any pair will do.  Poles are recommended as balance can be a challenge when on potentially slippery surfaces, and you do walk a bit different.  Most any hiking trail quickly converts into a snowshoe location, and if and when the snow is deep enough, going off trail may be acceptable.  There is a sense of awe knowing you are walking where the boulders and sage are in the summer.  


For the serious angler, having ice fishing options must be a slice of heaven.    Everything Elko just published a story titled Ice Fishing Elko County, so check that out to learn more about this winter activity.  Another great resource for information about ice fishing is the Nevada Department of Wildlife at 777-2300 or  Ice fishing tends to be more relaxing and social than other fishing, and you can still bring home “the big one” either in story form, or in real life. 

Around Elko County it is fun to watch trucks don their winter-wear in the form of snowmobile sled haulers or sled decks.  Like skiing, snowmobiling requires a financial investment, but it does afford the opportunity to explore places in the winter than may usually remain untouched.  The Elko area was voted as one of the “Top 10” snowmobiling destinations in the world by Super Trax Magazine.  There are rules and regulations when snowmobiling, more information can be found at 

For all these winter activities it is important that you plan ahead and prepare by dressing appropriately, while always remembering that weather can change quickly.  Likewise, having extra food and water is always a good idea when adventuring out, in summer or winter.  If you are a summer-lover, maybe this is the year you connect with a snow-dude or -dudette and discover a new hobby that will help pass the time.  Plus, by remaining active, when summer does finally arrive your swimsuit body is already in full swing.  It may be cold outside, but get out there anyways, being outside is good for humans everywhere. 

Monday, January 4, 2021

Learning from Tree Growth

 As we close out 2020, there may be some things we can learn from trees as we head into 2021.  During this time of the year, it is typical to make New Year’s Resolutions often as a way to personally develop and improve ourselves, which is referred to as “growth” among psychologists.  Growth is a fantastic thing, and important, but sometimes, as trees show us, it just might not be the right environment for fast growth to occur. 

Trees record their year in their “rings”.  Tree rings have fascinated scientists for years, and those who dedicate their lives to studying tree rings are called dendrochronologists.  It has been observed that a tree’s yearly growth changes in response to seasonal climate changes.  Different types of growth occur inside a tree which impacts cellular structure, and this is what we can observe in a tree ring.  Thin-walled cells are associated with earlywood, that which is grown at the beginning of the growth season.  These cells are generally lighter.  Then, later, thicker-walled cells emerge which are darker and represent latewood.  These two types of growth cells, plus the ‘normal growth’ cells in the middle, together form a single tree ring.  Tree growth is sensitive to the changing conditions.  Available moisture, the temperature and how much sunlight all impacts tree growth.  Broad rings tell the story of a good growth year, and narrow rings provide evidence that some environmental stress was present.

Humans may not be as different from trees, some years we grow big and some years we just work to stay alive and upright.  Like a tree, our environments also continuously change.  Thanks to modern technologies we generally do not have to worry about the flux of temperature and availability of food, but we do have periods of increased stress that produce an environment that is not conducive to high-growth.  But, like a tree, small growth or big growth, both are biologically positive because as the old biological adage goes, “if you are not growing then you are dying.”  The good news is that the growth is not quantified, there is no minimum growth required.  Humans may tend to forget that, most tend to want to “go big or go home”, but maybe that is where we can take a lesson from the trees.  The production of another tree ring, the evidence of surviving another year, may simply be enough.   

Factors that influence tree growth are temperature, weather, atmospheric conditions, competition, age, and parasites.  Humans are also influenced by similar factors; we just may call them something different.  Trees that survive hurricane force winds overcome a huge weather stress.  For humans, the sudden death of a loved one or the loss of the family-stabilizing job may be equivalent to a hurricane.   Infections in trees can shunt resources normally used for growth towards repair.  Likewise, the energy and stamina required to beat a microbiological warrior or a biological-process-disruption like cancer, may trump using that energy for growth.    

Instead of a New Year’s Resolution this year, perhaps consider establishing a new tradition.  A gratitude walk.  Schedule a time to step outside for a walk or hike and really notice the trees and ponder how long and what they have overcome to survive.  Then, turn your reflection inward and celebrate what you have accomplished and overcome.  You may have had a big growth year; your tree ring may be a thick one.  Or, you may have had some serious environmental challenges this year, and your tree ring is skinny, but if you are reading this, it is still there.  Celebrate that by getting outside, it is good for humans everywhere. 

Ecosystems and Santa

 As Santa prepares for his upcoming journey in his sled, not only is he loaded with presents for all, but think about the various clothes he must have to pack to be prepared for the numerous and varied biomes he will cross.  What is a biome?  A biome is a large and distinct region the contains similar plants and animals because of the shared climate and dominant vegetation.  There are between 6 and 17 categories of biomes, scientists are still working on the details of categorizing Mother Nature.

According to NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), the official Santa Tracker for over 60 years, ( Santa will leave the North Pole along the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean and head southwest to the South Pacific.  From there he traverses across New Zealand and Australia.  Heading north, he covers Japan and Asia.  He then dives south to navigate across Africa and Western Europe.  Then he will span Canada and Alaska before dropping into the continental United States and continuing south through Mexico, Central and South America. 

Covering the earth, Santa experiences the eight generally accepted biomes: tundra, taiga, deciduous forest, grassland, chaparral, desert, savanna, and tropical rainforest.  From frigid and frozen most, if not all, of the year (tundra) to hot and wet (tropical rainforest) and everything in-between.  Taiga are generally forested areas that remain cold and under ice and snow for more than six months of the year.  Deciduous forests are usually full of oak, beech, maple, ash, hazel and birch trees, with some evergreens.  Grasslands are characterized by being dominated by grasses in a semi-arid environment, with few trees.  The chaparral biome is usually vegetated by broad-leaved evergreen shrubs, bushes and small trees, often found in dense thickets.  The desert biome receives a large amount of solar radiation which means extreme temperature swings and vegetation that is adapted for strong winds and low precipitation.  Savannas are similar to grasslands, but closer to the equator, so more tropical. 

Imagine the variety in clothing Santa must have to don to remain comfortable in such diverse conditions!  He must have a closet built into his sleigh, and like us northeastern Nevadans, must be a lover of layers.  Thankfully, for our planning purposes, unless you hop in your car and leave Nevada, chances are you’ll remain in the desert biome and therefore can predict what is needed for comfort and potential survival.  As you head outdoors this holiday season, whether in your car to grandma’s home or on the trails on your off-highway vehicles or on foot, remember to plan ahead and be prepared.  This time of year carry plenty of extra clothes for layers, and blankets if you have room.  Bringing extra food and water is always a good idea.  Since the sun sets so early, having a flashlight on hand is also a good idea.

When the time comes, hop onto the NORAD Santa Tracker, bundle up, and head outside and enjoy our amazing night skies to see if you can catch a glimpse of Santa and the reindeer.  If you do see him, report back what he was wearing!  Get outside, it is good for humans (and Santa!) everywhere.



Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Baby It's Cold Outside, Let's Eat!

How many of us are still digesting our Thanksgiving meal(s) and continue to clean out our refrigerators, eating the leftovers?  This time of year we tend to eat, and eat, and eat some more.  Data tells us that the average American will gain between 1 - 5 pounds between Thanksgiving and the New Year.  That is not a lot for one year, but over time, if those pounds are not lost, they can add up, so be aware.  This ‘natural weight gain’ is a great excuse to get outside for a brisk walk or family hike.  In nature, during winter, where there are not fireplaces and an abundance of food, how does the cold impact eating and survival?

Many animals that live in cold environments, where food is scarce, have something called “hibernation inducement trigger”, or HIT, in their blood during their hibernation season.  Research has discovered that when this substance is injected into animals during the spring, hibernation behaviors can be induced.  Interestingly, the exact chemical identity of HIT remains elusive, but it appears to be similar to an opiate, which may help to explain how it decreases heart rate, breathing rate, and general metabolic (energy) demands.  This helps animals conserve energy, which helps them to survive the winter with little or no food.

To prepare for such an event as hibernation, animals undergo a feeding frenzy called “hyperphagia” where the animals will eat a lot of calories to build up energy reserves in the form of fat.  For example, a black bear in Alaska will feed at a frenzied rate from midsummer thru the end of autumn, consuming 20,000 or more calories in a day.  We did the math, that is like eating 31 McDonalds Big Macs a day!   This allows the bear to add 4 - 5 inches of body fat, which nearly doubles the insulation capacity of their pelt.

The metabolic slowdown is significant.  Heart rates plummet.  For example, a hibernating woodchuck’s heart rate will decrease from 80 beats per minute, to as slow as 4 beats per minute.  This causes the ‘true hibernators’ to appear dead.  True hibernators include the jumping mouse, the little brown bat, the eastern chipmunk, and some ground squirrels.  There is even a bird that hibernates.  The Poorwill, which is Hopi for, “the sleeping one”, is a nocturnal (night) bird found throughout the southwest which enters into this slower state for days or weeks at a time. 

Hibernation is not the only way animals survive the harsh environmental conditions of winter.  Animals also migrate, moving themselves to a place where food can be found.  This is a common tactic for birds, bats, caribou, elk, and whales.  Fish also tend to migrate in their own right, heading into deeper water.  Insects, like butterflies and moths, also migrate.  Like fish, earthworms also seek deeper depths to avoid the frigid surface temperatures.

Adaptation is another way animals survive winter.  Much like us putting on an extra layer of clothes, one way animals adapt to the cold is by increasing their fur capacity. Another winter adaptation is changing their eating habits during winter.  For example, rabbits and deer may eat bark, moss and twigs instead of the grass that is available in the spring and summer.   

Preparation and survival for winter by non-human animals is a fascinating topic that science continues to investigate.  It is nothing short of miraculous how the animals know what to do for survival, and when to do it.  As a human, however, during these cold months when the couch is calling and pie is readily available, we do not need to store up our energy reserves, so get outside, it is good for humans everywhere.