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, August 25, 2021

Fire Stinks, but Brings Life

With the smoky skies looming over us for such an extended period of time this summer, we cannot ignore the visual impacts of fire.  Without a doubt, fire can be and is destructive when unexpected or not well managed.  However, in the midst of the smoke and haze, it does our souls good to think about what comes after the fire.

Fire is a natural component in nature and is important in many ecosystems.  Ecosystems include living things like plants and animals, plus non-living things like rocks.  Ecology is the study of how the living and non-living interact.  Fire Ecology is the scientific discipline that investigates the natural processes and interactions involving fire and an ecosystem.   Fire Ecologists give us good insights into the positive impacts of fire.

Like our closets, forests have a way of collecting clutter over time.  Old logs, dense undergrowth, and fallen leaves tend to accumulate on forest floors.  There may also be invasive weeds, insects, and disease in a forest.  After a fire, this clutter is removed and broken down into important nutrients resulting in a rich forest floor soil that is ripe for microbial life and regrowth.  

Fireweed in a burned section on the Seven Devils Loop in Idaho, 2019 

                                                         Photo Credit: Brandolyn Thran

Sunlight is often blocked by the forest canopy, which may result in a shift in plant species over time.  Nature is highly competitive, and shade intolerant plants cannot outcompete shade tolerant plants.  After the fire, sunlight streams into the forest floor allowing shade intolerant species a chance to thrive once again.  The inundation of sunlight is also helpful for saplings (young trees) to become established. 

While we picture complete destruction in our minds, and it may appear so from first glance, fires usually do not wipe out a forest, but instead burn in a patchwork pattern.  Naturally occurring moist spots become a source of resupply for seeds and a refuge for surviving animals. 

Regrowth begins soon after a fire passes through an area.  Fireweed quickly brings a beautiful sight of color back to the grey landscape.  Wildflowers and other fast-germinating plants return first.  Later, shoots regrow from stumps and stalks that were protected from the fire by bark or soil. 

We can learn a lot from Fire Ecology and Fire Science (study of fire behavior).  A well-managed burn with controlled temperatures may be a feasible approach to help reduce the risk of a more damaging and severe fires, in particular ecosystems.  Mother Nature uses fire as a mechanism important in sustaining ecosystems, and human interference with that cycle may have impacts that are unexpected and monumental.  That is why it is important to respect and not play with fire.

Like the song goes, there is a time for everything, and sometimes that means fire.  It is hard to see the destruction in your beloved spot, but rest your mind and trust that Mother Nature will adapt and out of the ash life will emerge.  Get outside and watch for the evidence of life in your favorite spot. 



Thursday, August 12, 2021

Outside Guide: Our Choices Matter - Outdoor Ethics

 In northern Nevada, we live in a beautiful place where many of us spend a lot of time outdoors.  We are fortunate to have open space, however, that does not mean that we do not share this space with many others.  Unfortunately, the evidence that it is a shared space usually comes in the form of some sort of trash.  After driving or hiking for miles out into the desert, which feels like the middle of nowhere and you must be the first person to have found this location, you open your car door to step out or sit down on a rock and release your backpack straps, only to look down and find a plastic water bottle, bottle caps, cigarette butts, or dog poop, at your feet.  The unquenchable adventurer in you dies just a little bit as you realize you were not the first human here, and then in the next heartbeat your blood boils as you ask yourself “why do people choose to leave their trash behind?”

The choice to pick up and pack out trash is rooted in an ethical perspective that to preserve natural beauty and minimize negative human impacts on other facets of nature, we must believe our actions have consequences and that we can (positively and negatively) impact our environment.  While every human is dependent on the resources provided by the earth for survival (shelter, air, food, and water), we do not all share the same knowledge or awareness regarding how our actions impact the earth, therefore our outdoor ethics (or behavior choices) span a wide spectrum.  

Two of the most well-known providers and authorities on Outdoor Ethics are Tread Lightly! and The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.  Each of these organizations have responsible outdoor recreation principles that serve to bring awareness, educate, and prompt positive behaviors for minimizing negative impacts to nature.  Nevada Outdoor School is trained in these programs and frequently provides trainings and utilizes many of their resources to reach adults and kids in northern Nevada. 

Nevada Outdoor School strives to incorporate outdoor ethics education into all our programs as we inspire exploration of the natural world, responsible stewardship of our habitat, and dedication to community.  To us, that means encouraging people to analyze their actions, evaluate how those actions positively and negatively impact the natural world and then choose wisely to positively impact the natural world and reduce negative impacts whenever possible.  We are excited to implement our newly developed outdoor ethic model called Action. Impact. Choice., or the A.I.C. Model, during the upcoming school year and beyond.  The power of analyzing your actions, evaluating the impact, and choosing wisely is that it is not only applicable to outdoor recreation scenarios, but also to dealing with friends, family members, and colleagues.  Your choices matter, no matter where you are or who you are surrounded by.  This is an outdoor ethic and cultural ethic that Nevada Outdoor School believes in. 

Recently, while hiking in Lamoille Canyon, it was evident that many people were choosing not to pick up their dog poop.  Gross.  The action of not picking up dog poop has impacts.  The obvious impact of stepping in it is real, but so are the less observable potential health risks, for example, what happens when the rain washes the microorganisms in that poop into the nearby stream?  When we are explicitly taught about and encouraged to consider the impacts our actions have, we can make better choices. The A.I.C. Model, and outdoor ethics, are less about overly simplistic dualistic thinking (right versus wrong), and more about considering options and choosing the behavior that has the least negative impact on the natural world, for a given situation.  One size does not fit all in life. 

Get outside and practice applying and learning from the A.I.C. Model.   Think about or analyze your actions.  Evaluate the impacts (positive and negative) each action will have.  Choose the action that will result in a positive impact or minimizes negative impacts when possible.  With awareness and education, you may find that like you as an organism, your behavior and choices evolve over time.  Want more information or a local training on outdoor ethics for your family or group?  Visit to learn more about upcoming opportunities.        

Wednesday, June 30, 2021

NOS Outside Guide: More Than Beauty

 This past week, Nevada Outdoor School completed our inaugural backpacking adventure with three 15-year-old teens on Soldier Creek Trail into Soldier Meadows in the Ruby Mountains.  Throughout the hike the wildflowers were out in force, and we quickly lost count of the number of species when we ran out of fingers to count on.  Yellows, whites, blues, reds, and purples, with many shades and colors in-between, the vibrancy and diversity was stunning!

We observed how the diversity also varied as we traversed through different ecosystems (biological community interacting with its physical environment).  Aspen groves along the stream, near naked ridge tops, and spring-fed meadows each hosted species that were unique to each environment.  Other species appeared to be ubiquitous, or appearing wherever we tread.  Wildflowers are an important component of a healthy environment.  Wildflowers are genetically created to thrive in the present conditions in which they exist and they do not require any human interaction or input.  This is quite a hit for the human ego; many humans like to think all things need a human touch.  The diversity observed in the wildflower populations in the Ruby Mountains also remind us that Mother Nature is not into monocultures (a single species) but instead demands variety. 

While wildflowers are a wondrous visual treat for our eyes and sometimes our noses, they are not just a thing of beauty.  They also provide a habitat as a source of food and shelter for pollinators, insects, and other wildlife that are needed for a functional ecosystem.  Wildflowers also help to prevent erosion.  They also play a role in the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and water cycles.  Because wildflowers are genetically created for an environment, they tend to be naturally tolerate to disease and pests. Unfortunately, however, many invasive plant species cause the demise or loss of wildflower species.  Due to aggressive competition for resources (nutrients and water), invasive species threaten an environment because they alter the ecosystem, which in turn will impact the native species and a loss of biodiversity.

This is the time of year to get outside on your favorite trail and appreciate the wildflowers, allowing your eyes and nose a feast on color and smell!  Remember to leave the beauty for others to enjoy, and not disturb a natural home, by taking only pictures of the blooms, or sketching them in a notebook with color pencils or markers.  Creating your own local field guide is an activity that the whole family can be involved with.  What you create becomes something that can be passed down through the generations.  Think of the conversations that could be spurred by reviewing Grandpa Joe’s natural record from days gone by.  Get outside and enjoy!


Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Nature’s Transformers

It seemed not too long ago that we were watching the world reawaken from its frozen slumber. Now we are now bearing witness to important stages in their lifecycle, a glimpse into metamorphosis.   Metamorphosis describes the process of transformation that some organisms go through to reach their adult form.  In order to be considered metamorphosis, the life cycle must consist of two or more distinct stages.  There are three types of metamorphosis, reflecting the amount of change observed in the life cycle of the organism.

Organisms that go through complete metamorphosis like insects, amphibians, and fish are called holometabolous. These animals begin life as eggs and from there develop into a larvae, pupae, and finally adults. Perhaps the most renowned animal that undergoes complete metamorphosis is the butterfly. A butterfly begins life as an egg then hatches as a very hungry caterpillar (larva). As soon as the caterpillar has stored enough fat, it enters the pupal stage where it weaves a cocoon around itself known as a chrysalis. During this stage, special cells needed for the transformation to adulthood grow rapidly. When the butterfly sheds its cocoon it has entered the adult stage and is equipped for reproduction.

Frogs also begin life as eggs, but they soon hatch as tadpoles.  Then they develop into froglets, and finally transform into frogs. Their metamorphic life cycle has them begin life in the water.  Hormones and feeding behavior cause them to grow hind legs and lose their gills. When they reach adulthood they are fully equipped for the great amphibian migration where they will seek out mates and begin the cycle of life anew.

Like butterflies and frogs, fish also begin their life as eggs in the water, but hatch as larvae. As the yolk sac, which provides nutrients, begins to disappear their swim bladder becomes active to the point where the larvae can feed itself.  At this point it is called a fry. As the fry grows scales and fins they transform into juveniles or fingerlings which are about the size of a human finger. Fish are considered fingerlings until they are fully grown and capable of reproduction.

Though their metamorphic stage names may differ, each example reviewed here shares one thing in common. Each organism relies on a steady diet to release the hormones that trigger metamorphosis. Without the nutrients required for metamorphosis, the life cycle is broken.

As you get outside this summer, be on the lookout for nature’s transformers. Look for chrysalis’ in bushes or froglets and frys in and along streams. Nature is always changing, perhaps you can catch it in its transformation! As always, appreciate the beauty and wonder of nature, but be gentle.  Respect wildlife by keeping a safe distance from them so as not to disturb them, no matter what life stage they are in. 


Friday, June 11, 2021

Destination Recreation: Wild Horse Reservior

 Sixty three miles north of Elko on Mountain City Highway, Wild Horse Reservoir is a man-made lake in Elko County initially created in 1937 with the construction of the Wild Horse Dam on the Owyhee River.  Remote and remarkable, Wild Horse State Recreation Area is open year round. The park’s reservoir is a popular fishing site, with rainbow and German brown trout, small mouth bass, yellow perch and catfish.  Cold winters make the lake an ideal location to ice fish and skate, or to explore on snowmobiles or cross-country skis. Beautiful wildflowers blanket the park in the spring, and summers offer swimming, boating, camping and hiking. Although hunting is not allowed in the park, the campground is a popular base camp for hunting in the surrounding area. Wildlife includes pronghorn, mule deer and elk as well as a variety of waterfowl and upland game birds.

The campground has 34 sites with a table, shade, a fire pit and a camp pad at each.  There are no hookups, but the restrooms and showers are available year round.  Water faucets and a dump station are available only during the summer months.  The park also has three cabins available for rent.  There is a boat ramp next to the day use beach.

There is also dispersed camping available on the eastern side of the lake on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation.  There are fairly clean restrooms available, but we recommend taking your own toilet paper.  Camping fees there are paid to the Duck Valley Indians. 

State Park Fees (there is a stay limit of 14 days in a 30-day period):

Day use entrance fee:  $5.00 per vehicle (Non-NV Vehicles $10.00 per vehicle)
Boat launch:  $10.00 (Non-NV Vehicles: $15.00)
Camping:  $15.00 per vehicle, per night (Non-NV Vehicles: $20.00 per vehicle, per night)
Camp and Boat:  $20.00 per night (Non-NV Vehicles: $25.00 per night)
Bike in:  $2.00 per bike
Cabin:  $90.00 per night


Duck Valley Indian Reservation Fees:

Day Use: $5.00 per vehicle 

Camping:  $10.00 per vehicle, per night for unpaved, $15:00 per vehicle, per night for paved

Extra Tent: $5:00 per night