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!

Thursday, May 6, 2021

Listen to Your Mother, Nature That Is

In May, the tradition is to celebrate Mothers.  One thing all mothers have in common is that they want to be listened to and heard.  There is a lot of wisdom in what most moms have to say, and Mother Nature is no different.

Depending on which cultural context you are interested in, there is an origin story that relates to the creation and expansion of life.  Nature, derived from the Latin word natura, meaning birth or character was first used to describe the entirety of the phenomena of the world, and was further personified as Mother Nature.   Anywhere from a goddess and a mythical being, the concept of Mother Nature or Earth Mother has served to help humans have a “thing” on which to place considerations of the natural world.  In America, the term Mother Nature provides a parental figure-connection that affords some of us a comfort, as well as expectations, as to how to treat Earth, since she provides us sustainable life through plants, animals, water, and minerals.  It helps us see our role and connection into the larger natural family portrait.  Humans are not separate from nature; we are part of nature.

When we begin to see ourselves as part of nature, then it is easier for us to treat nature with care.  Using our human ears, we can sometimes hear far more than we will ever see.  Plus, to really listen, one must stop talking, and probably stop moving. The desire to listen to nature can be a great excuse and way to slow down, rest, and reflect.  

The human ear allows us to enjoy the sounds of nature.  Our ears are designed to capture auditory stimuli (sound waves) from the atmosphere and transfer that information into the brain for processing, which results in us hearing something.  We actually intake far more sound waves than we hear, because our brain does a great job at filtering out the noise. 

A fun activity to do is to sit and listen.  Whether you are in your office in town or out on the trail, take a few moments to simply stop moving and listen.  If you are inside, open the window, if you can.  Start to register all the sounds you are hearing.  Closing your eyes will also help you focus on your hearing.  Slow your breathing, and simply listen.  Do this for a few moments.  Then, open your eyes, move a bit, and do it again.  See if you hear more the second time.  In the 21st century, within our busy lifestyles and noise-filled world we tend to ‘tune out’ so much of what is happening around us.  But when we start to listen and train our brain, Mother Nature is consistently speaking through her creations.  The wind through trees, songs of birds, and the chirps of crickets, throughout the day and night, Mother Nature is speaking.   

Humans and everything we create is part of nature, so wherever you are, you are in nature.   This perspective helps us connect with Mother Nature and has the potential to improve how we treat the natural environment within and beyond city limits.   Get outside, or simply open your window and listen, Mother Nature has something important to say to you.

Springing to Life

Now that we are knee deep in spring, it is time for us to trade in our winter coats for our raincoats and our snow boots for our rain boots! We may live in The Great Basin Desert; one of the hottest driest regions in the country, but that does not mean we experience a permanent dry spell. In fact, as we transition from spring to summer, we will begin to experience some of our wettest months!

Typically, during this time of year, the Ruby Mountains will receive the remnants of storms rolling in from the Pacific Coast. Between these storms and  warmer air temperatures,  snowfall will transition into rainfall.  Snow in the Ruby Mountains will begin to melt and provide fresh run-off to empty streambeds or shallow depressions on the valley floor. These low-lying areas are labelled as intermittent or ephemeral streams.

Unlike Ruby Lake or the Humboldt River, intermittent and ephemeral streams are not perennial, meaning they do not retain water or streamflow throughout the year. For further clarification, intermittent streams are seasonally flooded; they only flow during the spring in response to snowmelt and then dry up by the end of the summer. Ephemeral streams only flow in response to precipitation. According to the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, about 90% of our state’s streams are intermittent or ephemeral. Both are vital in our desert ecosystem as they provide nutrients and habitat for desert dwelling species.

Intermittent streams flowing from the south-facing slopes of the Ruby Mountains provide ideal breeding habitat for frogs, insects, and other macro invertebrates that are preyed on by fish. Every year frogs will migrate to these streams.  Seasonally-flooded shallow depressions are known as vernal pools, and they serve as mating grounds for many frog species. Their jelly-like egg sacs can be observed along the banks or edges attached to rocks, twigs, or debris.

Ephemeral streams are important sources of nutrients needed for growth in desert plants. During  the dry season, ephemeral streams accumulate layers of nutrient rich soil.  When it rains, these nutrients are carried downstream where they are deposited along the riverbank, replenishing nutrients for the riparian vegetation. One location you can locally observe ephemeral streams is in Elko’s Peace Park.

Rain or shine,  get outside and look for evidence of streamflow! While empty streambeds may not look like much during most of the year, now you know how important they are  for desert-dwelling species. Water is what allows the desert to spring to life!  

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Let the Water Flow

 During this time of year, it is beautiful to look from the valley up and out to the mountains and see them covered in white.  As desert dwellers, we find comfort knowing that the snow in the mountains is the source of our water.  The snow that melts off each spring provides essential runoff to streams and reservoirs, while snow in the valley melts and recharges ground-water aquifers.  Did you know that the snowpack is carefully monitored and used for water predictions by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)?  The NRCS provides snowpack data and streamflow forecasts to help with water supply management, flood control, recreation, climate modeling, and conservation planning.  


River forecasting methods use ‘snow water equivalent’, temperature, and sunshine information to estimate how snow melt will flow into rivers.  Snow water equivalent is the depth of water that would cover the ground if the snow cover was in a liquid state.   It is also sometimes referred to as the water content.  The water content of snow can vary greatly.  Heavy, wet snow has a very high water content.  Four to five 5 inches of wet snow may contain about one inch of water.  Dry, powdery snow has a low water content, and it may take upwards of 20 inches of dry snow to equal one inch of water. 

The snowpack that accumulates each year in the mountains is a significant and vital part of the hydrologic (water) cycle.  How much water does snow contribute? It is hard to say exactly, because there are many variables to consider, but the general rule is that 1 inch of snow, on 1 acre of ground (660 feet by 66 feet), about a football field minus the end zones, is equivalent to 2,715 gallons of water.  To help put this into perspective, if The Ruby Mountain Wilderness is about 90,000 acres, with only one inch of snow covering the surface, there would be about 2.4 million gallons of water when melted!  The water cycle consists of precipitation, evaporation, condensation, and collection.  Therefore, not all of the snowpack melts into flowing water.  Some is lost to evaporation. 

Snowpack impacts humans, animals, and plants.  Plant growth is slowed during years of drought, due to the impact on soil moisture.  To overcome this consistent environmental hardship, typically, plants native to Nevada have long, deep tap roots and shallow lateral roots so that growth cycles can be completed, regardless of the annual snowpack.  Animals also have adaptations to overcome low snowpack years.  From hunting and foraging at night to avoid the desiccation (drying) due to the sunrays, to obtaining enough water from food, desert animals are naturally prepared to survive. 

According to the NRCS, the storms of February built up the snowpack in eastern Nevada quite nice and the snowpack ranges between 80 and 106%.    Get outside and enjoy the warming temperatures, while appreciating the water held in your local snowpack, it is good for human everywhere.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Lucky Signs of Spring

It’s springtime in the Ruby Valley! That means buds are blooming, seeds are spreading, and wildlife is waking up. Migratory birds and butterflies are returning from their winter homes to mate and breed. Insects, like bees and ladybugs, are thawing from their states of frozen animation known as diapause and amphibians and reptiles are rousing from brumation (a state of inactivity during cold temperatures). Small mammals such as squirrels, mice, and voles are rousing from hibernation and larger mammals such as bears and racoons are rousing from their deep winter sleep known as torpor.

Alive, alert, and awake, one of the first things these animals will do is try their luck in searching for a post-winter snack. Spring is a busy time in nature, which can make hunting and foraging somewhat of a gamble, but for humans there are historical roots in why we find some aspects of nature luckier than others.

At Nevada Outdoor School, naturalists have been fortunate enough to observe some evidence of post-winter movement.  On the west side of South Fork State Recreation Area, for example, they have had lots of luck finding rabbit tracks left behind in the snow and mud. Rabbit sightings are considered to be particularly favorable because of the belief that their severed feet will bring good luck to the individual who wears them. This belief stems from Euro-American folklore; rabbits were believed to be the avatars of shapeshifting witches. By severing one of their feet, the bearer believed they would gain all the witch’s powers and protection from evil.

Beetles such as sand dune beetles in the scarab family and lady bugs are also considered lucky signs. In Nevada, ladybugs are most active during the spring, which is when they begin to breed. They are praised by farmers for eating garden pests like aphids.

In the plant category, another lucky charm that naturalists have observed in the Ruby Valley is trefoil. Trefoil, more commonly known as the clover, is a short-lived herbaceous legume. Trefoil leaves typically grow in clusters of three, but also occur in clusters of four or five. Four-leaf clovers, which are very rare, are considered signs of good luck. Five-leaf clovers, though, which are more commonly known as cinquefoil can be found throughout Nevada and the Pacific Northwest. These rosaceous perennial herbs sometimes grow in your gardens and are similar to strawberries. 

Photo by Djalma Paiva Armelin from Pexels

So, whether you are hitting the trails or the slot machines at the casino, keep your eyes peeled for the lucky side of nature.   Get outside and appreciate their beauty and serenity, but remember to be respectful of their space and survival needs. Don’t push your luck!

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Destination Recreation: Lassen Volcanic National Park

View on Map!

From volcanoes, boiling mud pots, to lakes you can swim in, Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California is anything but ordinary.

Located about an hour East of Redding, CA, Lassen Volcanic National Park is home to all four types of volcanoes in the world: plug dome, cinder, shield, and composite. Given the National Park a very suitable name for itself. The area is continually active with boiling mud pots, fumaroles, and hotsprings.

When visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park (LVNP) I highly encourage you to stop at either visitor center when you first arrive at the park. The Loomis Museum, located near the Northwest entrance of the park, is open from 9:00am-5:00pm June- November and closed in the winter. The Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, located at the Southwest entrance of the park, is open year-round 9:00am-5:00pm, daily, or November-April only Wednesday-Sunday. At either of these locations you can get information about the park, speak with a ranger, learn about the history of the park through a 20 minute film, or attend a ranger-led program.

From each visitor center, you can either take a short walk around Manzanita Lake (located outside the Loomis Museum) or take a drive up from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center to Sulphur Works to see (and smell) the sulphur! This is a great way to start off your adventure at LVNP!

There is so much to do (and so little time) at LVNP! I have gone twice now and still haven’t made it to all the trails I would like to (*cough cough Bumpass Hell*) However, that is why we encourage you to plan ahead and prepare your trip as much as possible. Research the trails you are interested in, plan to head out early, or if there are too many people there, plan to pick a different trail. You really can’t go wrong with any of the trails here. Mill Creek Falls trail is a 3.6 mile round-trip moderate hike that has you travel through a field of wildflowers, into a Red Fir forest, and ends you at a beautiful waterfall. Cinder Cone is a strenuous 4 mile hike but hey, you climb a volcano! And with the views of the Fantastic Lava Beds and Painted Dunes at the top, you can’t beat that! Even a short .75 mile walk around Reflection Lake will get you amazing sights to see, and you may even see an animal or two!

There are eight campgrounds throughout the park, and three of them offer group campsites. While there are several places to camp throughout the park, make sure to reserve your spot as soon as you can. Campsite spots (even for tents) fill up fairly quickly for the park, especially during the summer months. Don’t worry, they also have first-come, first-served camping if you have an itch to just go last minute as well!

As always, make sure you follow the Leave No Trace Principles, packing out your trash from the trails, keeping your food in the bear lockers (yes, there are black bears here), and be considerate to other visitors. And one day, I will hike Bumpass Hell Trail!


Enjoy the Journey!