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, 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


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Mother Knows Best

 Mother’s Day may have come and gone, but mothering is just beginning for much of Nevada’s Wildlife! Desert tortoises are burying their eggs, birds are building their nests, and deer are beginning to lactate (secreting milk from their mammary glands).

The variety of mothering in nature is diverse; some mothers will leave their young before they are born, but others will stay and continue to provide care for several years. Why, though, do some mothers invest more time and energy into rearing their offspring than others? Part of the answer lies in the evolution of their relationship with the embryos. For example, birds and mammals which fertilize their eggs internally tend to invest more time and energy into rearing their offspring compared to fish and frogs which fertilize their eggs externally. Does this mean that birds and mammals care more about their babies than fish and frogs do?

Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash
Whether or not mothers stick around after the birth of their babies is not a behavior that is driven by choice. It is driven by instinct. All animals, including humans, have maternal instincts that influence the parental care they provide for their offspring. Maternal instincts are innate (born with) sets of knowledge that influence caregiving behaviors associated with motherhood. For example, the maternal instincts of fish and frogs are to find the most ideal oviposits (egg-laying areas) for their eggs so that predators will not eat them. This helps to ensure that the males of their species will be able to find the eggs and fertilize them. The maternal instincts of reptiles, like tortoises, which fertilize their eggs internally, are to find suitable nesting grounds for burying their broods so that they will be safe from predators and unfavorable temperatures. There’s no need for Mama Tortoise to stick around because by the time her babies hatch they will instinctively know to go to the water.

For birds and mammals, though, which also fertilize internally, parental care is a little more complex. Compared to fish, frogs, and reptiles, birds and mammal babies are much more helpless and dependent at birth. Both rely on their mothers to feed them and protect them from predators. For example, a Mama Bird Killdeer will lure predators away from the nest by faking a broken wing.  Mama Badger will attack anything perceived as an oncoming threat to their offspring.

As you get outside to explore this spring, keep your eyes sharp for mommas and their babies.    Look up into trees to see if you can spy nests, and look down low, too.  Look for signs of motherhood in streams and mud-puddles.  Evidence of the reproduction cycle is all around us.  If you spy a baby, enjoy their irresistible cuteness, but remember that Mama may be close by, so respect their space.

Be A Watershed Hero!

 Between April and May, over 500 2nd and 3rd graders became Watershed Heroes across Humboldt, Lander, and Elko Counties!  Although field trip season looked a little different again this year in light of COVID-19, Nevada Outdoor School adapted our annual field trip to the Humboldt River to a school-based “field trip”.  On the school grounds, students were challenged to evaluate the role, function and importance of a healthy watershed to them personally and to their community.  Students left with a call to action, creating a Watershed Hero pledge, describing actions they will take to care for and respect the local watershed we all share here in rural northern Nevada, the Humboldt River Basin.  


A watershed is an area of land that drains water, sediment, and dissolved materials to a common water body, such as a river.  The size of watersheds varies, the largest watershed in the United States is the Mississippi River Watershed draining over 1 million acres.  A watershed contains both biotic (living) and abiotic (nonliving) components.  Humans influence and impact the structural and functional characteristics of watersheds.  These influences and impacts may be beneficial or disruptive to the watershed.  

The Humboldt River Basin Watershed is wholly located in northern Nevada.  The watershed spans from near Wells to the Humboldt Sink, not far from Lovelock.  While the distance between these two communities is about 250 miles, the meandering nature of the river causes it to measure about 330 miles.  The Humboldt River runs entirely within Nevada.  The flow of the Humboldt River is highly variable because it is entirely dependent on precipitation.  The source waters for the river derive from runoff from the Jarbidge, Independence, and Ruby Mountains in Elko County.  The Humboldt River is contained entirely within the Great Basin, meaning that the Great Basin retains the water and there is no outflow to another body of water such, as an ocean.

As we know from living in a desert, water is a precious commodity!  The quality (how good) and quantity (how much) of available water in the desert has health, recreational, and financial impacts on all who live here, human and non-human.  Because water cannot be created, water education is critical so that citizens learn to protect, conserve, and better manage water resources in our local region.   When we understand the interconnectedness of all living things, and our collective dependence of water, we become more united in the drive to keep water clean.  Though age-appropriate activities and games throughout our Watershed Heroes field trip, we motivate and empower students to choose to become proactive and caring citizens, if they choose. 

At Nevada Outdoor School, we love to get people outside, deepening their connection to and care for the natural world.  We work to influence positive outdoor behaviors by providing people of all ages the motivation, knowledge, and skills to practice responsible outdoor recreation.  We do this by teaching participants how to analyze a variety of possible actions, evaluate the potential impacts of those actions, and then to choose wisely to minimize the negative impacts of their actions when possible.

The 2nd and 3rd grade students who attended our Watershed Heroes field trip this spring deepened their connection to their local watershed and can now make choices that will respect and help protect that watershed. Even as kids, our actions matter!  By picking up trash, not allowing oil and soap to drain into the river, and being aware of erosion along streams, you too can be a Watershed Hero!  Go on Heroes, get outside and enjoy the Humboldt River Basin, just remember, your actions not only impact your local community, but everything down stream as well.