Tag Archives: nature

A Cricket Thermometer

As the nights lengthen and cool, it seems that the night music of crickets becomes more noticeable to my ears. Maybe the fact that it won’t be too long before the cold of winter silences them heightens my awareness of those warm season sights and sounds that will soon go dormant for the winter.

Hearing the evening cricket chorus last evening, and how most were chirping at the same rhythm, I was reminded that there is a formula for determining the temperature by counting cricket chirps. According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, you can convert cricket chirps to degrees Fahrenheit by counting the number of chirps in 14 seconds, then add the number 40 to get the temperature. For example, you count 30 chirps in 14 seconds, add 40, and it is 70F. Happy chirp counting!

~ Ranger Dave Van Manen



Midsummer in Pueblo Mountain Park!

The weeks of summer are certainly slipping by, and the park’s current display of wildflowers only confirm that the summer is indeed aging. Gone are the blossoms of spring beauties, low penstemon, and mountain bladdepod. They have been replaced by hairy golden aster, Kansas gayflower, nodding onion, and stiff goldenrod. nodding onion hairy golden aster

It has been a relatively dry summer so far. June and July both saw less than 2″ of rain, and August is off to a slow start. To be more specific, June’s 1.90″ was followed by 1.82″ in July, and August, as of this morning of the 8th, I’ve measure only 0.27″.  The flow of tropical moisture from points south, known as the monsoon, has been pretty stingy in delivering those summer rains.

The moisture has apparently been enough for several wildflowers to find their way to blossom, as there is a fair amount of wildflower color out there. stiff goldenrodkansas gayfeather









Now in week two of August, the land continues its march towards fall. Hopefully the clouds will deliver a bit more rain (but in doses that the land can handle, please – we had enough flooding a few summers ago to last us awhile) before the turning leaves start adding their earthy colors to the landscape.

sky aug 7

Volunteer Trail Stewards Needed!

The trails of Pueblo Mountain Park see a whole lot of footsteps from so many people – Earth Studies students learning about the park’s trees and ecosystems, MPEC’s guided hikers and many other hikers, folks looking to access the National Forest trails west of the park, birders looking for an elusive three-toed woodpecker and plant lovers wanting to enjoy the scarlet-red blossoms of a claret-cup cactus.  Yes, the parks six miles of trails are used and loved by many!

volunteers needed

Considering all of this use, the park’s trails are always in need of some TLC. With that in mind, MPEC is initiating a once per month Volunteer Trail Stewards day so these trails can receive some of that needed TLC.

Please consider becoming a Mountain Park Environmental Center Trail Steward and help improve and maintain the trails of Pueblo Mountain Park.  MPEC maintenance staff will be coordinating the trail projects. Individuals 12 years of age and up are welcome to participate in these trails projects that will keep Pueblo Mountain Park’s trails safe and enjoyable for all who wish to connect with Nature.

trail building VOC 09

Trail Days will be the second Saturday of each month (July 9, August 13, September 10, and October 8).  We will meet in the Horseshoe Lodge parking lot on each of these Saturdays at 8 am and will conclude trail work at noon.  Participants should bring water (at least 2 liters), snacks, hiking boots, work gloves, and sunscreen.  Additionally, a sun hat is highly encouraged, along with rain gear.

For more information, please contact Steve at 719-485-4444, or by email Steve@hikeandlearn.org. You can register by clicking HERE!

Forest Stewardship Project Update: Summer 2016

If you were standing in the forest that is now Pueblo Mountain Park 200 years ago, chances are you’d be in a place that had recently burned. Historically, ponderosa pine forests experienced a cool ground fire, usually started by lightning, every 5-10 years. It was a “cool” fire because it pretty much stayed on the ground burning grasses, forbs and shrubs, including most young ponderosa pines. The thick bark of the mature ponderosa pines could handle the scorching, and the lack of lower branches prevented the fire from working its way up into the canopy. Fire was the tool that Nature used to keep ponderosa pine forests open with relatively few trees and lots of grasses.

IMG_3381When settlers arrived in the West, they brought with them a European approach to managing forests, which lacked an understanding of the important role that fire played in many forest types. Anytime lightning would ignite a fire, every effort was made to to put it out. Over time, this approach led to ponderosa forests becoming wildly overgrown, and the combination of more shade from more trees and, often times, livestock grazing, the grasses that would carry a fire across the forest floor disappeared. In their place grew more and more trees and shrubs, which meant more and more fuel for catastrophic fires that burn up through the forest canopy and everything else in their path. Pueblo Mountain Park was a good example of such a forest.

IMG_3376Over the past 15 years, many efforts have been made to return the park’s forests to a more natural condition – less trees, less understory that could bring a ground fire into the canopy, and more grasses. Much progress has been made, as a good portion of the eastern third of the park now more closely resembles what a healthy ponderosa forest should look like.

If you’ve been wondering what the recent tree cutting is all about, it is our next step in reducing the park’s vulnerability to a catastrophic fire. All of the current tree cutting is taking place directly along the park roads. A road, lacking fuel, is a fire break that could effectively stop a fire moving along the forest floor. Our current efforts are meant to bring the potential of breaking the path of a fire into the upper part of the forest by opening up a gap in the tree canopy. If a fire were moving through the crowns of the trees, the gap we are currently enhancing stands a better chance of stopping it. It also gives firefighters a good place to “take a stand” in the case of a fire moving through the park.

IMG_3371As an added benefit, the removal of these trees will increase the amount of snow that reaches the park roads, which we close off in the winter, making for better snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. And, the wood we get from the trees will be burned in the Horseshoe Lodge’s biomass boilers to heat the lodge, saving the burning of thousands of gallons of fossil fuels.


So, please excuse the temporary mess – we will soon be removing the remaining branches as we’ve arranged to have use of the City of Pueblo’s huge chipper in July. When this project is done, we all will have a safer, healthier and better Pueblo Mountain Park.


I frequently talk about “Nature deficit disorder” in my work as a Nature educator. I recently saw the phrase “noticing deficit disorder” the other day and it immediately registered as another downside to the techy plugged-in world we live in. Here is a wonderful article (click on the image below) on an antidote to these modern-day challenges – a way to reconnect with the other world we all live in – Nature. ~ Ranger Dave


Musings about Summer

camp2015 scarlettcholoehobbitvillempecamp2015I remember my summers as a child. I grew up in New York City, but the last day of school meant that the next day we would head out to eastern Long Island in a packed Rambler station wagon to spend the summer in the country. Fishing, exploring the swamp behind our house, building tree houses, climbing trees, swimming and being at the beach, riding my bike (my Dad had my family’s one car during the week working back in the city, so my Mom and four siblings lived carless all week). Fast forward a few decades…much of my life’s work has been providing opportunities for young people to be outdoors, to experience the joys of camp 2Nature, away from the City for awhile. One way we do that at MPEC is our summer camp program. I am proud that this summer, over 100 young people got to do just that. Here are a few photos from our Mountain Adventure Camp. On a related note, please check out this video about the value of children being outside and the lifestyle changes associated with that; then please share your thoughts. By the way, we wound up giving nearly $3000 more in camp scholarships this summer than our scholarship fund had – please consider making a donation to help us offsecampjump2015t that deficit. Thanks so much!

camp 4

camp 2015 boys walking sticks

Earth Studies for 5th Graders starts Sept 4th


What is the Earth Studies Program?

Earth Studies, now in its 11th year, is a comprehensive, outdoor-based Nature education program that takes place among the ponderosa pines of the 611-acre Pueblo Mountain Park.  MPEC’s Nature Educators are busy training and getting organized for our first class to arrive on Sept 4th!  If you live in Pueblo and have a 5th grader in Pueblo City Schools, then your student will be coming up to spend 6 full days over the course of the upcoming school year. They will learn to identify birds, explore what bioregions are near where they live, hike the Pueblo Mountain Trails and experience MPEC’s wonderful outdoor classroom. Parents are welcome to join their child’s class for the day so we hope to see you!

This photo is from an Earth Studies Day during winter 2011 where eager students gathered during snow falling. ES Students love seeing MPEC’s outdoor classrooms in many different weather forms and cold and snow don’t deter them from being willing to learn!