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A horse kicked up dirt with its foot, a cloud of fine dust billowed up from the ground with every swipe. It was if the animal was waiting to receive one of the lassos a nearby group of children was swirling above their heads. Further up, several children scaled a large outcropping of boulders.
All of this activity took place in the immense expanse of land at the Valles Caldera National Preserve.
The youngsters were taking part in the Nature Odyssey program, which the Pajarito Environmental Center offered to fourth through sixth graders June 7-11 and June 14-18.
Nature Odyssey’s first program was “Rio Grande Valley Exploring the Ancient to the Modern,” during which, students visited everything from a dinosaur dig to the Wildlife Center.
Following this program was “Super Sleuths: Valles Caldera and Beyond.” Participants traveled to the Valles Caldera. Besides learning to use a lasso, the group caught crawfish, threw atlatls and took a dip in the Jemez River.
Justin Holmes, a sixth-grader who participated in the “Super Sleuths” program, said one of the highlights of the program was catching crawfish. Not only did Holmes proudly state he had a caught a few crawfish, but he has also thrown a few atlatls, a Native American tool that provides leverage and velocity to throwing a spear.
He added he enjoyed participating in the program “because it’s a great experience and I like coming here. I’ve made new friends and been able to have new experiences.”
Michele Altherr, lead educator of the Nature Odyssey program, said students took part in a fox walk, completed a string course blindfolded and hunted fossils.
The impact these activities have on kids is amazing, she said. “It’s amazing how these kids can be nervous at the beginning and then come out of themselves … there’s no doubt they enjoy this. They make new friendships and they feel connected to the landscape more.”
Experts on the preserve volunteered their time for the camp and several high school students worked in the camp. The Valles is a great setting for the camp, Altherr said because, “it’s part of our heritage and it’s a special piece of the natural landscape that belongs to all of us.” She added the Nature Odyssey is a valuable program in any of its locations because children are given an opportunity “to connect to nature, make new friends, to be personally empowered for all things in their life.”
Being empowered and forging connections with nature is not just for kids.
PEEC also offers the Living Earth Adventure Program. Starting Monday and running through July 2, students in seventh through ninth grade can experience the Rio Grande all the way to the Valles. They explore the ecology, archeology, geology, wildlife and history in the local area. To register for the program or to get more information, call 662-0406 or visit www.PajaritoEEC.org.