Nature Night

“What kind of footprints do you think those are?”

“I wonder what the difference is between pines and evergreens.  Wait, is conifer a word?”

“Why do elk poop in pellets?”

All great, intellectual questions.  All questions that typically I would ask outloud to Dan while we are hiking or in nature that were usually answered with a shrug or a short conversation and then we would carry on.  Despite how much we both love plants, animals, trees and being in the wilderness, we almost never bothered to find the answers or feed our curiosities by learning the answers to these questions.

One day in early January, Dan and I were hiking in Nederland, Colorado.  Chit chatting, having a great time until I was pretty sure I heard a woodpecker.  Stopping to listen and trying to find it, I asked my usual types of questions, “How does a bird peck through wood without hurting itself?”

Let me backup a minute here.  Pretty much since we’ve moved to Colorado, Dan has been busy.  His free time initially taken up with starting Traveling Tranquilo while still working full time, then working on TT full time, and then since October 2018 – looking for a job while working full time.  Of course I have been very proud of all his endeavours however, it has understandably cut into his free time and our time together. So, when we do spend time together, it has to be meaningful and I like to connect during this time.

Okay, back to early January.  After I asked this question about the woodpecker, I started to think out loud.  “Why don’t we do a nature night where each of us takes turns during research on a plant or animal that is native or lives in Colorado?  And then whoever’s turn it is also has to think of and cook dinner on Sunday night”.

Despite Dan’s revulsion to cooking, his interest in nature won out and he agreed.  Nature Night was born!

We’ve had to take one or two breaks on Sunday nights due to travels or visitors but we have six strong Nature Nights under our belts (each of us presenting three times).  It has been an incredible way for us to connect, come together on Sunday nights when we are both battling Sunday scaries, and learn more about the beautiful wildlife that we have here in Colorado.

For my reference, I’m going to list below each night we have done so far and a couple of facts that stuck out about each topic:

  • Prairie Dogs (Christie presented):  Wow are these guys amazing!   They are considered a “keystone” species which means that their livelihood basically effects 150 or more other species including other animals and plant life.  They create underground tunnels and homes which have separate rooms for sleeping, going to the bathroom, and raising their young. Prairie Dogs also have an intricate communication with each other where they can literally describe “There is a human over there wearing blue, watch out!”

Little prairie dog below on a trail run in Westminster. 

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  • Aspens (Dan presented): I have been saying for the past couple of years that Aspens are my spirit tree so I was extra excited about this one.  I think the most interesting thing that I learned was that if you see a bunch of aspens together, it is all one single organism.  The largest bunch of aspens is in this place called Pando, Utah.

Aspens in Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

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  • Mountain goats (Christie presented): There is a difference between mountain goats and mountain sheep so don’t get them confused!  There are also a few different species of mountain goats as well (which I had no idea).  I’ve always been intrigued in how mountain goats are able to climb literally on the sides of cliffs.  Apparently, they have a split toe hoof that helps them balance and the bottom of their hooves are very hard which helps them keep traction.  They also have incredible vision.

Mountain goats in Waterton Canyon.

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  • Lodgepole pine (Dan presented): Thankfully he took this on because pine trees always confuse me.  I never know which is which and seem to classify them all into one lump category.  Definitely the most interesting fact about this tree is that it flourishes when there are forest fires.  Forest fires (natural forest fires) are actually very important and help regrowth in the forest.  The lodgepole pine has these very tough, thick pine cones that fall to the forest floor.  Nothing is really able to crack them until a forest fire comes along helping to spread their seeds.

Dan among the lodgepoles in Elk Meadow Open Space.

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  • Columbine (Christie presented):  I will never forget the first time I saw a Columbine in the wild in Maroon Bells Wilderness about 6 months after we moved here.  They are just breath-taking (see cover photo) and delicate yet sturdy.  I tried to grow a Columbine last summer that did not work out so well because they are a flower that needs medium sunlight and a dry, rocky soil.  There are also different varieties of them but this blue, white and yellow version is the Colorado State Flower: blue for the sky, white for the snow, and yellow for the states mining history.

My first Columbine.

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  • Juniper Tree (Dan presented): How cool are these trees!  The reason that there are no other trees or really plants that grow around them as you can see below is because they have such an extensive root system allowing this tree to grow in really harsh, dry climates.   I also thought it was really interesting that you can take the juniper berries from these trees and make Gin.

Juniper Tree at sunset in Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

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And that’s all we’ve done so far!  I’m currently about to start researching mountain lions for our next Nature Night.

I feel really good that we have taken ahold of our own learning experience and have been able to share it together.  It has made Sundays more exciting and also now when we go into nature, we can identify and actually know something deeper about what is around us.


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