Edge in Madera Canyon

On November 6th, 2019, 11 students from Edge High School left a rainy Tucson for an adventure into the Santa Rita Mountains. Early winter storms had forced us away from the Tucson Valley, removing us from the surrounding mountains. Instead, we drove south to Madera Canyon in hopes that the northward storms had passed the area. The drive brought us passed the mines that tower over the city Green Valley, then through the grass fields and oak forests, only to halt our drive in a mixed coniferous forest. The biome layers surprised the students. Our previous trip took students though low thorn-scrub, arroyo, and riparian gallery forest biomes. For students to see such differences within short distances brought them a lot of joy. 

We began our hike from the Madera Canyon Nature Trail and followed the creek for a couple of minutes until a nice clearing let us sit and circle up. Here we spent some time reflecting upon our last expedition. Students surprisingly remembered quite a lot from our trip a month ago, where we discussed watershed, riparian gallery forests, desert adaptations, and biomes. Prior to the trips, journals were made to help students observe and categorize observations. They also help students reflect upon experiences through journaling and drawing. Surprisingly the students were very excited to use them. After we settled down, we spent a moment in silent meditation listening to the sounds, feeling the wind and sun, and smelling the odors from the creek we were in. The whole group really loved this exercise and began noting in their journals.   

We began hiking on the trail, stopping to break down systems and symbiotic relationships and using lichen as an example. The trail wound through switchbacks, bringing us higher over the quickly shrinking valley. Below, each drainage was visible because they glowed orange like lit candles. Each deciduous tree, mainly sycamore trees, had long started their hibernation process, visible by their lack of chlorophyll and brown and yellow leaves. This visual was stunning for the group because, in the sea of green below us, yellow stripes rolled down the slope into the yellow basin. This was a wonderful and unique visual that the group had never seen before.  

The path brought us to a large pile of scat. Together we inspected and dissected the pile to attempt to identify its producer. Each student equipped with a stick, we noticed it was moist and full of berries. The students shouted “coyote!” “bobcat!” “bear!” We continued to inspect it and noticed hair and some bone. This was a wonderful opportunity to revisit biomes and to discuss Sky Islands. First, we understood what an omnivore was. Then we discussed which omnivorous could produce so much scat, and live in this biome. Eventually and to the surprise of the students, we landed on black bear. This key species allowed us to discuss the natural history of this area and how the biomes became layered in the first place. The students pulled out their journals and quickly wrote all the notes they could. 

The hike continued to show us so much beauty. The youth had a blast playing around the creek, observed the many birds that greeted us, tracked wildlife like deer and javelina, and relaxing to journal and rest. It was a really beautiful trip and the students said it may have been their favorite. Spending a day in the pine trees on the Santa Rita Mountains is wonderful. To do so on a school day, learning about the ecosystems and landscapes that surround our lives is even better. For these students, it was a magical day outdoors.