Mt. Vista Elementary School in Catalina State Park

On November 7th, 2019, 35 students from Mt. Vista Elementary School explored Catalina State Park. We traveled from the town of Oracle to the park to adventure in low thorn-scrub biome, learning about the flora, fauna, and the indigenous peoples that had villages where Catalina State Park now is. The students were excited to learn about the ecosystems in this area, bringing their notebooks to take notes and bring information back into the classroom.

We began our day with snack time. In a beautiful open grassy area, which looks to be old mesquite flood plains, we chowed. While snacking, we observed birds that flowed around us and little holes in the ground which were the entrances to many little homes. The students were starting to get anxious to hike, so we packed up and began our march. 

We made our way to the ancient Hohokam village. Before entering, we sat in a circle and learned the difference between historic, and prehistoric. Then, with their notebooks out we listed some of the many peoples who live in Arizona, and whose families have lived in Arizona for thousands of years. Tribes such as Apache, Navajo, Tohono O’Odham, Hopi, and Yaqui. The students wrote these names in their journals, some of them learning these names for the first time. We pronounced the names of each tribe together, and discussed how European colonization has affected these groups. Then we made our way into the ancient Hohokam village. 

In the village, we paused to observe the flora so we might understand what wild foods were harvested. We took note of the watershed so that we might better understand what wildlife might have lived around here, and how the village received water. We found pottery and discussed the ingenuity and creativity of the many tribes in the southwest, including their trade relationships. We observed a massive saguaro that had nearly 10 arms. Here we talked about symbiotic relationships, how saguaros adapted toward sunlight, predators and pests, and their relationship with people. It was the biggest saguaro the students had ever seen. With their notebooks out, they recorded everything they could. 

The students were thrilled to be in this village. They thought it was amazing to be in such an old settlement, and they had so much fun imagining it to be standing tall and full of people and life. When we worked our way out, we moved down into the arroyo we had mentioned during our discussion of watershed. Here we ate lunch, then played a game called “oh deer”. In this game, students were able to gain a basic understanding of food chain ecosystems and how overuse can cause a collapse in said system. When we finished that game, a crazy game of tag ensued, and we went running and hiding all over the arroyo like little lizards. 

Finally, it was time. We circled up once more and journaled some things we had learned and some things we really enjoyed. We marched our way back to the vans, passing by all of our favorite things. The students were disappointed to be heading home, they said all they wanted to do was to continue playing. It was a fantastic expedition for Mt. Vista Elementary School. The first of three, and one that would be hard to beat. The kids learned so much about the desert, plant adaptations, indigenous tribes and peoples, and the fun that can be had outside. It was truly was a magical day.