Views from Vista

On November 9th, 2018, 19 students from Mountain Vista Elementary School embarked on a trip to Oracle State Park. This incredible place is right in the backyard for these students, yet too many had never visited. We hoped to learn about this unique environment by hiking on the Arizona Trail and searching for the plants and animals that characterize it. This expedition turned out to be very adventurous, pushing us to our limits. It was a mighty trip for these students, but they moved fearlessly forward.

With blue skies overhead, we set off into Oracle States Parks yellow grassland. The trail wound over hills and dropped into lush arroyos. Here we explored important plants like the yucca. I described to the students that this plant has a very large and sweet fruit that has provided rich sugars to people of the area for thousands of years. The roots have been used for soaps while the leaves were processed into ropes. The students seemed shocked that people could do this, and pushed forward to learn more.  Large ravens and red-tailed hawks flew high in the distance. With a pause, we reflected on our previous expedition and how the biotic communities compared to the one we were in. On our first trip, tall Saguaros guided us in incredible numbers. Our second trip took us to a riparian creek in a mixed coniferous forest. Here we spotted only once Saguaro in the distance. Instead, shrub trees, semi-succulents, and some cactus were the main flora, a wonderful blend between the two.

We dropped down into a thin arroyo that had tall oak trees and a dense variety of moisture-loving plants. Here we dropped our bags, together we piled sand into a large mound. I asked the students to pretend this hill was the Santa Catalina Mountains, but it was difficult because our mountain had no plants on it. The students quickly scattered, searching to find mini representations of different plants that define each biome. Soon enough the whole hill was covered, and we began to discuss biozone layering, and why the biome we are in shares common plants from each. This model helped us talk about the change in climate North America has seen over the last 10,000 years, and what we might see in the near future.

After learning about the variety of plants and animals. We loaded our packs on and began our march forward. Our path planned on taking the Arizona Trail to a large arroyo, and using that to hike smoothly back. In most cases, an arroyo has dense plants growing along the banks, while the open body is sandy and clear of impediments. Instead, the path in front of us was very hard to navigate. An abundance of tall pokey grasses, cholla cactus, and short wide oak branches the stretched long blocked our way. This forced us to take a rough and windy path. Even though this was a hard trip, the kids pushed forward with bravery. Along the way we discovered many types of flowers, which grew in such numbers some of the students were permitted to collect bouquets of flowers. This lifted their spirits, while showing them that this grassland area can still be very diverse.

Soon we came to our path back to the vans. The students were excited to be out of the dense wash, but not so excited to leave the park. We stopped to talk about all we had learned, and what some of our favorite moments were. It seemed to of been successful day, even of our cloths were covered in burrs and dirt. After our debrief, we soon made it back to the vehicles. It was an incredible day with an incredible group from Mountain Vista Elementary.

Thanks to Resolution Copper for their support of this outing!