Thursday, January 19, 2012

In Our Own Backyard

After a myriad of errands, the kiddos and I set out for the Riparian Institute in nearby Gilbert. We visited the preserve much more often when we lived closer. Since we have moved, our excursions east are much less frequent, and I miss the remote feel of this urban island. Encouraged by such beautiful winter weather, we grabbed our explorer bags, field guides and water and set out for a hike.
The Riparian Institute at Water Ranch is a 110 acre preserve that is home to many birds and wildlife. It is listed by Audobon as a fantastic bird refuge and is loved by bird watchers across the nation. Whenever we walk through the meandering paths, we encounter many folks with binoculars and cameras. They often chat with the kiddos about what they have found or are looking for. This time was no exception.

We sat on the benches, birding stands or just on the banks of the ponds to observe and watch the waterfowl and birds. Aine led the way in identifying our finds, paging through our spotter's guide for breed identification. We asked others what they had found along the way sharing our enthusiasm. Eamon spotted many hummingbirds and talked to a couple who slowed their approach when they noticed us staring at a tree. They mentioned a beautiful red -breasted specimen they saw a bit further down the path. Benton would call out when he saw nests or other trail magic. Everyone was delighted when were able to pet a horse as his rider passed and chatted with us.

As we walked, the kiddos also explored the water areas. They walked along the little streams and eventually started to wade in them. We talked about the combined purpose of the site and water purification. Aine wondered how water could be cleaned by passing through layers of dirt. Eamon wondered why some of the ponds were dry. We all marveled at how this little bit of land sits amid a bigger city yet feels so remote.
As we headed toward the exit, we paused to examine some of the flora and other features of the institute. I spotted a prickly pear cactus covered with cochineal. My kiddos love this fascinating bug and the bright crimson color it produces. I love the fact that it has been used to dye fiber throughout the centuries. We also identified a Screwbean Mesquite tree with its cool bean pods. Eamon, Aine and Benton then stopped to unearth the remains of dinosaur skeletons and peek into an equipment building to see real fossils. Aine impressed us all by correctly identifying a mix of animal trail prints in the concrete. We left refreshed by our hike and ready for more this season. We are lucky to have so many outdoor opportunities living in an urban setting.


  1. It looks like you had a great time and that much was learned. Eamon is getting so big! OMG.

  2. In the low 70's, Cathy. A bit cold for us desert dwellers.