Thursday, January 14, 2016

Flooded Trails and Tadpoles

It's January but the weather is warm and gorgeous so we decided to scrap our lessons for this afternoon and take a little nature hike with some friends at LLELA (Lake Lewisville Environmental Learning Area).  Before the hike we covered some basic rules of hiking like buddy system, Leave No Trace, what to bring on a hike, etc.  Before we even left for the trails we saw a coyote running along the dam and a hawk flying overhead!

Nicholas wanted to go down the Redbud Trail so we could go to the river but just a short walk down the trail and we realized that the trail was completely flooded.  Next we decided to take the Cottonwood Trail and see the prairie homestead and log cabin.  As we stepped on the trail, the kids immediately found this cool animal track.


We looked in a field guide and found a deer track but it didn't show the two little indentions in the back.  But a moose track did so Rachel decided that this must mean a moose was at LLELA.  Not likely!  I explained to her that this was probably a deer track.  I told her that there are many types of deer and our field guide may have just listed one type of deer track.  I don't think moose would be hanging out around Lewisville, Texas!

We ventured down the Cottonwood Trail a bit and the kids discovered that the winter shelter they had built back in July at their Wilderness Survival camp was still standing!  Amazing!


We were sad to soon learn that the Cottonwood trail was flooded too.  We were surprised that we didn't learn about this when we arrived but perhaps we missed a sign somewhere.


But we found nature science right in front of us.  We looked at some scat, talked about what kind of animal might have left it, and what he might have eaten (something hairy!).  Eww!


We had been so excited about our hike that we just couldn't bear the thought of going home.  So we looked at our map (always be prepared!).  We found an unnamed trail that ended at the Cottonwood trail just past the flooded area so off we went!

Along the way, we passed the spot where the kids had built a summer wilderness shelter during their summer camp.  I just can't believe how well these two shelters have held up for so long!  That camp was back in July!


Our detour trail was a bit muddy in one spot but the boys were quick to gather some branches from the ground and lay them across the mud to give us something dry to walk across.  We made it to the Cottonwood trail!  This is a picture looking back down the detour trail from the Cottonwood.  You can see it was short since that big hill you see is the dam at the beginning of it.  But it was a bit more rugged and off road than we had planned.


We made it to the Homestead and saw more flooding.  But fortunately the actual path and the Homestead land was dry.


We enjoyed snacks, drinks, and rest with our friends.


I love log cabins!  This one was built in the mid-1800s.


We explored the smokehouse and the temporary shelter that the family lived in while building the larger log cabin.


I love pictures of leading lines.  This picture is especially cool to me because the logs form leading lines but there is also such a sharp contrast between light and shadow.


Zoomed in you can see the chink and daub used between the logs.  This was typically made of dirt, water, grass, hair, and manure.  It served to fill in the gaps and insulate the cabin.


While taking a break, some of the kids sketched what they saw around the Homestead while others wrote about it.


Nicholas pulled out paper and colored pencils that he had packed and went to work on a sketch.


I love his picture!


Rachel chose to use her camera to document what she saw.  Lots and lots of pictures!


Rachel wandered around some more and decided to explore the flooded areas along the path with one of the small nets we had brought but she didn't find anything exciting.


As we headed back to the car, the kids continued to stop and explore things along the path.  Here they found some mosquito larvae in a puddle!


Of course, if there is a puddle, kids will walk right through it...even when there is perfectly dry ground right beside it!


Why do I even bother buying white socks for my kids?


Our motley little crew of nature explorers!  So silly and so much fun!


We made it back to the flooded spot along the trail.  We could see across the flooding to the dry part and it was so close!  What do you think we did?


We walked the flooded trail, of course!


Some of us walked back and forth and back and forth along the flooded trail!


Nicholas was more interested in exploring what might be in the water so he poked his stick around and announced that there were tadpoles!


He grabbed one of our nets and caught three of them right away!


Fortunately, he had wanted to go down to the river anyway to study the water habitat so he had brought a big plastic jar to put critters in for study (catch and release, of course!).  We pulled it out and filled it with water and tadpoles.  It was the perfect way to look at tadpoles up close!


All of the kids started looking for tadpoles with nets! 


Nicholas wandered down the trail and came running back with more tadpoles.  
But what was so neat was that he would run a few steps then put the net down into the water to help the tadpoles.  Then he would run a few more steps and put the net back down into the water.  He continued to do this until he got them in the jar.


We found what I think is a Water Boatman bug!  He was fun to watch as he dove down into the water then came back up to the surface.




Nicholas found this interesting thing.  I didn't pay any attention to him at first because he said he found something that looked like an inside-out sea cucumber!  But later we looked at it more closely and just couldn't figure out what it was.  White zig zag stuff that looked like intestines but surrounded by little black and white round things.  It is still a mystery!


The kids didn't seem to mind getting wet at all.  


At this point I realized that they had no longer "stayed on the path" like we had talked about at the beginning of the hike.  The path was somewhere under the water!  But there was such great learning and exploring going on anyway.

They had collected quite a bunch of tadpoles and it was amazing to be able to look at them swimming around in the jar!


One last look at the last tadpole before they were all released back into the water.


Our friends headed home but we decided to check out the Cicada Trail quickly before we left.  I always have pictures of my kids from the back of the line because I want to let them lead the way!


Surprisingly the Cicada Trail didn't seem to be flooded at all!  I wish we had known this when we first arrived!  There were several great educational displays to study along the way.  Still no mention of moose tracks at LLELA though....


The kids even got to watch two armadillos rooting around in the leaves.  They stayed super still and watched them from a short distance for quite a while!


I enjoyed studying the trees, especially those with signs of decay, worm tracks, and fungi.


LLELA is a beautiful piece of land, about 2000 acres, that runs along Lewisville Lake dam.  They offer trails, classes, and events to help get people out and enjoying nature.  They are open to the public seven days a week and the cost is just $5 per vehicle.  For more information, visit their website at http://llela.unt.edu/recreation-llela#sthash.ltBbx36H.dpuf.  Or visit them on the LLELA Facebook page.