Colorado Education & Adventure Awaits!

#OptOutside

The purpose of this site is to encourage you, your friends, and your family to use the Colorado landscape as an environmental education opportunity. The goal is to encourage outdoor exploration in a safe and respectful manner. In the end, maybe you'll even be inspired to become an environmental steward!

My name is Lara and I've lived in Colorado for two and a half years. Outside of my day job at the University of Colorado Cancer Center, I enjoy spending time in the Colorado wilderness. Come join me and I guarantee you'll have a blast! (Photo left: Mt. Elbert trailhead; credit Cole Sprague. Photo right: Approach to Mount Sniktau; credit Cole Sprague)

By sharing personal photos, experiences, and adventures in Colorado, my goal is to inspire you to get outside. By doing so, the hope is that you'll learn a few things, including how to treat our landscape with respect.

This site includes information on various outdoor activities, best practices, and resources (via links). Explore the pages and please leave comments on the forum, located at the bottom of the page.

Friendly Reminder: We only have one planet Earth. 
Photo right: Hiking trail to Mills Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP); credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Note: Mills lake is the topmost photo on this website; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Photo middle: Flower field at Kite Lake, Alma, CO; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Photo left: Bear Lake, La Veta, CO; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
Photo: Shelf Road (rock climbing/hiking spot) situated between Cripple Creek and Cañon City; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Colorado has:

42 state parks

12 national parks and monuments

13 national forests and grasslands

58 fourteen-thousand+ foot peaks (14ers)

790 thirteen-thousand+ foot peaks (13ers)

& thousands of miles of hiking trails

Outdoor information gathered from AmericanSouthwest.net, Colorado Tourism Office, Colorado Parks & Wildlife, Colorado Geological Survey, 14ers.com, Roach, G. (2017), and Trails.com
There are plenty of opportunities to get outside, be active, learn about this amazing state, and in turn, a bit about our amazing planet. Photo: Approach to Mt. Sniktau's summit; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
Examples of outdoor opportunities in Colorado, including canoeing (make sure you are going the right way!), mountain biking, snowshoeing, and rock climbing. Photo top left: canoeing Bear Lake; credit Debra Sprague. Photo top right: Mountain Bike trip to Durango; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Photo bottom left: Snowshoeing Sprague Lake; credit Cole Sprague. Photo bottom right: Rock Climbing; credit Cole Sprague

Why should you bother going outside?

For one thing... it's B-E-A-UTIFUL!

In the last few decades, humans have adopted a tendency of staying indoors, opting to hang out with their electronics over exploring the outdoors. It isn’t fair to say that all humans behave this way, but there has been steady growth in various research that show humans are less immersed in nature and therefore less exposed to the benefits nature offers (Schwab, 2011).

Though not a true medical diagnosis, the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) has been coined and venturing outside into nature is now being ‘prescribed’ as a solution for various issues (Palomino, 2016).

Background photo: Mt. Elbert; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Benefits of experiencing natural settings include:
  • Positive impacts to human health and well-being (Palomino, 2016). In particular, people who spend the majority of their time indoors may deal with issues such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and the sometimes too often diagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) (Schwab, 2011).
  • When you spend more time outdoors, the sunlight stimulates your pineal gland; this increases serotonin levels, Vitamin D levels, and more (Schwab, 2011).
  • The added exercise and fresh air (filtered exclusively for you by the local vegetation) also supports physical as well as psychological well being (Shanahan, 2015).

Background photo: Mills lake, RMNP; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Those of us who have a deep connection with nature can most likely attribute that bond with childhood experiences and memories.

If you're a parent of a child, give them the gift of experiencing the outdoors!

Photo: Summit of Mt. Bierstadt (my first 14er); credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

I encourage you to do your research prior to entering any wilderness area. Be respectful of the area and always follow the Leave No Trace rules.

What are the rules of Leave No Trace?

It's also known as 'Pack it in-Pack it out'. The concept is: whatever you bring in to an area, make sure you leave with it, and try to leave an area as you found it (or better).

Photo: Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

You don't even have to drive very far to experience amazing natural areas! Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge is located just a few minutes from Denver in Commerce City.

This refuge is one of the largest urban wildlife refuges in the nation. They have more than 15,000 acres of land, easy hiking trails, and over 330 species of wildlife!

Coyotes, prairie dogs, bison, deer, raccoons, recently reintroduced endangered black-footed ferrets, cottontails, falcons, hawks, bald eagles, burrowing owls, many other bird species, snapping turtles, bull snakes, and bullfrogs are among the many fauna found here.

"It’s a place where wildlife thrives and where visitors can reconnect with nature and experience the many wildlife-dependent opportunities the Refuge has to offer."

-U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (2017)

Background photo: Bison at Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Park; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

However, if you choose to venture to the backcountry...

There are plenty of signs, trails, and other adventurers out there to greet you.

Photo: Trailhead Sign at Gray's Peak; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Background photo: Base of Bierstadt; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Photo: Democrat, Cameron, and Lincoln group Trailhead sign; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

These signs will give you information on the surrounding area, available trails, safety information, prohibited activities, and park rules.

Remain on the designated trails at all times. Increased human foot traffic can have detrimental effects on the natural landscape. Your footsteps have the potential to trample low-lying vegetation, expose soil that can be blown away by high winds, and create an unsuitable environment for regrowth. Recovery in some alpine areas can take centuries (NPS, 2016).

Photo: Chautauqua sign (Boulder, CO); credit Cole Sprague

Background photo: Gray's peak trailhead; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Ducks, also known as Cairns, will help you follow the path if it's not clearly marked. Leave these stacks of rocks as they are. They help everyone find their way. Photo: Duck; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
“…a single mountain may host a series of climatically different life zones over short elevational distances, mountains are hot spots of biodiversity and priority regions for conservation” (Körner, 2004). Photo: Approach to Mt. Evans summit; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

If you're interested in visiting one of Colorado's many mountains, take a moment to understand what you're experiencing.

This photo shows the distinct treeline changes found in Alpine areas. Photo: Descending from Mount Evans summit; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
Colorado Life Zones
A Diagram of Biological Zones in the San Juan Mountains; Image borrowed from http://faculty.fortlewis.edu/dott_c/bio%20250-swecol/Lecture%20Topics%20-%20Learning%20Goals%20&%20HW/LifeZoneMap.jpg

Mountains can be divided into different elevational zones or belts as shown above. Each of these zones has distinctive qualities in the type of plants and animals found there.

Mountains have great biodiversity because they include extremely different climate-specific life zones over very short distances (Körner, 2004).

Examples of animals found in the Plains, subalpine, and alpine zones of Colorado:
Top photo: Marmot; credit Cole Sprague. Middle left photo: Mountain Goat family; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Middle right photo: Prairie Bison; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Bottom left photo: Mountain goats on ridge; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Bottom right photo: Curious goats; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

Both humans and animals rely heavily on the health of our mountains for survival. We all depend in one way or another on them for water.

With such high elevations, mountains collect, store, and deliver water during long dry periods (Körner, 2004). Mountain protection, as well as sustainable land use, is therefore a top conservation priority.

Pikas - tiny mammals teaching us giant lessons

Pikas can be seen while hiking up a mountainside. You'll most likely hear their high-pitched squeaks before you see them. They're adorably cute, rabbit-like animals that have a very important story.

As described in the video by the University of Colorado-Boulder, Pikas are cold-adapted lagomorphs (members of the rabbit family). They cannot withstand higher temperatures and also cannot easily migrate to new areas in order to fix this issue. When Pikas die due to overheating, they show scientists how they're affected by climate change. When Pika populations die out or are struggling, you can look to them and their habitat for the answer. Recent loss of a few populations have been located in drier areas where snowpack is decreasing due to climate change (Erb, 2011). The loss of snowpack affects the Pikas and it also affects Coloradans due to decreased water run-off and subsequent watershed issues (Erb, 2011).

Looking for a companion to join you on your outdoor adventures?

Top left photo: Mt. Sherman; credit Cole Sprague. Top middle photo: Leading Rocks; credit Constance Gordon. Top right photo: Reaching Sherman's top; credit Cole Sprague. Bottom left photo: Climbing North Table Mountain; credit Cole Sprague. Bottom left photo: Grey's and Torrey's; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
Photo: Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP); credit Lara Coleman-Sprague

What else can you do to help protect biodiversity?

As the above link shows, there are many ways you can help our planet without leaving the comfort of your city.

But if you are adventurous and want to help out, here is another opportunity to rock climb and help bats. Seriously doesn't get cooler than this:

Share other opportunities you find and let us know about your outdoor experiences.

Thanks for visiting!

Top left photo: Aspens below Mt. Elbert; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Top middle photo: Descending Bross; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Top right photo: Sniktau; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Middle left photo: Up on top; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague. Right photo: Deep trails at Sniktau; credit Cole Sprague. Bottom left photo: Evans to Spalding; credit Lara Coleman-Sprague
Reference List:
  • 14ers.com. (2017). Home, list of 14ers by Mountain Range. Retrieved from https://www.14ers.com/
  • The American Southwest (2017). Colorado Map. Retrieved from http://www.americansouthwest.net/colorado/map.html
  • Carpool World (2017). Retrieved from https://www.carpoolworld.com/ride.html?to=DENVER&ws=CO&country=USA,US&form_language=EN
  • Center for Outdoor Ethics (2017). Leave No Trace. Retrieved from https://lnt.org/learn/7-principles
  • Climbers for Bat Conservation (2015). Retrieved from http://www.climbersforbats.colostate.edu/
  • Colorado Fourteeners Initiative (2017). Program overview. Retrieved from https://www.guidestar.org/profile/84-135484
  • Colorado Parks& Wildlife (2016). Parks Brochure- Your Guide to Colorado’s 42 State Parks. Retrieved from https://cpw.state.co.us/Documents/ParksBrochureWeb.pdf
  • eGO CarShare (2017). Retrieved from http://carshare.org/transportation-resources/
  • Erb, L (University of Colorado, Boulder). (2011). Rocky Mountain survey of pikas. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BwYKQLxq1kGociety (2017). Retrieved from https://www.gociety.com/
  • Körner, C. (2004). Mountain Biodiversity, Its Causes and Function. Ambio, 11-17. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.miamioh.edu/stable/25094582
  • Life Zone image (2014). Topic 12: Life Zones. Retrieved from http://faculty.fortlewis.edu/dott_c/bio%20250-swecol/Lecture%20Topics%20-%20Learning%20Goals%20&%20HW/12-LifeZones.htm
  • National Park Service. 2016. Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/index.htm
  • Palomino, M., Taylor, T., Göker, A., Isaacs, J., & Warber, S. (2016). The Online Dissemination of Nature-Health Concepts: Lessons from Sentiment Analysis of Social Media Relating to "Nature-Deficit Disorder". International Journal Of Environmental Research And Public Health, 13(1), doi:10.3390/ijerph13010142
  • Roach, G. (2017). Colorado’s Summits – 13,000 to 13,999 feet. Retrieved from http://www.climb.mountains.com/Project_Island_files/CO_13ers.shtml
  • Shanahan, D. )., Fuller, R. )., Bush, R. )., Lin, B. )., & Gaston, K. ). (2015). The health benefits of urban nature: How much do we need?. Bioscience, 65(5), 476-485. doi:10.1093/biosci/biv032
  • Schwab, F. (2011). Voices: Log off and get outside again. Earth, 56(1), 2p.
  • Trails.com (2017). Colorado Hiking – Colorado Hikes. Retrieved from https://www.trails.com/colorado/hiking
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife (2017). Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. Retrieved from https://www.fws.gov/refuge/rocky_mountain_arsenal/
  • Vigil, T. (2017). DU students create ride-sharing app for like-minded adventurers. Retrieved from http://kdvr.com/2017/01/25/du-students-create-ride-sharing-app-for-like-minded-adventurers/
  • Zipcar (2017). Retrieved from http://www.zipcar.com/denver

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