Outdoors Full of Educational Enrichment, Classroom Camping
is a lot of Nevada history that Las Vegas students read about
in their text books amidst the setting of a classroom. The time
of pioneers, miners, and those who lived off this land are often
very difficult for students to envision through everyday instructional
materials. A common family outing can make the pages of a textbook
turn into a hands on experience that will last a lifetime; camping
in Central Nevada.
My original intent was a weekend out of town by taking advantage
of the states birthday and sacrificing a school absence
for my children. Along the way and throughout the trip, we encountered
things unexplainable in the classroom. Our route took us up the
eastern side of the state on U.S. Highway 93. The road skirts
the edge of the Upper and Lower Pahranagat National Wildlife Refuge.
The Upper held plenty of water for ducks, hawks, and one golden
eagle that soared over the road in front of us. Many students
who have never seen an eagle, or may have only seen one perched
in a confined zoo cage would have been awed to see that spectacle.
It soared in open flight with wings cupping the air currents as
its golden head spied ahead, zoning in on the destination or prey.
As it went over us, its wing tips spanned to show the light colored
inner wing and black tipped feathers. No Internet imagery, zoo
caged specimen, or textbook photo would suffice.
As the highway took to the east, we passed through Caliente. It
was a town almost suspended in time. Oaks covered in the yellowing
leaves of fall, lined the main thoroughfare, and small front-porched,
tiny-fenced, unique homes were set near the road like residents
themselves that had been born and raised there. Though the historic,
1923 train depot may not be a hot spot of activity today, it is
a quaint icon nestled among the high cliffs that surround the
town. There may not be a shelf full of novels set in Caliente,
Nevada; but, seeing a long time resident just setting foot down
his front porch in the foggy morning with a hot cup of coffee
sure shows home town in more than words.
Just after we finished our conversation marveling at the coziness
of Caliente, Cathedral Gorge State Park caught our attention.
This gorge is the result of a lake drying up and slowly exposing
the sediment layers. Walking through the canyons leaves the visitor
feeling like he or she has visited either a miniature Grand Canyon
or a fantastic land where tiny mythological beings dwell in the
cliff alcoves. Here my student children observed the visible lines
where water rested and wind wore away sediment. They felt the
crumbled sand in their hands, listened to the air passing through
the canyon, and heard their voices echo like they never could
in a school foyer.
Excitement grew high as we neared our destination. When reaching
Pioche, we stopped at the first official looking building to inquire
about fishing licenses; the Lincoln County Court House. It was
a small, two-story, thick white structure. Inside I was met by
a wooden sign on a stand, not a bailiff or security guard, indicating
to be quiet as court was in session. Immediately to my left, I
found the one stop counter for the Department of Motor Vehicles,
County Clerk, and Assessor; Tillys on up the main
drag, I was told. Downtown Pioche had a thin, two lane road
that wandered through the main street. The stores that lined it
were of the old fashioned sort with large paned windows and an
alcove for the front doors which were protected with their original
double screen doors.
We put the fishing licenses on hold and headed straight for the
sign reading Lincoln County Museum. The screen door
whined, and the brass door handle opened into an aged, deep set
and high ceiling, retail space. I, my husband, and the attendance
delinquent, roamed the shelves containing a century of Lincoln
county history. I pointed out the tangible card catalog,
how its card system worked, and noted the typewriters nearby that
printed each card. The curator commented later that it was the
very same card catalog that was in her school library as a child.
A small printing press loomed over us in sad retirement. On the
back wall we learned about the twenty plus types and names of
wire ranch fencing. A two person buggy that used to be pulled
by a single horse set full length. My student child who was reading
about a stagecoach driver character was able to see for herself,
outside of the book, how a person traveled so differently than
in a car. The hand brake, seat, and traces for the horse all lay
as they were described in the novel but real and alive there in
Everywhere we turned, more items popped up from literature we
had read and class topics they had studied. One of my children
has been studying minerals for two weeks out of a textbook. The
Lincoln County Museum made real nearly every mineral that ends
with the suffix ite. Behind glass, lining the wall,
floor to ceiling, were hundreds of labeled mineral samples. All
collections were from the county, donated. The children spent
fifteen minutes mesmerized by the fluorescent minerals lit by
black light in a special booth. Around the corner we saw the operators
telephone switchboard. We discussed the meaning of the phrase
drop me a line. A functioning rotary phone sat nearby,
and the curator remarked that visitors often thought that was
an artifact too!
Soon, with fishing documentation in hand, we reached our destination;
Horsethief Gulch Campground. We spent two days further educating
ourselves outside of a textbook, novel, and even the museum. The
children collected and felt the furry ends of cattails, explored
a creek, watched mule dear stare at them from just twelve feet
away, saw baby ducks learning to fly, Canadian geese, beetles,
made houses from twigs, smelled fresh rain, watched fog lift,
saw fish swim beneath the water, pondered upon abandoned Old West
buildings, and spent good ole fashioned time with family.
Not once did any say they were bored, wish for electronic toys,
or even mention that one of our travel days was Halloween. In
fact, they longed to live in these simple conditions permanently.
Often families think of how wonderful it would be to take their
family to see our countrys greats; Yellowstone, Gettysburg,
Boston Harbor, and all places of historical events. Truly, they
would be fantastic. In the meantime, Nevada can also provide meaningful
history and experiences. Get out of town sometime, take U.S. Highway
93 north. Study our states history in the outdoor classroom.
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