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Supplement to the Family Go Guide

Tuning In

These activities encourage us to tune into our natural surroundings by sharpening the senses of sight, hearing, touch, and smell and to practice being a quiet observer. They can take place anywhere along the trail, but work best if you can find a quiet place away from other people. The only equipment needed are a pencil, piece of paper or index card for one of the activities.

Focus In: Take time to study one small area

Find something you want to examine closely such as an animal burrow, animal tracks, a tree branch, cactus spines, a flower, or an insect. Sit, kneel, or lie on the ground. Take five minutes to carefully look at the area you are examining. How many things do you observe? Tune out everything else around you.

Peripheral Vision: Noticing things outside of our direct line of vision

Learn to develop peripheral vision so you notice things even though you are not looking directly at them. Animals do this well. Stare at a spot on the horizon such as a mountain peak, but be aware of any movement you see to the sides. Momentarily look at what caught your attention (branch moving, bird or insect flying, etc.) then focus back at the mountain.

You can use peripheral vision while walking, too, and learn to notice sights along the trail without looking at your feet. Often we stare at our feet and the ground ahead of us while we walk, and miss seeing other things. Walk down a trail, but do not look at your feet. Look ahead or to the side of the trail. By using peripheral vision, you can be aware of what is on the trail just beyond you - a rock, a bend in the trail, or an overhanging branch. This takes a little practice, but soon you will find you can safely walk and look around you at the same time.

Hear with Coyote Ears: Magnifying the sounds you hear.

Have you ever watched your dog or perhaps a wild animal such as a deer, coyote, or rabbit as they listen for sounds? The outer ears are large and they rotate towards the direction of sound.

Practice listening as if you are a wild animal. Standing very still, cup your hands behind your ears and notice the magnification of sound. The sounds of bird calls, buzzing insects around flowers, or wind in the trees are much louder. Listen with and without cupping your ears and you will notice quite a difference.

Walk Like a Bobcat: Learning to walk softly.

Animals walk quietly. It is one way to avoid predators, or to be a predator - hunting prey without the prey hearing. We humans are usually not quiet walkers. We clomp along making noise, raising dust, and moving branches.

Practice walking as an animal would walk if it doesn't want to be noticed. That means very, very slowly and very, very quietly. Rotate your foot slowly from heel to toe or, rather than using your whole foot, walk only on your toes, and walk so slowly that there is no sound.

Nature's Music: Recording the sounds you hear.

You will need a pencil and a small piece of paper or an index card for each person.

Find a spot away from everyone else. Sit on the ground and listen to the sounds around you. Make marks on the paper that illustrate the sounds you hear. Children make up their own marks - whatever they think would be the best representation for the sound. Wavy lines for the rustling of wind in leaves, dashes for the staccato call of a cactus wren are a few examples.

At the end of the listening time, share the sounds by showing the markings on the paper. Your family will remember the sounds from these marks for a long time. You may wish to save the cards in your album where you can look at them months later and recall the desert sounds.

I Am a Camera: Looking at our surroundings in different ways.

Some cameras have different lenses for different perspectives depending upon how the photographer wants to compose a scene. This may be a wide view showing the entire vast scene, or maybe a closer view of only a few objects, or maybe a very close look at a tiny part of the scene that we wouldn't ordinarily notice. By pretending to be cameras we can practice looking at the world in different ways.

Wide angle lens - look straight ahead, hold your arms to your sides at eye level. Slowly bring your arms forward and stop when you see both thumbs. That's your widest angle lens. Using this "lens" let your eyes take in the scene, constantly moving only your eyes. Do not focus on any one thing, just get a general impression of the scene.

Telephoto lens - make a telephoto lens by making a tube with both hands by curving your fingers and placing one hand in front of the other. Hold the tube to your eye. Find a small piece of the scene before you and concentrate on that. What do you see now?

Macro lens - hold up one hand, fingers curved into a tube. Walk up to a plant and look at a small object up close.

Touching Nature: Discovering different textures in nature.

Touch the plants, rocks, and soil around us and feel the different textures. The sense of touch will also help you learn about the things you see. You may use your fingers, but use other parts too, such as the back of your hand, cheek, and nose.

Find contrasting touches such as:
rough - smooth cool - warm prickly - fuzzy
slimy - dry spongy - solid soft - hard

Make a texture collection. Collect examples of different textures and fasten them to a board, or arrange them in egg cartons. Caution: Collect only items that are not spiny or otherwise dangerous, take care not to remove anything that would damage an animal's home or destroy a plant, and collect only where it is legal to do so.

Nosing Around: Smelling desert aromas

Smell is also an important part of your sensory explorations. The creosote bush is the plant that comes to mind first because it gives off the distinct odor we associate with desert rain, but many other plants give off aromas as well. These techniques will help you smell the desert.

You will discover that some plants treat you with delightful odors, while others may be pungent or have no odor at all.

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