When the moon hits your eye

Lunar glow offers opportunity to see nature in a different light

Allison Smith, left, leads a group on a full-moon hike sponsored by Durango Nature Studies on Tuesday evening at Animas City Mountain. From left are Anisa Nakai, Craig and Alison Williams and their son, Tristan, 1, and Alan Stucky. Enlarge photo

STEVE LEWIS/Durango Herald

Allison Smith, left, leads a group on a full-moon hike sponsored by Durango Nature Studies on Tuesday evening at Animas City Mountain. From left are Anisa Nakai, Craig and Alison Williams and their son, Tristan, 1, and Alan Stucky.

ANIMAS CITY MOUNTAIN

The full-moon hikes sponsored by Durango Nature Studies are as much about terrestrial features as they are about celestial bodies.

Participants in an outing Wednesday led by Allison Smith, a program assistant, learned about the natural history of the area as they worked their way up switchbacks on this north Durango mountain.

It was the last full-moon hike of the year because the area soon will be closed to provide a winter sanctuary for elk and deer. The area will be open again to the public in the spring.

Three no-shows resulted in a group of two paying customers and a pair of Durango Nature Studies volunteers.

“It’s great for kids to grow up with nature in their backyard,” said Alison Williams who was accompanied by husband, Craig, and their son, Tristan, a 16-month-old with an engaging smile. “It’s nice to be able to use the knowledge of folks who know.”

Last month, the couple took part in the Durango Nature Studies new-moon hike at the organization’s 140-acre center near Bondad. The new-moon hikes, new this year, focus on nocturnal critters and astronomy.

The volunteers Wednesday were Alan Stucky and Anisa Narai, both students at Fort Lewis College. He is a senior majoring in environmental studies. She is a junior who has switched from pre-med to adventure education.

Smith stopped frequently to discuss natural history as the hikers climbed through stands of piñon and junipers to reach ponderosa pine country. Among the points she made:

The leaves of the scrub oak are changing color as the flow of nutrients between tree and leaves ceases, revealing the pigments that were present all the time but obscured by green chlorophyll. As an aside, Smith said the leaves of the scrub oak can be chewed to apply as a poultice to scrapes or cuts.

It wouldn’t be rare to find male tarantulas on the trail looking for a mate. The female stays hidden until she springs from ambush. None was sighted.

Utah juniper and Rocky Mountain juniper have male and female berries while other junipers don’t.

A scrub oak branch had excreted a substance to envelop the egg of a mite or stingless wasp. The protective gall at the same time was providing the egg a secure home to transform itself into a larva and later a new insect.

Jays, which propagate the reforestation of piñon trees by burying thousands of seeds, compete with humans for the seeds, which are high in calories and contain 20 amino acids.

Indigenous people use the root of the ponderosa pine for textile dyes and the pitch from the tree to treat rheumatism.

As the hikers broke into a clearing, the full moon appeared to the north over Missionary Ridge.

This month’s lunar show is called the hunter’s moon, so designated because it corresponds to the period when people put away meat for the winter, Smith said. Last month was the harvest moon for corresponding reasons.

The ascent ended at a point overlooking the Animas Valley. There, Smith talked about the phases of the moon, galaxies, planets, equinoxes and solstices. She also shared beliefs and legends about the moon from other cultures.

Full-moon hikes are held at a variety of venues, including Andrews Lake, Falls Creek and the old Fort Lewis College campus in Hesperus. Durango Nature Studies will host snowshoe hikes in the winter and resume its regular moonlight hikes in the spring.

daler@durangoherald.com

Comments » Read and share your thoughts on this story