Valles Caldera National Preserve is a fascinating place to explore volcanology and geology. Almost every fall, local geologists Fraser and Cathy Goff lead a geology tour of the Valles Caldera for PEEC. We’re lucky to have this gem in Northern New Mexico! (Photo by Eric John Peterson)

This week on Take It Outside, take some time to appreciate the geologic history of our area, learn how rocks are used by living creatures, and maybe start a rock collection!

Summer Nature Challenge:

Participate in our Summer Nature Challenge! Every week, participants who complete the challenge can earn a sticker. If you finish all nine weeks, you’ll earn a bonus sticker! Find our archive containing all of our past Take It Outside activities here.

Download the challenge sheet here to print out and complete at home. At the end of the challenge, you can either bring it to the nature center or mail it to us at 2600 Canyon Rd, Los Alamos, NM 87544.

If you don’t have a printer or prefer to work online, you can tell us about your experiences in the Google Form below or email your stories and pictures to

Blog Post:

Geologists Fraser and Cathy Goff have spent years studying the Valles Caldera volcano. In this week’s blog post, they provide an introduction to how the Valles Caldera formed and why it is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world! Read their blog post here.

The theme for our June photo contest also happens to be the Valles Caldera! If you haven’t already, vote for the winner of this month’s contest here.

Do you want to learn how to participate in our monthly photo contest? Find out more here. We’re accepting submissions for our July contest until Tuesday, June 30. Next month’s theme will be insects! Please send your submissions to

Outdoor Challenges:

Campers in our 2016 Backpacking Adventure for Teens summer camp hold up obsidian that they found while hiking. What shapes, sizes, and colors of rocks can you find this week? (Photo by Beth Cortright)

We’re posting three outdoor challenges today that you can enjoy throughout the week!

Tell us about your experiences with one, two, or all three of them! You can do this in the Google Form below, by writing or drawing about them on our summer challenge sheet, or by sending an email to


Challenge #1:

Collect and categorize rocks. There’s a temptation to jump straight to identifying rocks, but all identification begins with careful observation. Bring home some rocks that catch your attention: maybe they sparkle, or have an interesting shape, or are a little different from the other rocks you’ve seen. Then, sort them by characteristics.

First, look at the rocks:

  • What colors do you see? What shapes?
  • Patterns: Are the rocks striped, or polka dotted, or do they have any other patterns?
  • How heavy does the rock feel when you lift it? Does it have air pockets?
  • What textures can you feel?

Next, see if you can find any crystals in the rocks:

  • How big are the crystals?
  • What different colors do you see?
  • Can you see any shiny faces, or are the crystals rounded or uneven?

Try drawing one of your favorite rocks! Use colors if you can, and add as many details as you can. See if someone else can guess which rock you’ve drawn.


Challenge #2:

Explore soil separation in this challenge. Rocks are the foundation of our soil! Go outside and gather a container of soil. Try to find the following parts, using a magnifying glass if you have one:

  • Pieces of rock of different sizes
  • Sticks, leaves, and other plant matter
  • Insects or worms
  • Air pockets
  • Water (can you feel any dampness?)

Pour a scoop of soil into a transparent container with a lid. Fill the rest of the container with water. Close the lid, and shake the soil thoroughly. Watch what happens as the soil settles. Draw the layers you see.

Challenge #3:

White Rock Canyon is a good place to look for petroglyphs in Los Alamos County! (Photo by Craig Martin)

Discover how rocks and life intersect. Rocks are part of our ecosystem. See if you can find any of the following signs of how rocks interact with living things in our environment:

  • Lizards or snakes sunning themselves on rocks
  • Animal burrows under rocks
  • Signs that squirrels sit on rocks to snack
  • Tree roots growing into rocks
  • Lichens growing on rocks
  • Insects and other creatures in the soil
  • Ant hills covered with sand grains
  • Fish or other aquatic life hiding among rocks
  • Signs of people using rocks (cliff dwellings, petroglyphs, rocks in homes and gardens)

What else can you find? Let us know in the form below!


Want to Learn More?

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about your outdoor experiences! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside. If you’d like this to count for the Summer Nature Challenge, be sure to include your name and email address.

Scroll to Top