Virtual Field Trip: Electricity!

Learn how electricity is produced, where our electricity comes from in Los Alamos, and explore electricity by making an electromagnet yourself in this virtual field trip from the Pajarito Environmental Education Center and Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities.

Click the links below to take our electricity field trip!

1) Watch this video and take notes using our Guided Notes worksheet.

2) Hands-on Activity: Build an Electromagnet

3) Outdoor Activity: Animal Survival in Winter

Share your experience with us! Email us at to share your pictures and stories from this virtual field trip.

If you’re a teacher, contact to schedule a virtual visit to build electromagnets.

Getting Your Home Ready for Winter

Get a free energy efficiency kit from the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities to get started saving energy at home! Email to arrange a pick up time.
This Halloween, PEEC and the Department of Public Utilities want to remind you to weatherize your home so you don’t lose your head over high energy bills! (Graphic by Rachel Landman)

By Elizabeth Watts

With the cold weather finally arriving this week, and with us all at home much more than usual, it’s time to think about ways to conserve energy this winter. PEEC is teaming up with the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities to bring you some tips on how to winterize your home so you can be comfortable while also saving energy and money. The Department of Public Utilities has free energy efficiency kits available to help save energy. If you are interested in getting one of these, email Elizabeth at to arrange a time to pick one up!

Winterization projects are usually quick fixes you can make to your home. Weatherization is bigger projects such as replacing your windows or improving the insulation in your home. These can make a big difference, but also take more time and money. The Department of Energy has a helpful list of things you can do in a day, in a week, in a month, and in a year.

For more tips on winterizing your home, watch this video from PEEC and the Department of Public Utilities.



A quick and easy place to start is at your thermostat. The recommended temperature for during the day is 68 degrees F. If this is a little chillier than your household is used to, start by reducing the temperature one degree from your normal. Give everyone a couple of weeks to adjust, and then reduce it another degree. If you have kids who complain about being cold, have them put on a hat or run around outside! 

A big difference you can make is by turning down the set temperature on your thermostat 7-10 degrees at night. This can save you up to 10% on your energy bills. If you have a programmable thermostat it is easy to set it to turn the furnace down automatically an hour before bedtime, and to come up again 30 minutes before you get up. If you leave your home for work or school, you can also program the thermostat to turn the furnace down when you leave and up before you get home. If you don’t have a programmable thermostat, you can still adjust the temperature manually. You just need to remember to do it! 

You might also consider upgrading to a smart thermostat. These adjust the temperature automatically to your schedule and preferences. Some of them come with sensors to tell when a room is occupied or what the temperature is in another room. This can be helpful if you have a room that is warmer or chillier than the one with the thermostat in it. Some of them also connect with your phone and turn on the furnace when you are driving home! There are many different models of smart thermostats, so be sure to check out your options before investing in one.

Windows and Doors

Rope caulk is a great way to seal small leaks around windows and comes in the energy efficiency kits.

Next, check your windows and doors. One very simple thing to do is open your window coverings when the sun is shining on your windows to take advantage of passive solar heating. Then close them at night to reduce any heat loss through the windows. 

The next step would be to seal any leaks around your windows or doors. If there is air coming in around the edges of the windows where the glass meets the frame, you want to seal them. The DPU energy efficiency kits have a roll of rope caulk that you can use to seal small leaks, or you can use regular caulk and a caulking gun. Just make sure the place you are sealing is clean and dry before applying the caulk.

If you have a leak where the window frame slides, you need to replace the weatherstripping. There are many different types of weatherstripping available so look carefully at what is already there so you can replace it with a similar type. Doors also have weatherstripping around them. Look around your door when the sun is shining directly on it and see if any sunlight is shining through. If it is, then you need to fix the weatherstripping. If you need to replace the weatherstripping, check out our local hardware stores before ordering online. They have a great variety of weatherstripping, and great people to give you advice!


You can insulate light switches and outlets on outdoor walls with these easy to install foam gaskets.

Another place cold air can leak into your home is through the outlets or light switches on any outside walls. The energy efficiency kits include foam gaskets that are easy to install with just a screwdriver. Also check any places where pipes come through the wall from the outside and insulate around these with the rope caulk or with expanding foam.



If you have an attic, you also want to check the attic access to make sure that warm air is not escaping through it. You can use weatherstripping around the edges, or you can buy a cover that goes inside your attic over the access point.


Furnaces and Fireplaces

Another important item to check is your furnace. Whether you have a forced-air system, or a hot water heat system, you want to maintain it so that it works efficiently. If you have a furnace filter, you should change it regularly. How often depends on several factors such as pets in the house, if any household member has allergies or asthma, the type of filter you use, and how many people are in the home. In the energy efficiency kits, there is a filter whistle that you can install on your filter. When the air flow drops, it will make noise to let you know it is time to change the filter. 

If you have radiators, make sure to keep them vacuumed and clean. You can bleed any extra air out of the radiator to make it work more efficiently. If you have a fireplace or wood burning stove, make sure it is clean and working properly. Keep the damper closed when you are not using the fireplace to reduce heat loss as well. Here are more tips to keep your wood-heating appliance working efficiently. 

Check smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors and put in fresh batteries and make sure the detectors are not expired. Carbon monoxide detectors only last 5-7 years and smoke detectors 10 years.

Light Bulbs

LED bulbs use less energy and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. If you’re replacing light bulbs inside or outside, look for LED bulbs to save energy!

If you need to replace any light bulbs around your home, look for LED bulbs. Although they cost a little more than incandescent bulbs, they last much longer, and use less energy. There is even one included in the energy efficiency kit! If you’ve been unhappy with LED bulbs in the past, be sure to check the color range on the box. The LED bulbs available now come in different ranges, so you can pick a warmer tone or a cooler tone depending on your preference.



Outside your home, make sure any irrigation systems are readied for winter. This can make restarting them in the spring much less of a hassle! Disconnect and drain any hoses. If you have any outside lights that need to be replaced, again try to use LED bulbs to save energy. You can also now buy outdoor LED light bulbs that include a sensor. As well as saving energy, these help with light pollution at night by only turning on when needed. 

There are solar powered outdoor lights that also turn on and off with sensors. These are great because you can put them in places where you don’t already have existing outlets. There are even a wide variety of holiday solar lights available now! Here is a video of our entry in the Holiday Light Parade last year that was decorated with lots of solar-powered lights!

PEEC and the DPU created this solar sleigh for last year’s Holiday Light Parade. It was decorated entirely with solar-powered lights!

We hope this gives you some ideas of ways to prepare for winter and save energy this year! For more ideas on how to make big changes to your insulation check out this information from the Department of Public Utilities. There is also a Conserve and Reduce page at the DPU site.

Finally if you are looking for Halloween inspiration, check out these pumpkin carving templates from the Energy Department!

Make some energy-themed pumpkins using these templates from the U.S. Department of Energy!

Week 5, Day 5: Water Infrastructure

Water treatment plants can be good places to go birding! Shorebirds and other rarer birds are attracted to the open water pools and more riparian or marshy areas that often develop around them. This Yellow-breasted Chat, a bird that usually likes riparian areas, was seen at the White Rock Waste Water Treatment Plant. (Photo by Bob Walker)

You use water every day, but have you thought much about where it comes from? Learn about where our water comes from, where it goes, and how it gets there, in today’s activities.

This week’s Take It Outside activities are brought to you in partnership with the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities (DPU), as part of our virtual water festival.

Look for our Droplet Dude to indicate virtual water festival activities. All are welcome to take part, and we especially welcome fourth graders!

Today is the last day of water week. We’d love to hear what you thought of this week’s virtual water festival! Please provide your feedback here. We hope you’ll join us for next week’s Take It Outside program, where we’ll be focusing on the Earth and sustainability in celebration of Earth Day and PEEC’s 20th anniversary.

Blog Post:

Learn about how Los Alamos gets its water in today’s blog post, which features a video from the DPU’s Clay Moseley. Check it out here!

Craft & Virtual Water Festival:

After learning about where our water comes from in the blog post, explore how groundwater is stored in nature by building a model of an aquifer. You can even try your hand at pumping water out of it! Check out today’s activity here.

Then, to wrap up our Virtual Water Festival, think up creative ways to conserve water at home or in our community! You can draw a picture, or write a paragraph, or build a model, or anything else you can think of. Send your creations to We may feature your work on our webpage. If you send your work from an adult’s email, we will contact that email to arrange to send you a prize from the DPU!

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Go on a scavenger hunt today to look for water infrastructure around your neighborhood. How many of the following can you find on your walk?

  • Water tank
  • Pump station or well
  • Utilities truck
  • Water meter
  • Stormwater drain
  • Sewer manhole cover
  • Sewer line
  • Wastewater treatment plant

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

In Los Alamos County, all of our drinking water comes from groundwater. Because it’s in the ground, it’s hard to see, but you can still find signs of the groundwater system around you. Look for:

  • Damp soil where water has infiltrated.
  • Running water in canyon bottoms. Water seeps into the ground below creeks.
  • Rivers and ponds. Rivers are connected to groundwater through their beds.
  • Cracks in bedrock. Water can seep through these cracks on its way to the aquifer.
  • Snow. Melting snow is the largest contributor to aquifer recharge in Northern New Mexico.
  • Gravel beds. Especially in the Española Valley, gravel rock formations store our water.
  • Springs. Where groundwater seeps out of the ground, you get a spring.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about water in your surroundings! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Thanks for joining us for this week’s virtual water festival! Join us next week to celebrate Earth Day and PEEC’s 20th birthday!

How Los Alamos Gets Its Water

By Elizabeth Watts

In Los Alamos county, we get our household water from an aquifer. But what is an aquifer? An aquifer is groundwater that is in the spaces in between rocks. If you have ever visited a beach, and dug a hole down to where it starts filling with water, you reached groundwater. 

Here in Los Alamos, we can’t just dig a small hole. The aquifer that supplies our water is 600 to 1,200 feet below the ground! You can see a diagram of our region below in this 2005 graphic from LANL.

Getting the water up here in the mountains from the aquifer takes a lot of energy. To do this, we need to use mechanical pumps. Watch this video to see a couple of examples of mechanical pumps from an engineer at the Department of Public Utilities.

Did that look hard? Do you want to try to pump all 10,000 gallons of water (per minute!) yourself? No! No matter how much food you eat for breakfast, you would not have enough energy to get even a little bit of water up from the aquifer.

The Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities uses electric and natural gas-powered pumps to pump up groundwater for the County’s residents. It can cost up to $750,000 a year just for the electricity to pump our water! So, when you save water, you’re also saving electricity. 

Scroll through these pictures below to see what one of the pumping stations looks like:

We hope that seeing where the water you use everyday comes from helps you to understand the importance of conserving water. We cannot pump an unlimited amount from the aquifer. The DPU has programs such as the W-8 rule during the summer to help limit our usage. Planting native plants in your gardens can also reduce the amount of water you use. 

Are there some simple ways you can think of to reduce your water usage? Send them to us at and we may feature your ideas on our website.

Week 5, Day 4: Water-wise Gardening

A Nature Playtime participant helps install a modified olla that will provide water over time directly to plant roots. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Residential water users in the United States use about 30% of their water outdoors, on their lawns and gardens. Today, learn about ways to conserve water in your garden.

This week’s Take It Outside activities are brought to you in partnership with the Los Alamos County Department of Public Utilities (DPU), as part of our virtual water festival.

Look for our Droplet Dude to indicate virtual water festival activities. All are welcome to take part, and we especially welcome fourth graders!

Blog Post:

Denise Matthews, PEEC’s Play-based Education Specialist, shares some information on the water-wise garden that is coming to the nature center, thanks to Boy Scout Ignatius Kuropatwinski. Read today’s blog post here.

Virtual Water Festival: Make a Rain Gauge

One way to conserve water is to keep track of how much precipitation you get. Make a simple rain gauge to put in your garden or yard. Then, when we (hopefully!) get rain, you can check the gauge to see if you still need to water your plants with your irrigation, or if you can skip it. 

Starting May 1, the Water Rule W-8 goes into effect in Los Alamos. This rule asks Los Alamos residents to conserve water by:

  • Watering outside before 10 AM or after 5 PM
  • Irrigating on Sun-Wed-Fri for odd-numbered addresses
  • Irrigating on Tues-Thurs-Sat for even-numbered addresses

If you enjoy tracking precipitation using your rain gauge, check out the CoCoRaHS community science project that has observers all over the world.

Craft & Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

A waffle garden is a traditional garden design method practiced by the Zuni people. This method, where plots of soil about a foot square are surrounded by raised berms, helps trap water where it’s needed for plants.

Form soil into one or more waffle squares in your yard! Try pouring water into the grid and see what happens to it. You could even start seeds inside and plant them after our last frost in May.

Pictured here is a waffle garden at Ts’uyya Farm in Albuquerque.

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

A microclimate is the climate of a small area, especially one that is different from its surrounding climate. You can take advantage of the microclimates created in your yard when gardening. 

Go outside and look for microclimates in your yard or favorite outdoor space! 


  • What parts of your yard get the most and least sun? Place plants, like greens, that like it cool in shadier areas. Plant crops that prefer the heat, like tomatoes, in sunnier spots.
  • Does your yard have natural windbreaks like fences, brick walls, or your home itself? Planning your garden with this in mind can help protect your plants from New Mexico’s intense winds.
  • Are there places where water pools in your yard? You may want to take advantage of water flowing, but pooling water can negatively impact plants if they don’t have proper drainage.
  • What are you planning to plant? Can you use the shade from plants that grow tall, like corn or tomatoes, to provide some protection for lower growing crops?

In addition to the microclimates that your yard and garden create, you can create artificial microclimates by using row cover to provide shade or warmth to your plants.

This microclimate evaluation from the University of California may be useful when looking at your own space.

Other Resources:

Share Your Experience:

Tell us about water in your surroundings! We’d love to see your photos, too. Please send them to or share them on Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #peectakeitoutside.

Join us tomorrow to learn more about water infrastructure in our area.

Water-wise Garden Coming to the Nature Center

In Denise’s first year growing on her current property, she created two Hügelkultur beds and grew prolific tomatoes, basil, carrots, and zucchini. (Photo courtesy of Denise Matthews)

By Denise Matthews

An underground web of life lives hidden away in the soil of every healthy garden. This community of micro and macro-organisms works together to release nutrients for plant growth. The worms, insects, bacteria, protozoa, and fungi living in your soil thrive best in cool, moist conditions, but maintaining these conditions in the arid Southwest has always been a central challenge in gardening and agriculture.

In New Mexico, traditional practices for making the most of our limited water supply include:

  • Choosing crops, such as corn, that are tolerant of the sun
  • Planting crops that grow well together and create microclimates that benefit their companions, like in Three Sisters gardens
  • Planting in areas that receive more water flow than surrounding areas
  • Slowing down run-off with dams and other structures
  • Shading the soil with the plants themselves or with rock mulches
Some initial drawings for the new water-wise beds coming to the nature center. (Drawings by Ignatius Kuropatwinski)

At the Los Alamos Nature Center, we are working with a Los Alamos High School student, Ignatius Kuropatwinski, who is working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, to build a new water-wise education garden that demonstrates a mix of water-conserving methods you can try in your own home garden.

Ignatius says, “I wanted to combine my Eagle Project with a special award called the William T. Hornaday Badge. The William T. Hornaday Badge asks that you complete five wildlife protection merit badges, then plan, lead, and carry out a significant project in natural resource conservation. Fewer than 1,100 people have earned this badge. I spoke with PEEC and settled upon building three garden beds with a drip water irrigation system that also doubled as a learning opportunity for young children.”

The native soil in New Mexico is often low in organic matter and can be improved by adding compost and soil amendments for vigorous plant growth. Filling a raised bed with commercial topsoil is a short-term solution that will quickly dry out, lose nutrients, and require heavy amendment. The nature center’s new education garden will take advantage of a layered soil system, called Hügelkultur, to build long-term soil structure.

To get her Hügelkultur beds started, Denise added branches and logs to contained area. She put wire fabric underneath to keep out gophers. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

Hügelkultur, a German word meaning “Hill Culture”, builds healthy soil by creating a mound with layers of branches, manure, leaf litter, straw, and topsoil. Hügelkultur beds decompose over several years, releasing nutrients for plant growth. This minimizes the amount of fertilizer needed and reduces excess nutrients that can leach into groundwater. The branches act as wicks that absorb water, then distribute and release it during drought conditions. 

The garden will be maintained by our weekly Nature Playtime class, where children will be able to plant vegetables and pollinator-attracting flowers, play, and learn about water-saving strategies. The children will experiment with both traditional and modern watering methods including ollas, waffle gardens, and drip irrigation. Inconsistent watering creates stressful conditions for both plants and soil life, so a combination of watering practices will be useful for our once-a-week program. Drip irrigation provides scheduled, low-volume watering and greatly reduces the amount of evaporation and run-off that occurs when watering with a sprinkler or a hose.

Denise added straw, grass clippings, leaf litter, manure, and compost to her beds at home. Soak with water and then add topsoil to the surface. (Photo by Denise Matthews)

After planting, a nice layer of mulch added on top traps precious water in the soil. Free garden mulch from the Los Alamos Eco-Station or straw are good options for mulch. Finally, in order to discourage grazing wildlife from the nearby canyon, Ignatius’s garden design includes cages that can be flipped off to allow access for gardeners.

The combination of thoughtful soil structure, water-wise irrigation, and mulch are one way of making the most of New Mexico’s dry growing conditions. We are excited to see this new education garden completed this summer. Many thanks to Ignatius for all his hard work in planning.

The nature center currently has three other plant demonstration gardens maintained by volunteers, including drought-tolerant, native plant, and pollinator gardens, all of which employ various strategies to conserve water. You can find a list of plants represented in these gardens here