A bee pays a visit to a penstemon palmeri at the Los Alamos Nature Center. (Photo by Larry Deaven)

This week on Take It Outside, visit a community garden in Abiquiú on our blog, and then check out the plants growing in your neighborhood.

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:

In this week’s blog post, PEEC’s Education Programs Director Siobhan Niklasson recounts her recent visit to the Northern Youth Project Garden in Abiquiú. Read her blog post here.

Outdoor Challenges:

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 – Sensory Exploration:

Visit a garden or wild area with plants. Use your senses to explore the plants. Can you find something:

  • Fuzzy
  • Waxy
  • Cool
  • Smooth
  • Red
  • Yellow
  • Buzzing
  • Sweet-smelling
  • Herby-smelling

If you like, choose some of the colors and textures you noticed and use those inspirations to make art!


Challenge #2 – Eat Locally:

Pilar and friends make popsicles from Yerba Buena in this video from Tewa Women United.

Pick up something in season from a farmers’ market, a CSA, or another source for local produce. Or, harvest something for your own garden or forage for berries, fruits, and herbs locally (make sure you know what you are picking before eating anything you find in the wild). 

Here’s an idea for a cool, local treat: In this video from Tewa Women United, watch as Pilar and her nephews make popsicles from Yerba Buena, or spearmint, and lavender from their garden. The video is part of a series called Plant Adventures that explores New Mexico plants and their traditional culinary and medicinal uses.

Let us know what you tasted! Or share your favorite recipe from your garden or from locally-grown, seasonal produce.

Challenge #3 – Plants & the Food Web:

A male Rufous Hummingbird gets ready to visit a flower in White Rock. These hummingbirds have recently started to make their annual stops in Los Alamos County! (Photo by Bob Walker)

In a process called photosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun to combine carbon dioxide and water to make sugar. This process changes some of the sun’s energy into a form that animals and other organisms can use when they eat the plants. Go outside and look for evidence of animals and fungi getting energy from plants:

  • Hummingbirds and insects gathering nectar from flowers
  • Birds eating seeds and fruits
  • Caterpillars, ants, and other invertebrates eating leaves
  • Herbivores, such as deer and rabbits, munching on green plants
  • Decomposers, like worms, roly polies, and fungi, breaking down decaying plants and trees


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.

Celebrating Our Local Environment on the Pajarito Plateau

A view of the vertical mile of diversity on the Pajarito Plateau, from canyon bottom to mountaintop. (Photo by Craig Martin)

By Chick Keller

The eastern part of the Jemez Volcano slopes down to the Rio Grande. The Pajarito Plateau interrupts this slope with its high finger mesas. The area forms a high island in a northern desert. Its elevation spans a vertical mile, from 5,500 feet at the Rio Grande to 10,600 feet atop Caballo Mountain. This range of elevation gives it habitats from the high mountains to the pinyon-juniper woodland below. Within the area, you can also find diverse microhabitats, missing only lakes and marshes. This varied geography is home to a rich flora and fauna.

Colorado blue columbines are found at high elevation in the Jemez Mountains. (Photo by Craig Martin)

The Jemez Mountain Herbarium at the Nature Center houses over 1,000 plant species, which is remarkable because the entire Jemez Mountain area has only about 400 more. From the beautiful multi-colored mariposa lilies and Colorado blue columbines high up, through fairy slipper orchids and scarlet paintbrush at mid elevations, down to yellow-orange stream orchids, deep lavender pine spiderwort, and scarlet Cardinal flower near the Rio Grande, there are breathtaking wildflowers at every turn and in every season. Many represent the northernmost, westernmost, or southernmost parts of their range in the state. White Rock Canyon is especially spectacular, acting as if it were transplanted from south of Albuquerque.

Unfortunately, recent mega-fires have destroyed habitat for some of our most rare and beautiful flowers. Until the fire and subsequent floods of the Las Conchas Fire, a small colony of yellow lady’s slipper (found nowhere else in the Jemez Mountains) graced the trail above Upper Crossing in Frijoles Canyon. Fires also have reduced the spectacular orange wood lily to just a few and wiped out one of the largest, densest colonies of fairy slipper. These species will never rebound here, a sad fact. However, there are surprising exceptions. On the northern-facing slopes of our local canyons the tadpole buttercup grows in profusion, even though it is very rare elsewhere in the state.

Wildlife is equally amazing. There are some four dozen species of mammals including the seldom-seen ring-tailed cat, about ten species of bats, and a few beavers!

Reptiles and amphibians abound also. Patch-nosed snakes, collared lizards, the endangered Jemez Mountain salamander, and Canyon Treefrogs are all notable in my mind. Have you seen the six-foot long whipsnake?

Western Tanagers should start arriving in Los Alamos in late April or early May. These striking birds enjoy eating fruit and suet. (Photo by Bob Walker)

The avifauna of the Pajarito Plateau is equally diverse. According to eBird, 298 species have been recorded in Los Alamos County, and, while some were novelties that were just passing through, we are lucky to call many residents or repeat visitors. Up on Pajarito Mountain, with some luck, you might find the American Three-toed Woodpecker or a Dusky Grouse. A variety of colorful warblers, four hummingbirds, and the striking Western Tanager migrate through the Plateau in the spring and summer. Ducks and shorebirds sometimes stop by Ashley Pond or 6th Street Pond, and can be seen along the Rio Grande in White Rock Canyon during parts of the year. When a rarity stops by, birders are the first to know through the Los Alamos Rare Bird Alert, thanks to our dedicated local birding community.

Sitting on a promontory of White Rock Canyon (in any state east of New Mexico this canyon would be a national park!) in good years, one may admire a field of white sego lilies and pink Wooton’s larkspurs while a raucous flock of Pinyon Jays flies overhead, a Bald Eagle soars higher up, Canyon Wrens sing their laughing melodious song, Blue Grosbeaks forage in nearby trees, and, below on the Rio Grande, Common Goldeneyes fly along the water.

It is a joy to go outside and let the wild things on our Pajarito Plateau, canyons, and mountains enrich our lives.

Week 2, Day 3: Early-Blooming Wildflowers

Black bears should be emerging from their dens soon, with cubs in tow! (Photo by Craig Martin)

In today’s Take It Outside post, we are exploring some of the early-blooming wildflowers of Northern New Mexico.

Upcoming Event:

Join astronomer Galen Gisler on Friday, March 27 at 7 PM for a livestreamed astronomy talk about how people have been able to reach a consensus regarding the Earth’s age. This talk is free to attend, but registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

Chick Keller will also host a virtual talk on Tuesday, April 7 at 7 PM to share some of our spring wildflower blooms on the Pajarito Plateau. This talk should be a great follow-up to today’s Take It Outside post. This program is also free to attend and registration is required. Learn more and sign up here.

Blog Post:

Today on the blog, author and PEEC volunteer Terry Foxx shares some of the flowers to look for on the Pajarito Plateau currently and in the coming weeks. Read her post, which also features some suggestions on easy walks to take in the area, here.


Keep a record of all your discoveries today by making a nature bracelet! To make this very simple bracelet, carefully wrap a ring of duct tape or masking tape, with the sticky side out, around your wrist.

Tape any treasures such as flowers or new spring leaves to your bracelet. When you are finished wearing your bracelet it can be added to your nature journal where you can spend time identifying all the different plant species you collected. Use PEEC’s flower guide to help!

Find additional instructions here.

Outdoor Challenge (Beginner):

Dandelion (Photo by Craig Martin)

Did you know that dandelions were introduced to North America by the 17th century, are edible, and provide an early source of nectar for spring pollinators? Your challenge today is to find a dandelion. Dig up the plant, or just inspect it where it grows, and try to find the following parts:

  • Flower
  • Bud
  • Stem
  • Leaf
  • Root

Notice the shape of the leaves, and that each flower head is made up of hundreds of individual flowers! Can you find any insects using the dandelion? Draw a picture or make a crayon rubbing of parts of your dandelion, and show us what you came up with.

Learn more about the different parts of a flower here.

Outdoor Challenge (Advanced):

Phenology is the study of cyclical and seasonal phenomena, like bird migration or wildflower blooming, and how these are affected by variations in climate from year to year. In his recent blog post, Craig Martin mentions that the wildflower bloom this year is weeks behind where it was last year. Keeping track of these changes is one of the first steps in being able to understand the factors that affect plant and animal life cycles, and predicting how major changes, like global climate change, will affect species and ecosystems.

Check out a favorite natural area today, and see if you can see any flowers in bloom. Identify them using PEEC’s wildflower guide or another field guide. You can even report your findings on iNaturalist; it’s easy to sign up and get started, and your observations will become part of our collective knowledge bank about local species.

Other Resources:

  • Check out PEEC’s Flower Guide for help identifying current blooms. Our Tree Guide and Weed Guide may also be useful!
  • This article from New Mexico Magazine features suggestions for places to go and what to look for — plus, a nice shout out to the penstemon garden at the nature center — when searching for wildflowers across the state.
  • Pick up a copy of one or all of the three volumes of The Plants of the Jemez Mountains by Terry Foxx and Craig Martin when the Los Alamos Nature Center is back open!
  • Check out the New Mexico Wildflowers app (available on Apple and Google Play) for help identifying wildflowers on the go.

Share Your Experience:

Tell us what signs of spring you notice this week! 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 explore pollinators!

Spring Has Sprung

Stork’s Bill can be found in sidewalk cracks or yards. (Photo by Terry Foxx)

By Terry Foxx

Calendars marked March 19, 2020 as the first day of Spring, the earliest date in over 100 years. The beginning of spring is a time of rebirth of the earth, plants growing, warmer temperatures, and blooming flowers. In New Mexico it means more hours of sunshine, higher temperatures, and blustery winds. The rebirth of the landscape changes from the dull brown of winter to a greening and blossoming of the earth.

Nature doesn’t fail us, even in times of disaster. There is always something new and renewing to discover. A tiny flower blooming hardily in the cracks the sidewalk, a shrub bursting with new leaves, or a seed sprouting from the darkness of the earth to the light. Each can lift weary spirits. We particularly need nature’s mysteries today as we experience social distancing. There are lots of “don’ts” right now: don’t shake hands, don’t get closer than 6 feet, stay inside, wash your hands, etc. But there is one “do” that will help your fear, uncertainty, and mood — get outside and discover nature. Now is a wonderful time to start looking for blooming wildflowers.

As I have aged, my back has complained, probably because I have overworked it. So my journey now is with a bright red walker my children labeled “Foxxy Lady.” I can’t hike the narrow trails anymore, but I have discovered that nature’s gifts are along sidewalks, wide trails, and right in my yard. So I am going to tell you about some of the beauty you will find right where you are, not some difficult place to get to.

Wafer Parsnip (Photo by Terry Foxx)

If you wander off to Overlook Park in White Rock, you can walk the trail from Meadow Lane to the Overlook Point. As you walk along, you might find, snuggled among the big sagebrush, Wafer Parsnip (Vesper constancei). It doesn’t have the sunny beauty of a daffodil, but it is an exciting wild spring discovery. The plant is a stemless perennial of dry soil, blooming very early in the spring, with wrinkled basal leaves on celery-like stalks, and purple flowers surrounded by white and purple bracts. Soon other related species will bloom in or before April such as Mountain Parsley (Pseudocymopterus montanus).

Blue Mustard flowers (Photo by Craig Martin)

In cracks in the sidewalk or in protected spots in yards, the cheerful bright yellow Dandelion (Taraxicum officinale) and the purplish Stork’s Bill (Erodium cicutarium), beg to be noticed. The other day, I found an inch-high Blue Mustard (Chorispora tenella) snuggled in the gravel.  It usually is 1.5 feet tall, so it fooled me because it was so short, but the flower was familiar. The blue purple flowers have 4 petals — a characteristic of mustards.

Pasqueflower (Photo by Terry Foxx)

My favorite native wildflower has just been found this spring, Pasqueflower (Anemone patens). This is an early blooming perennial of the pine forests. Most exciting is that the flower appears before the leaves. The flower is large and solitary with bluish or pale lavender sepals supported by a ring of fuzzy leaf-like bracts.

In White Rock, the Easter Daisy is a ground-hugging sunflower-type. It is a showy, cushion-like, stemless native perennial with a dense cluster of narrow leaves and rather large daisy-like flowers that barely rise above the leaves. Look for Easter Daisy (Townsendia exscapa) now, but most likely in April. Other flowers you will see now or very soon in the moist canyons and coniferous forests: Wild Candytuft (Noccaea fendleri), Valerian (Valeriana acutiloba), and violets (Viola spp). They bloom in April and May, if not sooner. 

Kinnikinnick (Photo by Terry Foxx)

Don’t forget to look at the shrubs. Low growing evergreen shrubs like Kinnikinnick or bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) are blooming at higher elevations and have already been spotted. The white and pink urn-shaped flowers are a delight.

Take a walk on the County’s trails and record what you find. If you are curious about what you see, send a picture to PEEC’s Wild Plants interest group. Someone will probably have an answer. Or you can look them up in the three volumes of Plants of the Jemez Mountains by Craig Martin and me. It is chocked full of pictures, drawings, and descriptions. Most of all, get outside, be amazed at the rebirth of the earth in these days of spring, it will relieve your stress and give you hope for the future!

Here are some easy walks even I can do with the walker:

White Rock:

  • Overlook Park from Meadow Lane to Overlook Point.
  • The Rim trail from the end of Kimberly, a spectacular view
  • Canada del Buey Trail that goes down the middle of White Rock

Los Alamos: 

  • The Rim Trail along Los Alamos Canyon
  • The Cemetery Trail
  • Upper Los Alamos Canyon
  • American Springs Trail
  • The Loop at Camp May
  • Upper Crossing Trail (for a ways)

Do you have any favorite trails or walks that can be done with a mobility aid? We’d love to hear about them in the comments.

For avid hikers: 

Take any of the canyon trails along West Jemez Road or trails into the Frijoles Canyon. Check out Craig Martin’s latest blog to post to see what he found along the Blue Dot Trail in White Rock. You will find that plants bloom earlier at the lower elevations.

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week’s flower is fetid goosefoot, and it does give off a fetid odor. However, all odorous faults are forgiven by its stunning fall visual display. Even though it looks like fetid goosefoot is blooming now, this annual plant turns a beautiful magenta when it dies. Often, you can find a stand of 50 to 100 plants under a ponderosa, which light up the area as though a magenta colored mist encircled the tree.

Read more Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller

This week we highlight a flower many of you may know and nearly all New Mexican residents have seen, matchbrush (Gutierrezia sarothrae), also commonly known as snakeweed. It can cover entire fields, a sign of overgrazing. Since matchbrush is not eaten by cattle, it takes advantage of the lack of competing plants in overgrazed areas. You will often find matchbrush growing in lower elevations: toward the end of the mesa tops, in the canyon bottoms, and across grasslands. It does well in full sun and the hotter temperatures found in these areas.

Read more Wildflower of the Week by Chick Keller