Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Get out of town! Or not.

Are you looking for an interesting day trip to enjoy with your student? For students with very little English, a museum visit or historical site outing may not have much meaning since so much the experience is explained through language (docents, placards, audio guides).

Many of the refugees we work with don't have access to transportation and know very little about the area beyond what they see in their own neighborhoods or on the bus. Colorado is a beautiful state and most newcomers are eager to see it! Consider a day trip that shows off some of what makes this state so special.

Pack a picnic lunch and your camera, and don't forget car seats or boosters if the kids are coming along for the ride. It's always a good idea to bring a jacket when you head into the mountains, no matter what the weather is doing in Denver.

Mount Evans

Matt Inden/Miles via Colorado.com
Located in Clear Creek County, Mount Evans is the closest fourteener to Denver and also boasts the highest paved road in the country. The mountain tops out at 14, 265 feet. Mount Evans is about 50 miles from Denver by way of Idaho Springs.The fee for parking and using the facilities is $10 per car (up to 12 passengers).

Although there are no picnic tables on the Mount Evans road, there are some beautiful places to stop along the way. Click here for a list. While you're on Mount Evans, don't miss the M. Walter Pesman wildflower trail at Mount Goliath. The trail is maintained by Denver Botanic Gardens. Click here for information about guided wildflower hikes through August 4, 2012. If you still have time, visit Echo Lake Park on your way down the mountain. Note: On Saturday, July 21, Mount Evans road will be closed until 2:00 p.m. for a bicycle race.

Rocky Mountain National Park

The road to Rocky can be very crowded on summer weekends, so leave early--or schedule a weekday trip. The park is about a 90-minute drive from Denver. The entry fee to the park is $20 per car and your pass is good for one week.The park is huge and offers many excellent hiking and picnic spots. Stop at one of the ranger stations for advice on where to find the easier trails.

This summer there is major construction on Bear Lake Rd., the main thoroughfare to popular Bear Lake and handicap-accessible Sprague Lake. Shuttle buses are mandatory on part of that route, unless you get through before 9:00 a.m. or after 4:00 p.m. For details on the construction and closures, click here. As an alternative, consider visiting different parts of RMNP that don't require use of Bear Lake Road. Most visitors to the park enter through the Beaver Meadows entrance, but you can also enter the park south of Estes Park at Lily Lake, or on the west side at Grand Lake. There is a lot to do and see at RMNP. Click here and check out the menu on the left side of the page.

Garden of the Gods

Garden of the Gods and Pikes Peak/ Sharon McCreary 2010
Located in Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pikes Peak, Garden of the Gods is a unique and beautiful sandstone fantasy. Many trails are paved and most are easy to navigate (no hiking skills required). The views are breathtaking.

Start your day at the visitor center, pick up a map, and then head over to the park. Plan to picnic in the park since there is no place to consume your own food at the visitor center (although it does sport a nice cafe, if you're willing to buy lunch). The park is open daily until 8:00 p.m. in summer and admission is free. The visitor center is located at 1805 N. 30th (at Gateway Rd.) in Colorado Springs. Click here for directions. The park is open from 8-8 daily in the summer.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge

A bit closer to home is the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge (RMANWR). The refuge is located just a bit northeast of Denver, yet it provides some of the finest wildlife viewing around. At more than 15,000 acres in size, this national wildlife refuge is one of the largest in the United States. Bring your binoculars and watch for birds, raptors, deer, bison, and any of the more than 300 species of wildlife in the refuge. The refuge is a peaceful place to walk and enjoy nature, but there are educational programs available, as well. Stop by the visitor center for interactive exhibits. Be aware that guided activities within the refuge are free but require a reservation.

The RMANWR is located at 6550 Gateway Rd. in Commerce city. Entrance to the refuge is free. The refuge is open seven days a week from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., except for federal holidays. The visitor center (closed Mondays) is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily. For more information and to get a copy of the latest newsletter, click here to visit the RMANWR website.

A Taste of Colorado

For nearly 30 years, the "Festival of Mountain and Plain" has capped off Denver summers. This free, four-day event takes place every year during Labor Day weekend in Civic Center Park at Colfax and Broadway, downtown. The event includes arts and crafts vendors, educational displays, a KidsZone, great people watching, lots of music, free concerts, and a lot of food!

You won't be able to bring in a picnic lunch, so budget for food or eat before you go. Parking can be tricky, but there are many pay lots around the festival, including the Justice Center Garage (where Emily Griffith employees park) on Delaware St., between 13th and 14th Avenues. Plan to spend a fun day! For more information about this year's event and the entertainment schedule, visit the event website.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Raindrops keep fallin' on my head!

The monsoon season has arrived in Denver! It's the time of year when a long stretch of dry, dusty days are suddenly punctuated by daily downpours. This weather pattern lasts for much of the month of July.

Many of our refugee students are familiar with similar seasonal rains, but not how they translate to an urban environment. Each year, a number of Americans are injured or drown in urban flash floods. Now is a good time to explain to your student the basic physics of storm drains and the suction power they can generate.

This morning, an extremely heavy rainstorm poured a deluge of water on downtown Denver. Traffic was snarled and, because the storm drains in the streets were overwhelmed by the sheer volume of water, many streets flooded. The photo taken above was taken this morning during that storm. It's Welton Street just off of Colfax, between the Convention Center and Emily Griffith Technical College. The water was about thigh-high on an average-sized adult (as gauged by watching a woman wade across 12th St.).

The water was gone within 90 minutes. That's millions of gallons of water being sucked into storm drains very quickly. What many of the refugees don't understand is how strong that suction really is. It's important to let your students know how to manage urban flash floods:
  • If your student drives, the general rule of thumb is not to drive into water deeper than six inches
  • Do not wade into the water to cross the street. If you can't see your feet, go another way. If the water is more than shin-deep, it's dangerous and can easily cause a fall.
  • Do not walk near or through the water rushing into storm drains at the curb.
  • Keep children close. Do not allow children to play in the water or near storm drains. Some of the larger drains--in culverts, for example--can easily suck in a child (or adult) very quickly. There are many instances of Coloradans who have died this way!
  • Tread carefully. The mix of debris, oils, and plastic swept up in the water can make for slippery conditions. If you have to walk through it, rinse off your skin once you're inside.
  •  Remove shoes and give them time to dry thoroughly before wearing them again.
Monsoon storms can come up very quickly and it's easy to underestimate how much water is moving off of the streets. Several years ago, I was caught in a downpour while riding my bike home from work. I was on the Cherry Creek bike path downtown. Within a matter of minutes, the creek started rising rapidly. Soon after, I couldn't see if the bike's wheels were on the path or headed into the creek. There was no place for me to exit for several blocks so I just kept riding as fast as I could. I was unexpectedly pounded by a jet of water that nearly knocked me off of my bike. The path is below street level, and serves as a drainage point for the runoff. This water is channeled into large, circular holes in the walls along the path, and the pressure is immense. I was looking down as I was riding, so I never saw the blast of water coming out the wall that was about to hit me (and it's filthy). I was fortunate not to have fallen and been swept into the creek's current.

When I got home from that ride, I turned on the TV news to see that five people had to be rescued from the path only thirty minutes after I had ridden through. Some of those people were hanging from tree branches and others were clinging to the iron bridge supports that hold up the overpasses. The usually docile Cherry Creek was nearly ten feet deep and the current was raging! The really surprising thing was just how fast that happened.

On a related note, Colorado has the second-highest incidence of lightning in the U.S. (Florida is number one). According to the Colorado Office of Emergency Management (COEM), lightning has killed or injured more people in Colorado than any other thunderstorm hazard. Make sure your students know that when lightning is present, they must seek shelter. Describe what is and is not considered safe shelter. This is particularly important if you know your student has a field trip planned to open space or the mountains, where most lightning-caused deaths occur. For a safety checklist, click here for information. Remember, when thunder roars, go indoors! Additional information from NOAA regarding Colorado lightning safety can be found here.

 Stay safe, stay dry, and be smart!