Thursday, December 27, 2001

Log Book: Key West Florida, USA

Key West Florida, USA - December, 2001
Snow Birds Like to Study Coral in the Winter

One of things homeschoolers can do with ease is to add travel to our school schedules. At the beginning of the year I look at what sort of topics we plan to explore during the school year, and then my student and I plan our field trips.

One of the subjects we have studied, in December and January in the past is coral reefs. Coral reefs in themselves can be fascinating, but think of the possibilities as far as travel goes! We have one of the best reefs in the world to study right here in the United States. The Florida Keys can be studied for one or two days or for an entire week (that depends on the level of snow in your area!) Our agenda included a glass bottom boat ride to view reef life, a dolphin encounter, a sunset and sunrise walk at the shore (there are no beaches, as it is all reef in the Florida keys).

We stayed at a place called Hawks Cay Resort (90 miles (145 km) south of Miami and 60 miles (98 km) north of Key West) on Duck Key. We chose this place because it was situated in the heart of the keys. It also offered the glass bottom boat rides and the dolphin encounter. It is also near the Florida Dolphin Research Center .

Hawks Cay offered a glass bottom boat ride out to view the reef. Before we went we determined what animals we might see on the reef at that time of year. Before we set out on the boat ride we made a check list of the animals and checked them off as we viewed them in their natural habitat.

The Dolphin Encounter at Hawks Cay helped us to learn about the Florida Keys’ sensitive Eco-system and marine life in an up-close encounter with Atlantic bottlenose dolphins. There were three programs we chose from, one activity was an actual swim with the dolphins, but that was too scary for my student! We chose the dockside encounter where we got to meet the dolphins and interact with them.

Our sunset adventure(s) at the shore proved to be more interesting than our sunrise walks. At sunset we saw many crabs, jellyfish, pelicans and other creatures doing what they do on the reef at sunset. We drew pictures, took notes and photographs.

We also stopped at the The Dolphin Research Center (DRC). The Dolphin Research Center, is a not-for-profit education and research facility, home to a family of Atlantic bottle nose dolphins and California sea lions. They are located on Grassy Key. This facility was also very interesting.

The Heart Of The Florida Keys was an educational and good escape in the winter. When we returned home, we wrote a report did some more study on the things we saw and we grew our own coral!

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Log Book: Utah, USA

Vernal, Utah - October 2001
(Fossils - Utah Style)

We took our first field trip this year to Vernal, Utah to visit Dinosaur National Monument’s Dinosaur Quarry and Dinosaur National Monument. The Dinosaur Quarry is very interesting. It houses a formation that looks like a wave of fossils. The museum exhibits at the quarry are informative as well regarding the formation of fossils. In the museum shop there is a Junior Ranger program booklet that you can obtain to use as a workbook as you explore the two parks spread over Utah and Colorado. If your student completes the booklet and can answer a few questions that the ranger asks, your student can earn a certificate, a Junior Ranger pin and a very cool Junior Ranger patch. The workbook is far better than the text book we planned to use for our fossil studies. It covers topics like dinosaurs, natural communities, ecosystems, fossils, dinosaur ecology, food chains, webs of life, petroglyphs, arrowheads, settler cabins, wildlife. Our student used the workbook over the two days to be our tour guide, to complete the learning activities and to earn the patch. He interviewed with a Park Ranger who asked him a series of questions and discussed with him the items he was unclear on. The personal interview with the Ranger was the best part of the trip!

As a second part of the trip we stopped in Vernal at the Dinosaur museum where we picked up a guide called “Wildlife Through the Ages - Flaming Gorge-Uintas National Scenic Byway”. You use this guide when you drive US191 from Vernal to Flaming Gorge as a geological and ecosystem guide. The byway is marked with signs along the way that tell you what geological formation you have arrived at. Once you get to the sign, you can read about the ecosystems, the kind of ancient life that once lived there, the plants and animals that currently live in that ecosystem. As part of this drive, we were fortunate to get to see the kokanee salmon spawning in one of the many creeks along the Sheep Creek National Geological Area loop. It was an amazing site to see all of these beautiful red fish struggling to get upstream! It was a good field trip!
Last fall we studied fossils and I wrote of our trip to Dinosaur National Park as a field trip for our homeschool. The other field trip we took when we studied fossils was to U-Dig Fossils west of Delta, Utah.

U-DIG Fossils is a private quarry west of Delta, Utah, that contains one of the world's richest deposits of trilobites. What is a trilobite? A trilobites is form of invertebrate marine life that lived more than 500 million years ago, but are now extinct. These hard-shelled prehistoric critters roamed the sea floor and coral reefs in search of food.

We found at 30 trilobites if not more. The fossils are found in a limestone shale. This shale splits easily into flat sheets, revealing the trilobites fossils. Fossilized trilobites lay nearly flat along the splitting planes of the shale.

U-DIG Fossils can provide a hammer or you can bring your own.. They will provide you with a bucket for collecting, but you will need to bring you own container(big) to transport your treasures home. U-DIG Fossils recommends a pair of gloves to protect your hands. Consider wearing sturdy shoes to protect your feet from dust and sharp rock. You will need to provide your own eye protection.