July 31, 2009 by Robin Beckett
By Sara Bristol
Enjoying the great outdoors as a family doesn’t always mean loading up the ice chest, marshmallows and tent poles into the SUV and driving for hours in search of a nice, quiet place.
Nature, it turns out, is right here in our backyard.
Just a few miles west of Yakima, the Cowiche Canyon Trail is a great place for little legs to get some trail time. Built on the bed of an abandoned railroad line, the 2.9-mile trail is flat and wide; a sturdy jogging stroller should be able to handle the gravel trail bed. On foot, the walk is definitely more of a stroll than a hike – especially with dawdling preschoolers.
“I think it’s a great place for kids,” says David Hagen, a board member of the Cowiche Canyon Conservancy, the non-profit group that owns and manages the trail. “Being an old railroad bed, the trail is so flat and wide that it’s really safe. It’s a great place for kids to be out in nature.”
In July, six families with young children joined Hagen for a guided tour of the Canyon Trail, which features nine trestle bridges over Cowiche Creek. Our bunch, the most intrepid, made it to bridge No. 6 before stopping for a snack and turning back.
Be sure to use sunscreen, bring plenty of water and plan your walk during the cooler hours of the day. The trail is especially sun-blasted in summer when the sun is high. When the sun is lower on the horizon, the canyon walls may provide some shade.
Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the canyon, recommends Hagen. “Spring has all the flowers, so it’s prettier and it’s green,” he says, adding that the trees’ fall colors are lovely, too, beginning in mid-September.
The canyon’s towering cliffs are mostly Columbia River basalt, a volcanic rock that spewed up from the earth’s surface up to 17 million years ago. Swirly formations along the top of the canyon’s north side are a different type of volcanic rock called andesite.
Want some more rockin’ trivia? This is the longest known flow of andesite in the world. (Hey, I knew you’d like that.)
Along the trail, a lush border of trees and shrubs line Cowiche Creek, but the trail’s overall topography is more representative of our region’s arid shrub-steppe environment. It’s not a desert, Hagen says.
Rather, “steppe” is a word that refers to vast treeless grasslands. In areas such as the Yakima Valley, where the dominant vegetation is shrubs, the term “shrub-steppe” applies.
Plants in Cowiche Canyon include lupine, purple sage, tall buckwheat and the Western White Clematis. On our visit, we spied several small birds and two hawks.
“If you’re lucky, in the spring or fall, when it’s not too cold or too hot, you might see a Yellow-bellied Marmot,” Hagen says, referring to a native ground squirrel that weighs up to 11 pounds. “They live in the rocks and they have a kind of shrill whistle.”
Just for kicks, keep your eyes peeled for coyote. However, Hagen notes, “You’d probably have to be pretty lucky to see a coyote.”
Lizards and toads are more likely. But cautious parents should also be on the lookout for rattlesnakes.
“Usually, if they’re out there, they’re going to be right out on the trail in the sun,” Hagen says. “They hear you coming and slither away. They’re shy and they want to get away from you.”
What to do if you see one?
“Stop,” Hagen says, “and stomp your feet. They respond to vibration.”
Overall, the trail is safe for little explorers, Hagen advises. Just use common sense: It’s OK for kids to pick a sprig or two from the plants, but avoid plucking leaves by the handful.
It’s also OK to let kids climb a bit on the rocks, or toss a few stones in the creek. “Kids like to climb on rocks,” Hagen says.
The hiker’s rule of thumb is to leave things as they were. Pack out your trash and try not to disturb the plants or wildlife.
“It is a nature preserve,” Hagen says. “We have this tension between preserving (the land) and wanting it to be used.
“We want kids to have a hands-on experience. They don’t have to walk down the middle of the trail with their hands in their pockets. We want them to enjoy themselves.”
When they grow up, Hagen hopes, our children will spread the Conservancy’s message to their own children.
From Yakima, drive west on Summitview Avenue to Wiekel Road, about 5 miles west of 72nd Avenue. Turn right onto Wiekel Road, then follow the signs to the parking lot.
July 29, 2009 by Robin Beckett
By Heather Caro
If you’ve ever felt like one child or one family can’t make a difference, rest assured: Little things such as using a reusable shopping bag or taking an apple core out to the compost heap can make an impact on the environment. And, instilling green values in your children now will make them more likely to continue healthier lifestyles into the future. Here are some easy tips to help your children live a little greener.
|Are you a CoolMom?
Yakima mama Elise Cardenas recently founded a local chapter of the Seattle-based CoolMom organization, a group is for moms who are concerned about the impact global warming will have on their children’s future. The Yakima chapter meets at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of the month. For location information, contact Elise at firstname.lastname@example.org or 833-0734. Learn more about the organization at coolmom.org.
MAKE IT A GAME
Even young children can help sort out recyclables and stomp cans. For ease, try placing separate storage bins in the garage. Labels with pictures make recycling a breeze for children not yet reading.
Reuse items around the house for art projects. Toilet paper rolls make excellent finger puppets with just a little creativity. Milk and juice caps can be used in sorting activities. You will be surprised at all of the art supplies you can find just looking through the trash.
Go on a garbage pick-up walk around your neighborhood or a favorite park. Encourage participation with a prize for the most trash collected. Your kids will get a little exercise and the instant gratification of being able to green up a part of their world.
Save the environment and your electric bill by teaching kids to turn off lights when leaving a room or during daylight hours. Unplugging phone chargers and small appliances when not in use and turning off the computer at night make a big impact in energy conservation and are simple habits to pick up when incorporated into your daily routine.
Talk about how our world and its resources are easily wasted and then brainstorm ways that your family can help, such as walking to the park instead of driving or taking reusable bags to the grocery store.
Focus on awareness. Tell your kids why it’s important to turn off the water when brushing teeth instead of simply telling them to do it. Try simplified terms for our youngest ecologists such as, “We need to save water to share with the plants and animals.”
Take a field trip to a local landfill to show your kids where “away” is when they throw something in a garbage can. Yakima County offers a variety of recycling services and is an excellent resource for local conservation. Go to yakimarecycles.com for more information.
Better yet, keep unwanted household items out of landfills by simply giving them away. Many thrift stores have drop-off locations around town and some offer free pick up at your home. If that doesn’t appeal to you, try the Yakima chapter at freecycle.org. It’s a nonprofit, free Web site dedicated to recycling items locally.
ENJOY THE EARTH
Take your kids outside! Kids who love the earth will want to do more to protect it. Take pictures, draw pictures, read books and write stories about the world and its beauty. Try environmental classics such as “The Lorax” by Dr. Seuss or “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
Visit a local farmers’ market or plant a garden at home. Help your kids discover that carrots are roots that grow in the ground not just shiny orange bullets from a bag.
Remember, no child is too young or too old to begin going green. You can make a difference by helping your children learn to protect our planet.
Hey all you Mamas (and Papas)!
Do you like to cook? The Herald-Republic is looking for delicious family recipes to publish in the Wednesday Taste section. Now, I know you all like to eat and some of you are pretty handy in the kitchen. So, go on, then… give us the dish on your favorite foods. Doesn’t have to be fancy. Just has to be good.
To download the instruction form, click here.
July 21, 2009 by Robin Beckett
Hey Mom, do you need a quick idea for a summertime treat or after-school snack? Fruit smoothies are easy and fun. Let the kids design their own flavors, or scroll down for a few of our favorite recipes.
3 — The third-best thing about making smoothies is that you don’t need to run to the store: If you’ve got a cup of yogurt, a handful of frozen berries and an overripe banana, you’ve got a smoothie. Or, maybe you open the fridge and find just two gulps of orange juice and the last scoop of vanilla ice cream: Voila! Creamsicle.
2 — The second-best thing about making smoothies is that they’re delicious.
1 — Best of all? You just cleaned out the fridge.
It’s OK to experiment:
- Try using different juices, including vegetable juices.
- Add a handful of carrot or celery slices. Once it’s blended, the kids will never know they’re eating vegetables.
- Add a scoop of peanut butter.
- Substitute milk for juice, or juice for milk.
- 8-ounce servings are too large for young kids. Make popcicles with leftover mix.
1 cup milk, plus more if needed
1 cup frozen or fresh blackberries
2 ice cubes
1 cup yogurt
2 tablespoons sugar
A few drops of vanilla
In a blender, puree the berries with the ice cubes and milk. If you like, strain the mixture into a bowl to remove the seeds. Rinse the blender. Pour the mixture back into the blender. Add the yogurt, sugar and vanilla, blending the mixture until smooth. If it’s too thick, add more milk. Makes three 8-ounce servings; serve immediately.
1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 or 6 ice cubes
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Cover and blend until smooth, about 30 seconds. Three servings; serve immediately.
1 cup vanilla yogurt
3/4 cup chocolate milk
1 banana, cut into chunks and frozen
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine all ingredients in a blender. Cover and blend until smooth. Three servings; serve immediately.