I’ve heard people say “Technology is disconnecting our youth from nature”.
I thought about this as I set off to go camping with my nephew at Kanaskat State Park at the top of the Green River Gorge. At eleven years old Adam had just gotten a new iPhone. His first. Obviously he was excited and entranced by this new device. He spent his time in the back seat texting his friends while we drove out to camp.
I hoped that I wouldn’t regret the change in our relationship. Before the phone there was conversation, and sometimes, awkward silences. Now those silences were filled with iPhone distractions and maybe, less opportunity for conversation?
Being a techno geek I can understand being connected to my device. I’m lost without my iPhone, my digital camera, and my computer. When I’m not working or on an adventure I’m glued to my computer processing media and posting to Facebook and my blog. I love the range of uses for my devices and I’m happy to post to Instagram and Facebook on a adventure if I have cell connection.
So while I understand the need to get kids to disconnect I decided that on this trip I would teach my nephew how to connect with nature using his iPhone.
After a day of adventure we settled into camp. We set our iPhone alarms for 5am to get up early and go in search of river otters. The alarm went off as the sun was rising. We dragged ourselves out of our sleeping bags. As we left camp I decided to see how far we would hike. I opened my GPS Kit app and started tracking our route as we hiked down to the river.
Adam asked “Do you think we’ll see any otters?” I said “We might see an otter or we might find their prints in the mud near the shoreline.”
He asked me what otter tracks look like. I pulled out my iPhone and opened my animal tracks app, iTrack Wildlife . I scrolled down the list of animal tracks. “Here, these are otter tracks” I said and showed him what they looked like on the app. He exclaimed “I’m going to find some!”
We continued down the trail to the river and then turned, following the trail through the forest that paralleled the shoreline. As we hiked we detoured down short side trails to river’s edge.
At one stop we decided to boulder hop along the river to the next trail. Adam slipped on a rock fell into the water. He immediately yelled “My phone!” Luckily, the only part of his pants that were still dry was the pocket that had his new phone in it. I added the phone to my camera dry bag.
We decided hiking along boulders in the river wasn’t such a good idea. So we changed course and went back up to the trail. At the next trail down to the river we met a woman fly fishing from a boulder. Her quiet spot interrupted by our arrival. I said to Adam that morning was a great time to find fishermen as well as otters. In the morning the fish are more active and so are the fishermen and fisherwomen.
Adam asked what type of fish are in the river. I told him salmon, bass, and trout. I pulled up the King County Fish Identification Gallery that had photos of the different kind of salmon that return to the Green River Gorge every year. I described how salmon come back from the ocean and swim all the way up stream to their homes where they were born. Then they spawn and die becoming part of the food chain in the forest that feeds the animals, birds, and forest.
At our next spot I pulled out my tripod and camera for some morning photos. The light was muted by cloud cover as the sun was rising but that made the colors of the river, the cliffs, and the forest more intense.
While I was focused on my task, Adam looked around the small rocky beach and boulders for signs of otters. He came back and pointed across the river at a pile of wood woven together. The current from a side stream had pushed branches and trees off the to the side as it entered the river. “Do you think an otter lives there?” asked Adam. I said “Possibly. They like to live in dens in the wood. They can also travel a half mile up a small side creek to find a home".
We continued downstream to where the trail met the shoreline. At low water the shoreline extends as a sandstone shelf that drops off into a deep green pool. To our left a giant rock pushes up 15 feet above the river and slants back towards the steep forested hillside and large rocks that form tunnels and a cave.
We looked for otter tracks as we came into a clearing of dirt before a small beach. We found some raccoon tracks and identified the tracks by searching through pictures of tracks in the app on my phone. Then we looked into the cave and around the rocks looking for otter sign. We used the flashlight on our iPhones to illuminate the dark corners, hoping to see an otter den or maybe some otter poop. No otters but we did find a way up to the top of the tall rock so that we could look down on the river.
At the top we could see up and down the river. A perfect spot for photos. I set up my tripod. Downstream, across the river from us, was another fisherman standing on a large log with his line in the river. Upstream the sky was growing lighter as the sun rose in the cloudy sky. Looking down we could see the deep emerald green pool along the water carved sandstone shelf.
I asked Adam to take out his phone and pointed out that he could take photos with me. He laid down on the rock at the edge and focused his phone towards the fisherman and the river. He took photos with his phone while I shot photos with my camera. I asked if he would send them to me when and I told him I would post them in this blog.
Adam's iPhone photos below.
We took photos all the while surveying the shoreline and water for those elusive otters.
More photos of our adventure.
The iPhone or other smart phones can be a great way to learn more about the natural environment while exploring your parks. Here are some apps and links that I’ve found fun and useful.
The camera on your smart phone:
- Instagram — www.instagram.com
- iTracks — http://www.naturetracking.com/itrack-wildlife/
- GPS Kit — http://gpskit.garafa.com/GPSKit/GPS_Kit_for_iPhone_%26_iPad.html
- 25+ Wildlife and Nature Apps — http://blog.nwf.org/2011/08/the-best-wildlife-and-nature-iphone-and-android-apps/
For web based online resources while you roam:
- King County Fish Identification Gallery — http://www.kingcounty.gov/environment/animals-and-plants/salmon-and-trout/salmon-watchers/gallery.aspx
- Washington State Parks Foundation — Take a Virtual tour of Kanaskat and other Washington State Parks — http://wspf.org/your-parks/virtual-tours/kanaskat-palmer-state-park/