Rio Grande Nature Center: Lessons from Nature

by Dr. Denise R. Ames

Old Cottonwood at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park

One of my favorite places to visit in Albuquerque, New Mexico, my hometown, is the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park. Comfortably nestled alongside the Rio Grande that slices its way through the center of the city, the park is a 38-acre urban wildlife preserve established in 1982. About two-thirds of the grounds of the Park are set aside as habitat for wildlife.

I remember when it first opened in 1982. My mother moved to Albuquerque in 1979 and during frequent visits to see her my family would always take in the park and explore its labyrinth of footpaths. My young kids at the time would love to see the scurrying lizards dart about in the wooded understory or skip rocks into the mild-mannered Rio Grande. Now my three grandchildren during their visits, love to scamper through the park picking up leaves, cones, and weird looking seeds to take to school for a “show and tell” about their magical experience in the woods.  

The remaining acreage of Rio Grande Nature Center State Park contains a visitors’ center, two gardens, several wildlife viewing areas, an education building, and a building housing the non-profit Wildlife Rescue Center. A shaded area provides an ideal place to picnic after a long morning hike; thus, prolonging the calming ambience enjoyed with nature a little bit longer.

A view of the Sandia Mountains from a pond at the Rio Grande Nature Center

My favorite wildlife viewing areas at the park are four constructed ponds which provide habitat for birds and other wildlife. The wetlands mimic the natural historical flood plain of the Rio Grande that has endured for centuries. It takes one’s breath away gazing out over one of the ponds near the visitors center, teaming with a variety of birds and turtles while taking in the beauty of the Sandia Mountains standing statuesque in the background framed against a azure-blue sky.

Bald eagle in a cottonwood at the Nature Park

The park is home to many species of flora and fauna, in particular showcasing the magnificent Rio Grande Cottonwood. Dwarfing park goers, these sentries of the woods whisper to us through fluttering leaves that nature is not just here but everywhere. Birdwatchers are in heaven as they can scout out over 300 species of birds. I have been lucky enough to observe coyote, owls, beaver, porcupine, turtles, eagles, and many other wild species. But I am not so lucky to smell the pungent odor of the occasional skunk passing through.

Nature Center volunteers are happily engaged in several different projects: restoration and gardening for wildlife, monitoring for aquatic insect and bird species, monthly water quality monitoring, and educational work about the bosque ecosystem.

I never tire of expressing my gratitude that I am able to enjoy a slice of the natural world smack in the middle of my hurried hometown. It is a perfect place to slow down, enjoy the silence, and reflect upon the rich bounty and timeless lessons that nature has to share with us. Listening to nature’s lessons is the hard part for us as humans, since we think of ourselves as separate from nature and beyond its enduring lessons. But at least, strolling through the Nature Center on a crisp morning is a gentle reminder to me that humans may have a big brain but there is still very much for us to learn. And nature is the very best teacher. 

About the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Denise R. Ames’ varied life experiences—teaching, scholarly research, personal experiences, extensive travels, and thoughtful reflections—have contributed to her balanced views and global perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded Center for Global Awareness, an educational non-profit that develops globally-focused books and educational resources for educators and students grade 9-university. She has written eight books, plus numerous blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, teaching units.

Along with CGA’s Gather program, Global Awareness Through Engaged Reflection, a study and conversation program for self-organizing groups of lifelong learners and, Global Awareness for Educators, Dr. Ames is developing a new program: Turn, Transformation, Understanding, & Reflection Network. Turn encourages life-long learners to see with new eyes, learn from the past, understand others, and recognize the relationship of all things. She teaches workshops/classes and writes about Turn’s five topics: learning from the past, cross-cultural awareness, five worldviews, elder wisdom, and transformative travel.

Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released!

Divided, Dr. Ames’ latest book,addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books 

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