Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Precott's Highlands Center of Natural History

     One of the great benefits of living in the far north Valley is just how quickly one can drive from the heat of the Sonoran Desert and be hiking among the refreshing smell of a ponderosa pine forest while mountain breezes “sing” through their evergreen needles.  And when you have a pine forest destination like the Highlands Center for Natural History near Lynx Lake in Prescott, the quick 70-minute drive north is well worth the effort.
    Visitors to the Highlands Center are greeted by an 80-acre natural preserve with 3-miles of hiking trails all found within the boundaries of the Prescott National Forest.  The Center’s goal is to provide a place where “children and adults discover the wonders of nature and become wise caretakers of the land.”  This discovery and connection with nature “is fostered by the Center through outdoor science education based on observation and discovery of the Central Arizona Highlands.”
    The outdoor classrooms without walls found here allow visitors to discover deeply shaded riparian habitats, woodland and chaparral hillsides all under the canopy of tall ponderosa pines.  All types of common forest critters can be seen along the trails or in the forests of oak, juniper and pine trees. 
    For lovers of geology, the half-mile Stretch-Pebble Loop Trail leads visitors to one of the best examples of a stretch-pebble conglomerate formation found anywhere in the world.  To see the small pebbles of red jasper and milky quartz imbedded in the conglomerate and stretched into rod-like shapes some 1.75 million years ago makes every rock-hound heart leap with excitement of discovery.  
    The jewel of the Highlands Center is the James Environmental Learning Center. Opened in 2007 this is Prescott’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified building and the first LEED-Gold Award building in Yavapai County.  Home to educational classrooms and administrative offices, the 4,250 square foot building is completely off-grid and its unique inverted roof collects rainwater for the center’s irrigation use. 
    The Highlands Center for Natural History is a non-profit, membership funded organization.  The fabulous hiking trails are open to the public year round.  Environmental classes and programs for both students and adults are offered weekly; check out the Center’s website for details.   Docent led hikes are offered each Wednesday and Saturday mornings. The trails are wide, well maintained and several are handicapped accessible.   Dogs on their leashes are welcome too!
    This is the perfect time of year to get out and become familiar with all the wonderful family-friendly offerings of the Highlands Center for Natural History in nearby Prescott.  Fall programs, like the September 11th & 12th Nature Festival and the “Take A Hike” challenge of the Prescott National Forest all begin happening during the cooler, soon to be arriving fall season.  

James Environmental Learning Center

Wide, easy to walk trails

Site of the greatest collection of Stretch-Pebbles

Red jasper as a Stretch-Pebble

Some red jasper and milky quartz Stretch-Pebble

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