Wetland colors: A scavenger hunt

Photo courtesy Jeanette Pike
The brilliant of a golden currant in the wetlands.

By Josh Pike
Pagosa Wetland Partners

In the late fall, the wetlands along the Riverwalk between the 6th Street walking bridge and the Ross Aragon Community Center are filled with colors. Although less verdant than the shades of spring or summer, the complexity and subtlety of the fall colors reflect the quiet and intricate workings of the wetlands as winter approaches. 

By searching out these colors, you can glimpse the interlocking processes and structures that drive their appearances. The following scavenger hunt gives you a chance to do just that, inviting you and your family to find seven color-related objects and sights in the wetlands, all deeply tied to their ecology. All these things can be found on or near the Riverwalk path and should be visible on most days if you are looking closely.

1. Find two shades of brown and two shades of red in the dead leaves.

Hint: The Riverwalk path is lined with trees and bushes like willows, hawthorns, sumac and cottonwood whose leaves die back in the fall. If you look closely, you might even be able to find all the colors in a single leaf.

2. Find the color white in the wetlands.

Hint: White can be found in several unexpected places in the wetlands. The salt deposits left behind by the geothermal water that feeds the wetlands are often white, as is the fluff of the cattail seeds.

3. Find something iridescent in the wetlands.

Hint: Iridescence is a phenomenon where an object or surface appears to change color as the angle of view or illumination changes. Many animals, including hummingbirds, peacocks and roosters, create this effect through microscopic structures in their plumage which create shifting patterns of interference between various wavelengths of light, thus causing the apparent color to change. In the wetlands, many ducks have iridescent patches on their plumage.

4. Find three colors underneath the water of the wetland ponds.

Hint: There are several excellent places to get a close look at the wetland ponds, including the pond just after the 6th Street bridge and on the trail that leads down to the San Juan River next to Town Hall. When you look under the water, you can find colors in many places, including in the plants dotting the sandy bottom of the ponds, the sand itself and the small fish and vertebrates that traverse the pond.

5. Find the reflection of an animal or plant in the wetland ponds and compare the colors in the reflection to the original object.

Hint: Although reflections closely resemble the original by definition, ripples, disturbances of sediment in the water and light patterns can cause subtle or substantial differences in colors between the reflection and the original object.

6. Find a round and a flat plant stalk, such as from a reed and a cattail. Hold them up to the light and compare how the colors change as the light passes through them.

Hint: Flat and round plant stalks can be found all along the Riverwalk. Each of the structures has its own advantages, with rounder stems providing more stability, while flat stalks allow the plant to absorb more light. Both these characteristics can be clearly seen by how the light does and/or doesn’t penetrate the stalk.

7. Find the color green in the wetlands.

Hint: Although the wetlands are largely brown in the fall, there are small patches of green to be seen. Try looking along the edges of the warm water streams or below the pond surfaces, both places where the plants are somewhat insulated from the cold temperatures, or at the many birds swimming on the ponds.

The colors you can find walking through the wetlands touch upon most of its critical processes and features of the area, from its geothermal waters to its role as a waterfowl sanctuary. As you complete the scavenger hunt, you can even take photos of the colors you find to make a collage or gallery of wetland life and colors. If you enjoy doing this, we at Pagosa Wetland Partners would love to see your photos. Simply send them to pagosawetlands@gmail.com and we will post them to our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/Pagosawetlands) with appropriate credits. We look forward to seeing your discoveries, and happy hunting.