Brand New Eyes

Brand New Eyes: Bear Hollow Trail Courtesy & Copyright © Kim Blanchard,
Bear Hollow Trail
Courtesy & © Kim Blanchard,
A Bridgerland Audubon Society Property
At 16 days old, our little girl ventured into the mountains for the first time. In the high country, below a cathedral of jagged limestone peaks, we found a stroller-wide path far enough from the other summer-goers to make us feel as though we’d arrived somewhere new. For our daughter, she had. Brand new eyes that had been closed the entire ride upcanyon were now wide, alert, darting back and forth, marveling at every new color, shade of shadow, and refracted shard of light. They finally settled on a bouquet of blooming rosehips and didn’t stray. We were bearing witness to discovery in its purest form: drinking in the world as it unfolds.

I’ve made a career of working with children in outdoor settings, educating them about the world’s natural wonders, and likewise being educated by each child’s wonderment at them. But it’s different when it’s your own child—when you’re witnessing their first experience with the world you’ve grown familiar with. It’s something more than a reminder to be ever-present. It’s a change of perspective.

Child Brain Scan Courtesy National Institute of Health Image Gallery on Flickr
Child Brain Scan
Courtesy National Institute of Health Image Gallery on Flickr
In the first 90 days of life, a baby’s brain will grow between 60 and 70%, increasing in size as much as 1% per day immediately after birth. Neural pathways begin to form with each new stimulus, and in the natural world, there’s no shortage of those. When an infant is able to recognize patterns in those stimuli, neurons begin firing together, setting their sequences. Familiarity is forming.

The adult brain is no different, in fact. Neuroscience researchers have found that not only will adult neural pathways change their firing patterns in response to new experience but also that they will grow new branches called dendrites that add to the complexity of human experience and a human’s response to stimuli. You could call it neural nuance. We can still grow if we still look for new things it seems.

I sometimes wonder if my adult brain has begun to regress prematurely as I speed walk up a nearby trail, searching for some vista or peak or unclimbed ridgeline. My neural pathways have formed, patterns have been imbedded in the recesses of my mind, so I bypass the familiar stand of aspen trees and rocky outcroppings—perhaps missing something new in them I would have seen if I had stopped to search, to drink in the unfamiliar set in a known world. I’m learning from my daughter. Perhaps we can all learn from children—to see the world with brand new eyes.


Photos: Bear Hollow Trail, Courtesy & © Kim Blanchard,
A Bridgerland Audubon Society Property
          Child Brain Scan-Courtesy NIH Image Gallery on Flickr, The National Institutes of Health (NIH), a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Friend Weller
Text: Josh Boling, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University

Additional Reading

Boling, Josh, Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2019,

Early Brain Development and Health, National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services,

Ohms, Sarah, Sinclair, Jim, Bear Hollow Trail, Logan Canyon Hiking, Bridgerland Audubon Society/Cache Hikers,

Connecting kids to nature, We need to get childhood back outside, The Wilderness Society,

Schmidt, Brynn, Why Kids Need Wilderness And Adventure More Than Ever, The Outbound Collective April 7, 2016,

The Allen & Alice Stokes Nature Center, Home of the Logan Canyon Children’s Forest,

A New Beginning

A New Beginning: Keep Your Social Distance and Keep Wildlife Wild Chart NPS/Matt Turner
Keep Your Social Distance and Keep Wildlife Wild Chart
NPS/Matt Turner

National Parks and Monuments in Utah

State Parks in Utah

Brigham City, UT Parks
Logan UT Parks
Ogden, UT Parks
Orem, UT Parks
Provo, UT Parks
Sandy City, UT Parks
St George, UT Parks
West Jordan, UT Parks
West Valley City, UT Parks

The snow is melting down from the high country; the rivers, creeks, and streams are swollen with runoff and sediment; wildflower blooms are hitting their stride; and schools are officially offline. Summer has arrived ahead of its solstice again. How do we begin to navigate this new beginning in a time of extremely abnormal circumstances?

The hashtag “#StayHome had its moment…[b]ut quarantine fatigue is real,” writes Julia Marcus, professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School. Americans are going to head for the outdoors, now; and in places like Utah, we feel we’ve been isolated from our playgrounds and sacred spaces for far too long. But how do we venture safely into the back of beyond, or, for that matter, the hidden wild spaces of our cities?

Experts at the Cleveland Clinic tell us that “it’s important to remember that the same rules of social distancing that you follow indoors still apply while outdoors.” For the most part, this should be relatively easy to achieve. Personally, I follow the parking rule: if I can’t find a spot to park my car at the trailhead or my blanket at the park at least six feet away from others, I’ll head somewhere else.

The Guardian Newspaper recently surveyed a group of experts on the pros and cons of wearing masks outdoors. The answer was not a blanket “yes” or “no” to the question of outdoor mask-wearing; but there are considerations individuals should make when considering the outdoor space they will be using and whether or not they should wear a mask. First, it’s important to note that viral shedding is more prevalent when taking deeper, harder breaths—as one does climbing a steep switchback or running along a trail. More droplets; more virus, they say. Experts recommend at least doubling the social distance when exercising outdoors and forgoing the trail altogether if you’re feeling ill. Even for those without symptoms, considering a mask is important. Asymptomatic spread is a known possibility, and “the purpose of the mask is more to prevent you from spreading the virus as opposed to keeping you from getting it,” said one expert to The Guardian.

Preliminary studies have shown that if we follow these guidelines when recreating outdoors and use common sense strategies to limit exposure to those outside of our household, we’re at a relatively low risk of contracting the virus. The New York Times reports that “one study of 1,245 coronavirus cases across China found that only two came from outdoors transmission.”

As a backcountry enthusiast, the current pandemic has challenged me to rethink my recreation. I can no longer call up a buddy and set up a car shuttle for a 15-mile ridge walk or a leisurely paddle down the river. I’ve had to find the quiet spaces between neighborhoods while the snow melts and the curve flattens. But, in the process, I’ve been reminded of how to stretch a half-mile of trail into a half-day adventure, of the sounds of nature when man-made noise is absent, and of the care we have for one another’s safety when a family walks single file on the sidewalk past me.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah


Photos: Courtesy NPS/Matt Turner
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: A New Beginning: Josh Boling, 2018

Additional Reading

Coronavirus (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Coronavirus, State of Utah,

McGregor, Nick, Want to Get Outside During COVID-19? Here’s How To Do It Safely, University of Utah Health,

Sullivan, Peter, Evidence mounts that outside is safer when it comes to COVID-19, The Hill (Capitol Hill Publishing Corp., A Subsidiary of News Communications, Inc.), May 6, 2020,

Kaufman, Kenn, As Coronavirus Sows Turmoil and Fear, Seeking Solace in Nature’s Calendar, Audubon Magazine, March 30, 2020,

You, Too, Can Teach Outside!

A few months ago, I shared a piece on this program called “Why I Teach Outside.” In it, I discussed the academic research and my personal anecdotes that reaffirm the education community’s movement toward experiential learning and learning beyond the four walls of a classroom. But it was mostly theoretical—an explanation more of WHY experiential learning in nature works than HOW it can be implemented. Then, my third graders were sent home for the year. And I started getting emails. Parents needed ideas to supplement the online curriculum and to ultimately get their children unplugged on a regular and healthy basis. So, here are a few of my ideas.

There is probably no greater privilege as an educator than to witness the natural and emphatic curiosity of youngsters. Use that to your advantage. You’ll find that it’s rather simple. Let’s start with that most boisterous and emphatically curious age group of all—the lower elementary students: Kindergarten through 2nd grade. Science is the low-hanging curricular fruit for this age group outside, but it’s also rich with wonder—things in the natural world that make kids say “Huh?! What? WHY? HOW?” We call those things phenomena, and you can find them in your backyard. Have your Kindergartner explore the plant life around your home, making observations about the similarities and differences they notice between the various species. Ask guiding questions of them to help them arrive at an explanation for those patterns they find in nature. Help your first grader investigate the various sounds made by natural objects found in your yard or neighborhood. Why, for instance, does a rock make a sharp, high-pitched cracking sound when hit against another rock but creates a dull, low-pitched thud when dropped onto the ground? Second graders can move into more complex explorations of properties of matter. Have your child make a house out of leaves and sticks. Then, have them explain why they used particular materials in specific ways? What is their reasoning?

Upper elementary students in grades 3 through 5 or 6 can begin making connections between the natural world and their own lives. Moving beyond the science curriculum, I sent my third graders on a socially-distanced driving tour of Cache Valley. Without leaving their vehicles, students were able to study their communities and identify necessary natural resources that humans in the area require to survive. Fourth grade social studies curriculum is focused on Utah. Wherever you live, there is an important and noteworthy social artifact nearby that you can explore while also observing conservative social distancing measures. That research I mentioned earlier tells us definitively that even just being outside helps our brains make new connections and create better understandings. Fifth and sixth grade social studies focus in part on the rights and responsibilities of humans. What better time to sit beneath a tree and think and write about those questions of liberty and social responsibility. That journal will become a primary resource for future generations eagerly asking, “What was it like? How did you handle everything?” I for one, have to get out into the bright, green world to be able to handle life quarantined indoors.

We can’t forget socialization, either, which is one of the most important parts of middle and high school. How do we combine the natural world, social networking, and social distancing?! My school’s staff discussed Earth Day activities recently as a way of getting kids and families unplugged and active. Have your older students brainstorm with friends via video conference, text messaging, phone calls, or social media ways in which they can, individually but as a group, promote the welfare and stewardship of our planet. Pick up trash around the neighborhood; plant a garden; write a letter to a legislator. They will find what’s important to them.

These suggestions are not an exhaustive list of course. But, no matter what you end up doing with whichever age group children you have, remember, more important than the academic rigor of your homeschooling is the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of your children. Help them flourish during this difficult time. Unplug the computer. Get them outside.

I’m Josh Boling, and though I’m stuck at home, I’m still Wild About Utah!


Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Additional Reading

Boling, Josh, Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2019,,

Third Grade Nature Activities,, Inc, a division of IXL Learning,

40 Wet and Wild Outdoor Science Projects and Activities,, Shelton, CT,

Imaginary Wanderings

Imaginary Wanderings: The edge of the Great Basin, top of the Bear River Range Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
The edge of the Great Basin, top of the Bear River Range
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
I’ve fancied a certain type of wandering lately—to grab my pack and boots and walk the lines of Utah’s political border—a trail made not of dirt and stone, but of imaginary lines of latitude and longitude. But, as of yet, I haven’t found the time or resources to do so beyond my own imagination and the 3 or 4 minutes I have with you now. Come join me in a stroll around Utah, at least the way I’ve imagined it.

Walking north out of Logan, I’ll wander through the grid-patterned neighborhoods that pepper the flanks of the Bear River Range, the still-snowy peaks that serve as sentinels over my daily commute and the adventure on which I embark now. They serve another, greater purpose, too, though. Without the Bear Rivers, the Rocky Mountains would be otherwise dissected. The snowy peaks I adore and which now pass in slow motion over my right shoulder form the only range of mountains that connect the northern and southern Rockies. Though they only measure about 70 miles in length, they provide a critical ecological thoroughfare from the south end of Cache Valley, Utah, north to Soda Springs, Idaho.

I won’t follow them that far, though. I’ll turn left (west) at the Idaho border toward the Great Basin.

I’m technically already there. We all are if we live along the Wasatch Front. And there are just a few minor ranges—the Clarkston Range, Blue Spring Hills, and the northern fingerling ridges of the Promontory Mountains—to wander across before reaching the Great Basin proper.

My favorite hidden gem of this often-overlooked portion of Utah are the Raft River Mountains. Like the mighty Uintas to the east, the Raft Rivers run East-to-West. So, despite being a stone’s throw from the Great Salt Lake, the tributaries running off their northern flanks drain not into the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake, but north onto the Snake River Plain toward the Columbia River and, eventually, the Pacific Ocean.

The Tri Corners Landmark is a simple granite pillar sticking 3 or 4 feet out of the sand amongst wind-whipped sage brush. It’s easy to miss, but marks some interesting irregularities. Utah’s political border is not, in fact, made up of straight lines. According to cartographer Dave Cook, surveyors who created the state’s initial boundaries hastily covered ground with their crude survey instruments. They were paid by the mile, so they were more interested in finishing quickly than correcting any errors they made along the way.

The border wiggles at least four times by my calculations—one of which comprises two right angles—as it wanders across ridgelines and through the dusty draws of the basin and range mountains toward the Mojave Desert of southwest Utah.

Imaginary Wanderings: The wrinkled topography if the Colorado Plateau Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
The wrinkled topography if the Colorado Plateau
Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
I won’t be there for long, though. The border only runs for roughly 50 miles along the two legs of the right triangle that constitutes Utah’s allotment of the Mojave Desert before it climbs up onto the Colorado plateau. Ed Abbey famously compared the wrinkled topography of Utah, particularly his beloved canyon country of the Colorado Plateau, to the two largest of our states. “Alaska is our biggest, buggiest, boggiest state,” Abbey wrote. “Texas remains our largest unfrozen state. But mountainous Utah, if ironed out flat, would take up more space on a map than either.” Ropes, technical climbing and canyoneering gear, and a fair amount of fortitude would be required here.

The eastern border we share with Colorado is a varied expanse of high desert plateaus, rugged cliffs, out-of-place riparian zones, and a few spectacular snow-capped mountain ranges leading through some of the most beautiful and gloriously desolate places on the planet. The Book Cliffs, Dinosaur National Monument, and the La Sal Mountains come to mind.

A short walk distance-wise would require heaps of route finding across the Green River’s Flaming Gorge and along the northern toes of the Uinta Mountains. Here is perhaps the greatest of Utah’s geologic juxtapositions. Low basins adjacent the Intermountain West’s highest peaks.

Imaginary Wanderings: A view of the high Uintas from their northern foothills Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
A view of the high Uintas from their northern foothills Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
I’ll take my first right turn at the western edge of the Uinta foothills. Here I might skip the formalities of a longitudinal walk—stick my thumb out instead, and make a bee-line for Bear Lake, Logan Canyon, and home: the walks I’ve already known for some time.

Perhaps you’re inspired now to know parts of this walk better yourself.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah!


Imaginary Wanderings:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Audio: Includes audio from
Text: Josh Boling, 2020, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Boling, Josh, Why I Teach Outside, Wild About Utah, November 11, 2019,

Kiffel-Alcheh, Utah, National Geographic Kids,

The Geography of Utah, NSTATE LLC,

Fisher, Albert L, Physical Geography of Utah, History to Go, Utah Division of State History,