What we Learned on Our Vacation to New Mexico Part II: Alpacas, and Gila Trout

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A few weeks ago, More Love Mama and I decided that we couldn’t take the Houston Heat any longer. We made hasty plans for a get away to the mountains of New Mexico for some cool relief.

The mountains are really far from here, therefore we planned on two stops along the way. Our first stop was Lake Mineral Wells State Park, where we had an uncomfortable encounter with Daphnia Magna. You can read about it here.

After our interesting, yet somewhat disappointing experience at Lake Mineral Wells State Park, we moved on to grandma and grandpa’s house in Clovis, New Mexico. We spent two days there having a blast with them before moving on to higher elevation.

We settled in to our space at Penderies R.V. Park about 10 miles south of Mora, N.M. Our objective was to stay cool and have lots of fun. What we didn’t expect were the abundance of opportunities for my kids to learn.

One of the main philosophies of Worry Free Homeschooling is never pass up an opportunity to turn an experience into a lesson. Over the next few days we experienced and learned more than we could have imagined.

Victory Alpaca Ranch

On day two (our first full day in the mountains) we visited Victory Alpaca Ranch. We didn’t know what to expect, but we thought it would be fun to see alpacas up close. It turned out to be a very interesting experience. After a very informative 30 minute lecture, the kids got to feed and pet the alpacas, who were very friendly. In the end we learned some pretty cool stuff about alpacas.

Did you know:

  • Alpacas (and llamas) are related to camels.
  • Even though they look similar, alpacas are significantly smaller than llamas.
Apparently JoJo is the alpaca whisperer. He is great with animals.
  • Alpacas spit just like llamas and without provocation. Just ask me.
  • Alpacas don’t have top teeth. I guess God figured they didn’t need them.
  • Because they are about the size of a long legged sheep, alpacas are vulnerable to predators like coyotes. Alpaca ranchers employ Great Pyrenees dogs to protect the herds. These dogs are very loyal to and protective of the alpacas and they will kill any predator who dares come too close to the herd.
This is Rosie. She is a Great Pyrenees. According to the ranch hand, she is an utter failure at protecting the alpacas, because she would rather hang out at the ranch house and get some love from kids like my daughter, Louise. I get you Rosie. I get you.
  • Ranchers also insert a llama or two into the herd. Llamas are much larger and meaner than alpacas, and they can kill most alpaca predators.
  • Alpacas only give birth between sunrise and three hours before sunset. This allows the baby alpaca to be fully ambulatory before dark. Alpacas can stop labor and put it off until the next day. Crazy, I know!
  • Mama alpacas go away from the herd to give birth, but don’t worry. The mother alpacas are guarded by Great Pyrenees dogs who never leave the mother’s side during child birth. When the baby can walk, she and mama will rejoin the herd.
  • A herd of alpacas will use the bathroom in one designated spot. Kind of like a giant litter box.

Enjoy this short video about the Victory Ranch.

Sadly, Victory Alpaca Ranch is for sale. It is not known for certain whether a new buyer will want to continue raising the alpacas. I hope so! The ranch is beautiful and my kids loved learning about alpacas. I’m sure your’s would, too. I encourage you to visit the ranch before it’s too late.

Visiting a Fish Hatchery

I guess you could call day two “biology day” because after we left the alpaca ranch, we had lunch and then visited the Mora National Fish Hatchery and Technology Education Center. The fish hatchery is just two miles north of the alpaca farm, so the two stops made for a fun and full day of activities.

We met up with our guide, a senior biology student from Highlands University, located in nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico. He gave us a very thorough tour explaining to us that the sole mission of the Mora Hatchery is to bring back the Gila Trout from the brink of extinction. Watch the video below.

I had no expectations of what we might learn at the fish hatchery. I figured we would see tanks of little fish and that’s about it. Of course I was wrong.

The hatchery was built as a high tech state of the art research station by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Everything is automated and guided by a specialized computer program developed specifically for this hatchery. The hatchery itself is enormous with only four highly skilled, full time employees running the entire operation. The amount of equipment in the building was astounding and my kids were encouraged to wander around soaking it all up.

Budding Research Scientist

We learned that the reason that our guide was at the hatchery in the first place is because he was conducting an experiment that would determine the exact amount of food the fish need to grow without waste. As you can imagine, feeding hundreds of thousands of fish can get expensive. Hopefully, the results of his experiment will both earn him a degree, as well as, save the taxpayers a tidy sum on fish food.

Our guide showing my kids the growth stages of Gila Trout from egg to fingerling.

Gila Trout

Of course, the fish were the main attraction and my kids got to see plenty of them, from eggs to 14 inch adults, and everything in between. They learned that raising this many fish is a very long and complex process. But why Gila Trout? Here are a few facts that my kids learned about Gila Trout and why the Mora National Fish Hatchery And Technology Education Center. is important to the survival of the species:

  • Gila Trout as a species are closely related to brown and rainbow trout.
  • They derive their name from their primary habitat within the Gila Wilderness.
  • My kids learned that Gila Trout became it’s own species after the streams where they are located became isolated from the rest of the streams in the area, and their progenitor species, which may have included both brown and rainbow trout.
  • A huge forest fire in the Gila National Park in 2012 threatened to decimate the entire species of Gila Trout. During the fire, the US Forest Service used helicopters and rangers on horseback to catch as many Gila Trout as possible. They sent them to the hatchery and immediately began harvesting eggs and raising them for release back into their natural habitat.
  • The hatchery performs genetic testing on their brood stock to ensure genetic diversity.
  • It takes four years for Gila Trout to reach maturity.

So Much Information

The amount of new information my kids received that day was easily as much or more than they might learn in a week of school. Here is just a partial list of terms and subjects they learned:

  • Climate and Native Habitat – the specific requirements for particular species to thrive in a particular environment.
  • Predators and Prey
  • Species and how they emerge.
  • Endangered and Threatened species and how they become that way.
  • Adaptive behaviors that increase animal survivability.
  • Genetic Diversity and it’s importance to the survival of a species.
  • Scientific Method and much more!

Obviously, I will need to continue to unpack and expand on the information my kids received during our first full day in the mountains of New Mexico, but the sheer volume of what they learned in just one day was impressive. Even more satisfying to me was the fact that we learned by experiencing and doing. The kids still have no idea just how much they learned that day. I think it’ll just have to remain our secret.

Brian Wood

Daddy go To Timeout


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