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Staff photo by Jason Smith
Bureau of Land Management Park Ranger Art Basulto shows Cameron Elementary School fourth graders a tarantula at the Desert Discovery Center on Thursday. Basulto makes presentations to local elementary schools to teach kids about the environment and deser

Discovery center programs teach kids about environment, desert safety

BARSTOW — Kayla Jaramillo isn’t worried if she drives out into the desert on her motorcycle and becomes lost.

“If you ever get lost in the desert, you should stay where you are so that they can find you,” the 9-year-old said. “And don’t touch the tortoise because it will get sick.”

Jaramillo and other members of Cameron Blake’s fourth grade class at Cameron Elementary School got a lesson in the local environment and desert safety at the Desert Discovery Center on Thursday. Students were introduced to reptiles and insects native to the Mojave Desert and taught about geology.

Blake, said that despite the serious subject matter, students are usually very enthusiastic about learning about nature.

“The kids love it here at the Discovery Center. It’s all hands on. It’s afternoon, and they should be tired, but they’re still pretty fired up,” he said.

Bureau of Land Management park ranger Art Basulto told the class to stay away from off-highway vehicle race courses and to pay attention to the warning signs posted in front of caves and abandoned mine shafts. Basulto said that young children who grow up near the desert need to understand the risks of their environment.

“It’s basically preventative. We don’t want to wait until someone gets lost,” he said.

Basulto, a trained medic, said that six or seven kids are injured every week on BLM lands near Barstow. He said that two or three children become lost in the desert each year and need to be rescued.

“Usually it’s a no communication issue between parents and the kids. The kids just go out into the desert and don’t realize that there are dangerous things out there,” he said.

He told the class about a 14-year-old girl that went off on her own and crashed her motorcycle in the desert near Apple Valley. The girl was lost for several days when Basulto happened to see the reflection from her helmet while on patrol in Barstow. The girl survived the ordeal, but she was badly shaken up, he said.

Basulto said that children need to be aware of their environment even within the city limits.

He explained to the class that because of the development occurring near the Robert A. Sessions Memorial Sportspark, snakes are being driven into the oasis that grassy park offers.

Teri Peralta, sportspark superintendent, said the city saw the potential risk of snake bites to people enjoying the park. Being out in the middle of the desert, poisonous snakes such as Mojave Greens and rattlesnakes are just a part of life, she said.

“We’re sort of a wildlife refuge,” she said. “We want to bring the alertness up — be aware, look out for things.”

No one has been bitten by a snake or other animal at the park, but Peralta said the city is not taking chances. In addition to placing signs that warn people about snakes, city employees have cemented parts of the dugouts at the park, taking away a convenient shade spot for snakes.

Despite their danger, snakes are an important part of the desert environment, Basulto said.

“Don’t mess with the snakes. You know why? Because the snakes eat the rats,” the park ranger said. “Which would you rather have in the desert, snakes or rats?”

“Snakes,” the group of 13 wide-eyed fourth graders replied unanimously.

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