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Fall offers opportunities for Las Vegas-area adults to learn, too

Updated September 11, 2019 - 9:20 pm

Back-to-school lessons shouldn’t be the exclusive enterprise of kids in classrooms. Autumn learning opportunities abound for grown-ups wishing to pick up a new outdoor adventuring skill, glean a greater understanding of Southern Nevada’s backyard or explore natural wonders in the American Southwest.

A good place to launch that learning is at REI in Henderson, a gear hub for camping, climbing, biking and snow sports that also has a classroom tucked in the back of the store. This month, an “Adventuring with Dogs” class persuaded me to make more frequent plans to get my puppy on the path. Most dogs love walks, and they’ll have a better time hiking and camping if careful consideration goes into the effects of terrain, weather and distance on them.

Gina Mathews, the dog talk’s leader and Outdoor School administrator for REI’s Southern Nevada stores, suggested working with dogs’ personalities and idiosyncrasies when deciding what to try.

“If your dog’s not comfortable in the water, you won’t want to take your dog paddling,” Mathews said. “You won’t have fun, and your dog won’t have fun.”

Mathews, whose rescue healer/beagle mix dons a doggie backpack to carry around her own poop bag and water bowl, said it’s best to ease dogs into new routines. Strap on an empty backpack or paw boots and allow your four-legged friend to get used to those awkward wearables while walking around indoors days before a trip to Mount Charleston.

“Bring some treats that they respond to well,” she added.

Product placement is inherently a part of the Outdoor School package, but I’ve never found REI classes to be hourlong infomercials about wares sold by the company. What I have discovered is the inspiration and information needed to finally take a trip to Arches National Park; the bravery to go on my first lengthy moonlit night hike; the lowdown on five types of rattlesnakes found in Southern Nevada; and the wake-up call to get in better shape before ever seriously considering a hike to Havasupai Falls.

Most REI talks are free, while the majority of workshops and outings cost anywhere from $15 to $69 for REI members, who join for a $20 lifetime membership fee. REI’s Outdoor School offers several series of fee-based workshops for those wishing over time to become proficient in such matters as bike repair, wilderness first aid, desert survival and photography.

Free talks are planned this fall for anyone wanting to make the best of their visits to nearby Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. Four years ago, an REI employee shared her planning tips and enthusiasm for Arches National Park. As I listened and watched her slide show, I made a pact with myself to drive seven hours in pursuit of the solid rock version of Delicate Arch, the image on thousands of Utah license plates. I followed through and spent spring break 2017 hiking in the densest collection of sandstone arch formations on the planet.

“Our goal is to inspire and educate,” Mathews said. She added that REI instructors all have a “natural passion for the outdoors,” and each has his or her own set of skills and strengths to share. Some are avid rock climbers, fanatical cyclists, canoe enthusiasts, survivors of the Appalachian Trail or college graduates who studied photography, like Mathews. Guest lecturers, including those brought in by Friends of Nevada Wilderness, are experts on such Nevada topics as endemic Spring Mountains butterflies, the Amargosa River and local rattlesnakes.

Herpetologist Bob McKeever brought with him rattlesnakes in portable, secured terrariums to a summer REI talk titled “So, you’ve met a rattlesnake. Now what?” McKeever is an advocate and admirer of the reptiles. “They’re not the mean, ferocious bad guys that people make them out to be,” he said. Their instinct, he said, is to avoid human encounters. “‘I hope you don’t see me’ is their first reaction,” McKeever explained.

It’s obviously best to keep a distance from rattlesnake sights and warning sounds and to pay attention to surroundings in order to avoid surprising snakes. However, if bitten, McKeever said, calm yourself down and limit physical movement to lower your heart rate as much as possible to slow the circulation of venom. In other words, walking or being carried are better than running to get medical attention. He added that useless and harmful measures include applying tourniquets and attempting to suck out venom. McKeever, who has a half-finger because of a rattlesnake bite, said getting to the hospital as quickly as possible should always be the priority, but most adults have several hours to work with before the situation can become grave. Pain and dramatic swelling are predictably the body’s reactions to the rattlesnake’s venom, he said.

McKeever mixed personal stories about his intentional snake encounters with information about the area’s Mojave, speckled, Great Basin, western diamondback and sidewinder rattlesnakes. Afterward, everyone circled the glass enclosures to get close-up looks at the rattlesnakes.

David Quinlan, marketing coordinator for REI’s Southern Nevada outdoor programs, said the company is forging more partnerships with local recreation and conservation areas. REI recently established a partnership with Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area and secured special use permits, so REI outings and hikes eventually will take place there, he said.

“We are starting to offer a larger variety of outdoor field classes,” Quinlan said. “It makes it a lot easier for people to get out there and explore with the new knowledge they have.”

Quinlan and Mathews are heartened when customers return to tell tales of how their REI classes have translated into better experiences in the great outdoors. One goal is to help customers think about managing their adventures in smart and safe ways, they said.

“I often will see familiar faces, and I really like that,” Mathews added. “It’s exciting to see them in class or in a workshop and then after, when they’ve had time to apply what they’ve learned. It’s exciting to see them build their knowledge base and ready themselves for their own experiences.”

Online registration for Henderson-area REI classes and events is available at https://www.rei.com/events/p/us-nv-henderson. Registration also can be handled at the cash register in the store at The District.

Natalie Burt, a former news reporter at the Review-Journal for 11 years, spends as much of her free time as possible enjoying Southern Nevada’s outdoors. She’s now a teacher and has lived in Henderson for 18 years. Email: nvburt@gmail.com.

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