A recent teacher’s conference, which included lots of travel, made me realize how fortunate we are to call Alabama home.

I was one of the 20 teachers chosen for the recent Mountains to the Gulf Conference. We started at Camp McDowell in Nauvoo (North Alabama), traveled north to study the Continental Divide near the Tennessee River, and then headed south toward Dauphin Island. We stopped at key sites along the way and studied Alabama’s geology, waterways, and flora and fauna. These included Fort Payne, where we studied the area’s geology, collected fossils, and explored Little River Canyon. We hiked atop Mt. Cheaha, went to Fort Toulouse where we saw replicas of Creek houses and buildings similar to the ones that once housed the French soldiers in Alabama, and we explored the Coosa River in kayaks. Also, we visited Solon Dixon Forestry Center where we handled a rare Indigo snake and saw many other reptiles and amphibians. We also searched for fossils at a creek in Andalusia. At Dauphin Island, we had a lecture on stars while at the beach, accompanied the Sea Lab’s employees as they fished for sea creatures with nets, and waded through the salt marshes in search of the rare animals and plants there.

The trip, planned by Toni Brunner of Legacy: Partners in Environmental Education, Maggie Johnson and Jen Kopnicky of Camp McDowell’s Environmental Center, and Renee Morrison of Jacksonville State University’s Environmental Policy Information Center and Field Schools, has taken place three times. Its goal is to teach teachers about the importance of instilling a love for the environment in the hearts of students. The experience is certainly motivational, and all of us learned how unique Alabama is. Last year, a similar three-day conference enhanced my teaching efforts tremendously. I can’t wait to share the new information with next year’s students.

In addition to our travels, we heard daily lectures from people who were experts in their field. Three of them traveled with us. They were Heather Montgomery, a children’s book author whose taught us about Alabama’s geology and how to understand rocks and their formations; Dr. Bill Deutsch, the former head of Auburn’s Department of Fisheries, Aquacultures, and Aquatic Environments and founder of Alabama Water Works; and Dr. George Cline, a JSU professor known as “Dr. Frog” who taught us about Alabama’s plants and animals.

Here are some of the facts we learned about unique Alabama:

• The geological history of Alabama has led to abundant diversity in the plants and animal species.

• The Appalachian Mountains were once taller than the Rockies, but the system has eroded throughout the past centuries to its current size.

• Alabama has an abundant number of fossils that reveal how the land was once covered with seas, primitive forests, and dinosaurs.

• Wetumpka is the site of a newly discovered asteroid strike. The idea of the remains was suggested 100 years ago, and it was only confirmed a little more than a decade ago. The site is attracting attention worldwide.

• Alabama has a wide variety of rocks – igneous (volcanoes), metamorphic (heat and pressure), and sedimentary (compaction and compression).

• Alabama has an outstanding system of rivers. In fact, we have more navigable waterways than any other state.

• Natural sites and many of the striated rocks that were revealed when our highways and roads were cut away tell tales of how our state was formed.

• Because Alabama has so many diverse types of rocks, we have many diverse animals and plants that have adapted to the wide variety of environments.

• The excellent drainage system in Alabama that carried much of the white sand from the limestone in our rocks to the Gulf of Mexico gives us the lovely white sands along the coast.

• Every time we see a murky stream of water after a rain, we can see quartz rocks turning into sand heading south and sedimentary rocks turning into clay and shale that will be deposited along the way.

• The water in the Gulf of Mexico off of Alabama’s coast is more diluted than ocean water, which makes it a suitable home to many unique sea creatures.

Hundreds of others facts are recorded in two books that have created excitement from both scientists and readers. They are Lost Worlds in Alabama Rocks: A Guide to the State’s Ancient Life and Landscapes (2002) by Jim Lacefield and Southern Wonder: Alabama’s Surprising Biodiversity (2013) by R. Scot Duncan.

Both spoke to us about their work and how understanding our environment allows us to enjoy it more. There were other lecturers, drivers, and supporters, such as The Sierra Club members, who bought us teachers the Duncan book, and Dennis Lathem of the Coalbed Methane Association of Alabama, who bought us the Lacefield book.

This conference is largely funded by the sale of the attractive Legacy license plates. The cost is $50 a year, and the money also provides grants to schools for environmentally related projects. Also, anyone can join Legacy for as little as $10 a year. Visit http://legacyenved.org/ and also visit www.jsu.edu/epic/field_schools/ to find out more about these worthwhile organizations that are working hard to conserve, protect, and teach us about beautiful Alabama.

Email Sherry at sherrykug@hotmail.com