Noon is approaching, and it's getting hot at Point Mugu State Park in the Santa Monica Mountains, but none of the teen-agers gathered around outdoors expert Joe Drennan seem to mind.
"Now, let's see if we can locate the Deer family," Drennan suggests. He holds up two fingers and draws two parallel marks in the ground alongside the trail that he and the youngsters have been following.
"When you find two little marks like this, it means you're probably getting close to Mrs. Deer," Drennan tells his listeners. "So you say, 'Hi, Mrs. Deer! Hi, Doe!' "
Drennan, a staff member of the Headlands Institute, an organization devoted to teaching respect for nature, simulates the tracks of Mr. Deer ("Hi, Buck!") and Baby Deer ("Hi, Fawn!").
To some junior high school students, such talk might seem naive. But to the 14 youngsters who have traveled to the hills of Ventura County from Huntington Park, near inner-city Los Angeles, it's fascinating.
The visitors, one of two groups that will camp overnight in the park's Sycamore Canyon this week as part of the parks system's Environmental Education Pilot Program, are science students at Nimitz Junior High, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Cynthia Acuna, 13, presses closer as Drennan scoops up a tiny, wormlike creature. He explains that it's a grub or baby beetle--hardly a candidate for Cynthia's collection of rocks and seashells.
"I study them with a magnifying glass," she says. "Up here, I'm watching the ground all the time, looking for things to add to my collection."
Claudia Acosta, 14, notes that it's nice to "just get away from the city for a little while." In Huntington Park, she reports, "we have too many people, too much pollution, too much crime. We don't have as many gangs as some other places, but we do have them."
The group's youngest camper, Jerry Chacon, 12, concedes that his parents were concerned about his safety during the trip. "But they just said to be careful," he says. He adds that he's anxious to learn all he can about science. His ambition is to become an airline pilot or an astronaut.
"We're a year-round school, which means our students get two six-week breaks but no summer vacation," said Nimitz science teacher Margaret Kroon.
"These trips are part of a pilot project being conducted by the school district and the state Department of Parks and Recreation. The idea is to give the children a chance to study and experience nature just as those who go camping in the summer do."
Bill Chesney, a former Nimitz teacher who is helping to design the two-year pilot program for the state, says he doesn't know whether students in Ventura County--where few schools are on year-round schedules--will take part in the program if it's adopted.