This week has been a scramble to get started on the field portion of my project, with the coming of the Klamath Network Inventory and Monitoring Program (KLMN) to teach me their standard operating procedures (SOPs) when sampling plots. As the season gets later and later we are able to get further up the mountains, where our plots were once (and some still are) covered in snow. This year, Lassen Volcanic NP had the latest road opening on record due to snowfall, which has created some challenges when monitoring at high elevations. Thankfully, we were able to make it to some plots so I could get hands-on experience with data sampling, monitoring, and storing– rather than just reading a how-to guide.
Learning KLMN’s procedures is crucial to this study because it makes our data comparable and replicable with theirs. Some things I learned were how to set up plots and subplots in the field, what signs to look for when diagnosing a blister rust infection, and how to prepare for going out in the field. It is such a unique experience working with trees; though they are living, their time-scale transcends that of humans. In the field, I am able to see trees that are hundreds of years old (Whitebark Pine can live up to 1,000 years!), many which probably withstood the eruptions from Mount Lassen. I am able to be a sort of ‘doctor’ to these trees, diagnosing infections and attempting to identify methods to restore the populations of a keystone species. This work is so fulfilling to me. Perhaps one day I will become a real doctor to these trees once I pursue a PhD in Forest Ecology.
I have to admit; writing a post unrelated to work feels odd. But I’ll go with it anyway. Plus, I feel the pictures accompanying this post are worth sharing.
On Sunday morning, despite the ominous clouds looming about, my colleague Dr. Evan Anderson and I decided to finally ascend Raspberry Mountain after putting it off for several weeks. The morning started off quite brisk and just as we started the trail towards Raspberry Mountain I was regretting not having brought along a jacket. However, within a few minutes of hiking uphill, my body began to warm up. There were so many great sights along the trail that I soon forgot about how cold I was. I was thrilled to have stumbled upon the state flower of Colorado, the Blue Columbine.
After about an hour and a half of hiking, we reached the summit of Raspberry Mountain. The views were incredibly spectacular and the clouds began to dissipate while we were up there. Though Tava (Pikes Peak) was initially covered in clouds, by the time we reached the summit, she decided to reveal herself.
Shortly after, a man and his dog, Tyson, joined us at the summit. Instantly, I was reminded of one of my dogs back home in Los Angeles. Tyson shared many of the same features with my dog Canela. After speaking with the man about the breed of his dog, it all made sense; both are a mix between Labrador Retriever and Rhodesian Ridgeback. Not only were their physical features incredibly similar, but also their personalities. There was an instant connection between Tyson and I. So much that he even posed for the camera without me asking him to.
As if taking his own photos weren’t enough, with every shot I had Evan take of me at the summit, Tyson managed to squeeze his way into them. I didn’t mind at all though. In fact, I pretended that it was Canela I had with me and made the most of it.
I realize to many people, a moment like this may not mean much. However, for someone like me, who has always had at least one dog in their life, it was incredibly special. I have always connected real well with dogs and this encounter was just as meaningful as if it were my own dog with me. To end this post, I’ll add a picture of another landscape shot I took. Just to vary things a bit.
In the National Park Service, there are a lot of acronyms and buzz words used to describe entities and procedures. I compiled a list of lingo that are thrown around the office and in the field:
Arrowhead: The National Park Service emblem
Bioswail: area of plants and soil to capture sediment before they reach the water source
Blowdown: a tree or trees that have been blown down by the wind or other factors.
“It is best to avoid blowdown while walking through the forest.”
Cut stump: Using loppers to cut woody stems and apply a herbicide to stunt growth
Dbh: stands for diameter at breast height, is a measuring tape.
Epp: a sound made by a crewmember to locate other members or call for assistance in the forest
1 epp= hey! 2epps= come over here 3epps= emergency or cool mushroom
GAR: Operational risk management assessment procedure that ranks 8 categories green, amber, or red to determine mitigation
Garlon: Herbicide used for cut stump treatments
GIS: geographic information systems capture, store, manipulate, and analyze spatial data
GPS: global positioning system
HAGA: a rangefinder used to measure the height of trees and forest canopy.
Hori-hori: Japanese soil knife that is very sharp and useful for removing blackberry shrubs
Nurse log: a fallen tree that decays and provides nutrients to support other trees
Organic Act of 1916: the federal that established the National Park Service
“…to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”
PIV: Personal identity verification card for US Federal employees that takes a long process to obtain
PNW: Pacific Northwest
PPE: Personal protective equipment such as goggles or gloves
Snag: dead tree that has fallen or at a 40 degree angle
SPE: severity, probability, and exposure for assessing risk of injury
Surfactant: a chemical solution mixed with herbicide to stick to the plant it is applied to
Transect: a line in which people walk along that is representative of the larger site usually for invasive work or vegetation monitoring
Tree hugging: literally hugging trees or measuring a tree using a dbh measuring tape (see dbh)
VC: Visitor Center
VIP: Volunteer-in-Parks program for people to get involved in the national parks
WASO: Washington Support Office is the NPS national headquarters which provide services to the regional offices and coordinate with other agencies
YCC: Youth Conservation Corps is a summer youth program
The past few weeks I have been entering data, checking field logs for quality assurance, and searching for shapefiles. As much as I love data, it was a long tedious process that I celebrated when it was completed. On Tuesday, I got to change up my office environment to the East fork of the Lewis River. My supervisor, Carla, and I joined other scientists and professionals at a Science Work Group Trip organized by the Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership. We started to canoe at La Center, Washington and continued along the river to a couple of restoration sites to learn about the progress of other projects and network.
The first stop was a brief tour of the La Center restoration site. The site was lush with native plantings and had been under water for a majority of the winter and spring. The willow trees were looking healthy and the reed canary grass growth had been stunted for the long duration of inundation. This site was particularly intriguing because it looked similar to the restoration site I have been analyzing data for. We learned about their management techniques and returned to paddle downriver. The second project was at Plas Newydd farm and Wapato Valley Mitigation Bank, an 876-acre restoration. The plan was impressive; recreating channels for salmonids, reestablishing habitats for Streaked Horned Lark, promoting growth of Oregon White Oak, and securing turtle nesting areas. After the presentation we enjoyed lunch underneath massive sequoia trees. The day on the river was the perfect escape from the confines of my desk, but more importantly, I got to talk to scientists who are dedicated to the work they do inspiring me to continue my career in natural resource management. When you love what you do, it is not work anymore. It is joy.
My focus project here at Manassas National Battlefield park is assisting with and creating a management plan for the Northern Bobwhite Quail. We started our Quail habitat vegetation surveys this week and I am very excited to collect more information and data to create a management plan! We also went to a training on trapping this week and did some planting but I want to share all the exciting things I learned about Quail habitat first!
Our habitat surveys are done mid-July to early August in order to ensure the warm season grasses are mature and mowing has not occurred yet. Mowing in grassland habitat is limited in the park and must be done mid-August or after in order to ensure Quail nests are not destroyed. We have 19 survey sites around the park and we need to go to each and obtain data in the North, South, East, and West directions. When we are obtaining data we use a tape measure and walk 20 meters out from our starting point. Then at 2 meter intervals we use a densiometer and record what we see such as grasses, forbs, bare ground, etc. A fun fact is that our densiometer is just an empty toilet roll holder to narrow your sight to a specific circle! We have been working on our grass and plant identification skills and have been using field guides that we created and books to help us out. You can see how we perform the surveys, record the data, and all the supplies we take out with us in the pictures below. It has been really fun getting started on the surveys and I’m hoping my identification skills keep improving as we get through all 19 sites.
The Department of the Interior also held a training called Trapping Matters at Monocacy National Battlefield Park which we all attended. I have assisted with trapping of mammals in the past but I only learned about two different types of traps so this was really interesting to learn how to trap other types of animals with different methods. Trapping can be used for a variety of reasons including scientific research, nuisance control, recreation, and wildlife management to conserve another species. We saw different types of traps including cage, foot holds, snares, and more. I did not know how much there was behind trapping as it is very strategic and labor intensive. The strategy behind trapping is so important to being able to trap an animal because you have to estimate the path the animals are taking along with the right attractant in order to be successful. It is very labor intensive as the best site to trap at may be hard to get to and besides setting the trap you have to come back every single day to check the trap. I did not know how difficult trapping was and how hard it is to estimate the patterns of various species.
Overall, I learned a lot this week and I really enjoy having the opportunity to participate in these training’s because there is so much to learn about natural resource management. Looking forward to learning more about Quail habitat management next week!
Often, even when surrounded the immense beauty on display in our national parks, the highlight of your day will be the people you meet. The people visiting the parks are friendly, always have a story of their own to share, and their curiosity and enthusiasm for nature is refreshing.
Three volunteers posing with two NOCA interns.
The highlight of the past week with the cascades butterfly project has been our volunteer training event, where many of these interesting, enthusiastic, and curious visitors had their first chances to come and spend a day surveying our butterfly populations. Our training even was aimed at familiarizing volunteers with our sampling methods so that they can successfully participate in future surveys, and the turnout was great. A diverse group of volunteers came from all over Washington came to learn, and some came from as far as New York. The things that linked these people; a love for nature, a great attitude, and a will to help conserve natural things
After a long vacation, I came back revitalized and ready to dive into my project: monitoring and restoring whitebark pine populations. This week consisted of preparing for field sampling by learning standard protocols and creating GIS maps from pre-existing data and regional information to guide me when I am out conducting surveys. Being someone who needs to be outside the majority of my waking hours, I learned that you can’t have field work without administrative (and sadly, indoor) work. Some days I spent in the office reading countless technical documents, analyzing and organizing data in ArcGIS, and familiarizing myself with local flora and fauna. Other days allowed me to go in the field, to actualize that knowledge, and “learn by doing” (side-note: go CalPoly Mustangs!). I refreshed my memory with measuring diameters and heights of trees, identified various plant and tree species, and practiced locating and setting up plots for sampling. All of this went into preparing me for when I start monitoring for the effects of white pine blister rust next week.
So far, though I have barely explored the park, I am already amazed by its diversity. I am thrilled to get started on my sampling now that the snow has melted off the majority of high elevation areas and see the effects Cronartium ribicola on a unique keystone species. This eagerness fuels me on days when I am stuck in the office, longing to be outdoors, like I know most can relate to. Most of all, I am excited for my ‘real’ learning to begin. Now that I have completed my bachelor’s degree and am acclimating to the professional realm, I find myself swimming in the specialized knowledge of my colleagues, trying to take in every bit of information I can. Sometimes in this barrage of knowledge I find myself feeling inferior, wishing I was as smart as my fellow workers. During these times I remind myself that what I know is not nearly as important as what I am capable of learning, and once I stop pursuing that knowledge is when I have lost. Everybody starts somewhere, but it is grit, the motivation to keep reaching towards a long-term goal, that separates successful versus “unsuccessful” people. In other words, don’t give up!
You need to try some new things once in a while and it may turn out fun. There is a lot fun involved with seeing smiling kids. We were all at the Porter County fair working a shift at the National Park Service booth. We were making making buttons for kids. We had different logos of animals for kids to color. We put it through the button making machine and they got it to wear. Many adults wanted to get on the fun and they made buttons as well. Other visitors talked to us about their experiences at the dunes. Most of them were more intrigued by the buttons. It was a good change change of pace to get a chance to interact with visitors on off-site events.
Trying to accomplish everything can be also a daunting task. Helping other interns with their project as important because it benefit both of them. I helped one of the other intern collect data on her vernal pool project. My role was taking canopy converge in areas and taking photos of plant species around the wetland for her botanist friend to identify. I also observed how to take GPS coordinates with different GPS units, and learned more about how to classify soil. The characteristics of soil were different depending where the sample was taken. For each vernal pool, which is a type of seasonal wetland, soil cores were taking on the inner and outer boundaries of the area. These characteristics further contribute to classifying vernal pools from other wetlands. With the last week of this experience in full spring, how can this end so soon.
It is time to go back to Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park (PAAL) again. But before I tell some of the great things that happened during the July trip I want to tell you a little about what happens in between the trips.
The journey between Lafayette, LA and Brownsville, TX takes approximately 9 to 10 hours each way. It is imperative that we make the money and time spent worth it. During the drive back, last time, William Finney, the network field biologist, and I spend a great amount of time talking about this project. You can’t imagine how much inspiration you can have when you are confine to a small space. The intention of this internship project is to implement, test, and evaluate the design of the radio tracking project which will continue beyond the summer. I can’t express how happy I’m to have the opportunity of giving my inputs to a project that will help improve the decisions made to manage the natural resources of one of our beautiful National Parks.
Between trips there is a lot of work to do, however when you know that what you do DOES make a difference and can have REAL impact on the results of science discoveries it is all worth. After processing our field data, pictures, GPS points, writing the trip report, and having project meetings we decided to modify the project design, and tracking procedures. I’m confident that the project changes will greatly improve the quality of this project results. So there you go, now that you know a little more what happens behind the scenes let’s talk about of highlights of this trip.
Contrary to popular belief tortoises do not walk super slowly. Here you can see one of our tracked animals in turbo mode.
Tortoises and snakes have the same hiding spots. This can be very dangerous if you are not extremely careful during you field work.
Tiny tortoises are adorable.
Doesn’t matter if you have a transmitter on you, there will always be a male that is attracted to you.
Contrary to the more common way of fishing ‘hook, line, sinker’, there is electro-fishing! Electro-fishing is a method used for scientific surveys of fish populations. Using direct current electricity you can create an electric field that stuns nearby fish. This makes it incredibly easy to net them. Once they’re netted you store them in the live well while you continue your survey, in which time they usually start to come back to normal.
When you’re finished collecting fish in your survey area then you can start to identify them. You keep track of the different types of species found and how many. Depending on the fish size, they may also be weighed and measured.
Knowing what types of fish are there and in what abundance really helps to inform you on water quality. Fish that are more reliant on clean water and are pollutant sensitive are a good sign. While having a profound amount of pollutant tolerant fish might mean higher pollution in the water.
These waterways are vital to the ecosystem, as are the fish that live in it, so these surveys really help to give us a good idea of the good and bad changes that’re happening in that environment.
You can’t pick a better or more beautiful place to spend a summer than in a National Park. In 2017, Mosaics in Science (MIS) interns will travel to Denali National Park, Rocky Mountain National Park, Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park, and Great Basin National Park, to name a few. Each of the sites has competed with many others to be part of MIS 2017 and are working to make the summer experience fulfilling. With these diverse sites comes an array of research and education opportunities in an equally broad suite of habitats and climates. From Alaska to Colorado to Washington, D.C. and Florida, each intern will have a different, yet similar experience. While one may sweat during turtle surveys, another may be bundled in a coat and hat to while tracking butterflies. Whatever the experience, it will last a lifetime!
A Mosaics in Science Internship is a rich opportunity to work side-by-side with scientists and other professionals. In 2016, participants were part of bat research, bird surveys, seed collection projects, geological surveys, archeological explorations, and much more. Throughout MIS, interns receive additional training through weekly webinars and help to share the mission of the program through this Blog. At the conclusion of their experience, interns share their work with other participants during the post-internship career workshop. The career workshop, for most interns, is the first opportunity to meet other interns face-to-face. Each shares their summer’s work during an oral or poster presentation. Guest speakers provide additional information about preparing applications for federal positions, diversity in the workplace, and science careers. Want to be a Mosaics in Science intern? Visit the internships and learn more about the 2017 positions.
A day in the field for a Mosaics in Science (MIS) intern can be a journey into a lava tube, a hike to a high elevation pond, or time indoors at the computer entering data. MIS experiences happen all over the country in some of America’s most spectacular national parks, such as Yosemite National Park in California, Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota, and Everglades National Park in Florida. Wherever they are, participants gain critical skills needed to pursue careers in geology, natural resources, wildlife ecology, environmental education, and more. Just a few insights from our 2016 MIS interns include:
I have gained skills related to field work…and also have learned to become a more independent worker. I believe I am now better at independent research and finding solutions or answers to unknowns.
Skills I developed are how to use GPS, frog surveying, and tracking encroachment using Arc Collector app.
The highlights of my internship included learning how to navigate with a compass and map in remote wilderness settings, becoming familiar with the backpacking lifestyle, experiencing the solitude of the landscape of backcountry Yosemite, and meeting scientists from all around the country.
After processing the video footage from our first week of stationary camera deployments, we noticed we were not alone. Most people just recognize her as a shark, but that’s an understatement. She’s a tiger shark. Locals have taken to calling her Tony the Tiger. National Park Service biologists and technicians have yet to encounter one in their many years of diving around Buck Island so my team and I are confident we won’t be crossing paths with Tony while scuba diving.
NPS has been working with multiple collaborators to study the movements of sharks within the monument using acoustic telemetry. Given these recent sightings of Tony in our video footage, NPS biologists are eager to see if they can cross reference these sightings with detections from acoustic receivers installed near our camera monitoring site. We hope to find that Tony is one of the individuals that was tagged in previous years.
Tiger sharks are natural predators to sea turtles. Their serrated teeth allow them to tear through the turtle’s carapace (shell). Even though Tony has been feeding on our study subjects, we’re happy that she’s here. The presence of apex predators is one of the signs of a healthy ecosystem. Believe it or not, they play an important role in structuring seagrass ecosystems. They balance the food web as well as prevent lower levels from exhausting resources.
Healthy seagrass ecosystem = Abundant greens turtles = Tiger sharks
It’s important to understand the significance of top-down control in natural ecosystems in order to better establish conservation and management baselines that could predict ecosystem responses to natural and anthropogenic change.
Lisa Norby Welcome to the National Park Service and the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program! I am pleased that you are joining us as a Mosaics in Science intern this summer. Your role is critical in fulfilling the National Park Service (NPS) mission and I hope that you will find your work rewarding, challenging, meaningful, and lots of fun.
My name is Lisa Norby – I am the NPS Program Manager for the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program and have bachelors and masters degrees in geology. I work with the NPS Geologic Resources Division and have been working with the NPS for the last 23 years. I have worked with a variety of youth programs since I was in high school, and in 2013, I created the Mosaics in Science Program with George McDonald, Chief of the NPS Youth Programs Division. The Mosaics Program is funded by the NPS and is managed in partnership with Environment for the Americas (EFTA) and Greening Youth Foundation (GYF). The Program’s objectives are to encourage diverse youth 18-35 years old to pursue studies in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and science) fields, introduce program participants to science careers in the National Park Service, and increase relevance, diversity, and inclusion in the NPS workplace.
I am excited that you will be joining the NPS team and hope that you have a fun and successful internship with the NPS. We really appreciate your interest in the National Park Service and your assistance protecting and preserving the outstanding natural resources in our national parks. Most of the communication you will receive this summer will be from EFTA/GYF, but I want you to know that I am available anytime to answer any questions you have about the program, the NPS, or science careers. I can be reached at email@example.com. I am really excited to talk with you over the summer and to meet you in person at the career workshop in Colorado!
Welcome to the Mosaics in Science Program! Congratulations on having been selected as a Mosaics intern this summer. The coming weeks may be a life-changing experience for you. My name is Limaris “Lima” Soto, and I am the Program Coordinator with the National Park Service. I received my Bachelor’s degree in Geology from the University of Puerto Rico and my Master’s degree in Geology from the University of South Florida. My scientific interests include; cave/karst science, hydrogeology, geophysics, education and outreach, and youth programs. I partner with the NPS Geologic Resources Division, and I have been working with Mosaics for the last two years. In my spare time, I like to go hiking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and camping. I also love to read, knit, and spend time with my family. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions during the internship. I am looking forward to hearing about your project at the career workshop in Colorado.
Welcome to Mosaics! I am Mike Fynn, and I am the VP of Operations at the Greening Youth Foundation. I come to you with a background in engineering, construction, and operations management. I’m excited to work with you all this summer, and hear about your experiences at the different parks. I will get to meet a few of you during the site visits, and again at the career workshop in Colorado. The Mosaics team has some amazing things in store for you this summer, and I can’t wait to hear about your experiences! If you have questions, please feel to reach out to us at any time.
Welcome to the Mosaics in Science Diversity Internship Program! My name is Eboni Preston, and I am a Program Manager with the Greening Youth Foundation (GYF). For the last few years I have worked in nonprofit management, community development, and youth development programs. I, along with GYF, EFTA, and NPS, am very excited to work with all of you this summer. I am thrilled to follow you as you embark on this amazing journey!
Hello Mosaics in Science participants, welcome to the program! We are all looking forward to working with you this summer and to hear about all that you will accomplish in the months to come. My name is Lily Calderón, I am a Chicago native who loves to travel and learn about the world and the birds that live on it. Thanks to EFTA I have been able to experience Oregon and New Mexico through two different internship programs, Celebra Las Aves and Mosaics in Science respectively. Currently I am enjoying Colorado as a full time staff member at EFTA Headquarters in Boulder.
If you are curious about my Mosaics experience, I interned at Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeastern New Mexico during the summer of 2016. As an intern there I worked with the resource team and primarily assisted with the hummingbird research at the park by banding the little hummers. It was a great experience and I hope you all enjoy your experience as much as I did! I can’t wait to meet you all at the workshop in Colorado and to hear about your work.
Seagrass ecosystems are incredibly important foundational ecosystems that provide a variety of ecological and economic services. These ecosystems, and the animals that rely upon them, have been threatened and disrupted by rapid declines and degradation in seagrasses worldwide. Much of the loss can be linked to anthropogenic stressors. Green turtles are the only herbivorous sea turtle species and are the primary consumers of seagrasses worldwide. Green turtle populations have been severely overharvested by humans over the last 200 years and are currently listed as a threatened/endangered species. However, populations are beginning to increase in some areas as a result of long-term conservation efforts. Given the rapid decline in seagrass coverage globally, there is growing concern that the altered ecosystems of today may not be able to sustain grazing by green turtle populations as they did two centuries ago. When an endangered species recovers, what ecological role does it fulfill if its ecosystem has been altered by anthropogenic activities? This is only one of many questions being asked by my mentor, Alexandra Gulick (Graduate Student, Archie Carr Center for Sea Turtle Research, University of Florida). To begin to answer this prodigious question, she must start by investigating the fundamental factors that drive this plant-herbivore interaction. I’m here to help Alexandra execute two of her ecological objectives.
- Evaluate the productivity of naturally grazed and ungrazed seagrass meadows.
- Evaluate the effects of seagrass pasture characteristics on green turtle foraging behavior.
Accomplishing said objectives will then allow her to model the carrying capacity of Caribbean seagrass pastures for recovering green turtle populations.
Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS) was established in 1961 under President John F. Kennedy and was later expanded in 2001 under President Bill Clinton. It was the first fully marine protected area in the National Park Service system. The monument includes Buck Island (176 acres) and 18,839 acres of submerged land and coral reef systems. Buck Island is an uninhabited island 1½ miles off the northern coast of St. Croix, and is surrounded by a barrier reef and large expanses of seagrass meadows. Conducting this research at BUIS offers a unique opportunity to study green turtle grazing dynamics and habitat use. Fortunately, the seagrass ecosystem supports both juvenile and adult turtles throughout the year which is uncommon. Also, over the last decade NPS resource managers have documented increases in green turtle nesting and foraging populations. When combined, these factors make BUIS more than ideal for studying green turtle and seagrass interactions. I am thrilled to be a part of this research and partake in sharing it with the world.
In last week’s post, I briefly introduced what I will be working on at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument this summer. After meeting with my supervisors earlier this week, my project task has now been solidified. I will be creating a Geology/Paleontology summer camp for students (Grades 4th-6th) from socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This camp would be implemented in the summer of 2018. However, this summer will see the testing of many of the planned activities for the camp, both on and offsite. My first task was to create an outline of the activities and daily themes the camp will have. After an hour-long discussion with my supervisors on Friday afternoon, we decided it would be a good idea for me to host a brown bag meeting next Friday where I will present my summer camp outline to the entire (or most) staff for extra feedback and suggestions.
A big component of my project requires me to do community outreach. I stressed to my supervisors that although the main focus of this camp is to get students excited about geology and paleontology, we must also focus on getting the community and parents involved in the camp. Just as the famous African proverb states “It takes a village to raise a child”, it also takes an entire community to raise a scientist. This coming week I will be meeting with an elementary teacher from Colorado Springs who participated in the National Park Service’s Teacher-Ranger-Teacher program for ideas on how to engage students in science. Then on Saturday, I will head into Denver for the Get Outdoors Colorado event where I plan to meet with other outdoor educators and build a strong network and support system.
Quick sneak peak into the camp: On one of the camp days, students will go down to the local Florissant Fossil Quarry to sift through sheets and sheets of paper shale in search of fossils. I can attest to the excitement and addiction this activity brings, as all of us interns at Florissant Fossil Beds lost track of time while digging for fossils at the quarry. The best part about the quarry, you get to keep your findings!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to enter a cave by sinking up to your chest in a pool of quicksand-like packrat poop?
If not, I’m here to tell you that it is a slightly alarming but mostly hilarious experience, and feels very much like your legs and torso are being gently squeezed by a blood pressure cuff. It is also a prime example of the amazing, unexpected opportunities I’m just starting to discover in my first two weeks as the Astronomy Intern at Great Basin National Park. My name is Brenna Rodriguez, and I love my job!
When I left my home in North Carolina and struck out alone on a 2,293 mile drive to Great Basin National Park, I was terrified of the uncertainties that reared up before me. Could I handle five days of forced solitude? Would I get harassed by a creepy stranger in the middle of nowhere? Would my car break down in the desert, miles from cell phone reception or services?
Fortunately, my fears proved to be unfounded, and the drive was fairly tame. Since arriving in Nevada, park staff and local residents have been incredibly welcoming, and I’ve been able to watch the town of Baker and the park itself come alive with wildflowers and tourists as the high-visitation season begins. Many of my first days in the park were spent shadowing interpretive cave and astronomy programs, hiking in slightly snowy weather, looking for fossils, and getting to know the folks who make a living in this slightly lonesome town.
Great Basin National Park is designated as an International Dark Sky Park, and has a huge variety of natural points of interest, including a network of wild caves and a developed cavern. Since I recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in geology, and am particularly interested in speleology and astrobiology, I am very excited to have access to the park’s natural resources. Through the summer, I hope to develop meaningful interpretive cave and astronomy programs, and look forward to cross-training with other divisions to gain a more in-depth understanding of the park.
I’m thrilled to be living and working in Great Basin National Park, and I look forward to sharing my discoveries with you!