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.
Every summer, the Preserve America Youth Summit takes place in many states across the country. The Preserve America Youth Summit is a prestigious 4-day summer program creating opportunities for middle and high school students to learn about historical preservation out in the field. Students are given the opportunity to interact with community partners and present their ideas and suggestions for historical preservation in a culminating town hall with local leaders. This year, Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument was the host for Colorado’s Preserve America Youth Summit. As a host, much planning was needed and Whitney Masten, our Education Coordinator, along with other local leaders, did an incredible job putting the event together. Our job at the monument was to host opening day and closing day. The other two days, students took multiple trips along the Gold Belt Scenic Byway in central Colorado. I was lucky enough to have been asked to join Whitney in acting as liaisons for the National Park Service (NPS) the entire week.
On the opening day of the youth summit, Dr. Meyer (paleontologist at Florissant Fossil Beds) and I gave an introductory talk on the discovery of Florissant Fossil Beds and it’s geologic and paleontological significance. Later in the day, I gave the three rotating groups of students a virtual tour of the paleontology lab so that they could get a behind-the-scenes look into fossil preparation, research and museum collection techniques. The day ended with dinner and a concert put on by Jeff Wolin (Lead Interpreter at Florissant Fossil Beds) and I. We were shocked to see the students enjoying themselves so much, considering the songs are more elementary based. We even had a group of students personally ask us to do an encore!
The second day of the youth summit took place in Fremont County. As liaisons for NPS, Whitney and I were able to join in on tours of many historic buildings in the cities of Cañon City and Florence. The highlight of the second day, however, was riding on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad. The sights were just incredible! Dinner that night was quite spectacular as well. The youth summit was invited to eat at Colon Farms in the city of Florence. All the ingredients used in making of dinner came from the farm itself or other nearby farms.
The towns of Cripple Creek and Victor were the main focus on the third day of the youth summit. Here we joined in on a tour of the Newmont mine, where gold is the major mineral mined. Being able to witness the immensity of the Newmont mine was an unforgettable experience. After the mine, we received tours of many of the museums and historic buildings in the towns. Despite the persistent rain we received that day, we enjoyed learning about the history of the towns and their struggle in restoring many of the historic sites to attract more visitors to the area.
Finally, on closing day, Florissant Fossil Beds was again responsible for hosting and I was put in charge of setting up the PA system. It had been years since I last worked with a PA system. Regardless, I enjoyed the set up as it took me back to my rock’n’roll days when I was playing gigs with bands just about every weekend. More importantly, the students did a great job expressing their concerns regarding historical preservation along the Gold Belt Scenic Byway. The local community leaders that served on the panel at the town hall were obviously impressed with the students’ knowledge and commitment to historical preservation of Colorado’s history. I am very grateful I was given the opportunity to participate in the entire youth summit as I became much more knowledgeable in the history of the area I am living in. I believe the group of students of this year’s youth summit will go on to become aspiring leaders in our community in the near future.
It is always nice having a long weekend to wind down and go exploring. Especially when it involves family. Luckily, my family was able to stop by for a visit to Colorado this past weekend. I was able to spend a few days with them in Denver meeting other family members of ours, and show them around central Colorado and the Florissant valley.
The downside to having a long weekend is that the following work week is short and generally hectic. Such was the case here at the Florissant Fossil Beds. With meeting after meeting and visit after visit, there was never time to catch a break.
There was a lot of planning going on at the monument this past week. Most of us have been incredibly occupied with preparation for the Preserve America Youth Summit coming up next week. I was in charge of putting together a virtual tour of the paleontology lab, which will premier at the summit next week. Preparing a script, testing GoPro equipment and running several takes with the crew took up much more time than I expected. However, the end results were amazing and I am looking forward to running the tour this coming week.
Also in preparation for the Preserve America Youth Summit, my supervisor, Dr. Herb Meyer, and I worked together on putting together a PowerPoint presentation where he will be covering the incredibly intricate history of the Florissant valley and the vast array of fossils found here at the monument and the geologic processes responsible for creating an environment set up for fossils.
I think what counted for me as a “break” this week was the visiting Girl Scouts group from Kansas. Dr. Sarah Allen and I spoke to this group about how we came to work for the National Park Service and what steps we took to get here. After our brief introductions, we took the group on the Petrified Stump Loop trail and did an activity on stratigraphy. At the end of the hike, we had the group split into three small groups and discuss what they think happened in the Florissant valley 34 million years ago. The groups were able to draw very similar conclusions to what our scientists have concluded occurred in the valley during the Eocene. I believe this young and aspiring group of students are on the path to success. And I am confident many of them will go on to become scientists!
Yesterday, a day camp group came to visit the monument and we took them on a nature walk. I was able to snap some pictures of many of the flowers in bloom. I normally never take the time to admire the wildflowers in the monument but due to the frenetic environment we had this past week, it felt incredibly appropriate to stop for a moment and really take in the beauty the wildflowers add to our community here.
In the broadest sense, nature is our world in the physical, material and natural form. It is everything not made by the human race. For me, nature serves as a place of tranquility, worship, culture and love. At the same time though, it can be frightening, intimidating and humbling. Nature is, hands down, a force to be reckoned with.
Our ancestors were far more in tune with nature than we are today. With so many distractions in the modern world, it has become increasingly more difficult to access nature. The more we become disconnected, the less attentive we will be. Therefore, I believe it is every individuals responsibility to make the effort to break away from mainstream society, at least once in their lifetime, and become one with nature.
I recently was able to reconnect with nature when a group of high school students from Texas stopped by the Florissant Fossil Beds for a visit. Whitney, my education partner, and I led the group of students and their chaperones into the woods on a nature walk with a specific exercise in mind. Upon reaching the most dense part of the forest, Whitney instructed the students to write down what nature is using their five senses. Given that the students were in the age range of 14-17 years old, I was expecting to hear laughter and gossip, and not see much writing going down. However, the students fully participated and even the chaperones were jotting down their thoughts.
At the end of the exercise, Whitney had the students recite their favorite interpretation of what nature is, however, replacing the “Nature is…” with “I am…”. As you can imagine, some were rather humorous, while others were incredibly poetic.
After the nature walk, I had the students and chaperones participate in the paleoclimatic reconstruction activity I put together for the Geo/Paleo Camp. It was incredible to witness the students draw their own conclusions on how the Florissant valley, during the Eocene, exhibited drastically different climatic conditions than today. The biggest take away for me, and I hope for the students and chaperones as well, is that in addition to making connections with nature on a mental and spiritual level, everyone is also capable of making scientific connections. There is no requirement of a masters or PhD to make that scientific connection. The only requirements are patience, curiosity and an open mind.
The days were already longer to begin with than what I was previously used to in Los Angeles. However, now that summer is here, I’m finding myself outside for longer periods of time as the days go by. Summer days in Colorado have so far proven themselves to be incredibly gorgeous and filled with good vibes. Although summer monsoon season is approaching, the past couple of weeks have been full of sun and blue skies with sprinkled clouds throughout.
This last week saw the first testing of activities for the Florissant Fossils Beds Geo/Paleo camp I am developing. On Friday, we had a group of teachers at the monument culminating their 5-day workshop on climate change. My supervisor and I thought it would be a good idea to experiment the activity I have on paleoclimate. The activity requires students to identify a set of fossil plants from the Florissant formation using a dichotomous key. Once the fossils plants are identified, students are given data of the temperature and precipitation ranges for modern plant species that are related to the plant fossils of Florissant. From there, students can narrow down a range for temperature and precipitation in which all plant species can thrive in. Once the students have calculated those ranges, I tell them the average annual temperature and precipitation of Florissant today. They are then able to make their own conclusions that during the Eocene, the climate of Florissant valley was much hotter and wetter. Even though the age range for the activity is intended for 3rd-5th grade, the teachers had a blast and were even requesting the activity be made available online so that teachers across the nation can access it.
As if the teachers’ enthusiasm and support for my camp development wasn’t enough excitement for one week, I also had visitors come through. On Thursday, I hosted Cristina Ramírez and Jennifer Orellana from the NPS regional offices in Lakewood, CO. Cristina and Jennifer are interns with the Latino Heritage Internship Program (LHIP), which is a partnership with the National Park Service, Environment for the Americas and Hispanic Access Foundation. It was great to show them around the Fossil Beds and introduce them to the Geo/Paleo camp I have been working on. Then on Friday afternoon, Lily Calderón and Chu-Yu of Environment for the Americas also stopped by for a visit. It was incredible meeting both of them and hearing Lily’s experience as a Mosaics In Science intern in 2016 served as inspiration and motivation. Needless to say, I feel incredibly
blessed to have met such beautiful and inspiring people this past week!
On a non-work related note, I finally was able to go rock climbing with some of the other interns at Florissant Fossil Beds. Shelf Road off the Gold Belt Byway in Central Colorado is notorious for world class sport climbing. My first time rock climbing in Colorado was a success!
It was a scorching 95 degrees Fahrenheit in Denver today! The Get Outdoors Colorado event was a success. I was able to connect with many people focused on accomplishing similar goals, to diversify audiences in outdoor settings. Meeting the Urban Rangers of Denver was definitely a highlight. For those who don’t know, the Urban Ranger program is a partnership between the National Park Service, Environmental Learning for Kids and Denver Parks and Rec. Urban Rangers are high school and college students that teach environmental education programs to underserved youth in the greater Denver area. Seeing these incredibly young folks working hard to complete their mission is inspiring!
On the way back home from Denver, my supervisor and I decided to take the scenic route. From Morrison, we took CO-67 S to Woodland Park. Although most of the drive had a speed limit of 30 mph, it was worth it. Views of the South Platte River off CO-67 are incredibly serene.
Back at the ranch, progress on the Geo/Paleo Camp is rolling along. My brown bag presentation on Friday was lengthy but productive. One of the most significant changes we are making to the schedule is to have the camp run from Tuesday to Saturday, as opposed to the traditional Monday through Friday format. The reason for this is we believe it is incredibly important to provide parents with the opportunity of attending the last day of camp. Not only would the parents be present at the graduation ceremony, but they would also be exposed to the mission of Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument and the National Park Service. Most of us can agree that parents serve as the role models for our youth. Therefore, if we can instill a sense of stewardship in our youth’s parents, they will, in return, pass it on to their children.
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!
Hi everyone, my name is Ricardo Escobar-Burciaga. I made the move from Los Angeles, CA to Florissant, CO last weekend. To give you an idea of the drastic difference in lifestyle I will be adopting this summer, I moved from a city of more than 4 million people to a town of less than 120 people. The most difficult adjustment is going from checking email/social media accounts hourly in the city to having to drive more than 5 miles away to get decent signal and wifi. Although the remoteness and size of the area is quite a change, my heart has always been in the mountains, so I feel I am adapting quite well.
I could start off by describing my first week at the monument. However, I would like to focus instead on the experience I had during my move to Florissant, CO. Driving across the Colorado Plateau never ceases to amaze me! The sights, the sounds and the friendliness of the people is just incredible! I want to emphasize the fact that we are never in control of the events that take place in our lives. However, how we choose to invite the unexpected is completely up to us. Last Friday evening, on the way to Denver, my friend and I were snowed in Vail, CO (right in the heart of the Rockies) and I-70 was closed. We were supposed to get into Denver that evening to check into our hotel and my friend was to catch her flight the following morning. As you can imagine, I was panicking and concerned with where we would be spending the evening and how long I-70 would be closed for. With help from Susan of EFTA, however, we managed to book a hotel in Vail and made the most of the situation. In the end, we met some very friendly people there, we embraced the beauty the Rockies had to offer and my friend arrived to the airport on time. John Denver was absolutely correct; the purple mountains truly are majestic! And I mean that in all aspects! We made the most out of an unexpected situation!
For a brief insight into what I will be doing this summer; I will be working as an Education Specialist at Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument. It is one of the richest fossils sites in the world, with over 1500 species of insect fossils! My project will involve developing curriculum geared toward marginalized communities in the greater Colorado Springs area. There will be some component of outreach as well. I am incredibly excited to get started on my project as I am a strong advocate for promoting and increasing diversity in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). I am also looking forward to working with an amazing set of individuals that I had the honor of meeting this past week. Stay tuned for more on the Florissant Fossil Beds next week!