Category Archives: Blog Posts

21 April 2016: Santa Cruz Island, here we come!

Ventura Harbor, preparing to load Island Packers


Author: Amanda

CA: Santa Barbara Co: Cuyama Valley to Santa Cruz Island

Today started out with a little chaos. As one would expect from a 4:21 am wakeup. As it was April 21st at 4:21am and Carrie’s 21st birthday we sang her a birthday tune in a near whisper as we rose. It was a very lovely way to wake up and start the day. Here we go! We packed up our things and loaded the vans to take off from Steve’s ranch at Condor’s Hope en route to Ventura to to catch the ferry. Everyone got some more shut eye on the drive there. Shoutout to those awesome folks keeping the sleepers safe! Thanks drivers 🙂 After a quick pit stop for some starbucks fuel we headed to the harbor to load up. Everything miraculously got put in a cooler/box/plastic bag and hauled onto the boat so we could leave for Santa Cruz Island! The boat ride was a little over an hour and we saw SO MANY FREAKING BIRDS! And a pod of common dolphins working together on a bait ball.

Upon arrival to the island we loaded up all our gear in these funny old school trucks to get to the research station. Not 2 minutes after starting the drive we saw an island fox! WOW! On the ride over I could feel our excitement building…..Jepson’s nearly jumping out of our packs. But really, so many endemic plants! After settling in we took a short and slow (mountain time) stroll towards Sherwood forest where we took 2+ hours to cover 150 yards. But we couldn’t help it! There’s just so much to see! And it’s just getting started here.

Man Root… In the flesh!

20 April 2016: Day 1!

We made a pit stop at the Indians on our way to Condors Hope Ranch!

Author: Lily Urman

CA: Santa Barbara Co: Cuyama Valley: Cottonwood Canyon: Condors Hope Ranch

Today was the first day of our second trip! We drove down from Santa Cruz yesterday and got to stop for a couple hours at the Indians. This was a beautiful paradise in California chaparral in the Los Padres National Forest. We got to explore the watering hole and surrounding areas and enjoy the sunny day back together again — it’s safe to say we missed this.

First morning out!

This morning we woke up in a pile on the tarp at Condor’s Hope vineyard and watched the sunrise over the Sierra Madres. Steve showed us his dry-farming techniques and we learned about reconnecting the culture in agriculture. We walked up the ridge North East of the ranch and marveled in the new worlds to discover.

Bates Canyon

After lunch and relaxing in the shade of the Blue Oak, we pile into the van and drive up to Bates Canyon. In typical field-quarter-fashion we spend the next four hours meandering a maximum of a quarter-mile. We are lost and immersed in our worlds of curiosity — Lupita looks at ants, Paige watched a spider, a group of excited onlookers witnesses two Western Fence-tail lizards copulate (it was great!), and the rest of us pull apart plants to try to figure out their secrets. Not even one day back and it all makes more sense: everything is new and there’s so much to learn.

10 April 2016: Free day!

Author: Edeli Reyes

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: UCNRS: Norris Cabin & surrounding area

Today was our last day here at the Mojave. We started the day with a very relaxing bird walk with Jack while the other instructors set up for the quiz. I saw, looked around and everyone seemed unworried about the quiz. I think we all just wanted to enjoy the last day as much as possible. We heard a “hooty hooo” in the distance and we started walking to the cabin to take the quiz. When the quiz was first announced everyone seemed very worried but then Aldo, a past student told us not to take it too serious and everyone including myself relaxed. The quiz was the funniest I have ever taken. My favorite question was the one that asked you to give the name to a new discovered species. After the quiz everyone was given the day off to do whatever they want. Some people decided to go up Snake spring, others went out of the reserve, and others climb to Abby’s cave. I simply wandered around everywhere. At some point I went back to the cabin to grab some snacks and Tasha came with her daughter to say good bye. Not many of us were there but it was nice seeing her one last time. After we all gathered for dinner it was time for nature notes. Almost everyone decide to share something. What I really enjoyed was the thoughtful, honest, and funny moments everyone shared. Also a relief that a lot of us were feeling about all the high expectations from past alumni. All these high expectations put a lots of pressure but I think after tonight we all relaxed more.

9 April 2016: Amboy Crater, herp city!

Amboy Crater

Author: Sam Smith

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: Amboy Crater & Marble Mountains

We let out at about 8:00 in the van to the south, heading towards the Amboy Crater. As we headed south, I noticed that the vegetation got a lot shorter and the plant community started changing. On the drive we saw a Palo Verde Tree, an indicator that we were in the transition zone between the Mojave ecosystem and the Sonoran ecosystem. The crater itself is dominated by very dark basalt, which has formed a large “flat” deposit, which is cracked and crumbly. The deep areas were filled with fine sand, mud, and a plethora of fresh rain puddles. In the center of the basalt field was the crater itself, which was cone coming up from the rest. On our way back we stopped at the Marble Mountains before we headed home. There we saw our first Mojave speckled rattlesnake!

Mojave Speckled Rattlesnake, photo cred: Eric Engles


8 April 2016: Thunder from above… thunder from below!

Author: Sarah Bloom

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: Kelso Dunes

What a day! Today was surely the wildest day yet – a true Funky Friday. We started off by playing a game called Camouflage, introduced to us by Pachamama. It was chilly outside, and it had rained the night before, but everyone was still enthusiastic, dressed up, and played. Afterwards we listened to a presentation by Max on the Chuckwalla, a lizard that he really loves. He passed around pictures and explained its biology. We went out in groups – not crawdads – to prepare for our quiz, and the instructors helped us identify all the plants and animals we would be quizzed on, as well as methods for remembering which is which. We had a break and ate lunch before driving to the dunes.


Everyone walked on the trail, and examined the surroundings. Chris caught a Fringe Toed Lizard (that he calls “french toast lizard”) to show all of us, and taught us how to hold them.


Once everyone made it to the desert willow ‘oasis’ patch, Tessa gave her presentation on the Kelso Dunes. She explained that the Dunes exist because there was once a river these, so the sand is extremely fine. Though dust does come from the mountains, the vast majority of it was sediment. The whole afternoon, a storm had been traveling toward us, and was coming closer by the end of Tessa’s presentation.

Dunes day

The instructors assessed that we had enough time to make the dunes sing. We all ran up as high as we could, and nearly everyone swam down the dunes, and we heard them sing! Abby suggested that our plaque be labeled “Thunder from above, thunder from below”. As soon as we finished, everyone ran down the dunes – the storm was coming! Chris got everyone down, and it started to rain as we were running. But not enough to stop the growing sand twister!

Desert tortoise # 2

After everyone made it safely to the cars and out of the storm, we storm-chased for a little before going back to camp. On the way, we got stuck in the mud, and required the help and teamwork of everyone to heave their weight and push the van out onto the road again. A few minutes later, Corey spotted a desert tortoise. Everyone piled out of the vans into the rain to watch the tortoise. It was Ryan’s first time seeing a desert tortoise! We came home and washed off all the sand and sweat, drained our tents, and had inside time in the evening. And exhilarating day!

7 April 2016: Devil’s Playground

Devil’s playground wash

Author: Jeanette Shekelle

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: Devil’s Playground Wash

This morning we started off with 3 presentations. Mayra presented on the desert bighorn sheep. Morgan presented on the desert adaptations of the cactus wren. Danielle presented on the southwestern willow flycatcher. After that we all got in the vans and headed for cottonwood was where we took 20 minutes to observe and journal about the habitat of the wash. We then continued on the trailhead of Devil’s playground for lunch. After awhile a few of us stayed back to relax and key plants, and the others went on a hike to a view over the Kelso dunes.


We saw two tiny blue butterflies copulating on some buckwheat. Some people decided to stay back and watch this event which went on for an hour and a half.

At the top of the ridge, those who completed the hike were rewarded with seeing the endangered desert tortoise!!!!! After the hike we all headed back to the Norris cabin to key plants, play music, and eat. After dinner Pod gave a presentation on the sagebrush rebellion and then we shared nature notes.

6 April 2016: Granite Cove

Tasha’s happy dog

Author: Pachamama DeLaTore

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: UCNRS: Granite Cove 

We started off by participating in Daniel’s presentation about the the Chemehuevi. We walked to a pictograph where he talked about their history and a little but of their current state in society. After that we quickly packed up camp and headed to Granite Cove to meet up with Tasha. We went into her backyard cave and looked at pictographs and petroglyphs. She talked about how no one really knows why these images were there, or when they got there. Afterwards, the group split up. Some folks walked on a trail at the base of granite peak. They saw bobcat scat! I stayed back and did some birding with my friends. Our group saw a thrasher!!!

photo cred: Eric Engles

Later in the evening we went to Kelso dunes and saw some herps, arachnids, rodents, and flowers. Awesome late night.

5 April 2016: Bunny Club!

The Bunny Club!


Our new mantra

Author: Pachamama DeLaTore

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: UCRNS: Walk to the Bunny Club

It was a big day. We packed up camp pretty early to prepare for our epic hike. We went as smaller groups toward the alumni cap and made several stops along the way to look at awesome plants and animals. Eventually we got to the alumni camp, formed a large circle and went around introducing ourselves. Then we took off again. We went through sunrise saddle and wandered down to Turtle Rock where we had lunch. It took several hours to even get to Turtle Rock, so we had to beeline it to the Bunny Club. We got there and Jim Norris spoke about the Bunny Club’s history. At the Bunny Club we explored around and everyone took different paths and discovered cool random stuff. After noodling around we gathered up for story time around Ken Norris. Then people started trickling out and moseying back to the cabin with the whole crew of alumni. Once we all returned we gathered for a super late dinner and casual chill-time.

Pod & Lupita doing some late afternoon keying!

4 April 2016: Here walla walla walla

Reflections in the cave

Author: Stacy Wu

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: UCNRS Norris Cabin
This morning Chris taught us about land management agencies. We sang a song about the four federal agencies in a round: “Forest service forest service… B-L-M B-L-M…National Park Service National Park Service… Fish and Game Fish and Game.”We learned about the history of each group and how they have changed. I was amazed to learn that BLM used to only be for managing the extraction of resources. The president has a lot of power in what environmental issues are prioritized.

Later in the morning, we went birding with Ryan and saw a Red-tailed Hawk, Anna’s Hummingbird and even a nest of a Phainopepla. It was lurking by a few rocks nearby when we saw it and we could easily detect how upset it was when it noticed others looking into its nest, so we took a quick glance before we left. From our peak, we could see that in the nest there were two cool gray eggs with black, peppery-looking flecks sprayed on its surface. I was impressed by how circular the nest was, but also noticed how it was entirely exposed, with no overhanging structure. I was surprised by this because Ryan had previously mentioned that many birds that lived in the desert built enclosed nests for more shelter and shade and often built them in Cholla cactus for more protection.

Here walla walla walla

Later that day, Paige gave her presentation on the geology of the Granite Mountains and said a really great pun: “Of quartz!” After that, we went with Abby to the cave at the upper part of the Granite Mountains off of the A.A.A. Trail and she rapped a wonderful rap about all of us! I really enjoyed having time to sit and journal on our own by the cave. AND later with Abby… the biology group caught… A CHUCKWALLA! We had curry for dinner and had Teague and Lily’s land management presentations.

3 April 2016: The beginning

The first light at the Granite Mountains
Rise and shine!


Author: Corey Pigott 

CA: San Bernardino Co: Mojave National Preserve: UCNRS Norris Cabin

Today the crawdads broke off from each other, each led by one of the instructors. The group that went with Jack spent time exploring their senses. First we took a short walk in silence opening our ears to the sounds around us. After reaching some flat boulders we circled up and spent some time just listening to the desert, the wind blowing by and the birds slowly fading with the heat of the day. Then we switched, opening our vision and turning on our ‘owl eyes’. Focusing on one spot in the landscape we gradually widened our field of observation by actively taking note of what was in our peripheral vision. The last method Jack used to increase our awareness was to guide us in a mapping of our surroundings. When discussing our maps it was apparent that there were many different details one could include beyond a scale, compass and labels that would provide useful, orienting information. For instance I paid close attention to ‘fingers’ stretching out of the Granite and Providence mountain ranges.

After lunch the group that went with Chris practiced ‘spinning the wheel’ and we did this in three ways. First we gathered around a flowering plant and made some direct observations. “Some leaves have a white coating on them.” “The flowers have 8-11 petals.” “It tastes like Rosemary.” Beginning to spin, we started asking questions and decided to analyze whether it actually had many flowers within the immediately apparent ‘flower’. It turned out that our ability to answer that question was limited by the magnification of our optics (though Chris informed us that this was indeed the case). The next step was incorporating our journals while examining Yucca Schidigera flowers. The pistol seemed to be unusually large which we found was partially due to our samples being aged, with almost ripe fruit present. The last step was to spin the wheel and journal while on the move, balancing our observations and recording. This proved to be the most difficult and encouraged us to think and write fast.

Emily gave a presentation on plant adaptations to the desert and how the adaptations were related to elevation. Succulents thrive in gravelly soil with short roots. Some plants manage to grow in saline soil by expelling salt through their leaves. Carrie explained Cam photosynthesis to us, a process which allows desert plants to minimize evaporation by ‘breathing’ at night. Gathering CO2 at night and storing it until they can gather light during the day.