Saturday, April 22, 2017

An Oasis in the Mojave

The sunset over Zzyzx
- by Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

In my newest museum travelling adventure, I was asked by Linda Gilbert, my Anza-Borrego Paleo Society Childers presentation partner, to do our presentation with her at the Zzyzx Desert Symposium, put on by Cal State Fullerton annually in a research complex in the middle of the Mojave. I agreed and the Paleo Society graciously sponsored our presentation and I set off to the Zzyzx, not knowing what to expect.
Edgar and Linda smile in front of their poster
I had seen the sign to Zzyzx on the way to Las Vegas before, and always wondered what was up with that jumble of letters. I decided not to think much about it as I took off from the valley, more excited about the desert landscape I was about to witness than the actual conference itself (what a nerd I know). I was very intrigued by the differences in blooming desert plants. The bloom has been over in the lower Colorado for several weeks now, but just north of Palm Springs, the creosotes have flowers and no fruit. Slowly, the landscape started featuring more yuccas, with the occasional joshua tree. After a few hours of driving through the wonderful Mojave, I took a dirt road and arrived to Zzyzx.
The tranquil central pond of Zzyzx
The grounds were beautiful. The facility is essentially an oasis centered around two large ponds. The grounds were far enough from the highway that a serene quiet enveloped Zzyzx, with only the sounds of birds and other wildlife filling the space. I walked a small path to a pond of pupfish, which were tiny and beautiful. At the largest pond, a bird dove into the water and splashed me, which was an incredible experience.
The event itself was very informative. I learned so much about the Mojave. Two of the most interesting presentations to me were about desert tortoises, which I found fascinating and relevant because of our upcoming outdoor tortoise exhibits at the museum. I learned about the desert tortoise’s natural predators and their reproductive habits.
Overall it was a lot of fun. I had a tough time shortening my presentation to ten minutes but Linda and I did great. The poster she made for the poster session following our talk was gorgeous, and attracted a lot of visitors. That night, I took my cot to the balcony and slept under the stars. It was truly a great experience and I cannot wait to go back.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Spring 2017 Events

Spring is in the air, and the museum is abuzz with excitement preparing for our upcoming spring events. We have two “Evening with an Expert” with our Wine Tasting Event in between.
The Evening with an Expert are member events in support of our National Endowment of Humanities Challenge Grant.  This endowment funds two staff positions within the museum, but we must meet our matching goals every year until 2019. 

The first “Evening with an Expert” coming up is on April 22, featuring Stan Rodriguez. Stan is recognized as THE expert on Kumeyaay traditions, and will be giving a lecture on medicinal desert plants. RSVPs are required, and the suggested donation for the event is $35 a seat. Only 25 seats are available, so call now!These event are fun and Stan Rodriguez will sell out quickly.

The second event coming up is our “Art, Wine, Music” Friendraiser, hosted by IVDM Society board member Antonio Rivera. It will be on May 18 -International Museum’s Day!

From 6:30pm – 8:30pm we will be hosting the event at the Old Post Office Pavilion in El Centro. Guests can participate in wine tasting and a silent auction. All of the wines will be from the Valle de Guadalupe in Baja California, imported in for us by Baja Wine+Food, out of San Diego, and hors d’oeuvres will be provided by Sobe’s Restaurant. Tickets are $25 in advance, and $30 at the door, and can be purchased at the museum or from any board member.


Our final event is another “Evening with an Expert” on June 17th.  This one will feature Marie Barret, a local wildlife biologist with over 20 years experience working with birds of the Imperial Valley. She will be talking about her work with the burrowing owl. RSVPs are required, and the suggested donation for the event is $35 a seat. As with our first “Evening with an Expert,” only 25 seats are available, so don’t wait to request a seat! 

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Holtville 6th Graders Propagating Ocotillo

This week we have had nearly 250 6th graders come through the museum on field trips!

We also started our Ocotillo propagation program.

Beginning this week, on one of the legs of the sixth grade field trip we began a hands on propagation project. The students hiked down into the wash and took a cutting from one of our ocotillo bushes. Then we had students follow these steps:

1.  cut the colotillo branch in 8" sections
2. mix a nutrient rich soil by combining sand, compost and manure
3. place the 8"section of ocotillo in a small pot
4. cover the ocotillo section with 4 inches of soil
5. place containers into flats of 16 ocotillos
6. water

Though we live in a community that has an economy based on farming, it is amazing how little students actually know about fairly simple processes of plant propagation. Like, where seeds come from. Or the difference between dirt and soil.

I have worked with Vince Zazueta at both the 6th Street Community Garden and the Harding Elementary Garden, so I know others are also teaching the basics of how things grow. But as we begin a new five year strategic plan to develop the gardens we are going to come at this from all angles. Growing cactus is fun, it is also very educational. Oh, and a little sticky. If you know what I mean.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Wild Flowers!

~Education Coordinator - Marcie Rodriguez

The museum’s grounds have been full of life this wildflower season. We have seen a wondrous variety of flowers appearing, and would like to share a few with you:

These small purple flowers are known as “purple mat”. They only grow to be about 3 inches high off the ground, and like gravelly or sandy areas.

Our prickly pears have begun to flower as well. Both the fruit that these flowers will produce and the paddles of the prickly pear are edible.  

The small white flowers are “popcorn flowers”, and are named so because when they bloom they look like bunches of popcorn. They are in the “forget-me-not” family, and there are 65 species of them worldwide!

Creosote bushes can be found all over our corner of the desert. There is a creosote ring in the Mojave that is estimated to be 11, 700 years old, and is one of the oldest organisms on the planet.

The Mojave Indigo Bush has beautiful dark indigo flowers that contrast wonderfully with the olive leaves. They can be found in the Mojave, Colorado, and the Great Basin Deserts, along with the northern section of the Sonoran Desert.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Millennials and the Quest for the Wild

Edgar surveys the Yuha Desert

-by Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

I know I have been a little inconsistent with my supposedly weekly hiking adventures, but the last month has been a busy one. I finally got the chance to get back on the dusty trail (or lack of trail) much to my heart’s content. I chose a truly grand undertaking; I wanted to tackle the largest mountain in the Coyote range, Carrizo Peak.
I, perhaps unsurprisingly, failed.
Edgar and his friend Max
I set off with my friend Max to the Coyotes at around 4 AM. I had heard that the trailhead was somewhere in Painted Gorge, so we started there. We then got lost in the dark, so we pulled over, set up our tiny (non-invasive) portable camp stove, and cooked some chili. As the sun began to rise, I climbed out of the gorge through a wash, and was greeted with an exhilarating view. As the cool wind nibbled at my face, the purples, reds, and greens of the gorge swam before my eyes. I told Max to follow me up and then we climbed to the top of a nearby hill. I had climbed this very same hill the last time I was at the Coyotes, but the sunrise blessed me with a completely different view. The hues of the sky blended just as beautifully as did those of the gorge, albeit with brighter, more striking colors.
Dawn in the desert
Moments like that cannot be bought or sold. They can only be experienced. It is something that more and more Americans, particularly young people, are realizing. While millennials are often typecast as technology dependent urban dwellers, there is a growing pull to nature blossoming within the selfie generation. Posts glorifying the outdoors explode on social media all the time. Conservation movements are getting strong support from young people; perhaps the greatest example of this is the opposition movement to the Dakota Access Pipeline that clearly struck a nerve with young adults. Although not specifically a conservation movement, protecting natural resources is undoubtedly a cause that resonates powerfully within what might be the most urbanized generation in our nation’s history. Similar to the Wilderness Cult of the turn of the century that influenced the founding of our national parks, pushback to increasing urbanization could be the cause of millennial interest in the outdoors. Although this is pure speculation, other factors for this “quest for the wild” could be the inability to afford the attractions of the city, the increasing relevance of the finite resources and nature on Earth, and the inability to find (and afford) life satisfaction in the creature comforts of the previous generation.
Edgar explores a small side canyon
Although this is anecdotal, the weekend I took my hike had three different friends also post nature experiences like mountain climbing and hiking. I’ve had many young people ask me about my hikes in person, with a few asking if they could go on the next one. As cities expand ruthlessly and more and more people are online, the quest to get away from that magnifies in importance. Perhaps this generation can ignite the next powerful conservation movement.

As for my own quest for Carrizo Peak, it had to be postponed. We didn’t find the trailhead until we had been out exploring for hours. We took a raincheck from the mountain, marked down the trailhead, and vowed to return. The peak has been there for millions of years. It can wait a week or two.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Children Are Here!

Edgar goes over the rock cycle

-By Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

This week’s hiking blog post is going to be about one of my least physically demanding but favorite hikes: elementary school field trips! Field trip season has begun here at the museum and we just had our first week of school visits. As usual, I led the hiking/field education part of the field trip. We tailor our field trip program according to the grades of our visitors, and since we’ve had mostly 4th graders, I introduced the children to the rock cycle and centered the hike on rock types and geological processes. And, also as usual, I had a blast while doing it.

Albert helps a student with her pot
In case you are not familiar with our incredibly successful field trip program, here’s an overview. The field trips are usually split into three different sections: history, coiled clay art, and hiking. These different sections allow for a holistic and multifaceted learning experience concerning the desert in which we live.

While each of our staff members can lead any given section on demand, we tend to have our favorites. The history section deals with two main subjects: the history of water in the Imperial Valley and the Kumeyaay, the indigenous people of our part of the valley. Students get an informative tour of the museum, usually by Angelina, one of our staff members. The coiled clay section of the field trip is usually given by Albert, one of our two education coordinators. Students learn to create clay pots made in the same style as those of the Kumeyaay that are on display. Students then get to go on a hike out into the desert led by yours truly. Different grade levels get different hikes, depending on what they are going to cover in school. We can give hikes with many different focuses, including but not limited to: geology, botany, ethnobotany, zoology, and human culture.

Students explore olla uses with Angelina
Our field trip program, organized by our other education coordinator Marcie Rodriguez, is growing exponentially. Two years ago, we had 423 children come through the field trip program. In the first 6 weeks of 2017 we have already had 465. It's gonna be a big year!

As for the actual hikes themselves, they’ve been a lot of fun. After giving a geology lesson from our "GEOLOGY IS THE SCIENCE OF GETTING YOUR HANDS DIRTY" toolbox, I took these fourth graders down to the wash behind the museum all the way to our mini 1.5 foot sandstone canyon, making several stops along the way. I love leading these hikes because children are so incredibly inquisitive and eager to learn.

“What’s this type of rock teacher?”
“And this one?”
“And what about this one Edgar!”
“Also quartz.”

Whether it’s rocks, cactus, or coyote prints, that level of interest keeps me energized, even on days towards the end of the field trip season when it starts to get hot and I’m the only person that has to go outside three times. This energy allows me to do my job well, and have a blast doing it.

My coworkers all feel the same way, we talk about it all the time!

Friday, January 27, 2017

New Year, New Horizons

Edgar's mother and father are caught unaware in a postcard perfect picture
- By Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

As comes the New Year, so too do the winds of change breeze through the Imperial Valley Desert Museum. Since 2016 was the last year of our five year plan, we spent the latter part of the year asking the community through various mediums what they want to see from us. The community responded, and an overwhelming number of them were interested in seeing a greater emphasis on desert hikes in the museum. Favorites included staff led hikes, more support for hikers (information, equipment etc.) and more outdoor exhibits on museum grounds. As such, we are declaring 2017 as our Year of the Outdoors.
Edgar surveys the upper canyon walls

It is a fantastic coincidence that this push for the outdoors begins as I myself have been pushing for the outdoors in my private and professional life. As the usual hike leader for field trips to the museum, I expect to be heavily involved in most of our outdoor projects this year. More information on upcoming projects will be out soon!

Edgar and his brothers Jorge and Carlos

As for this week’s hike (“this week” being New Years week, we have been very busy at the museum!), I decided to go somewhere a little unfamiliar. New year, new horizons right? My family and I visited the Painted Canyon in the Mecca Hills near Mecca. There, we did the Mecca Hills Ladder Hike, which, as the name suggests, is a hike through a rough slot canyon with ladders in several parts of the hike where climbing gear would normally be needed to proceed. My previous hiking experience centered around areas near the IVDM’s location in Ocotillo, so the landscape of Mecca Hills, despite being part of the same valley, seemed totally alien to me. The dull gray stone that formed the walls of the canyon was not one found around Ocotillo, and neither were the large pink tinged quartz nodes that occasionally jutted from the canyon floor. The mountains were shaped differently as well. The desert varnish was of the darker variety, indicating more manganese present than iron, unlike the varnish of the western valley. Those were the few differences in geology I noticed. As is obvious, I am not a geologist.The flora was different as well, but I am even less a botanist than I am a geologist, so all I can say is the shrubs were not creosotes and were, for the most part, larger than the ones we have in our side of the valley.

The view that mesmerized Jorge
The ladders were tricky, and by the end of the hike all of the adults (my mom, dad, and I) were exhausted. The spry young lads that are my brothers had an easier time on their first desert hike. Both fell in love with the experience of nature, something that they hadn’t really explored before like they were doing today. My brother Jorge was particularly stricken by the beauty of nature hikes. Once he reached the highest point of the hike, he sat down alone for 15 minutes taking in the view of the Mecca farming community and the Salton Sea, crowned by the Santa Rosa Mountains behind it. The moment that he had on that hill top was the same moment I had when I was guided by that crazy crow to the top of the Coyote foothills as I oversaw the entire southern Imperial Valley. Moments like that ensnare the mind with the splendor of nature. It’s hard to go back from there. It seems like my list of hiking companions has grown!