Sunday, October 23, 2016

Borrego Days Open House

-from the Head Curator

Beautiful blue skies in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
Mammoth skull in plaster cast
Saturday, October 22 and Sunday October 23 are the Borrego Days Open Houses at the Anza-Borrego Foundation's Visitor Center, Archaeology and Paleontology labs.  Saturday, Head Curator Anne Morgan and Curation/Education staff Edgar Bernal Sevilla drove out to Borrego Springs to attend the open houses and talk with some volunteers and specialists.  Many of their volunteers have also been volunteers at the Desert Museum and helped curate large collections of artifacts here.

Volunteers removing part mammoth tusk from plaster cast

The theme for the Paleontological Society this year was "Ancient Horses of Anza-Borrego"
and experts were on hand to show visitors bones of the ancient horses who lived in the park region, as well as comparisons with bones from modern horses.  Several volunteers were working on carefully removing a mammoth tusk from its' plaster cast and talked to Anne and Edgar about the techniques paleontologists used on excavations.  The method of removing animal bones by covering them in plaster to protect them during transport hasn't changed since the early days of paleontological work!

Giant tortoise shell, upside down, still partially in plaster cast
A giant tortoise was also having its' cast removed.  The tortoise was thought to have lived about 2 million years ago, and it was on its' fifth year of having the cast removed.

Fossil echinoid discovered by Morlin Childers and given scientific name  Schizaster morlini in his honor

Edgar was especially excited to meet volunteer Linda Gilbert, who has been working on the recently acquired Morlin Childers paleontological collection.  Since Edgar is working in the Childers archaeology collection recently brought to the Desert Museum, the two had lots of stories to share! Staff were also honored to meet George T. Jefferson, the park's (now retired) paleontologist who talked with them about mammoth bones found by IVC's George Miller in 1986.

It was great seeing so many people out celebrating Borrego Days and enjoying discovering more about the amazing stories found right there in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We hope some of you got the chance to go out and participate!

Edgar's selfie with a saber-toothed cat 

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Sign of Things to Come

-from Marcie Rodriguez, Education Coordinator

I spent my Wednesday working with Dan Evers 
from the Rainforest Art Project, an organization that is a nature and history-based, educational, healing arts program inspiring children and their families by building a sense of pride and ownership through the creation of permanent ceramic and mosaic art. We have begun to work together to build an entry sign for the Imperial Valley Desert Museum with the students from Seeley Unified School District. This is of particular excitement for me, as I am from Seeley, and my daughter attends the school. This makes this project extremely personal, as the kids I am working with are not simply kids I met on this project, but they are my neighbors, my daughter's friends, and a part of my personal community. 

My daughter helping us with the sign! 

The sign is going to be gorgeous. There are brilliantly colored glass peices that are being placed in a mosaic that will reflect the beautiful natural landscape that surrounds the museum. It will feature native plants, like to ocotillo, and animals, including a roadrunner and a scorpion. While teaching students about the process of making a glass mosaic, I hope to teach them a little bit about their home as well. This will be a fantastic project to be able to work with these students to show them how art, science, and history are not isolated subjects, but are deeply entertwined with each other. 
Dan Evers working with students!
The completed sign will greet visitors as they turn onto Frontage Road towards the Museum.  It has been partially financed with a grant from the Imperial Valley Community Foundation and partially funded by a public benefits grant sponsored by Jack Terrazas with the Imperial County Board of Supervisors.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Timeless Puzzle

-from Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

Edgar Bernal Sevilla examining ceramic sherds from Yuha Desert, IVDM collection 
Today was one of those days that, long after I move on from the Imperial Valley Desert Museum (hopefully a very, very long time from now), I will fondly look back at with a wisp of a smile on my face.  Like when I decided to try my hand at flintknapping, I was itching for something out of the ordinary. The opportunity came when Neal decided figuring out what the desert Kumeyaay were eating in the Yuha Desert was of the utmost importance. And thus, a new adventure began.

Looking at archaeology as a 3-D ceramic puzzle  
To save us all from details that are most likely only interesting to me, we’ll skip to the part when I at long last found the droids- erm . . .- pottery sherds I was looking for. Had I known as a kid I would be putting ancient pottery sherds together like a jigsaw puzzle in order to send them to get chemical analysis, I would’ve sent myself a giant, paradoxical, time-breaking high five. 

Yuha Desert ceramic sherds, IVDM collection
I spent a few hours moving pieces and figuring out which ones would be the best for analysis. Anne (our head curator and my direct boss); Lindsay Porras, an archaeological researcher currently working on a Master's of Arts in Applied Archaeology from the Department of Anthropology, California State University, San Bernadino, who happened to be in the building doing research on archaeology around the Salton Sea; and I put our brains together and we came up with a criteria for sherds that would be good candidates for chemical analysis- focusing on potsherds that were the bottom of a vessel used for cooking and therefore the most likely to contain traceable food residue.

Piecing together rims to get size of pot
It’s funny that here at the IVDM, I do quite a bit of work that I feel wildly unqualified to do. I often have thoughts of “am I allowed to touch that?” and, perhaps most tellingly, “you’re asking me to do what!?” I often forget that I am now a museum professional with a history degree who has yet to fail in a task I’ve been assigned that my mind tells me I’m wildly unqualified for. Working out here is empowering, and my professional self esteem is frantically trying to catch up to everything I’m learning and my professional competency level. I’m occasionally asked things by other staff members rather than always being the inquirer. I occasionally suggest changes to the museum to my superiors and, to my amazement, they usually agree. And yes Edgar, you ARE allowed to touch those ancient pottery sherds (with curation gloves on, of course.) In fact, you personally were specifically the one asked to do so. And in doing so, I put together a timeless puzzle, taking another step in my journey as a museum professional, and as a confident human being as a whole.

An adventure in archaeology and being a museum professional

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Night of the Tortoises

-from the Head Curator

One of the perks of being a member of the Imperial Valley Desert Museum Society are the members-only events we occasionally hold.  Last night we held our first members-only Evening with an Expert event of the season.  David Lamfrom, Director of the California Desert and Wildlife Programs with the National Parks Conservation Association; wildlife photographer; conservation advocate; and president of the Mojave National Preserve Conservancy, came out to speak about desert tortoises and a youth program he did called Tortoises Through the Lens.

David Lamfrom signed copies of Tortoises Through the Lens after his talk
"As long as I can remember, I've been fascinated by animals: wanting to know what their lives are like, and how I could help them" Lamfrom said.  His passion and enthusiasm for the desert, protecting it, and exposing others to it, came through in every moment of his talk.  He described how, as a native of Southern Florida, he was fascinated by the beauty of the very different landscape of the California deserts- and how he was shocked by locals who not only saw no beauty in where they lived, but couldn't wait to leave it.  In 2008 he was in the first class to win a National Audubon Society Toyota TogetherGreen Fellowship and began to connect children to the desert through photography.  This became Tortoises Through the Lens: a program where kids were given cameras and taken out into the Mojave Desert to discover what they thought mattered.  After a meeting with a small tortoise, the group was hooked.  The result has been a whole new generation of "desert rats", advocating for the desert, the desert tortoises, and their habitats.  The students' photography became Tortoises Through the Lens, a book "of their eighteen-month adventure to seek out, photograph, and learn about the desert tortoises and the harsh land that they inhabit."
Marcie Rodriguez, Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Robin Dodge, David Lamfrom
& Dr. Robert Wishner with Ramses

After the talk, members shared stories about tortoises they had known as pets, as well as their experiences in the desert.  Lamfrom's experience of kids not being able to wait until they could move away was familiar to everyone in the room.  "We're not taught to love our desert" Marcie Rodriguez, IVDM Education Co-ordinator agreed with Lamfrom.  "I didn't know how amazing this place was until I came to the museum.  Now there's a place for people with a passion to come and learn and share ideas and advocate.  It's my goal to make sure no Imperial Valley student feels the way I did about growing up in the Valley."

New outdoor test panels encourage visitors to explore the lives of desert tortoises

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Breaking Point

-from the Head Curator
Christian Schoneman & Bruce Wilcox at IVDM Breaking Point screening
Fall has arrived and with it the beginning of a new season of events at the Desert Museum!  We kicked off the new season with the screening of a fascinating new documentary on the Salton Sea: Breaking Point.  This 2015 award-winning documentary has some of the newest information on the current status of the Salton Sea, as well as some of the possible plans for its future.

What's a movie without popcorn?
 If you follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, are a member, or are on our email list, you saw that because of the expected popularity of the documentary, we held two screenings: Saturday September 24 and Saturday October 1.  Over 50 people attended the events.  They were joined by Terry Weiner, Imperial County Projects and Conservation Coordinator for the Desert ProtectiveCouncil who sponsored the event; Christian Schoneman, Project Leader at the Sonny Bono Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge Complex; and Bruce Wilcox, Assistant Secretary for the California Resources Agency.  After watching Breaking Point people were able to talk with Schoneman and Wilcox, and ask questions about the present and future of the Sea and plans for its restoration. Great questions were asked and the discussions were full of interesting information. “There are reasons to be positive” Schoneman said. “There is progress being made.”

Progress has come in many forms.  In this year’s state budget, $80.5 million have been allocated to fund designs and construction of habitats around the edges of the Sea- more than California has ever allocated to the Salton Sea before.  In a speech at Lake Tahoe at the beginning of September, President Obama unveiled plans for the federal government to commit $30 million over the next decade to support Salton Sea restoration efforts.  This is the first time the federal government has signed on to financially support specific Salton Sea management actions.  The first shovels have already begun to work on the Red Hill Bay RestorationProject.  This restoration effort will cover 420 acres of exposed shoreline with water on the south side of the sea, near Calipatria.  If it is successful, the project will be repeated in other places along the shore.  The $3.5 million project will build shallow wetland  terraces, with diverted Salton Sea water and agricultural runoff from the Alamo River to create new habitats along the Red Hill Bay shoreline.

We will keep everyone as updated as possible on the plans moving forward for the Salton Sea. Follow us on FaceBook and Twitter, send us an email to get on our mailing list, or go to our website to find out about becoming a member and be the first to hear about exciting upcoming events!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Small Pupfish in a Big Oasis

-Edgar Bernal Sevilla, Curation/Education Staff

Edgar Bernal Sevilla & Richard Barnes at beginning of conference
This week Richard Barnes, a former museum intern, and I were invited by my boss, Dr. Neal Hitch, to attend my first museum conference as a museum professional.  It was the Western Museums Association Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  It was both exciting and intimidating, and a great experience.

At our first conference mixer, Neal directed me to get two business cards: one from someone at my general rank, and one from someone with way more experience than me. I ended up succeeding (after a few drinks), emerging from the crowd a few hours later with the business card of a young Chicago saleswoman and a titan in the exhibit design industry. Success! 

Steve Hoza, Nadia Arrambla, Neal Hitch, Berlin Loa
The sessions the next day varied from extremely interesting to somewhat disappointing. I got some fantastic ideas from some sessions, while others were just lectures about what seemed (to me) like common sense. While I was awed at first by talks from museums with hundreds of employees or millions of dollars in their annual budgets, the overall feeling I got from the conference is that our tiny little museum in the middle of nowhere is actually pretty cutting edge. 

Label Hoff, George Ramirez, Michael Connolly Miskwish, Kelly Hyberger. San Diego Museum of Man
My favorite session had to be one on Tuesday titled “Decolonization of the San Diego Museum of Man.” It is safe to say that it was one of the most diverse panels in the conference. The diversity was also extremely refreshing because you could see different perspectives about a wide variety of topics from different cultures including the Kumeyaay and Hispanic communities.  I was thoroughly impressed with their work decolonizing the San Diego Museum of Man and they seemed to me the model of a diverse organization: one where different backgrounds and perspectives allowed for a much greater effectiveness solving problems to achieve one goal. It was inspiring and I made sure to get a few business cards from SMoM.

Neal Hitch & Edgar Bernal Sevilla at Arizona Science Center
All in all, attending the WMA conference was a fantastic experience. I came back with many new ideas and much stronger confidence in my own abilities as a museum professional. I had never thought about making museum work a career, it always seemed like a means to an end, but coming back from that conference made me feel empowered, like there was no museum problem I couldn’t tackle. Seeing how my little tiny museum stacked up with the rest of the museums in the American West made me more confident. The conference made me feel like I could go anywhere and be more than competent at any facet of museum work (probably not true but that was my feeling). Seeing how many skills I had that other people in larger, more specialized museums don’t have also made me feel extremely capable. I shouldn’t let it get to my head, after all, I have less than a year of experience doing this, but I feel that, if I stick to this profession, I’m going to do alright wherever life takes me.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

New Olla Comes to IVDM

-from the Head Curator

Manfred Knaak, Betsy Knaak, Anne Morgan with new olla
A new olla came to the Imperial Valley Desert Museum today!

The olla, a large ceramic vessel, was brought to the attention of Betsy Knaak, Executive Director of Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, who worked with the donor and the Desert Museum to bring the olla back to the Imperial Valley from Arizona.

This afternoon she and her husband Manfred Knaak, anthropology professor at the Imperial Valley College, delivered the olla to the museum.  The olla was packed in Arizona and no one saw it before it made its journey. The unveiling came when it was unpacked - several visitors were lucky enough to be in the building when the Knaaks arrived and were invited to join. 
Manfred Knaak, Imperial Valley College archaeology professor

Several ollas have come to the museum through families in the last year. Often the ollas were taken out of the desert years ago by someones grandparents. Today, it is not legal to remove artifacts from federal lands. We have been thrilled to work with families to bring the ollas back to where they can be seen by the public.

The new olla will be accessioned into the Museum's collection, carefully photographed, measured, and recorded. Notes will be made of specific features, like the pitch or tar repair along the rim where it was cracked but repaired to continue using.

Copy of original magazine that inspired Larrabee to search for gold
Donated by David Larrabee, the olla had been found by his father Robert over fifty years ago somewhere in the "Borrego Desert".  Robert and his friends, inspired by a magazine article in True West, went in search of gold.  While they never found any, Robert did find this olla, "the only treasure the Borrego Desert was to share with me."  Now, thanks to the generosity of David Larrabee and his family, the olla will be shared with the public in the Museum's Visible Storage exhibit, and may teach researchers something new about the story of people and the desert.