Desert discoveries

“We’d been in the desert,” explained Sam Boyd, ’08, when suddenly his group saw “beautiful virgin forests and there were deer everywhere.” While driving between Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, the landscape metamorphosed, no longer the arid, rocky environment where they had spent the past week.

Boyd traveled the Southwest for Eric Larsen’s biology field school, Natural History of North American Deserts. For the two weeks after spring quarter's conclusion, Larsen, along with Boyd and 12 other students, drove from desert to desert, working on research projects and exploring their surroundings. During the field school, an optional extension of Larsen’s spring-quarter Deserts class, the students usually stayed near camp to avoid the daytime heat, according to Boyd, while at night they hiked and collected data. Because of the long driving time between locations, students spent around six nights in deserts doing research. As a result, they had small data sets compared to professional studies, but, Boyd explained, the goal was simply to learn research methodology.

The group explored many of the Southwest’s most well-known locales, such as Death Valley, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and the Grand Canyon. Larsen made sure to include a trip to Mexico featuring a “tasty and inexpensive” lunch, said Boyd, for students who had never left the United States. He noticed that Larsen was much quieter outside the classroom, most likely because of how many destinations he had crammed into two weeks. “The driving," Boyd laughed, "took a lot out of the professor.”

Seth Mayer, '08

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Photos (left to right): The sun sets in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; students walk down a trail in Death Valley; a student takes in the view in Bryce Canyon National Park.

Photos courtesy of Yaya Tang, '08.

July 16, 2007