Anatomy of a Desert
Professors: Mary Allen (Biology) and Eric Johnson (Geology)
Anatomy of a Desert surveys the wide variety of desert environments at the Big Bend National Park in Texas. Big Bend is unique because it is one of the most geologically diverse regions in the continental United States, and because it encompasses three unique habitats: the Chihuauan Desert, the driest desert in North America and an example of low altitude desert, the Chicos Mountains, an excellent example of high altitude desert, and canyons formed by the Rio Grande River. Students will conduct field work in the various habitats of Big Bend and take an overnight raft or canoe trip down the Rio Grande River. The course will focus on the spatial relationships of the Chihuahuan Desert at Big Bend National Park—its geologic formations, desert ecology, resources/resource management (i.e., water), and borderlands/political geography. Students will analyze these relationships with the use of GIS (geographic information systems) technology, and will work in teams in the field to gather GPS (global positioning satellite) data, which they will use to build their own maps of the area. Students will also learn about the geology, natural history and ecology of the areas that they map and address issues of human impact, through water use, on desert environments throughout the Southwest.
Students may choose to receive one of two different types of Curriculum XXI credit for this course: Biology or Geology lab credit. All students will participate in the same activities during the first two weeks of the trip. During the last week, students will work on research projects specifically related to the kind of Curriculum XXI credit they chose to receive for the course.