Big Bend National Park, West Texas


Anatomy of a Desert

Offered jointly by the Geology and Biology programs under the course heading SCIE 250, Anatomy of the Desert exposes students to complex ecology, natural resources, and geology of the Big Bend National Park area. Big Bend is unique because it is one of the most geologically diverse regions in the continental United States. It also  encompasses three unique habitats: 1) the Chihuahuan Desert, the driest desert in North America and a prime example of a low-altitude desert; 2) the Chisos Mountains, an excellent example of a high-altitude desert; and 3) canyons formed by the Rio Grande River. Students conduct field projects in the various habitats of Big Bend and take a side trip to world-famous Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico. The group arrives in and departs from El Paso, Texas, and travels to Big Bend via vans. The group camps in Big Bend Park for several days, stays in cabins, and eats at the rustic Terlingua Ranch Resort for 2 weeks, and finishes with a short camping trip to Carlsbad, New Mexico. This course is both physically and intellectually demanding–participants are in the field each day and can expect to do a lot of hiking, often at high altitude. 

At present, this 3-week J Term course alternates with the Hawaii course and is offered every other January. There are no prerequisite courses, but four or five pre-trip meetings are required. The syllabus provides details of the student work involved in the course. Click the individual images above or the links below to see some of the trip highlights.