After surviving a night filled with powerful winds that forced Prof. Börk to seek refuge in one of the SUVs, we quickly broke camp down and set out for the third day of our tour.
As we travelled, we took in the unique road signs that so appropriately captured the likely perils: "Dust Hazard," "Blowing Dust," "cow" (image of cow), "truck" (image of truck). While all noteworthy, an Amber Alert sign programmed to read "Deer Migration" remained the favorite because one student mistakenly, or perhaps wishfully, read it as "Beer Migration."
Associate Dean Jeffrey E. Proske discusses details about the Joshua tree's relationship with its environment.
Stopping at a lovely roadside Joshua tree, our resident botany expert Prof. Proske provided a brief glimpse into the ecology of Joshua trees including their unique symbiosis with the yucca moth. The sole pollinator of Joshua trees, yucca moths rely on Joshua trees to harbor their eggs. Additionally, we learned about the threat posed by persistent climate change induced drought which is harder on young Joshua trees because they lack the more extensive root structures of their mature counterparts.
After a very close vote where students were forced to make a nearly unconscionable choice between a hike to a waterfall and hunting for trilobites, a single vote determined the outcome. Hunting for trilobites won! However, the victors would have to wait for their time in the rock pile. The day was just getting started and there was so much more to see.
One of the views from the Father Crowley Monument.
Our next stop was the Father Crowley Monument with its spectacular view of Rainbow Canyon, the Panamint Valley, and Panamint Range. Here, students presented on Environmental Justice and Climate Change. In particular, students looked at cases brought by citizens that sought to address the impact of global climate change. The presentation noted the effect of climate change on multiple species, including Joshua trees.
Stovetop Wells Sand Dunes at Death Valley.
The trip soon went downhill as we descended into Death Valley. While it wasn't one of the record 134-degree days, it was hot enough when we arrived at the Stovepipe Wells Sand Dunes. Adventurous students ventured far into the dunes, perhaps in search of some rare type of sand that could not just as readily be found near the parking lot. The large water jugs we brought with us were in high demand as students topped off their water bottles before we left what was perhaps the trip's ultimate hot spot.
A blue water pool at Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge.
From there we travelled to Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, paused for some lunch and presentations, then made our way out to a small brilliant blue pool that provides the home for the endangered Ash Meadows pupfish. Looking down from the platform above, students attempted to glimpse one of the small silvery fish, but at under an inch in length this was a pretty big challenge. Nevertheless, some students are quite certain they spied a pupfish flitting about in the water below. A very magnanimous Prof. McCaffrey went to the visitor center and filled out the requisite paperwork (and paid a fee) to adopt a pupfish. As of yet, Prof. McCaffrey has not revealed the lucky pupfish's name.
While waiting for rest stop stragglers in Shoshone, we saw a roadrunner run across the road--twice. The sheriff showed up promptly, presumably to respond to a report of speeding. Likely to the sheriff's chagrin, the road-running culprit had already fled the scene.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere at the type of location that caused us all to ask "how does Prof. Börk find these spots?" we pulled over on a desolate stretch of road. From there students took a brief hike to a hill that was covered in pieces of shale deposits. The search for trilobites was afoot. Many McGeorge students did their best to leave no rock unturned as they quested for the fossilized forms of the early arthropods.
After hunting for trilobites, or more aptly "trilobits" since most of the fossils were incomplete, we were back on the road. Travelling down CA-127, we spotted the roadrunner's nemesis: coyote!
Soon after that, a huge dust storm popped up, causing us all to stop before proceeding with caution. As if one dust storm wasn't enough, we hit a second before arriving at our Bureau of Land Management campground outside of Barstow. Having survived extreme heat, hunted for trilobites, and negotiated two dust storms, we were ready for camp. As we pulled onto the dirt road leading into the campground, it seemed like our chili dinner was well within reach. Not so fast! A last treacherous descent down a highly uneven dirt road strewn with boulders and sand pockets stood between our vehicles and camp. Perhaps because of our skilled drivers, perhaps because of sheer dumb luck, every single vehicle made it safely down to camp.
The day three camp at the Bureau of Land Management campground outside of Barstow.
Dinner preparations got underway and with the exception of a scorpion sighting and some campfire shenanigans the rest of the night passed uneventfully.
About the author: Anna Lisa Thomas is a third-year law student at McGeorge. She has a MA in History from UC Davis where she studied Early American and Environmental history. She also has a current National Parks Pass and has road tripped from San Diego to Seattle on the West Coast and from Acadia National Park in Maine to Key West on the East Coast. She has crossed back and forth across the United States by car four times (always different routes) and is looking forward to a fifth trip after graduation in May. She has been to Europe, but she still abides by the advice that her professor of History of the West offered her sophomore year at UCSB which went something like: "this is an amazing and beautiful country, go get in a car and see it."
About the course: The McGeorge course "California Environmental Cases & Places" centers on a four-day field trip that takes students on a camping trip across California, exposing them to a broad range of natural resource issues. The 2018 trip traced a 1,000-mile loop from Sacramento, east over the Sierra Nevada to South Lake Tahoe, then down I-395 to Mono Lake and then southeast to the dustbowl of Owens Dry Lake, Death Valley, and the Mojave Desert, and then finally back to Sacramento via the farmlands of the Central Valley.