Guest Post: A student shares her experience in the desert

Savannah Sipes, a volunteer from California Lutheran University, joined us on our most recent field expedition.

Below, she shares her perspective on this experience.

Over my Thanksgiving Break I spent six days out in the Mojave Desert volunteering for Blueprint Earth. At first I was not too sure of what to expect, I knew they were cataloging the environment, but what that entailed I wasn’t too sure. I was just mainly hoping to gain some useful experience. 

On Monday I met the CEO, Jess Peláez, and the COO, Carlos Peláez. In addition to being welcoming and friendly, they were also a great source of information. I rode up with Jess and was just mesmerized by her knowledge, experiences, and advice. It was great to talk to a scientist about her experiences with school (both undergraduate and graduate), careers, and research. It allowed me to broaden my own visions for what may come in my own future. 

The first day was mainly an overload of information and introductions. The second day is when we made our way out to the field area, which was a surprise. When I pictured the field area I imagined the terrain you drive by on your way to Vegas: flat, dry, and a small variety of vegetation. The actual field site was in the mountains of the Mojave, backed up against a couple cinder cone volcanoes. There were small streams, and a large variety of plants, animals, and rocks. On our trip Dr. Jim Ryan accompanied us. He is a mammalogist from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Each day we were in the field we set up thirty-nine traps to catch small mammals in. A majority of what we caught were canyon mice, but we also caught a pocket mouse, two wood rats, and a white tailed antelope ground squirrel. My job as a volunteer was mostly to observe and record. When we set out the traps we would take a GPS reading of the location, a picture of the environment it was set in, and write a description of the surrounding area. There was a specific format for taking notes, so that way when we went to enter the information into the computer it was easily transcribed. We left the traps out over night, and in the morning we would check to see if an animal had wandered in. If they did we would put them into a mesh bag so we could get a better hold on them. Dr. Ryan handled the larger, more aggressive animals, but he let us volunteers handle the canyon mice. Once we got a hold of the animal from the scruff of their neck we took measurements of their tail and feet and identified their sex. The measurements allowed Dr. Ryan to confirm the species, and the sex identification allowed him to make inferences about possible changes in population.

In addition to mammalogist studies, we were able to take some atmospheric readings. We used a thermo-hygro-anemometer to take various readings such as wind speed, relative humidity, and temperature and an azimute to record the sun’s angle and direction. We also recorded the GPS coordinates of where we took the atmospheric readings so we could take more at the same place and compare them later. It was great learning how to use different digital devices. Application is often something you don’t learn in the classroom, and I knew I would have the opportunity to gain some experience during my time in the field.   

Working in the field was a great experience. It gave me the opportunity to see how scientists actually work to collect raw data. I’m really interested in analyzing the data for patterns and trends and hope to be involved in that process when it starts. I met amazing scientists and students during my time in the field and learned so much about research, careers, graduate school, future planning, and life in general. Blueprint Earth has opened up so many new doors for me and I cannot wait to see what they accomplish. I’m looking forward to following their progress and hopefully be involved in it as well.