During J-term 2019, 367 students and 32 program leaders will participate in one of Luther's 18 courses around the globe.Each course is a different journey and has a different blogger (or several). Below you'll find a blog post from the Biology 140/240:Arizona course, "Introduction of Ecology of the Southwest/Ecology of the Southwest." Check out the January Term 2019 Course Blogs page for more on each of the courses! Although it's impossible to keep up with everyone, these blogs are designed to provide glimpses into our students' adventures.
Four days after leaving Decorah and we have already been met with disappointment, avoided a minor mishap, explored national treasures and pushed our physical limits.
After our trip to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado, we were about to head to Arizona to see Mesa Verde National Park. Our hopes were high to explore the Ancient Puebloan dwellings carved into the landscape. However, our visit had some amount of uncertainty. Due to the government shutdown, the roads were not being plowed throughout the parks. Despite some willing students, Dr. Baack did not think driving next to steep drop-offs on hazardous roads with a trailer was worth the risk. So we continued on to the small town of Cortez, Colorado.
In Cortez, we were quickly acclimated to the elevation change with a four-hour hike on the Sand Canyon Pueblo trail through the Canyons of the Ancients National Monument. Throughout the trail, we began learning the native plants of the area such as pinyon pine, Utah juniper, Fremont's cottonwood, prickly pear and banana yucca. There would be a quiz over these plants in the near future. Along the snowy hike through the canyon, we got a taste for the beauty of the West while witnessing artifacts from the past. In two spots along the trail, we saw pueblos made in the mid-13th century. Having the opportunity to relate readings to our experiences has helped illustrate the issues we have discussed together.
One particular issue is the migration of the Ancient Puebloan people away from this region of southwest Colorado in the 13th century. Archaeologists have used various techniques to trace their story. However, it is challenging to name the cause of the migration. During the time period, the land of the Ancient Puebloans was experiencing drought which could have put their society under strain. By using computer models with population size and nutrient availability, research points to drought as a major contributor to the migration. Yet, there are other factors that complicate the issue. In dig sites, there have been human remains found along with structures marked with fire, a sign of ceremonial destruction.
Our trip has not just been about discussing issues, we have experienced some along the way too. After our hike in Sand Canyon, we were preparing to head towards the Navajo Nation Reservation, when we encountered a minor setback. While reattaching our trailer to one of the 12-passenger vans, one strong individual broke the crank off of the stand in the Super 8 parking lot. For one brief moment, there was a silence filled with disbelief. Yet, our team persisted. Students worked together to call nearby dealers. Luckily, just a few miles down the road there was a retailer for the part we needed. Fortunately, we were able to disassemble the entire stand in order to connect it to the van and drive to the retailer. Within an hour, we were on the road headed toward Antelope Canyon.
Antelope Canyon lies on the Navajo reservation next to the small town of Page, Arizona. It is a magnificent natural feature carved out of sedimentary rock. In order to reach the bottom of the canyon, we descended six flights of stairs. Our tour guide, Brandon, pointed out unique shapes such as a lion, the lady in the wind, Captain Jack Sparrow and the head of a turtle. These natural formations were carved by moving water when the canyon floods. After an hour observing the canyon we arose from the depths to gasp in the view of snow covered canyon walls in one direction and a coal powering plant in the other.
The Navajo Generating Station is the power plant that can be seen from miles away by its distinct smokestacks. It has been in operation for over 50 years and helps provide electricity to pump water from Lake Powell downstream to major cities in Arizona. Not only is this plant an important source of electricity, but it also employs many Navajo people in the process. However, the upcoming fate of the plant is unknown as the original lease has run out. As a group, we discussed the social and ecological implications if the plant were to close. We also delved deeper into the effects of coal energy on the environment as well as the plausibility of transitioning to wind or solar energy.
Check back soon as we are headed to Lee's Ferry for more fun!