Quick update + Monterey Bay Aquarium video

Between work, a camping weekend with friends, a weekend genealogy research trip with my parents-in-law, an upcoming girls kayaking trip, and planning to travel for my brother’s winter wedding, I’ve been too busy to update the blog. But today, I spent several hours working on a blog-worthy project. I will be going to the Lilly Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program’s reporting meeting soon. At the meeting, I’ll get to see what some of the 99 other grant recipients did with their grants, and I’ll be presenting an overview of my project. I’m really looking forward to seeing what everyone brings and to sharing the program with another science teacher from my school who will be attending as my guest. The only issue is… I have to figure out how to compress three weeks of awesome scenery and education into three MINUTES! Readers of my blog (and people who actually know me) know that I am not the most concise person ever. Believe it or not, today I found many pictures and video clips that I haven’t even looked at yet (mostly pictures and videos that David took)! I’m still not done writing up blog posts for some of my favorite places (La Brea, Joshua Tree, Carrizozo, the Grand Canyon, etc.), but that’s going to have to be put on the back burner for now. I’ll get back to it once I figure out how to make a three minute video from the thousands of photos and videos we have.

But for now, how about checking out this little gem I found on David’s computer? It’s a video of the kelp forest tank at the Monterey Bay Aquarium… uploaded without editing, so you can hear all the family silliness (us and other people) in the background. He captured some excellent video at the aquarium, so I’ll upload more and share them one of these days. Enjoy!

Stop 11: Monterey Bay, Part 2

In reality, I’m writing this at the end of July in Indiana. We started our school year this week. Teachers on the 28th and students on the 30th of July. We are on a “balanced calendar” which means we have a short summer, but two weeks off in fall, winter, and spring. It’s a pretty good schedule, in my opinion, but I am not as prepared for the start of school as I usually am. I think blogging will be good stress relief, so hopefully I won’t get too bogged down and quit writing!

So back to California I go… in my head at least. We spent three nights at a hotel near the beach in Monterey. Our first day there was a busy one! We went whale watching, then went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We really enjoyed the aquarium. The exhibits were well done and very educational. Much of the aquarium is dark and the tanks are well lit. This created a bit of photographic challenge for me, but I did get some nice shots.

The kelp forest exhibit

The kelp forest exhibit is huge;at 28 feet tall it’s one of the tallest in the world; and has many different species together in the tank. I love the fact that instead of focusing on individual species, the entire ecosystem is shown. Not all species can co-exist in a confined space without one eating the other, but this seemed to work well!


There were some species displayed on their own, of course, like a big case of anemones.

In the aviary

We really enjoyed the aviary which had a huge variety of shorebirds and one adorable duckling who kept jumping off a little cliff into the water, swimming across, hopping out, going back to the cliff and jumping again. It was quite entertaining!

We went to a large special exhibit called “Jellies”. We had seen jellyfish in the water while we were whale watching, but the boat was always moving too fast to snap a picture. I was happy these weren’t moving away from me quite so fast. The whole exhibit had a 70’s vibe. Lots of fun music and some psychedelic lighting. Austin Powers would have loved it!

Purple-striped jellyfish? Not sure on this one.

Here is another:

Spotted jelly

The blubber jellies (below) were really interesting because they have so much variety in their colors!

Blubber jellies

How can I resist one more jelly picture?

Moon jellies

Next, we went to the exhibit called “Tentacles”. It was another really neat one. Besides showcasing the actual cephalopods, the exhibit also showcased some interesting artwork. It was cephalopods made from discarded objects, in a style that reminded me of steampunk or Jules Verne. A very cool addition to the animals! These guys were really hard to get good pictures of. Even when they hold still, their skin color crawls across their skin!

Giant pacific octopus, I think

This octopus was looking up at the fish that an employee was dangling for him.

Common cuttlefish

The common cuttlefish (above) is clearly displeased with the name we’ve given him. How could we call this guy “common” when he can change color to blend in with the moving shadows across the floor of his tank? The one at the bottom will have nothing to do with us at all!

We ended up at an area for children. It had lots of interactive play things: coloring, playing with water, etc. There were doors in this room that went out to a large wrap-around veranda on the back side of the aquarium. We had great views from here of the bay.


There were quite a few seals and sea lions sunning themselves on the rocks, many birds, and a sea otter.

Sea otter

I’ve always enjoyed watching cormorants in Florida. It was nice to see them again in the Pacific!

Cormorant take-off

We always laugh at the pelicans. David’s dad loves these birds, so we always think of him when we see them. They are about the least graceful animals in the world, at least while they are hunting. But in California, they seem to fly in large flocks, which I haven’t see so much on the Atlantic coast. They are very graceful flyers!

Synchronized pelicans

When we got done at the aquarium, we decided to go back to the hotel, but we went out to the beach to watch the sun set. I didn’t get out the tripod, and I should have. We had learned a lot about the history of Monterey at the aquarium. The aquarium is located along Cannery Row. I didn’t really know what this meant, until I got there. Apparently, the sardine canning industry was centered on Monterey at the turn of the century. (I believe, in the first picture above with the kelp forest, the small silver fish are sardines.) We also learned that the squid industry was booming in Monterey. We were surprised to get to the beach and see squid fishing boats right away. They can be easily identified, because they use bright lights to bring the squid to the surface.

Squid fishing

By the way, in California, if you want those fried rings of squid tentacles, you ask for “Squid”, not “calamari”. I wonder why we call them by the Italian name, but Californians don’t.

The boys found a place where a sidewalk was supposed to go down to the beach, but it hadn’t been maintained and erosion had done its work. The step down from the sidewalk to the beach was about 2.5 feet. What do boys do with this? Long jump! I got a couple shots that were funny, considering the lack of tripod.

Discussing Long Jump Competition rules

One last fun shot:

Evan and the ghostly long jump

We finally went back to the hotel and got some sleep before the next day’s adventure: kayaking with otters!

Stop 4: Arches

On June 16th, we left Dinosaur National Monument and drove to Moab, UT. We checked in at the Bowen Motel (which was much nicer and more expensive than our previous motels), we set up our camera charging stations, started pulling photos and videos off the camera, then decided to relax a while. Evan, Kieran and I went to the pool. Kieran’s not a strong swimmer yet, but he likes to keep up with Evan by wearing his life jacket. It was just the two boys in the pool, so I sat and read my book while they played. I am very lucky that Evan is such a great big brother! Clouds kept threatening us, but the rain never came. Since Moab is in the high desert, I guess that’s no surprise. What looked like an imminent storm (by Indiana standards) was just a little cloud cover in Utah.

I had scheduled an interview with Ranger Kait Thomas for early afternoon. We got up early and made the quick drive over to Arches National Park to do a little hiking. I had picked out a trail, but due to construction, the trailhead parking lot was closed. We decided to drive as far into the park as possible, then choose trails on the way back out. We found parking at the last stop before the construction and got out for a hike. This stop had trails to two arches: Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch. There are 2000 arches in the park, so this would just give us a small sampling of the diversity here. We first headed toward Sand Dune Arch because it looked like a nice shaded trail. The trail led between tall, narrow fins of red/orange sandstone. The majority of the trail was over red sand, but occasionally, there were places where the trail went over large sandstone boulders that had broken off the fins and fallen into the dune at some point in the past. The boys loved scrambling up and over the sandstone, testing their strength and courage. The wind was intermittent and often sent miniature sand storms up to abrade our skin. We finally came to the arch, hidden among the tall fins. We climbed up under it and got some pictures, then followed the path back out. Evan and I enjoyed listening to the fellow travelers speaking in their native languages: German, Japanese, Chinese, Italian and French. Everyone seemed willing to lend a helping hand when the trail got steep, even if there was a language barrier. There seems to be a camaraderie that comes from seeing such beauty.

Sand Dune Arch


We left the Sand Dune Arch trail to go toward Broken Arch. This hike was longer and in open desert. There were many plants along the trail and we wondered who was hiding out among them. We noticed many small lizards, a tiny rabbit, and lots of burrow openings, but we didn’t know who had dug them.

Broken Arch, from the trail

Along the trail, one man told us they were rattlesnake burrows, but they seemed to be too common to me. I can’t imagine this sparse land being able to support so many predators! In retrospect, I should have asked Kait, but I forgot. On the trail to Broken Arch, the arch itself can be seen for quite a while, so I snapped a bunch of pictures of it. There were also lots of wildflowers as well, so I took lots of pictures of them with red sandstone walls in the background.

Flowers along the trail

When we arrived at Broken Arch, we had another opportunity for some great climbing up through the arch. The views from the area behind the arch are magnificent!



Broken Arch Trail


Evan climbing near Sand Dune Arch

Kieran climbing near Sand Dune Arch

Lizard near Broken Arch

We stayed a while and headed back to the truck and drove to a few other parking areas, but only took short hikes in those places. We walked around for a bit at the Garden of Eden and did some more climbing, but the wind was tremendous and threw sand a great many feet. We started to see that the great sandstone pieces were slowly being eroded by the little bits of themselves that had already fallen, picked up by wind. We were learning about Aeolian processes first-hand!

Finally, it was time to meet with Kait, so we headed back to the Visitor Center. Not surprisingly, Arches had an excellent set of displays that explain the geology of the area very well. I am sure that even the least scientifically curious visitor asks the same question when they come here: how did the arches form? The rangers frequently lead geology-based hikes to help answer those questions. I happened to stop and take a look at a few of the displays before Kait came out to meet with us. I was particularly interested in one that showed two red sandstone rocks: one that formed at the bottom of a stream and one formed at the bottom of a shallow tidal flat. You can tell the difference because in the stream, the sediment was carried a little way before being dropped. This forms ripples that are not symmetrical. In contrast, the tidal flat rock had symmetrical ripples because the sediments were being deposited while the water was moving one direction while the tide was going out and the other direction when the tide was coming in. This became a point of discussion again at Capitol Reef. I love learning something that makes so much sense, but I wouldn’t have thought of it myself.

Kait and I did the interview in the Visitors Center, because they have so many great visual displays. Some of the video came out great, but some of it ended up being cut because there was quite a bit of background noise (who pushed the button on that talking exhibit)! We started with an introduction to the geology of Arches, then discussed the ecosystems there, then discussed how Kait came to work at Arches. Since she’s originally from a town very close to home, we were curious about this!

Out video interview comes with a warning: the video includes some very windy views. You may have to adjust your volume. I’m still working on how to get volumes right!


When we left the Visitors Center, we took Kait’s advice and drove north a few miles to see some dinosaur footprints. They are at a beautiful location far enough off the main road that they don’t get many visitors. The end of the interview above includes some video of us enjoying the dino tracks. So cool!

Here is David’s timelapse of the drive going in to Arches, toward our first hike: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FvjWmFr-YR8 It’s impossible to really capture the immensity of the landscape, but this gets you close.

More pictures of our trip to Arches (and a few other spots) can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/122341073@N07/sets/72157645393488793/

Eye candy

Our itinerary had us meeting with five people at five National Parks in the last four days. We have really collected a lot of photos and video that I want to share with some explanation of the geology. I am nearly done with my post of our stop at Dinosaur National Monument, but I keep getting distracted with all the majestic views outside my window while David drives. I don’t mean to complain, but it does make me think I’ll be blogging for weeks to come once we return.

In the mean time, please check out the eye candy I’ve uploaded to our flicker page. https://www.flickr.com/photos/122341073@N07/ I’ll label and explain it all some day soon. The next few days we’ll be taking it a little slower, so the blogs may come faster. We’ll be driving through Death Valley and into Yosemite, so we’ll see!

Miscellaneous fun, part 1

Like I said before, Evan packed the truck with fun things to play with in our down time. Last night we arrived in Randolph, NE (pop 995) fairly early and had some time to kill. Kieran enjoyed playing on the swing set for a while, but we decided to go find a bigger park in town. The wind was pretty strong, so we thought we’d play with the kite. In Indiana there are some places to fly kites, but it seems like we never have wind on the days we’d like to do it. In Nebraska, there appears to be no shortage of wind. So a-kite-flying we did go, and while our kite isn’t very good, we had plenty of practice launching it up. With a little tinkering, we had a bit of luck. We also happened to have a very fancy sling-shot, so that got some use as well. It was a nice excuse to stretch our legs. After going back to the motel and waiting for the sun to set (I was thinking of getting some nice sunset photos, Evan was thinking of getting out the telescope), we ate dinner. I did get some nice sunset shots, which can be found here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/122341073@N07/. When it was finally dark, David stayed at the motel and the boys and I went to find a good place to set up the telescope. The first place we tried was a hill near the motel that had a cemetery on top of it. We decided sitting with our flashers on, by the side of the road, under a full moon, next to a cemetery, on Friday the 13th, in a small town where no one knows us might not be wise. We ended up going back to the kite park. We set up a camera tripod and telescope, and believe it or not, many people drove by and no one stopped to see what shenanigans we were up to. We got a couple of decent shots of the moon and even tried mating the camera up to the scope. That didn’t really work, but it was an interesting experiment. Next purchase: telescope mount for the camera. Some day.

Also in the flickr photos, there are some beautiful shots of the Sandhill area of Nebraska and the HUGE turtle David rescued from the middle of the road.

Information overload

I knew this would happen. Right now, I am having total information overload! I took Aunt Sharon’s suggestion and purchased John McPhee’s book Annals of the Former World which I’m having trouble putting down. I am also enjoying a fiction work called Ashfall by Mike Mullin, who I had the good fortune to talk to over lunch at work a few weeks ago. Ashfall Fossil Beds State Park is our first stop on the trip, and while Mike’s book is not directly related to the park, he did spend some time there while doing research for his series. Besides the two books I already have, one of the National Park Rangers I’ll be interviewing suggested several other books for me to read. And I have about 220 essays to grade for my Advanced Placement Environmental Science students. Right now, I feel like getting through McPhee’s book will make a big impact on my overall understanding of the geology of our continent, so that’s a priority. Monday my students take their AP exam, a standardized test that could result in them earning college credit during their sophomore, junior or senior years of high school. Once that is over, I’ll be able to sort out the overload enough that I can get back to a little fiction and maybe grab one of the books my Ranger friend suggested! If May goes as fast as April did though, I’ll be happy to get through book one before we get on the road. Ah well, when I think back on all those years when humans didn’t have access to information about how this land formed, I feel very lucky to live at a time when we have the luxury of complaining about too much information. So here’s to information overload!

So what’s my plan?

I will begin my adventure at home. I have arranged for interviews two geologists, one who works with the Indiana Geological Survey and one with the Indiana State Museum. Hopefully they can help me with my mysterious soil samples! Next I will pack my bags and drive across the Mississippi to Nebraska’s Ashfall Fossil Beds State Park to observe 12 million year old fossils of rhinoceros, horse, and camel species that died due to dust inhalation from a volcanic eruption. From there I will drive to Dinosaur National Monument to see 138 million year old dinosaur fossils, and then Arches National Park to hike through rock arches that have been eroding since the extinction of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. Then I will make a stop in Capitol Reef National Park to witness rock strata spanning 200 million years of time. After making my way through the Rocky Mountains, I will enter Yosemite National Park to observe the results of 25 million years of uplift and glacial erosion and speak with a ranger about Yosemite’s geology. During the hikes in each of these places, I will record and narrate videos of my experiences. I will also record interviews with geologists and paleontologists who can share their expertise in these fields. Upon reaching the western shore of the continent, I will go to the La Brea tar pits where I will walk among ice age mammals that died there 11,000 years ago. A staff member at the Page Museum, has agreed to be interviewed for my blog. Then I will head back east through Death Valley, where I will see rock formations that date back 1.4 billion years, followed by a few days at the Grand Canyon where I will explore even older rocks! On the long haul home, I will make a few quick stops to stretch my legs and learn a little more. One in Carrizozo, NM to observe 5,000 year old lava flows, one at Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument to observe how ancient peoples used the rocks in this area, and one at Alabaster Caverns State Park to tour caverns that formed in a shallow sea 200 million years ago. Again, at each location I will make videos and take pictures to document my hikes, and interview the specialists I make contact with this spring.

So, why did I ask the Lilly Endowment to support this journey? I believe that jumping around on the timeline of natural history through this journey will allow me to gain a new perspective through one of my favorite activities: travel. I find that travel can be the source of a great deal of understanding. Making invaluable personal connections with scientists will fuel my passion and increase the depth of my understanding, as well as provide my students access to a resource they currently lack. As a teacher I often have time to travel in the Midwest, but long journeys are expensive. Having the ability to get away for such a long time will allow me to travel much farther than I am accustomed to doing. It would be very rejuvenating to have the luxury of going all the way to the West Coast and stopping at so many of the National Parks along the way to explore the history of the continent. While I am no Einstein, I believe I share one of his traits. He once said, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” Passionately curious is a perfect description of my personality, and receiving this grant will help me follow that passion for a few weeks and then share it with my current and future students to ignite their curiosity.



What’s this journey all about?

Every year, the Lilly Endowment emails teachers in Indiana and invites them to apply for a grant called the Teacher Creativity Fellowship Program. I have often thought of applying, and after 15 years of teaching, I finally found the time to do it in the fall of 2013. Here is part of my application which explains why I’ve created this blog:

I propose to travel through space and time to observe and study the deep history of North America over the last 1.8 billion years, and to produce an online video log documenting my adventures. As I journey across the North American continent, I will learn more about geology and paleontology. These subjects have always intrigued me, but are beyond the scope of my educational path.


America’s natural history is immense and fascinating. There may be no other country in the world where so much diversity in landscapes, biomes, and historical events can be seen now and recorded in the fossil record. A recent experience that seemed so ordinary at the time has rekindled the burning desire I had as a child to experience the natural history of the planet. This summer I spent some time in a freshly dug, forty-foot deep borrow pit that was being excavated by the company my husband works for. I came to collect soil samples for a class project at various levels in the pit, but in the process, I was enthralled by imagining how old the sediment layers were and wondering who or what lived in that place back when the soil formed. I had planned on grabbing a few samples of dirt and being done with it, but the different colors and textures in each layer amazed me, and I spent much more time there than planned. I found a black layer about thirty feet deep that had what appeared to be plant matter that had not been fully decomposed. I took a small sample and moved on, but the presence of this plant matter nagged at me for days. At first I thought the plants might have been burned in a forest fire, and that was why it was black. Wondering if there was any record of a forest fire in central Indiana back when this layer was deposited, I went home and did some research. I found that an inch of soil in a temperate deciduous forest takes from 200-1000 years to form. This layer was thirty feet deep! That means this soil was probably over 100,000 years old! So, if there is any record of a fire then, it is only in the sediments. There were certainly no humans to record it, because humans were just leaving the African continent at this time and writing had not yet been invented! Since then, I have been consumed by questions. Why did this plant layer not get decomposed the way the plant matter in the other layers must have done?Was it quickly covered by sediment during a flood or ash from a volcano? How does soil form and under what conditions are soil formation rates faster than erosion rates? Certainly there are many factors involved like wind, rain, freezing, thawing. How do these interact with the decomposition processes that turn organic matter back into mineral? I took my samples back to school and put them in a cabinet to await our soils unit, but I just could not get them out of my mind. I came in one weekend to set up a lab, and noticed the soil samples sitting on the shelf. I pulled the sample with the plant matter out and stuck some small pieces under the microscope. I found recognizable parts of leaves and stems. So, it was plant matter, not just black soil, but I still have so many questions! The pit has since been filled with many feet of unusable dirt, but I have shared my experience with other environmental science teachers and with the excavating crew. Each time I talk about it, it ignites curiosity in others and we come away with new questions that I feel need to be answered! These plants keep pulling me back into the past, and I suddenly find myself with more than mild curiosity, but a need to learn more about geology and deep time.


I have always been fascinated by evolutionary history and deep time. As a child, I was passionate about rocks and fossils. As I got older my interests shifted, and my love for animals drew me toward biology instead. As a student at Purdue and IUPUI, I spent a lot of time learning about how life evolved, but very little time learning about how rocks and landscapes have changed over time. This recent experience reawakened my desire to learn about the deep history of this land. I have been teaching science for fifteen years now, and I have found that a good understanding of the subject requires a broad, integrated approach. Environmental science, especially, is an interdisciplinary mix of biology, geology, paleontology, chemistry, meteorology, demography, oceanography, and many other disciplines. Some of these I have not studied in depth before. I believe that my thirst for knowledge of deep evolutionary time requires first-hand experiences in geology and paleontology.


Lacking an actual time machine, I propose to travel to parts of the United States in which the country’s deep history is evident. I hope to observe and learn about the oldest rocks in North America and ancient species that lived there. My goal is to develop a blog where I will post narrative, photographic and video accounts of my travels. I believe these could be used as resources to bring the fascinating history of North America alive for my students, other science teachers, excavating crew members, and anyone else interested in following my journey.

If you are interested in geology or paleontology, please join me!