April: A Two Shoot Trip in the Desert Southwest
By Kelsey on May 8, 2015
In April, we returned to the field for our third shoot for The Bearded Lady Project. Starting on Monday, April 20th, this trip was a two-part adventure in the southwest with locations in the Mojave desert and northwest New Mexico. Both locations were beautiful and fascinating reminding us, yet again, how diverse the American landscape is. Lucky for you, dear reader, both are Bureau of Land Management land and are open to the public for hiking and camping (leave your digging equipment at home, though, you need a permit to collect fossils).
The journey began by following Dr. Catherine Badgley, Associate Professor in the Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Michigan and her two graduate students, Katharine (Katie) Loughney and Tara Smiley into the Barstow Field region of the Mojave Desert in southern California. Only a 30 minute drive from the comforts of our motel, we weaved around large rock structures en route to the field site of the day. The group worked together to help with Katie’s research. As described by Katie, their goal for this field project was “to reconstruct the paleo-environments and depositional settings of vertebrate fossil sites in the Barstow Formation and the factors that contribute to fossil concentration (taphonomy) in the Barstow Formation.” The location for the day provided us with incredible backdrops for each of the paleontologists portrait’s that represented their specific research interests.
In Bartsow, we were blown away by the varieties of colors that landscape had to offer, especially the Rainbow Basin–a multi-colored geological rock formation that has an uncanny resemblance to a rainbow (aptly named). On top of the impressive colors of the earth (literally), it was spring in the desert and there were many colors the living flora had to offer. As the day progressed and the light changed, the colors shifted, as they do, and a thin layer of clouds rolled in to help diffuse the harsh light of the desert. Thank you weather gods, you made this photographer quite happy, the conditions were perfect!
We ended our journey with Dr. Badgley and students at Barstow’s finest Mexican restaurant, Lola’s. If you find yourself passing through Barstow, be sure to eat there, it made for a delicious ending to a very productive day.
On Wednesday morning, we headed east. Halfway to Flagstaff, we experienced some radiator issues and spent a few hours roadside in the middle-of-nowhere northern Arizona while we waited for AAA to show up. We eventually received some questionable roadside assistance (that’s a story for another day) and were on our way again by late afternoon. Fortunately, we incorporated extra time into our schedule to accommodate for any weather issues, flight delays, or other “Acts of God” as they say.
Thursday morning we continued our journey to join Dr. Lisa Boucher, Lecturer at the University of Texas in Austin, at the Bisti/De-Na-Zin Wilderness in northwest New Mexico—a site she has been going to for the past 15 years. We met Dr. Boucher at the beginning of her trip, where she was starting out on her own and being joined by a museum group out of Denver later on. While she doesn’t recommend camping alone, she is a competent camper and feels confident to being solo in the field. The climate in Bisti was much different than in Barstow. Spring, was just getting started in that region of New Mexico and the evening we arrived, we were met with overcast skies, occasional bouts of wind (of course, while tents were being set up) and intermittent rain showers. Nothing we couldn’t handle and conditions a modest camp fire alleviated. Despite the threatening skies, it was still beautiful and aided to the surreal nature of the landscape.
By morning conditions had shifted in our favor. The air was still and thin clouds were diffusing the morning light for us, it was beautiful. The conditions were perfect for recording an interview and making a portrait. While we would have loved to have followed Dr. Boucher out to the field that day as we had hoped pre-roadside attraction, we had to pack up our camp at the conclusion of the shoot to head back to civilization.
It was a great trip. Both of our hosts were incredibly accommodating (providing us with little things we’ve forgotten, i.e. sandwich bags or coming to the field a few days ahead of schedule to meet us). As always, this micro-crew is grateful for getting the opportunity to peer into their world and visit locations we probably would have never heard about otherwise.