The Experiencing Life series is about just that: experiencing life. A double entendre explains the purpose of the Experiencing Life trips. First, a series of a dozen field trips are meant to allow you, the traveler, to experience living things (as in concepts of biology) in a more meaningful way than you can in a classroom. Second, the trips provide the kinds of human experiences that make life exciting, interesting and fulfilling.
As far as the biology part, it is one thing to learn about life (biology) in a classroom. It is another, much more fulfilling, thing to learn about life by experiencing it in natural and/or meaningful settings. These field trips are meant to guide you through the world of biology by doing just that. Not all of the sites are completely natural (zoos, museums, etc.) but they all present an experience that cannot be had in a classroom.
The trips are numbered 1-12. The first four trips will cover most of the basic biology and start exploring the range of diversity in life. The remaining eight trips will explore more specific environments and organisms and expand on some of the basic biology. To begin this blog, I’ll describe Trip 1.
Trip 1 is called “Greater Yellowstone”, which is centered around Yellowstone National Park. The focus of Trip 1 is to introduce some of the foundations of biology including chemistry, cells, prokaryotes vs. eukaryotes and taxonomy. Yellowstone National Park itself is rich in mammal species, big and small, so we will also explore the wide variety of these popular organisms there.
Much of the greater Yellowstone ecosystem lies outside of the park’s boundaries, yet has many of the same fundamental properties of the park. The first stop is located southeast of the park in the Wind River Mountain Range. Much less-crowded than the park, it will be a different experience that may take a little more effort but can be even more satisfying. The first sub-stop will let us start easing into the biology and will provide one of those cool life experiences. At Sinks Canyon State Park, at the southern end of the range, you can see a river disappear into a cave, only to resurface from underground a quarter-mile downstream. You don’t see that on the path of every river! Traveling up the east side of the range brings you to the town of Dubois. Here is where the National Bighorn Sheep Interpretive Center is located. This is a good place to examine what it means to be a species, as they have four subspecies of bighorn sheep on display. They have also provided a map for a self-guided tour to observe bighorn sheep in the Torrey Valley just south of town.
The next stop is Yellowstone National Park. Yellowstone was the first national park in the world, created in 1872. It existed as a national park for 44 years before there was even a National Park Service. There are more geysers within the park’s boundaries than anywhere else in the world. These, along with hot springs, provide unique environments to which organisms need to adapt. Microscopic organisms of various kinds have needed adaptations to high heat and/or pH levels and other properties to be able to survive and thrive. A by-product of these adaptations is that many of the springs are beautifully-colored by the organisms themselves. This situation provides wonderful experiences for learning about how a wide variety of cells are built and function.
Since Yellowstone is a large park, and has been protected for so long, many animals that have struggled in other parts of the country continue to thrive here. Not just the large mammals, like bison, elk, mountain lions, bears and more, but smaller mammals like otters, foxes, porcupines and a wide array of small rodents. All of these animals are made of cells and have other unicellular organisms living in and on them, so the goal will be to tie together how everything interacts.
The next stop is not really a stop so much as a drive. Taking Highway 39 through northern Utah will expose you to the western hardwood forest type. This is a very different forest than the lodgepole pine forest that dominates Yellowstone.
The final stop is also in northern Utah at the Great Salt Lake. This site features another unique environment to which organisms have adapted: high salinity. Much saltier than the oceans, organisms have adaptations that allow them to live in the environment without becoming dehydrated. It is a good location in which to wrap up the first trip on a scientific note. It is also a good spot to have another unique life experience. The high salinity means the water is also very dense. By floating in the lake, a person will float much higher in the water than they would in a freshwater lake or even the ocean. We may even discuss the science of this phenomenon.
Trip 1 is actually the smallest trip in terms of geographical area and number of sites. But Yellowstone is such a big site all by itself that you’ll have plenty to experience.
Thanks for checking out the blog. I’ve been working on the structure of the trips and the topics that should be covered in them for quite a while, but I’m just now starting to flesh things out. I got motivated to start now because my fiancé and I have planned to finally visit Yellowstone in September. That should provide plenty of fodder for this blog. In the meantime, some topics I have in mind are related to Sinks Canyon, bighorn sheep, the Great Salt Lake and the value of parks, to name a few. So check back soon.