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Sonoran Desert

ENVI 350: Sonoran Desert and the Arizona Borderlands
Spring 2018

Credits: 3
Travel dates: anticipated between March 8-19 and will be 8-10 nights, depending on costs
of airfare and car rentals. Final travel dates will be finalized ~4-6 months in advance of the trip.
Estimated cost: $1500/student. This cost was estimated in April 2017 and is very sensitive to airfare
and car rental prices. I will update this estimate before students formally sign-up.

As part of this course we will travel to the borderlands of Arizona to explore the Sonoran desert, desert grasslands and the sky islands. Along the way we will camp in state, federal and local parks.

  • MCLA ENVI trip to the Sonoran Desert and the Arizona Borderlands
    You Tube Video

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Course Description: Explores the physical, biological and social environments of the historic
and contemporary American Southwest through a case study of southern Arizona. Through multi-day
field trip to southern Arizona, students will visit and experience southern Arizona’s topography,
weather, natural areas including the Sonoran desert, desert grasslands, riparian woodlands, and high
elevation conifer forests. Throughout the course, students will consider how various people groups
from the ancient Hohokam, to Spanish conquistadors and friars, to Apache Indians, to U.S.
homesteaders and prospectors, to modern-day urbanites and U.S./Mexico border migrants use and
survive in this landscape. Due to the nature of this course, all participants should be in good physical condition.
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Summary: In southern Arizona, mountains reaching to over 9000 feet punctuate the expanses of the 
Sonoran desert found at elevations from ~1000-3500 feet. This result is dramatic topography called
“sky islands.” These unique landforms, intersecting with the seasonal and elevational patterns of
temperature and moisture, allow for a high concentration of species diversity and natural communities
normally found over much greater latitudinal ranges. The extremes of the Sonoran desert environment
have influenced human use and habitation of this area for 1000s of years. This course will consider how
people like the ancient Hohokam, Spanish conquistadors and friars, Apache Indians, U.S. homesteaders
and prospectors, and modern-day urbanites and U.S./Mexico border migrants use and survive in this
landscape. Major themes covered during this course will include: desert species and adaptations,
elevational gradients, fire ecology, mining, human use of this region, Spanish and US history, border
issues, urban expansion, federal land management agencies, water use, and others.

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Field Trip to Arizona: We will travel with our gear, fly into Tucson (or Phoenix), rent minivans,
and drive about exploring the Arizona borderland region for 8-10 days. The participants in the course
(limited to a group size of 10) will share activities, experiences and meals together. The days will be long
as we fit in as many amazing experiences and site visits as possible. Except for a few visitor centers and
museums, most of this trip will occur out-of-doors. Accommodations will be camping each night on
public land in developed or primitive campsites. During the trip we will meet with local experts. Each
student will give two mini-presentations on their selected course topics. Throughout the course the
instructor will provide context and “mini-lectures” to help orient us to each site. Because of the terrain
and topography, exploring many of these areas will require a certain level of physical ability.

Pre-Requisites: Permission of instructor; You must be in good physical condition! Students who have
taken prior enviro
nmental science or ecology courses will get the most out of this course.

Learn More

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For more information contact:
Prof. Shustack
Daniel.Shustack@mcla.edu
413.662.5301

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