Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Springtime at the UA Sky School

I have the kind of job where I frequently look around and have to remind myself I am getting paid to do this work.  Serving as Director of the UA Sky School is rewarding every single day...from interacting with an amazing group of staff, to all the students that attend our programs from southern Arizona, I am constantly amazed at the learning that takes place.  The core of our program are the residential, immersive science programs that take place on Mount Lemmon in the Santa Catalina Mountains.

The Santa Catalinas are a Sky Island, part of the Madrean Sky Island complex and serve as an amazing learning laboratory. Sky Islands are loosely defined as isolated mountains that rise up from the radically different lowlands that surround them.  In our case, the lowlands are Sonoran desert and the summit of the mountain is similar to a Canadian Alpine forest!

On the first day of our programs we typically spend time with students having them come up with scientific questions based on their observations as they slowly ascend the mountain.  Below is an image of students discussing the grassland of the foothills.

 As Spring takes hold the Cottonwood trees in the lower elevations are already displaying their magnificence.

Halfway up the mountain is a very famous lookout- Windy Point.  In addition to the rock climbing (and yes, the wind) there are sweeping panoramic views of Tucson, allowing for students to contemplate the basin and range formation of the valley thousands of feet below.

Higher up, despite being mid-April, students can experience light snow showers!  It's not all work at the Sky School, there is plenty of time for play!

Back to work!

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Payette Lake, McCall, Idaho

This week I traveled to McCall, Idaho to spend time visiting with the faculty and staff of the McCall Outdoor Science School (MOSS).  MOSS is an immersive, residential science school for middle and high school students affiliated with the University of Idaho, and is the program that we bench-marked when we started our UA Sky School program 4 short years ago.  It has been a great visit with our colleagues and we are returning home with some great ideas to improve our program and also to begin some longer term collaborations with MOSS.

This is a beautiful part of the country-  we flew into Boise and drove north along the North Fork of the Payette River to Cascade and then up to McCall.  (Along the way, the stretch or river between Smith's Ferry and Banks is an amazing stretch of whitewater with nearly continuous class V rapids.)   The MOSS campus is situated on the shores of Lake Payette and the lake is just beginning to thaw from its winter freeze.

Yesterday morning we had a break in our meeting schedule and drove around to the south shore of the lake where the thaw is most obvious and were treated to a beautiful view of the mountains reflected in the water.  The image below represents a field of view of about 120-140 degrees.  Unfortunately, Google limits the size of images on the blog , and the picture below is about 25% of original size!  Click to enlarge!!

I took this image with my new Sony a6000 mirrorless camera and a Sigma 30mm f/2.8 lens.  This is my first outing with the camera and I am still learning how to use it.  One of the neat features is the in-camera panoramic mode, as seen above.  The camera takes several still images while one pans the camera and then they are stitched into a panoramic image in-camera.  The resulting file is a jpeg, not raw, which does limit the ability to post-process.  Yet, it is a fun and effective way to capture scenes as above.  If one wanted a higher quality panorama, one would simply take single images in raw format for processing and then stitching together using software.