The Story of Scientist Saturday Mornings
By Dakota Domínguez
Chapter One: The Inception
When the Asombro staff gathered last November for our end-of-year planning meeting, we all agreed — we want to work toward getting more of our community to go outside and experience the wonder of the Chihuahuan Desert first hand. We decided to experiment with something new in 2019.
This new experiment started with the question: What if, instead of a big event, we did something smaller? What if we went out the Nature Park, brought along some coffee, goodies, and tools we’ve accumulated over the years for helping folks learn and invited the community to join us? What if, instead of having an event requiring multiple staff and volunteers, we had a scientist-on-duty to welcome people to this special place?
It was decided we would call this Scientist Saturday Mornings. They would be held on the first Saturday of each month. As it is a new experiment, I have described it in a couple ways during these early days: as an “open house” or a “pop-up visitor center.”
Chapter Two: Planning, Searching, and Preparing
In January, I started making plans and getting the word out. Asombro has collected quite the impressive array of hands-on teaching tools over the years at our office, and it was fun to go through the nooks and crannies, searching for things to bring out to the Nature Park. I scoured our library, picking out old field guides to help identify everything from noxious weeds to desert holes. I piled up boxes of desert animal skulls, pelts, track molds, and display trays of insects and plants. On the Friday before the first Saturday on February 2nd, I stood looking over the impressive stack of materials, wondering if it would all fit in the car the next morning. There was only one way to find out!
Chapter Three: The First Saturday Morning
The next morning, volunteer Abigail Lynch and I arrived at the office before dawn and brewed coffee, played the Tetris game of fitting everything in the car, and were on our way as a flaming, red-orange sunrise painted the sky behind the Organ Mountains. We unlocked and swung open the gate at the Nature Park. Soon, we were unloading our cargo and setting up tables with exhibits on the diverse life of the desert.
I was setting up a folding table when I heard the howling and yapping of coyotes coming from the arroyo to the north. I set down the table to listen and smiled as coyotes replied in howls from the other side of the hill to the south. They were followed by more howls from the scrubby creosote on the slope towards the San Andres Mountains in the east and, finally, a few canine voices joined from the peaks of the Doña Anas to the west. It felt like a fitting way to start a day dedicated to helping people connect to the desert landscape. I thanked the coyotes for their howls of encouragement.
As the morning went on, we were pleasantly surprised to welcome more people to the park than we had expected. Back at the office, the Asombro staff had talked about the real possibility of turnout being in the single digits, but we had a grand total of 21 folks come out to say hello, learn from our books and exhibits, and, most importantly, hike one of our trails around the park. It was fun to chat with visitors; it made me especially glad to hear that quite a few were visiting for the first time and that they came out because of Scientist Saturday Morning.
By noon, the wind started to kick up, and our official end time was upon us. We carefully wrapped coyote skulls in soft cloth and stored them in bins, folded up our tables, re-packed the car, and headed back to the office to put it all away until next month.
Chapter Four: The Future
As the next Scientist Saturday Morning approaches, between teaching classroom programs and working on programs in the office, I’ve noticed spring slowly take hold over the Mesilla Valley. More song birds are arriving from far away and singing the sun up in the morning with the coyotes. Green buds are starting to form on branches. The days are getting longer and warmer. All this is tied up with the expected turbulence of spring: the days of wind and dust whipping across the desert, obscuring the desert peaks in hazy brown, and the surprise storms that steep creosote scent from the bajadas and leave bright white dustings of snow over the mountains. As the Earth rolls and the seasons bring new life and new colors to the desert, I can’t wait to continue sharing the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park with everyone who visits on these Saturday Mornings.
I’ll see you next time at the Nature Park!
Learn more about Scientist Saturday Mornings
Dakota Domínguez is a Science Education Specialist at Asombro. The next Scientist Saturday Mornings that he will be hosting are March 2nd and April 6th.