Science & Nature

Hands-on projects to help you fall in love with science, and hone your field work skills at the same time.

Science At Base Camp

Experiential education at its best!
Science at Base Camp is the best way to dirty your boots and learn about native New Mexican lizards, insects, birds, plants, and history. You’ll be amazed at the diversity of life in the high desert, and the enthusiasm of our staff will surely inspire you to fall in love with this vibrant landscape. We hire naturalists every year who work closely with you to develop hands-on projects in geology, biology, herpetology, ornithology, paleontology, archaeology, astronomy, zoology, botany, hydrology–whatever piques your interest.


Science On the Road

One of the best ways to learn about the natural world is to compare two entirely different ecosystems. When on the road, you will have access to a whole slew of equipment that we carry as part of our expedition: books, field guides, microscopes, binoculars, old logs from previous Cottonwood Gulch Treks, telescopes… it’s hard not to let your curiosity take over and fall in love with the incredible life that calls this place home.

Examples of Science Projects

Since 1926, trekkers at The Gulch have worked closely with countless scientists to better understand the deserts and mountain landscape that we call home. Each year our expeditions spend time working with scientists who are improving the health of our spectacular lands.  Here are a few examples of scientific exploration in the past:

Bats and Lava Tubes
We find Gulch alumni everywhere, sometimes even right in our backyard. Former Trekker David Hays is now a ranger at nearby El Malpais National Park, where he has been working with our trekkers to study the health of bats.  These winged mammals make their homes in lava tube caves at El Malpais, though recently there has been concern about a fungal disease called White-Nosed Syndrome, which has devastated bat populations on both coasts.  Though it has not yet been detected in New Mexico, David and others are keeping a close watch on the health of our bats.  Each year, some of our groups assist him in monitoring the bats and learning firsthand about their crucial role in the ecosystem. Additionally, we learn about the lava tube ecosystem itself, and often help the rangers build, or rebuild, trails throughout the park.  In other words, we become part of a larger community of scientists, rangers, and wilderness advocates.


La Jencia Ranch
Situated in the shadows of Ladron Peak (an imposing mountain that stands alone surrounded by desert grasslands) La Jencia Ranch is one of the most impressive restoration projects you’ll ever lay eyes on.  Terry Flanagan is the mastermind behind the project.  She purchased the ranch several years ago, and found the land overgrazed and generally in bad shape.  The transformation each year is mind boggling—with the help of The Gulch and many other volunteers, Terry has planted tens of thousands of native plants, removed just as many invasive species, and created a lush streambed full of birds, coyotes, and other wildlife in a desert, which, ten years ago, was struggling. Gulch groups have stayed at La Jencia and partnered with local scientists and conservationists to learn about restoration, birding, and the challenge of maintaining water in the desert.


Forest Restoration
At The Gulch Base Camp we treat our land as a Nature Preserve, which means we actively manage it to create healthy habitats for wildlife. With the assistance of many professional foresters, we have planted new trees, thinned unnaturally thick woodlands through controlled burns, built nesting boxes for rare birds, sequestered water for thirsty trees, and dug gullies to control erosion.  We have also worked with the Forest Guild and the Cibola National Forest, which borders The Gulch Base Camp, taking part in their Collaborative Forest Restoration Project (you can read about it here). Most importantly, trekkers are involved each summer in the restoration efforts, which means we are teaching a new generation how to nurture and care for the land.


What’s in Sawyer Creek?
A group of Turquoise Trail girls recently became concerned about the quality of water in our own Sawyer Creek at Cottonwood Gulch.  They were worried that some of the soap and grime leaving our shower house wasn’t being filtered enough, and was therefore damaging the life in the creek.  Lo and behold, they were right!  With help from our resident naturalist, the girls compared water quality below the shower house and above it, and found that all that soap was indeed hurting the aquatic life at The Gulch.  Their solution?  Change the soap.  After switching to biodegradable soap we reassessed the water and found a drastic improvement in just one year.  This allowed us all to see that science can be more than theoretical—our research leads us to change how we live.


Lizard Survey
How many lizards can you catch?  We have had some illustrious lizard wranglers over the years, but we don’t just catch lizards for fun. By looking at how many lizards live at The Gulch—their species, age, and sex—we can learn a lot about the health of our land.  There is also no better way to appreciate what it takes to survive in the desert than by holding a lizard with your own hands.  Just make sure you put it back where you found it!


For decades there has been a dazzling milkweed patch outside one of our cabins.  Why is it there?  We aren’t quite sure, and we even have several decades of studies that can’t quite answer that question.  Nonetheless, it’s fascinating to ask why this plant, a favorite food of monarch butterflies, came to thrive in our meadows, along with a multitude of other unique wildlife.  Like many niches of The Gulch Base Camp, the milkweed patch is a place of ongoing scientific inquiry and new discoveries.