Biology team travels Baja California

Campus Times
February 7, 1997

Senior Debbie Hartman digs for clams at an estatuary in Gonzaga Bay along with seniors Nathan McConnell and Ary Farajollahi. The clams were boiled for the evening dinner which consisted of clam soup with potatoes and freshly picked pickle weed.


Photography and story
by Veero Der-Karabetian


During the month of January, a team of eight student biologists embarked on an adventurous and unpredictable trip across the Baja Peninsula. The purpose of the excursion was to study everything from geology to the flora and fauna of the area. The team was lead by Dr. Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry. This would be Dr. Jones's first Baja trip in eight years.

The group included seniors Ary Farajollahi, Nathan McConnell, Rich Quesada and Debbie Hartman, juniors Kim Williams and Veero Der-Karabetian, sophomore John Keller and freshman Rhiannon Jensen.

The camper hauled two canoes and the group's food and water supply.

The estimated time of departure was Friday, Jan. 10 at 8 a.m. The group ran four hours behind schedule and did not leave until 12:30 p.m. It was at this point that they realized the true nature of this trip was an unpredictable, unscheduled, unfolding of events yet to be experienced. Nothing was etched in stone and nothing was certain, except that the eight travellers, including Dr. Jones, wanted to reach Cabo San Lucas, the southern-most point of Baja California, no matter what happened.

The group entered into Baja through the large border town of Mexicali and proceeded to take the eastern route along the Gulf of California, driving until they felt the need to stop, which occurred quite often. Many of the stops happened because Dr. Jones spotted something off the side of the road that he thought was relevant to the student's learning about the local geology, flora or fauna. And at several of the stops they would camp for the night.

Senior Rich Quesada conducts routine car maintenance along with sophomore John Keller.

As part of the trip, the class went through several climate zones and studied the various populations of plants and cacti that could be found. Discoveries were made of everything from giant Cardon cactus to coconut trees. The group experienced everything from snorkeling in tropical waters to eating freshly caught fish with local pescaderos (fishermen). But nothing compared to what happened in Bahia San Luis Gonzaga.

Gonzaga is a small bay along the gulf coast about 150 miles south of the border. They spent three nights in this bay where Quesada and Williams researched inter-tidal marine life, Dr. Jones educated the class about the local geology, and Farajollahi, Keller and Der-Karabetian took a canoe ride that changed their lives.

It all happened when the three decided they wanted to try and canoe to the local cantina (bar) across the bay. Despite the large breeze and the semi choppy sea, they loaded themselves into one of the two-man canoes. The wind was hitting the canoers broadside which added to the already unstable canoe. Despite that, the three pressed onward, paddling harder and harder with every stroke. In the moment of a second, the canoe capsized in the chilly bay. Shock and fear came immediately, then the struggle to get back to shore began.

The three tried repeatedly to turn the canoe back over but it just would not happen. It was filled with water and if it was brought right-side-up it would sink. Once they realized this the trio decided to turn the canoe on its side, hang on, and paddle back to shore. Every push and kick seemed irrelevant when compared to the current, which was taking them farther down the bay. It was at this realization when Keller started to panic. After several attempts of yelling for help with no one able to hear them, Keller's struggle became frantic. He pushed and kicked harder and faster, gaining only little ground, then fatigue quickly took its toll. It was at this point that another student spotted the group and was able to gather the rest of the class. They threw a rope out to the canoers and reeled them back to shore. Once the exhausted canoers were able to stand on solid ground, they were embraced with towels and laughter from the rest of the group.

From then on it was no holds barred straight to Cabo. They made the occasional biological stops and a brief stay in Guerrero Negro for two nights to observe the Gray whales.

On the 12th day of the trip the nine-member class finally reached the end of the Baja Peninsula, Cabo San Lucas. Once there, the group indulged in margaritas, shopping and the beautiful tropical atmosphere.

The Baja class from left, Farajollahi, Keller, Quesada, Hartman, freshman Rhiannon Jensen and junior Kim Williams listen to Jose Sanchez from the Institute of National Ecology, stationed in Guerrero Negro, talk about Baja's natural history.

The Natural History of Baja California class set up camp in several sites along the Pacific and Gulf Coasts. This site is in the desert region, south of Guerrero Negro.

Williams, Jensen, Keller, McConnell, and Dr. Jay Jones, professor of biology and biochemistry, observe a vertical intrusion and other features along the side of the hill.

Hartman, Quesada and Farajollahi cruised through the streets of Cabo San Lucas, enjoying the tropical weather and the tourist atmosphere.

Keller and Quesada (not shown) bargain with a local bar owner for the use of their showers which were nothing more than a tiled closet with a water pipe protruding from the wall. The final cost was two Pesos.

McConnell, Farajollahi, Keller, Dr. Jones and Quesada inspect what appears to be an insect trap.

The Baja class enjoyed many sunsets, such as this one along the Pacific in southern Baja.

McConnell was not always successful in catching insects with his net even after five years of insect collecting.

Farajollahi and McConnell organized, classified and pinned more than 180 insects which they captured during the trip.

Farajollahi and McConnell inspect one of McConnell's latest insect finds, which was usually a butterfly.


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