Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, Fort Davis, Texas

Outreach Coordinator Cynthia McAlister with her Butterfly Collection
[click-on the photo of Cynthia, above, to view more photos from the Flickr set]

Whenever I'm in Fort Davis or on the way back from Alpine or Marfa, I usually stop for a breather at the Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute between Fort Davis and Alpine, out on Highway-118. My dogs love to snoop around in the tall prairie grasses and Honey, my terrier mix, has even learned to pose for the camera while the other three are nose to the ground looking for adventure.

She's such a ham, but she didn't realize today that I had set her up for a prank (pictured at left) so that I could display my snarky sense of humor on the Internet.

The CDRI has lots of acreage, desert life, prairie grasses and rolling landscape for those like me who love the desert environment and crisp dry desert air. At times, it all leaves me breathless -- like today.

Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute -- Visitors Center

On earlier visits, I had been to the botanical gardens, attended an art auction on the grounds, hiked a few trails and checked-out the true-to-scale mining exhibit, but I'd never taken-in the Visitors Center because in the desert heat I didn't want to leave the dogs locked in the car unattended. But today was a beautiful fall day with pleasant temperatures so I decided to check-out the Visitors' Center for the first time, feeling certain that I could safely leave the dogs in the car parked in the shade of a cedar tree with the windows down far enough that they couldn't jump out and terrorize the grounds crew then get me a scolding from the Institute staff.

Far from it. These people were super friendly -- once I convinced them I didn't have a carload of coyotes.

As soon as I walked into the Visitors Center, the artisanship of one of their staff members captured my imagination and I ran back outside, with their permission, to get my camera for a shoot. When I returned, the staff person I had first encountered, witnessing my enthusiasm for the bee and butterfly collections on display, had arranged for the graduate student in entomology who created them, Cynthia McAlister, to give me a tour. Cynthia also happened to be the Outreach Coordinator for the Institute.

Not only did she encourage the photo shoot, but also, she suggested that I could get a better shot of my favorite display if she removed it from the wall and took it outside into the sunlight! [See photo at top.] Then she told me the story of its creation (leaving out the part about stalking butterflies in the Chihuahuan Desert with a net, hiding behind boulders and sneaking through tall grass disguised as a scientist on safari).

She then gave me my own mini-tour of the facility while we discussed geography, entomology, ornathology and UFOlogy. No really! I shared with her my recent experience with the Tethered Aerostat Radar System outside of Marfa, admitting to her that at first I thought it was a UFO (after all, it was "unidentified" to me). She laughed, "You mean the 'Drug Blimp'?" Well that just said it all about my ignorance of the Texas-Mexico border region. [cf. "UFO Sighting Resolved by TARS Blimp," and it's follow-ups on the Hunter RQ-5A and the Preditor-B.]

Cynthia also informed me concerning the Institute's ongoing educational outreach programs and the weekly radio show hosted on Marfa Public Radio, Thursdays, 9:00-10:00 AM. I guess she read me. I'm quite the public radio aficionado.

They also have a Facebook page where you can join in the discussion, become a member of CDRI or just become a fan.

The Institute staff were all very congenial, articulate and professional. I felt honored to have been treated with such deferance by literally every person I encountered (I do not look like a preacher, a banker or a politician; but then, perhaps that's what made the difference...just kidding).

On the way out, looking south (both shots)


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