Grand Canyon Adventure: making water conservation cool

Glen Canyon
Creative Commons License photo credit: mandj98

We had a staff preview of Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3D a few weeks before it opened, and it is a fascinating film – though it was way more effective at inspiring me to go white-water rafting than to install a low-flow shower head (one of the main character’s stated goals). So inspiring, in fact, that Jamie recently announced our first Blog Contest – where you can share YOUR greatest adventure with us for a chance to win some great prizes, and to see it posted on BEYONDbones.

We love this film, because anything that gets people to appreciate nature surely also inspires them to help conserve it. So, we hope you’ll share your adventures with us – and possibly take home some cool prizes, too. In the meantime:

Author/anthropologist Wade Davis and his adventurous daughter Tara were a part of the river-rafting team that follow the Colorado River in the movie (now playing at HMNS). Davis is Explorer-in Residence at the National Geographic Society – and his globe-circling work exploring indigenous cultures has inspired feature films, documentaries, TV series and best-selling books, while taking him from African plains to Tibetan mountains. Tara, an apprentice river rafting guide, began attending Colorado College just as filming ended, inspired to pursue Environmental Studies.

Q: Wade, you’ve traveled the planet for a wide range of projects. What compelled you to become part of Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3D?

Wade Davis

Davis surveys the Grand Canyon

WADE: The real inspiration behind it was Greg MacGillivray, who somehow intuited that by putting myself, Bobby Kennedy and our daughters, Tara and Kick, on a boat going down the Colorado that it would become a magical experience. It was a real risk, and, honestly, I had no idea just how magical it would be until I got on the river. The trip became one of those rare times in life when you are living through an experience and, at the same time, are cognizant that it will become one of the greatest memories of your life.

Q: What made it so memorable?

WADE: As a father, it was a chance to get to know Tara in a way I never had before. You know, children grow very much in the way a river does – becoming richer, fuller and more intriguing everyday – and there was a real feeling on the river of launching this wonderful person into a new life.

Q: Tara, you literally grew up riding rivers; what has kept you so intrigued by them?

TARA: My very first experience was when I was around 6, on the Turnagain River [in British Columbia] – and it rained for days, while my sister and I played “think of an animal” in our tents! But what I fell in love with were the campfires, the stories, the laidback feeling. You become part of the wild and you forget social constructs. Rivers are also just a lot of fun!

Q: Wade, did you already know RFK Jr.? You seem like old friends.

WADE: We’d only met a few times but we share many reference points. We have friends in common, we’ve lectured back-to-back, we were even at Harvard at the same time. There’s also something about us both being Irish – me the storyteller, he the raconteur. And we both equally love rivers. On the Colorado, I became quite enamored of Bobby in the sense that I truly felt that here is a man who could lead us out of the wilderness.

Colorado River, Marble Canyon
Creative Commons License photo credit: Gonzo fan2007

Q: Tara, you also hit it off with Kick; how did that happen?

TARA: Initially, I think it was our humor that brought us together – she and her dad are so funny. Also, a river is a great place to make friends. Everything else kind of falls away and, no matter who you are in real life, everyone’s a kid again.

Q: Wade, as a whitewater guide, did anything surprise you about the Colorado?

WADE: I thought Lava Falls would be even tougher! (laughs) But perhaps the biggest surprise was seeing Tara and her spontaneity with Kick.

Q: What were your favorite moments, Tara?

TARA: The nighttime scorpion hunts were pretty classic. If you turned on a “black” flashlight at night you’d see scorpions everywhere; it’s pretty cool to realize that all this life surrounds you. It was also great to spend time with my Dad, who has taught me so much about the world, in this amazing place.

Grand Canyon waterfall

Shana Watahomigie, a member of the
Havasupai tribe and the first Native American to
become a National Park Ranger and river guide,
at a waterfall on the Colorado River.

Q: Wade, do most indigenous cultures you’ve studied have a sacred relationship with water?

WADE: Around the world, water is fertility, water is life. In so many ways, people around the world recognize rivers as the arteries of the planet, metaphorically, spiritually and culturally.

Q: Do you think there’s still time to change our approach to water to one of conservation?

WADE: Water will become an increasingly precious commodity and a big battleground, even more so than oil. Everywhere there are rivers, these issues will play out. It’s really a question of what kind of world we want to live in. How are you going to feel when the last wild river is gone? I feel so fortunate to have been able to follow so many rivers untrammeled all the way to the sea. It’s one of the great experiences of life. But I also believe that Margaret Mead was right when she said “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

Q: Tara, is your generation up to the challenge of making those changes?

TARA: Oh, I definitely think we are. I’ve met so many people my age who are passionate about the environment, and who are ready to think in more innovative, creative and far-reaching ways.

Shana, leading the group down the Colorado River.

Q: There’s a focus in Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3Don sharing outdoor experiences between generations. Wade, what does that mean to you?

WADE: I’ve always tried to live a life in which knowledge and seeking are the benchmarks of existence and I’ve tried to share all the wisdom I can with my children. But I also believe in what Kahlil Gibran said about children being the arrows and parents the bow. In a wonderful way, this was a journey about passing on the torch.

Q: Tara, how do you think young people will respond to Grand Canyon Adventure: River at Risk 3D?

TARA: The 3D is going to amaze them. There’s no better way to understand the vastness of this landscape- and then to feel the waves flying up in your face, it’s going to be really fun! I think the Grand Canyon inspires everyone who sees it. Every day on the river I wondered how such a place could have been created, and about how to protect it for the future. I really hope to return to the river when I’m older, maybe even with Kick.

Stare into the Face of Death!

While doing some research on our live animals, I came across a very educational video on one of our most dangerous animals–the Egyptian Spiny Mouse!  Now, normally we do a very thorough amount of research before obtaining a new critter in our collection.  Apparently, we overlooked a minor detail of Acomys cahirinus:  “They are a rather ferocious rodent.”  

Tony Vecchio, Oregon Zoo Director, pointed this out in a short video made upon arrival of this life-threatening mouse. 


Dangerous Mice at the Oregon Zoo

After watching this video, you can now see why Chris and I are thanking our lucky stars that we still have all of our digits (and even our lives!) after many reckless encounters with our very own Egyptian Spiny Mouse :mrgreen:

Ferocious, man-eating, Egyptian Spiny Mouse!

Egyptian Spiny Mouse

Insect (relative) Insight: Centipedes and Millipedes

This month, I’d like to shed some light on two of our favorite insect relatives – both of which are often misidentified, misunderstood, and all together mixed up. The time has come to clear up some misconceptions about these very long, many-legged creatures. Laurie and I are often suprised at how many people don’t know the difference between a centipede and a millipede, and we feel it is very important.

Centipedes and Millipedes are Arthropods which which belong to a group called myriapods, meaning “many legs.” They can be found in all different types of environments on nearly every continent on the globe. Both have bodies consisting of a head, which bears chewing mouthparts, and a long trunk made up of several segments. That is where the similarities end.


Sonoran Centipede (Scolopendra heros)

The word Centipede litterally means “one hundred feet”. In reality, they can have anywhere between 30 and 346 legs with one pair of legs per body segment.

A Centipede’s legs originate from the side of their flattened body, which helps them move quite swiftly. They are nocturnal predators that spend their days hiding under rocks or logs. During the night they emerge to hunt for their prey, which consists of mostly small insects and other bugs, however, some larger centipedes may be able to take down frogs, lizards, or even mice!

Centipedes have a pair of poison fangs directly beneath the head which they use to inject venom and paralyze their prey. They rarely bite humans, but will do so to protect themselves if handled. Most centipedes are of little concern because they are very small with mild venom.

In Texas, however, we do have the giant sonoran centipede, Scolopendra herosThis centipede can reach 6 inches in length and has sizeable jaws that pack quite a punch. The venom can cause  enough pain and swelling to land you in the hospital and can be very dangerous to small children or individuals that are sensitive to insect toxins. The best idea is never to handle a centipede of any size. Here at the Cockrell Butterfly Center, we have 3 giant centipedes: Sonny, Steve, and Sam, who are all on display. They’re fun to watch and take care of and I’ve been working with them for a very long time so I know how to handle them and have never been bitten (knock on wood.)


Giant African Millipede

Millipedes on the other hand, are at the opposite end of the spectrum. These gentle creatures have a rounded body much like a worm. The word “millipede” means “one thousand legs.” They don’t really have that many, but for each segment on a millipede’s body, there are two pairs of legs. These guys can have anywhere from 80 to 400 legs! Millipedes are harmless detritivores which move very slowly. They live in the soil and feed on decaying organic matter and sometimes the roots and stems of small seedlings.

Their main defense is to roll themselves into a tight ball covering their more vulnerable parts. Some species can also emit a foul-smelling defensive liquid which is not usually harmful to humans.

Our native millipedes are very small, but some, such as the Giant African Millipede, can reach 12 inches in length and live up to 7 years. We have about 7 Giant African Millipedes, 4 of our largest are on diplay. Millie, goes to schools with us for our Bugs on Wheels program. The children have called her everything from a snake, to a worm, to a snail, to a caterpillar, and of course, a centipede.

Well, I hope you’ll find this helpful next time you see one our funny long-bodied friends, and come and see our giants on display in the Brown Hall of Entomology.

Roberta: The other brachylophosaur

Hello again – from Houston this time. Steven and I are back from Malta. It’s been a few days since we’ve posted about the trip. I’m not gonna lie – we were tired, y’all. People always ask what it takes to be a paleontologist – in addition to education and field experience, it  also takes a lack of need for any kind of sleep. It’s a completely amazing experience, but they get up at 6 a.m. and they don’t go to sleep until after midnight – and that’s a long day of hiking up mountains and hanging off cliffs.

So, apologies for the delay, but we have lots more to share – starting with Roberta, the other brachylophosaur. (Besides Leonardo, that is.) She’ll be on display in the new Great Plains Dinosaur Museum (opening June 6 in Malta, MT – book your tickets now. Seriously – you won’t be disappointed), so she won’t be on display in Houston with Leonardo – but she’s a beautifully preserved specimen (as you can see), and we got the chance to see the process of preservation in action this week.

Leonardo and Roberta

A full size model of Leonardo stands over Roberta, another brachylophosaur found near Malta. Though she does not have skin, Roberta is extremely well preserved. It’s very rare to find a dinosaur so complete. Normally, display specimens are pieced together from multiple individuals.
In the background, several paleontologists are working on other specimens housed in the Field Station.

Roberta’s broken nose

Roberta’s nose was broken in life – which would have made it very difficult for her
to eat. Her species processed tough plant material by grinding the top part of their
skull over the bottom part – so a break like this would have severely
impeded that process.

Roberta’s teeth

Roberta’s teeth are so well preserved, you almost want to brush them.

Roberta’s ribs

Roberta’s ribs are resting on the plaster jacket in which she was carried
out of the excavation site (see the gap?). Looking at the skeleton from the
top, the bones appear to be stuck to the jacket – in fact, many pieces had
to be removed before the specimen could be driven to the new Museum.
Otherwise, the vibration from the drive could have jiggled them apart.

The fossils have been preserved in the ground for millions of years – but once you get them out, it’s important to retain that preservation. Montana is so dry that once the bones have been excavated, they can dry out, crack and fall apart very easily. So, every six months, a new coat of Vinac (essentially, glue) must be applied to prevent this from happening.

In this video, Kathy Zoehfeld Vinacs (yes, it’s one of those noun-verbs, like “Google”) Roberta’s skull, to stabilize the fossil before the move to the new museum.

You can see David prepping the other end of Roberta’s skeleton here. In each video, notice how the Vinac adds a visible, thin sheen, in comparison to the other bones that haven’t been coated yet. It soaks into all the pores and helps stabilize the bones, so they don’t begin to crumble.

More soon on Dak – the brachy that survived a T. rex attack!