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CDRI Desert NewsFlash
November 2023
Photo from Clayton's Overlook looking toward Blue Mountain by Alan Wintz. 
The Earth Rocks program rocked!
It was a delight to welcome 5th graders, their teachers, and school administrators from area schools on October 25 and 26 for CDRI's half-day program, "The Earth Rocks!" New this year was the introduction of our Emriver EM2 model stream table. The stream table is an invaluable tool for teaching all grade levels from elementary age through college. For The Earth Rocks, we demonstrated the effects of moving water as a form of weathering. As a result of the running water, students could see erosion taking place. Then, as the water flow lost energy and slowed, students could see how sediment was deposited, resulting in deposition. More learning took place as the deposited sediment created a delta at the mouth of the river. 
Another teaching tool was our Groundwater model. The model illustrates confined and unconfined aquifers and demonstrates how water moves through an unconfined aquifer. Students can observe potential hazards when contaminates are introduced into the soil, including leaky septic tanks or hazardous materials from landfills. An introduction to the groundwater learning station included a discussion of the water on Earth and how more than 97 percent of Earth's water supply is saltwater, leaving less than three percent of the water as freshwater. 
Students also enjoyed a guided hiking adventure, where they observed and identified various landforms. At another learning station, students learned about forms of renewable energy, in addition to a comparison between renewable and nonrenewable energy. On the hike, they saw one of the solar arrays at CDRI that provides renewable/sustainable energy to the Powell Visitor Center. The other array on the site is mounted on the awning over the Maintenance Building and provides power to the Cactus Museum greenhouse and the well pump. 
We owe our thanks to many volunteers, staff, and donors. Volunteers who worked as instructors at the learning stations include Hoot and Linda Baez, Warren and Anita Shaul, Toni Truart, Sherry Cardino, Martin Havran, Roy Saffel, Allen Gilchrist, and SRSU Geology students Michael Schott, Zach Frazier, and Ryan Smith. CDRI's team of Ivory and Kipp Harlow, BJ King, and Lisa Gordon were also instrumental in planning, setting up, and working at the event. 
 We want to thank the donors who have made it possible for CDRI to produce this and other outstanding educational programs for area students. All of our educational programs are free. For 2023, CDRI has also provided free snacks, souvenir embroidered CDRI patches, and coupons for a family visit during the year. 
 Photos by Lisa Gordon.
From time to time, we like to share innovative or inspiring stories about the Trans-Pecos Region. This is one such story about an amazing yet simple idea that may transform the process of producing alternatives to fossil fuels. This story is reproduced in part with permission from Marfa Public Radio and American Public Media's Marketplace
How the prickly pear cactus inspired a scientist
seeking alternatives to fossil fuels
Marfa Public Radio, by Zoe Kurland, August 21, 2023
Zoe Kurland, Marfa Public Radio.
Materials engineer Navid Attarzadeh with a prickly pear cactus. The form of the plant inspired a new design for hydrogen gas generation.
In parts of Texas, the prickly pear cactus is everywhere — potted outside coffee shops, dotting the side of the road, poking out of cracks in the sidewalk. It also lines the pathways of the University of Texas at El Paso campus, including the path where Navid Attarzadeh, a materials engineer, has made the trek to his office for years. And every day on his walk he’d pass a prickly pear cactus, come rain, come shine, or a lot of shine. On the day I caught up with Attarzadeh, the temperature topped out at 110 degrees.
It was intense desert heat like this that got Attarzadeh thinking. As the seasons changed, he noticed that even in the face of blistering heat and blustery winds, the prickly pear fruit didn’t budge or dry out, due to the plant’s unique structure. “Usually fruits are connected to branches,” he said, “but here we have the fruit connected to leaves. And that is amazing.”
Zoe Kurland, Marfa Public Radio.
Navid Attarzadeh holding a prickly pear.
This gave Attarzadeh an idea, which he brought back to his adviser at the Center for Advanced Materials Research, Ramana Chintalapalle. One focus of the lab is electrolysis: the process that splits water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Hydrogen gas can be used as an alternative to fossil fuels for producing energy.
Looking for an economically viable and environmentally friendly material to achieve this process, the structure of the prickly pear cactus provided an answer.
Read the full article
Welcome our new additions to the Team!

Welcome, Kipp!

Kipp Harlow began work as CDRI’s maintenance and site manager. 
He started his career in the United States Air Force on active duty and then as a member of the Air National Guard. After completing his enlistment, Kipp continued to serve our country as a civilian biomedical engineering technician for the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. 

Kipp retired from Federal service in 2019. Post-retirement, he returned to Texas, where he grew up, and to be near his son, a staff sergeant at Joint Base San Antonio. 

Kipp looks forward to working outdoors while appreciating the natural diversity of the Chihuahuan Desert.
Photo by Ivory Harlow. 
Welcome, Mady!

Mady Kitchens began work as an information desk host at CDRI at the beginning of October. 
Mady served as CDRI’s horticultural intern in the summer of 2023. She worked alongside staff and volunteers to care for and maintain Trans-Pecos region native plants – particularly trees, grasses, soils, and cacti.

Mady is originally from Athens, Texas. She studied Natural Resource Manage-ment at Sul Ross State University (SRSU) and is pursuing a Master of Science in Conservation at SRSU. Mady brings a vast knowledge of local flora and fauna to her position at CDRI. Post-graduation, she aspires to serve as a game warden in the Big Bend region.
Welcome, BJ!
BJ King returned to CDRI as a host camper.
BJ has lived life on the road full-time for 14 years! 

2023 will be BJ’s seventh season serving as CDRI’s host camper. She parks her rig at CDRI from October through January. BJ spends summers working at Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills region of South Dakota. 

CDRI's "Membership Queen," BJ enjoys interacting with visitors who travel to the nature center from all regions of the U.S. and the world, providing a welcomed smile and excellent customer service to everyone she meets.
   Photos of BJ, and BJ and Ivory Harlow gazing at the eclipse by Lisa Gordon. 
Garden Notes
Weather and temperatures across Texas dominated all conversations this year, with 2023 being the second-hottest year on record. The average temperature from June 1 - August 31 across the State of Texas was 85.3F. This was just behind the hottest summer of record in 2011 when temperatures reached an average of 86.8F. *
CDRI's monsoons usually show up from July through mid-September. However, in 2023, we had scant yet measurable precipitation in May, August, September, and October. Despite our lack of a generous rainy season and the hot summer days, our accomplishments in the Botanical Gardens were many.
Work on the Native Grasses exhibit, clearing the area and establishing beds, began in February. When complete, 26 native grasses from the Trans-Pecos region will be showcased in the exhibit.  Most have been planted, with only six beds remaining to be planted. Volunteers reported daily on a rotating schedule throughout the summer for watering duty. As the grasses germinated and began growing, unwanted weeds also sprang up. It was a sometimes daunting task for Head Gardener Faith and the volunteers to stay ahead of the weeds, however, determination won out, and the grasses prevailed. The Native Grasses exhibit, when complete, will have interpretive panels and identification signs throughout the exhibit. We also have a thorough and beautiful guide booklet for sale ($2.00) in the Visitor Center, and an expansive 8' x 4' exhibit is planned for inside the Visitor Center. 
Photo by Faith Hille Dishron.
June 4, 2023, grasses emerging in newly planted beds. Photo by Lisa Gordon.
October 31, 2023. Photo by Lisa Gordon. 
With assistance from a grant from a family foundation that wishes to remain anonymous, we received five large piñon pines (Pinus cembroides) to line the fenceline of the Botanical Gardens, a beautiful steel exit gate to match the entrance gate to the Botanical Gardens, and a refurbished driveway and new path from the garden to the Visitor Center. We also received a donation of ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens), sotol (Dasylirion wheeleri), and Spanish dagger yucca (Yucca torreyi) from High Frontier properties. These flank the path and driveway leading to the garden exit gate.
An incredibly hardy and determined crew of volunteers worked alongside Faith to break through the volcanic rock underlying the ground's surface. Using digging bars and pick mattocks, the holes were dug in four days, and the ground was ready for planting. Thank you to all of the volunteers who never gave up and who worked through those hot, dusty days.
October 28, 2023. Photo by Lisa Gordon.
The Pollinator Garden and Cactus Garden have also received facelifts. Thanks to generous donations from CDRI Board President Jim Martinez, more than 70 plants were added to the gardens. The Pollinator Garden was ablaze with color all summer with its new flowers, while the Cactus Garden should be full of early spring color next year when the claret cup cactus (Echinocereus coccineus) is in full bloom. 
   August 30, 2023. Photos by Lisa Gordon. 
Maintaining the 18-acre Botanical Gardens is a daunting task, but it is managed well by Faith, summer intern Mady Kitchens, and CDRI's devoted volunteers.
Thank you to everyone who has lent a hand and worked tirelessly to help make CDRI's Botanical Gardens "the best botanical garden in West Texas (and arguably one of the best in the state)." **
* Statistics about Texas' high temperatures are from Spectrum News, Meteorologist Emily Borche, Sept. 8, 2023. 

**  Credit to Rose Cahalan, author of "The West Texas Desert's Impossible Garden," Texas Monthly, Travel & Outdoors, October 2023. https://www.texasmonthly.com/travel/west-texas-impossible-garden-chihuahuan-desert-institute/?fbclid=IwAR1-ap4SAG6RrcdgalSDTcBKO-j3Vojowebk166Hs-c_mHLnHmkQ9K0G964
Visiting Schools and Tour Groups
University of Texas at San Antonio, Honors Class
 Austin International School
CDRI volunteer Hoot Baez led the hike for the Austin International School. 
 Road Scholars, October 17 & 24
Jim Martinez, CDRI's Board President, and Faith Hille, CDRI's Head Gardener, led tours for the Road
Scholars through the Botanical Gardens and the Cactus Museum Collection.
 Happy kids at The Earth Rocks educational program
In closing ...
Did you know that the shadows of leaves and grasses photographed during the annular eclipse showed the sun eclipsed by the moon?
Left: Shadows of Chinquapin oak leaves, along with cracks in the concrete. Right: Shadows of Mexican feather grass. Photos by Lisa Gordon.
Wishing you a wonderful November
 a Happy Thanksgiving! 
Chihuahuan Desert Research Institute, P.O. Box 905, Fort Davis, TX 79734


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