blog postsBetween wilderness, tourism and civilizationJul 18, 2016 4:15 pm352 views We spent yesterday in Grand Teton National Park, hiking Cascade Canyon. Today we’re in Jackson, Wyoming, just south of the park and a very different settingPreserving a fragile historyJul 7, 2016 12:15 pm396 views I drive slowly over the hilly terrain in Fossil Basin and park near the remnants of an old campsite. In the 1950s and early 1960s, botanist Herman Becker camped here and collected fossil insects and plants from the Renova Formation’s paper shales. We are the first, since Becker, to explore this fossil bed. Our work begins where his left off.Drawing insights from ancient plantsJun 29, 2016 2:30 pm851 views I’m sitting near the top of our fossil excavation site in southwest Montana, my hammer and shovel ready. I have a perfect view of the mountains. A wall of fossil-laden shale lies before me, and I’m ready to dig in. This is our fourth day digging, and despite the early hour, I'm trembling with excitement. Today I might find something new, something no human has ever seen.The fossils of Madison County (Montana)Jun 20, 2016 2:15 pm953 views Standing at the foot of the mountains, I look to the east. It’s still early and I have hiked up here alone to gather my thoughts. I can see why they call this “Big Sky Country.” The tree-covered foothills of the mountains behind me give way to rolling scrubland. Stunted trees mark the edges of dry creek beds cut into the soft rocks below. The sun sparkles on the surface of a reservoir in the valley several miles away, and beyond that, another mountain range rises to meet the sky. This is southwest Montana and I’m here to hunt.Drought and pilgrimage at the Cara Blanca Pools, BelizeJun 13, 2016 1:00 pm827 views After driving the winding dirt roads of Yalbac Ranch, we venture for 20 minutes into a steep ravine surrounded by dense jungle. Cicadas sing to us from above as we approach Pool 1, a 60-plus-meter-deep cenote (steep-sided sinkhole fed by groundwater). It is difficult to see the pool at first. But, as the truck tires grind over loose limestone, making those sitting in the back of the truck bounce, a water temple and the pool appear to emerge from the jungle. Previous VOPA excavations show that 1,300 years ago, Maya came from different regions of the lowlands to this sacred pool. Mapping the state budget impasse and its consequencesJun 7, 2016 10:30 am1596 views With maps and infographics, the Illinois Austerity Atlas visually chronicles the impacts the state budget impasse has had on social services, higher education, youth programs and public health.Salvaging the past in an ancient Maya settlement Jun 1, 2016 9:45 am929 views We are working in the the cleared agricultural fields near Cara Blanca Pool 7, a pre-Columbian residential area in west central Belize. Hundreds of ancient Maya structures once housed a thriving community here. Now the area is being converted into farmland, and our job is to salvage what we can before the plows sheer off this history, layer by layer.A guide to the Japan House gardensMay 27, 2016 10:00 am1755 views Japan House has developed a mobile guide to its gardens, which visitors can listen to on their phones for a self-guided tour.Coring and Exploring Ancient Maya LifeMay 17, 2016 9:30 am1087 views It is early May in central Belize, nearing the end of the dry season. While farmers anxiously await the beginning of the rainy season vital for crops, archaeologists hope it starts as late as possible. Tropical storms transform the landscape, making it difficult to get around, even in four-wheel-drive vehicles. Also, excavating in the clayey mud is not fun.On the campaign trail: Breaking away from the packApr 20, 2016 11:15 am778 views Journalism professor Charles "Stretch" Ledford describes how he avoids the rules for photojournalists at presidential campaign events, getting a different angle on the people in the crowd.Bringing home the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 13, 2016 3:30 pm794 views Finding a home for the bones of Tam Pa Ling here in the capital city of Laos has special meaning for me.BLOG: Discovering the bones of Tam Pa LingApr 4, 2016 1:30 pm354 views Tam Pa Ling cave sits at the top of Pa Hang Mountain, in Hua Phan Province, Laos. Every day, we climb the mountain and descend into the cave to dig. The view from outside the cave is spectacular, but its location means that the only equipment that we can use to dig through the wet clay of the cave floor is what we can carry up the mountain.BLOG: Finding a Home for the Bones of Tam Pa LingApr 3, 2016 11:45 am1142 views I am a paleoanthropologist, and with a team of researchers from France and Laos, I have explored the mountains of northern Laos since 2008. We have been looking for evidence of the earliest humans that migrated out of Africa and into Southeast Asia. Since 2009, we have excavated at Tam Pa Ling (“Cave of the Monkeys”), where we discovered fossils of the earliest modern humans living in this part of the world. Since then, we have found the bones of at least three people who lived in this cave around 50,000 years ago. Today, these bones will find a permanent home in a new museum in Vientiane.Image of Research: A Pinch of Salt and ImaginationMar 31, 2016 9:15 am944 views I was holding the dried out agar plate in my hand, wondering what I was looking at. These beautiful self-organized fractals changed shape in front of my eyes. I could imagine the salt deposits as a starry night, a mysterious garden or white snowflakes.Blog: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The child decidesMar 16, 2016 5:45 pm592 views El Nino stops many – but not all – climbers from scaling Ojos del Salado in 2016BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Timing is everythingJan 27, 2016 4:15 pm943 views We had finished our acclimatization training. We had arranged for a truck to take us - again - across the vast Catamarca wilderness to base camp of Ojos del Salado. We had recruited two young men with mountaineering experience to join the expedition.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Changes in plansJan 20, 2016 9:15 am308 views We thought that the expedition was over. My husband's altitude sickness left only three of us to climb Ojos del Salado, make our way up the mountain in the thin air, find the lake, collect the biological samples and get back down safely. It wasn't feasible. Then we learned something that changed the entire expedition.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: Expect the unexpectedJan 12, 2016 9:00 am410 views You may think that mountain expeditions are all about action, but in fact there's a lot more time spent sitting around. Plans may be perfect, but obstacles arise. The weather is unexpectedly cold, the ice on the lake is too thick, the snow on the mountain is melting much later in the season than normal.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world: The whyJan 4, 2016 11:30 am1009 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA - We head out to Fiambala tomorrow, near the base of Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. We will continue our acclimatization hikes at higher and higher altitudes before beginning our approach on the lake, where we hope to collect microbial samples without contaminating the lake with our own.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Climbing higherDec 31, 2015 9:15 pm689 views VALLECITOS, ARGENTINA - Mount Franke is a giant rock pile. Some of the rocks are attached to the mountain. Many, many others are not. The loose rocks are engaged in slow tumble down the mountainside. Hikers often help them along.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - Day 2Dec 24, 2015 6:00 pm1463 views POTRERILLOS, ARGENTINA - The polar explorer Amundsen hated adventure and worked hard to avoid it. Adventures begin when things go wrong and are a sign of bad planning, he said. For us, the adventure began even before we landed in Argentina. One of our five giant duffle bags full of hignored-altitude gear never made it to Mendoza. All of my high altitude gear was in that bag. It took me four months to accumulate that gear.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - DAY 1Dec 22, 2015 9:45 pm510 views MENDOZA, ARGENTINA -- We arrived in Mendoza, Argentina today and tomorrow we are going on our first trek: up from 2,080 meters to 2700 meters on Mount Mihlo, outside of Mendoza. This will begin the acclimatization process for us. BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the world - on the roadDec 21, 2015 6:30 am608 views IN TRANSIT – One of the reasons I felt comfortable joining this expedition was the attitude of the expedition leader, Francisco Seufferheld. He made it abundantly clear that this was to be a positive experience and that we were not to become so driven to reach the goal that we forgot to stay safe and have fun. It’s a good thing, too, because we will have to overcome a lot of obstacles to make it to the lake at the top of the volcano. The altitude is the most formidable challenge, but there are others.BLOG: Expedition to the highest lake in the worldDec 14, 2015 2:00 pm1802 views CATAMARCA, ARGENTINA - Early in 2016, a small team will climb Ojos del Salado, the tallest active volcano in the world. Unlike most climbers who tackle this volcano, however, this group has little interest in reaching the summit. Near the end of their trek, they will veer off the summit path to visit a lake that holds something seen nowhere else on Earth at this altitude: liquid water. The team will try to collect soil and water samples from this lake to see what microbes might be living there.