Labor Day Weekend program

The following is from my feedback form, but I figured I would share with everyone.  I did the 4 pm program on Sunday, which was the busiest day of the weekend, of course, and I decided to do it out in the exhibits!   That meant there was a lot of coming and going among visitors, but I had a few families that stayed for just about all of it.  I estimated about 30 people saw at least most of the program, and many more probably saw at least one or two slides.  Anyways, here were my comments:

Sara observed this program.  Since she had observed one of my programs on an earlier site visit, we decided to change it up and do a program in the exhibit hall rather than in the privacy of the theater.  Because it was a busy holiday weekend, I knew I could attract a lot of people if I stood among the exhibits.  It was after the natural entrance trail closed, so there wouldn’t be people running through the program either, trying to get to the cave on time.  This was definitely a fluid audience, but I estimated about 30 people saw all or most of the program.  There were definitely lots of people stopping by just for one or two slides, as well.  That’s why I asked the feedback questions multiple times.  The audience was mostly composed of families with multiple generations.  I had little kids sitting on the floor right in front (and they were engaged the whole time, and stayed afterwards to ask me more questions about the scientists who study bats!) and I had parents and grandparents as well, answering my questions and offering up their own questions and observations.  It was definitely a very different feel than being in the theater, but I liked it a lot.  And now that we are going back to our winter hours, I am definitely going to continue doing it out among the exhibits, because it seems like I attract more people that way.

6 thoughts on “Labor Day Weekend program

  1. Sounds like switching it up a little gave you a few more participants. I really love the idea of kids sitting on the floor up front all engrossed in their experience with you. Hopefully you will stay busy with people and get some more opportunities for these sorts of interactions. Keep up the good work.


  2. Thanks for the feedback Ellen! It’s nice to have lots of people coming to surface programs. I know we’ve gone back and forth regarding doing iSWOOP programs in the exhibit area based on noise and comfort level for the visitors. You have a great voice and even I, with my hearing loss, can hear you very well most of the time. I recall video taping your iSWOOP program awhile back and heard you despite all the noise.

    Do you think more visitors would have stayed longer or for the entire duration of your program if they had a place to sit in the exhibit area? We can easily revisit the plan to have a program area with benches.

    Thanks for the great work.


  3. Welcome back, Ellen! Sounds like a great program. I was just remembering that back when we were writing the proposal for iSWOOP I had a secret fear that the content would not be engaging for kids younger than 9 or 10. You all proved me wrong on that count.

    I’m supposed to talk to CAVE’s facebook manager. I can see how even if you have people who don’t stay for the whole thing, they might trip over iSWOOP if it’s mentioned on the park’s facebook page and then that will be another way to get them intrigued and involved.

    Thanks for the update!


  4. I recall reading something on the blog about a visitor wanting to know the “why” behind researchers work – basically, does all scientific research need to benefit humans in some way. There is a great article today on inside NPS about some research done in Death Valley that answered a burning question about how do the rocks move across Racetrack Playa and leave tracks. There is now finally an answer! It turns out that there is such a thing as “science for the fun of it”!

    Mystery Of The ‘Sailing Stones’ Solved
    Racetrack Playa in Death Valley is home to one of the park’s most enduring mysteries. Littered across the flat, dry surface of this dry lake, also called a “playa’, are hundreds of rocks – some weighing as much as 700 pounds – that seem to have been dragged across the ground, often leaving synchronized trails that can stretch for hundreds of meters.
    What powerful force could be moving them? Researchers have investigated this question since the 1940s, but no one has ever seen the process in action – until now.
    In a new paper published in the August 27th edition of PLOS ONE, a team led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography paleobiologist Richard Norris report on first-hand observations of the phenomenon.
    Because the stones can sit for a decade or more without moving, the researchers did not originally expect to see motion in person. Instead, they decided to monitor the rocks remotely by installing a high-resolution weather station capable of measuring gusts to one second intervals and fitting 15 rocks with custom-built, motion-activated GPS units (the NPS could not let them use native rocks, so they brought in similar rocks from an outside source).
    The experiment was set up in the winter of 2011 with permission of the National Park Service. Then – in what Ralph Lorenz of the Applied Physics Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins University, one of the paper’s authors, suspected would be “the most boring experiment ever” – they waited for something to happen.
    But in December of 2013 Norris and co-author James Norris of Interwoof – and Richard’s cousin – arrived in Death Valley to discover that the playa was covered with a shallow pond no more than seven centimeters (three inches) deep. Shortly after, the rocks began moving.
    “Science sometimes has an element of luck,” Richard Norris said. “We expected to wait five or ten years without anything moving, but only two years into the project, we just happened to be there at the right time to see it happen in person.”
    Their observations show that moving the rocks requires a rare combination of events. First, the playa fills with water, which must be deep enough to allow formation of floating ice during cold winter nights but shallow enough to expose the rocks. As nighttime temperatures plummet, the pond freezes to form sheets of “windowpane” ice, which must be thin enough to move freely but thick enough to maintain strength.
    On sunny days, the ice begins to melt and break up into large floating panels, which light winds drive across the playa pool. The ice sheets shove rocks in front of them and the moving stones leave trails in the soft mud bed below the pool surface.
    “On December 21st, 2013, ice breakup happened just before noon, with popping and cracking sounds coming from all over the frozen pond surface”, said Richard Norris. “I said to Jim, ‘This is it!’”
    These observations were surprising in light of previous models, which had proposed hurricane-force winds, dust devils, slick algal films, or thick sheets of ice as likely contributors to rock motion. Instead, rocks moved under light winds of about three to five meters per second (10 miles per hour) and were driven by ice less than five millimeters (0.25 inches) – too thin to grip large rocks and lift them off the playa, which several papers had proposed as a mechanism to reduce friction.
    Further, the rocks moved only a few inches per second (two to six m/minute), a speed that is almost imperceptible at a distance and without stationary reference points. “It’s possible that tourists have actually seen this happening without realizing it,” said Jim Norris. “It is really tough to gauge that a rock is in motion if all the rocks around it are also moving”.
    Individual rocks remained in motion for anywhere from a few seconds to 16 minutes. In one event, the researchers observed that rocks three football fields apart began moving simultaneously and traveled over 60 meters (200 feet) before stopping. Rocks often moved multiple times before reaching their final resting place.
    The researchers also observed rock-less trails formed by grounding ice panels – features that the Park Service had previously suspected were the result of tourists stealing rocks.
    “The last suspected movement was in 2006, and so rocks may move only about one millionth of the time,” said Lorenz. “There is also evidence that the frequency of rock movement, which seems to require cold nights to form ice, may have declined since the 1970s due to climate change.”
    Richard and Jim Norris, and co-author Jib Ray of Interwoof started studying the Racetrack’s moving rocks to solve the “public mystery’ and set up the “Slithering Stones Research Initiative” (“Science for the fun of it”) to engage a wide circle of friends in the effort. They needed the help to repeatedly visit the remote dry lake, quarry rocks for the GPS-instrumented stones, and design the custom-built instrumentation.
    Ralph Lorenz and Brian Jackson of the Department of Physics, Boise State University, in contrast, started working on the phenomenon to study dust devils and other desert weather features that might have analogs to processes happening on other planets. “What is striking about prior research on the Racetrack is that almost everybody was doing the work not to gain fame or fortune, but because it is such a neat problem”, says Jim Norris.
    So is the mystery of the sliding rocks finally solved?
    “We documented five move events in the two-and-a-half months the pond existed and some involved hundreds of rocks”, says Richard Norris, “So we have seen that even in Death Valley, famous for its heat, floating ice is a powerful force driving rock motion. But we have not seen the really big boys move out there….does that work the same way?”

    Click on a link below to see the text of the article.
    More Information
    Contact Information
    Name: Cheryl Chipman, Public Affairs Officer


    • I read that article. So fun. Yes science can totally be just for fun, and that has human value right?

      On a slightly tangential note, Nick and I went to the race track in Death Valley and Nick became obsessed with the place. We were super excited to hear this was studied. I found it odd that they had to bring in their own rocks because they were not allowed to put a GPS tracker on the existing rocks. I would think bringing in outside rocks would be less “Leave no Trace” than a removable device, but what do I know? Good discussion!


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