Out West Blog

Notes, photos and updates from the Center's student researchers and summer interns working at organizations across the region.

Ice Patches, Holes in the Ground, and Other Adventures in Yellowstone National Park


By Peter Salazar
B.A., History, 2015
Summer Intern at the Archeology Department, Yellowstone National Park

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

As much as I might have expected the pace of change and dynamism of my job in the Yellowstone Park Archaeologist’s office to slow in the final few weeks, no such thing actually occurred. I could hardly settle into a comfortable office routine before a new task or challenge would rise up and present itself for contemplation or resolution. My day-to-day task of updating, editing, and cleaning up the 2000 park site file records found regular and happy interruption in a number of other projects that continued to expose me further more to the world of archaeology and cultural resource management.

My experience working with GIS software, for example, allowed me to assist my supervisor in updating the park archaeological map, clearing out inconsistencies and filling in data that would make the rather unwieldy map to function in its capacity as a directory for the location and content of all of the park’s archaeological sites. I also had the opportunity to join my supervisor and a group of other natural and cultural resource management professionals on an educational excursion to the Beartooth Mountains (right next to the northeast entrance to the park) to explore the topic of ice patch archaeology, that is, scouring the rapidly melting ice patches of the high alpine regions of the vicinity for artifacts emerging after thousands of years. While we didn’t have any sensational finds on this particular excursion (aside from a well-preserved sheep skull and a spear shaft fragment), the exercise was a fascinating exposure to the issue of how cultural resource management is affected by such a far-reaching issue as global climate change.

And a description of my final few weeks in Yellowstone would be woefully lacking without a reference to my role participating in the Fishing Bridge construction monitoring. A scheduled update of a water main was taking place at Fishing Bridge, one of the principal intersections in the middle of the park, and an extremely sensitive archaeological site – it was there that the only pre-Columbian burials in the entire park were found. Another volunteer and I in the office, Melanie Langa, supervised the work and made sure that nothing of an archaeologically sensitive nature was being disturbed. It’s hard enough to methodically analyze stratigraphy, soil changes, and artifact density in a controlled excavation setting. But when your scientific instrument changes from a trowel to a backhoe, the task becomes exponentially more difficult. Unfortunately (or perhaps thankfully), we did not stumble across any buried settlements or treasure troves, but the exercise was nevertheless a fascinating lesson in geology and archaeological field methods.

I’m sad to go, of course. Yellowstone is a remarkable and breathtaking place to spend one’s summer. I became fond of saying to others that I would be more than happy to scrub toilets all summer, and I would still consider myself to have the emerged with a sweet deal for having been able to live in the park. To be able to live in the park and spend my time doing something that I loved and found interesting, however, makes an already dreamy situation that much better. I don’t know if I’ll end up pursuing a career in archaeology at this point, but this experience was nevertheless a fascinating introduction to the world of careful compromise, concession and dialogue that takes place in the stewardship of natural and cultural resources.

A ‘Peace’ of Something Greater

Image: Historical mapping of the Walnut Creek watershed is the culmination of months of archival research, data compilation and synthesis, and georeferencing of historical maps. The above image shows an incomplete version of the mapping, still with many features to be added and problems to resolve.

By Tyler McIntosh
B.S. Earth Systems, 2016
Summer Intern at the San Francisco Estuary Institute

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

As this summer has spun by, so too have many projects at the San Francisco Estuary Institute (SFEI). From data collection trips in southern California to the California Climate Change Symposium in Sacramento, I’ve traveled and learned, learned as I’ve traveled, and changed as I’ve learned.

My time with SFEI is coming to a close, and as I look back I wonder where it all went. Time does indeed fly when you’re… learning about historical ecology? I suppose that there is an answer to where the time went: the majority of my contributions were to the Walnut Creek: Flood Control 2.0 project, a small piece of the dynamic puzzle of flood prevention in the Bay Area.

From my first days at SFEI through to my last, I’ve helped shepherd the Walnut Creek project through the winding pathways of historical ecology research. Data finding, collection, and compilation were followed by synthesis and digitization with a GIS. As the summer comes to a close, the Walnut Creek project progresses into the stages of analysis and reporting, which, sadly, I won’t have the time to contribute to. The project is slated to continue into 2017. However, I did assist in report writing, copyediting, and reference compilation for the Tijuana River Historical Ecology project, which is at a later stage of its life. The combination of these two projects (in addition to smaller, more tangential tasks) gave me a chance to learn about environmental science, myself, and my future path.

The future is always tied to our past, within ourselves as well as when examining landscapes. I landed in the United States thirty-six hours before walking into SFEI for the first time. I had just returned from three months of studying and traveling in Chile and Argentina. Prior to picking up and leaving on my adventures, I had made the decision to switch my major from Mechanical Engineering to Earth Systems. Although the decision had been made, my mind was filled with uncertainty throughout my wanderings in South America. Had I made a mistake?

Perhaps the most important thing that I have gotten out of this summer is a sense of peace: I have come to terms with the decision I made, and now feel excited and able to move forward. With SFEI’s help, I’ve gained an understanding of the lumbering machine that is the environmental sector and where I may fit into it. While I may not become a historical ecologist, my work this summer has formed the perfect springboard from which to vault into the upcoming year of study and brought my pre-existing interest in the environment to new levels. Although I hope to move in the direction of applying my quantitative engineering to the challenges of environmental science, communication remains in the back of my mind. In today’s world it is unacceptable for scientists to exist within the polished boundaries of the ivory tower—even if one is not directly involved in communication, it is essential to consider how one’s work will be communicated, and what its role is in the now critical world of policy and public environmentalism. I am, as the Fleet Foxes sing, “a functioning cog in some great machinery, serving something beyond me.”

When New Passions Sneak Up On Us

Image: The staff met in the board room to take a look at the debut of new artwork – two years in the making – for one of Heyday’s upcoming titles.

By Monica Masiello
B.A. English/American Studies ’14, M. A. Sociology ’15
Summer Intern at Heyday Publishing

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

I’m really lucky to have spent the summer helping to make books and authors known to communities who will grow and benefit immensely from them. My work took a lot of different forms, from pitching ideas for author lectures and signings to Bay Area bookstores (and even a couple of bars for one of Heyday’s fall titles, High Spirits), to writing and sending out newsletters and educational materials to promote books and encourage their use in university courses (here’s one of my pages promoting Under Spring, to sending out comp copies of books to booksellers so that they might add a Heyday title to their shelves for their communities.

A few of my favorite days included: running a book sales event at a San Mateo elementary school where I saw just how much Heyday’s books on Native California history and culture nourish the K-5 curriculum, sitting down for an hour-long conversation with an author about his new photography book (You can read our interview on the Heyday blog!), and talking to a woman at an author reading who, literally shaking with excitement, told me that even though she didn’t have much money, she just had to buy a ticket to hear Tom Killion read. She was overjoyed and overdressed, and I caught a telling glimpse of why and how book events are so important.

When I wrote my first email newsletter to be sent out to Heyday’s subscribers, I didn’t quite have my footing on how to talk about books in a way that made other people genuinely want to read them. My supervisor explained that the most compelling marketing content I would write would come from tapping into my own enthusiasm about a book and what made it exciting to me—with the real beast of it being how to fake that enthusiasm about the projects I was less interested in. But the more familiarized myself with the books I was marketing, the more I fell in love with the things that didn’t excite me earlier, and the less I found any disingenuousness necessary to assume. I was surprised at how quickly I felt my interests realign and refocus on some of the topics that I had been less well-versed in, and from the work I did reading and writing about these book and talking with their authors, I’m inclined to believe that part of marketing--and ideally, part any type of job--is learning how to understand and begin to love the unfamiliar projects that end up in front of you. In writing content with some angle of salesmanship to it--by putting yourself in the mindset of what it would be like to love subjects you don’t have much previous knowledge of or affinity for, you can’t walk away without loving them at least a little more than when you started.

At a board meeting at the beginning of the summer, held to discuss Heyday’s upcoming transition in leadership, I was struck by the space that was left in the meeting for beauty, despite the heaping pile of business on the table. In his opening remarks, Malcolm, Heyday’s founder, told a story about having complimented a basket weaver on her basketry, to which she replied that it isn’t people who make baskets beautiful, but instead, that “the baskets make us beautiful.” The past few months in Berkeley taught me that this is the case with our work--that it shapes us as we empathize with it. But I think hearing this story early on allowed me, for the rest of the summer, to conceptualize the work I’d go on to do less as a perpetual cycle of daily errands, and more as an endeavor to grow more complete and become more beautiful.

Ghost Repulsed by Ugly Formica Countertops

Image: Tried to photograph a power line, ended up with a nice shot of clouds instead.

By Katie Petway
Class of 2018
Summer Intern at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

Two rooms: one, a small, irregularly shaped bedroom with a historic fireplace and walls painted blood red; the other, a bright kitchen with linoleum flooring, 1960s appliances, and Formica. Which one would you expect to be a duelist’s death place? Which one is probably haunted? Well, Senator Broderick died in the kitchen. It wasn’t a kitchen then—walls used to divide the space into bedrooms. On the other hand, the dramatic little bedroom is part of a wing of the house that didn’t exist in 1859. The only space on the historic floorplan that matches descriptions of Broderick’s death is the kitchen wing. But while plenty of people insist that they’ve seen or heard Mr. Broderick’s ghost in the bedroom, nobody’s ever been creeped out by the kitchen. I can only guess that the distinguished ghost was so disgusted by the dingy Formica that he exercised his flair for the dramatic and evacuated to the red bedroom.

In all seriousness though, institutional lore is a dense, persistent fog that blurs out historical fact and makes everything seem dark and eerie. The myth about Broderick’s death place is a great example: at some point, when nobody really knew where Broderick had died, somebody just picked an interesting room, and it’s been common “knowledge” ever since.

I’ve spent the past 9 weeks analyzing through all sorts of documents, trying to sort fact from fiction. My goal was to articulate why Quarters 3 is important enough to preserve. I wanted to do it without the crutch of lore and ghost stories: those may be good for luring tourists to a historic site, but they are neither reliable enough nor detailed enough to dictate whether this segment of stone foundation or that hardwood floor should be preserved. I wanted to convince anyone who reads the Historic Structure Report (architects, middle managers, carpenters…) that the effort and attention to detail necessary to preserve Quarters 3 really is worthwhile. Here’s one section of the HSR draft; decide for yourself whether I succeeded.

As a side effect of all the research and typing, I’ve accidently become an expert in a subject so arcane that when I walk out of my office for the last time next week, I’ll never use that knowledge again in any context. To be honest, it doesn’t bother me too much—if my brain hadn’t been full of picky house facts this summer, it would have been full of sheet music and dead flies. I’ve learned some very practical things as well: that I’m far too fidgety to sit in a cubical for 8 hours per day, that the Federal bureaucracy grinds along at a comfortably monotonous pace despite frequent minor crises, and that San Francisco is more like the DC suburbs (home for me) than it is different. I expected my summer to be thrilling and adventuresome, but really, it’s bourn a striking resemblance to Mr. Broderick’s kitchen. That’s what I’m taking away from this summer: real life isn’t red and haunted.

To Preserve and Protect

Image: An entrance to the museum – a.k.a. "home" –  for 10 weeks.

By Isabella Robbins
Art History, 2017
Summer Intern at the Yosemite Museum

Read about our summer interns on the Out West student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.

As an art history major, I am all too often asked, what are you going to do with that? To be honest, I probably ask myself that question more than anyone else. Upon declaring, all I really knew was I liked art, I liked museums and I could pass the classes. It seemed like there isn’t much to do with a degree in art history, but after working in the Yosemite Museum, I have come to realize that getting this degree is not useless. The people I have worked with this summer – art historians, curators, librarians, archivists, cultural demonstrators, and educators. – have helped me realize that there is a place for this art history major. To preserve and protect.

On the first day of work, we were told that the National Park Service exists to preserve and protect the natural and cultural wonders of this country. The Yosemite Museum and the people who work in it preserve and protect both the cultural and natural history of Yosemite every day. Whether it’s curating an exhibit, serving as a source for researchers or a bank of photographs to be placed in an NPS centennial pamphlet, the museum staff (many of whom have art history degrees) works hard to ensure people know the story of Yosemite - past, present and future – through art, artifacts, different natural specimens and so much more. The museum is a hub of tons and tons of information that people learn from and use that information for present and future projects and ideas.

To conclude, I’d like to share one of my favorite memories of the summer. It was a rare rainy afternoon and as it began to storm, water started to flood onto the sidewalk and near the entrances of the museum. The museum staff, as dedicated as we are, began to sweep away the water from the museum, literally protecting the collections inside and getting soaked to the bone while we were at it. As we did this, visitors to the park began to help. They may have just been being nice, but in my mind we were all on a mission to shelter the valuable resources within the building. After about half an hour we had successfully diverted the water. We were cold and wet, but to me, this was true dedication and following of the NPS mission. That moment made me incredibly honored to be a part of such an amazing program and to work with such an amazing staff that really care about their collections. At that moment, I knew that with my art history degree would not be worthless. And this summer, I now know I want to preserve and protect the natural wonders of the world by honoring and sharing the incredible art, artifacts, natural specimens and histories that come with it.

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