The Arizona- Sonora Desert Museum Junior Docents had the opportunity to get their hands dirty helping to improve the ecosystem of multiple endemic animals at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. The Youth Conservation Service Day included opportunities to learn about endangered species conservation efforts in the Sonoran Desert and to provide a hands-on experience in the field at Quitobaquito oasis.
The “Three Parks: One Partnership” NSF grant-funded project includes Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and El Pinacate y Gran Desierto del Altar. The three organizations are aligned in a mission to help protect the Quitobaquito pupfish, and Sonoyta mud turtle.
Junior Docents began their trip from the Desert Museum. The journey to the oasis took many hours, but everyone had a great time discussing and learning about the project and creating a species list along the way. A few animal highlights included seeing a coyote, turkey vulture and crested caracara while we were enroot. We travelled west on Ajo highway through the Tohono O’odham Nation and ended at Why, Arizona for a pit stop. At the intersection of Why, the group headed south toward the international boundary between Arizona and Sonora, Mexico. The first stop was at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Visitor Center. Peter Holm, Park Ecologist, greeted our group of volunteers and conducted a presentation that included an in-depth background of the Quitobaquito oasis that we would be working at later that day.
After quite a bumpy ride, we arrived at the oasis and finally got to get our hands dirty in the field. Junior Docents split into three groups. Group 1 started at the upper channel cleaning out debris and ensuring that the water that flows through it was able to do so by removing vegetation. Group 2 cleaned the channel of vegetation, and started at the bottom of the channel moving their way up until they met with Group 1. Group 3 was given the opportunity to get in the spring to remove plants that were encroaching on important habitat for the pupfish and mud turtles.
Junior Docents learned from Park staff at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument about the conservation efforts and challenges with the Sonoyta mud turtle and Quitobaquito pupfish. The also learned how the Pinacate Biosphere Reserve, and the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum have been instrumental with recovery efforts for both species.
Throughout our experiences, we saw two endangered Sonoyta mud turtles and countless Quitobaquito pupfish. The birds that were observed by the group included turkey vultures, caracaras, phainopeplas, rough- winged swallows, coots and so much more.
After a long day working outside at the springs we were able to set up camp at the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument group campsite where we enjoyed a good warm dinner to prepare us for a cold night of camping.
The following day we explored the Monument driving on the Ajo Mountain Loop trail. During the drive, each Junior Docent was asked to talk about two different stops along the trail. We learned about culture, plants, the region, animals, scat, and we even saw a crested organ pipe cactus similar to the beautiful saguaro we have on the Desert Museum’s front patio.
Overall, the Youth Conservation Service Day was a great opportunity to get out in the desert in the cool months, learn a lot about endangered and endemic animals in the Sonoran Desert, and to see what we can do to help save species that are on the brink of becoming extinct.
Written by Laura Roddy, ASDM Educator