Analog Studies

Spaceward Bound:Though We Walk Thru the Valley of Death We Fear No Ubehebe's

By Keith Cowing
June 7, 2011

Liza Coe: Many people who have not been to Death Valley think of it as an inhospitable patch of sand in the middle of a desert. Although it is one of the driest areas on the planet, the land supports so much life.

Interdisciplinary studies are an important way to bring together many concepts. Much of education today is very segregated, especially in high school: history, math, biology, earth science, and everything else is learned separately. However, it has been demonstrated that interdisciplinary studies can grab and maintain students’ interests as well as helping them retain knowledge longer.

All of the places that we visited today can be used as an interdisciplinary site. We started off at Scotty’s Castle and along the ride we noticed many significant geological formations. The history of Scotty’s Castle can be tied into the time period, with a lesson about the other economic and historical events that happened in the 1930s and 1940s. Also, along the ride, the types minerals that are abundant in the desert area can be discussed, and students can learn how to identify geological features, such as alluvial fans and fault lines.

We then headed to the Ubehebe craters, which are a great analog to formations to look for on Mars. These craters are Maar craters, where magma meets groundwater. The water table boils and released pressure in a volcanic eruption. The craters are what are left over after such eruptions. Many students may believe a crater is only from an asteroid or from a mountainous volcano, so this site affords an opportunity to learn about all sorts of volcanic features.We ended our long day at Badwater Basin, which is one of the lowest places in the world, at -282 feet. This used to be a sea, and this place could be used to talk about watersheds and how desertification occurs over time. We can incorporate math into this by looking at negative numbers, and students can compare the sea levels of the lowest places in the world. This was a very long but rewarding day as we got to take in all the beauty of Death Valley.

Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻