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A Visit to the California Academy of Sciences

So what does the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, California have in common with Nelson and Goldman and our documentary film, The Devil's Road? Aside from the obvious scientific research and the institution's exploration of our natural world, the connection was formed on a fortuitous day in 1905. Nelson noted in his 1921 book Lower California and It's Natural Resources that he “reached Ensenada on July 5th and found the schooner Academy, from San Francisco, in port on it’s way to the Galapagos Islands with a scientific expedition from the California Academy of Sciences.” Nelson had several weeks’ worth of specimens that he and Goldman had collected from northern Baja, and needed to have them shipped to Washington D.C. The crew of the Academy welcomed Nelson aboard, agreeing to stow his cargo, and Nelson enjoyed a fine supper aboard the vessel.

On July 11, 2017, our film crew had the honor of conducting an interview with several of the California Academy of Sciences research specialists. We were met at the back door of the Academy by Katie Jewett of the Press Office. She would accompany us during our tour of the Department of Ornithology and Mammalogy. In the basement of the museum we entered the climate controlled room full of specimen collections. Maureen “Moe” Flannery, the Collections Manager has been put in charge of the hundreds of thousands of bird and mammal specimens and introduced us to several specimens that Nelson and Goldman collected over one hundred years ago.

The first specimen was a Mexican cormorant that was collected in 1902 by Nelson and Goldman. The bird was incredibly well preserved. Next, we were shown specimens of seaside sparrows. The particular specimen that Nelson and Goldman procured was collected in 1874 in Washington D.C. and was donated to the Academy many years ago. The last specimen was a Bailey's pocket mouse, collected by Nelson and Goldman in December 1905 from a location just south of La Paz, Baja California Sur.

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

A well-preserved Mexican cormorant. Note the tag states "Nelson & Goldman."

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Seaside sparrow specimens, several of which were collected by Nelson & Goldman in 1874.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Maureen "More" Flannery, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, shows us the seaside sparrow specimens.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Specimens of the Bailey's pocket mouse.

Jack Dumbacher, Curator of the Ornithology and Mammalogy Department, rounded off the morning with a well-presented perspective of what naturalists like Nelson and Goldman's fieldwork would have been like. He explained how they would have collected, preserved, and organized their specimens during an expedition. We also learned how valuable these specimens are to science. These thousands of study skins and mounts provide a glimpse into the past, how and where these animals lived, and even what they were feeding on when they were collected. As technology and new research methods change, their value will certainly increase over the next century and beyond.

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

Interview with Jack Dumbacher, Curator, Ornithology and Mammology Department

We would like to thank the California Academy of Sciences for their continued support of Nelson and Goldman's work and of our film.

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"The Devil's Road" Main Expedition, Day 11

Sierra San Pedro Martir to San Quintin

It was cold last night. Sleeping among the snow patches at 9,000-foot elevation usually is not considered to be a warm and pleasant experience.

The moon was nearly full and at this altitude it looked bigger than ever. It was brighter, too. The giant log we threw on the fire had completely burned up and left a perfect bed of coals to restart the fire when I woke. I really did not want to get out of my sleeping bag. I grabbed the camera and went for a walk as the sun was rising over the mountains and spreading across the snowy landscape. It was quiet, the air crisp, and if I closed my eyes I would swear that I was in the Sierra Nevada.

This range is a separate island extension of the Sierra Nevada that broke off hundreds of thousands of years ago. The Jeffery pine, granite rocks, juniper, and other shrubs are all the same. Camping next to us were three young biologists and photographers that were there to photograph and study the environment. So we took full advantage to grab an interview and get to know these three men. One was a marine biologist, the other was a guide, and the third was a herpetologist that specializes in animal rescue where roads are being built. All were very knowledgable about the fauna of Baja California. 

As we were organizing and getting our riding gear on, I noticed a nail sticking out of my rear tire. With a 60-km drive to the nearest town, I was weary about pulling the nail out. My mind quickly went back to the repair seminar that JT and I received from Bob Davis of Davis Moto Works back home in Santa Cruz. How to fix a flat tire in the desert was highlighted, and eventually all the tricks came flooding back into my head. A swift pull with the pliers revealed only a flesh wound. Lucky for us, no air was leaking and we were on our way. 

After a quick stop to drive to the top of the mountain to see the observatory (it was closed and no tours were being conducted) we took a few photos and pointed the front tires down hill. JT and I enjoyed a family tradition of a snow cone! This time it was Baja style: Margarita! 

The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to finding a California condor to film. We think we got film of four soaring out over the edge of the mountain range, but they were too far away to confirm. Either way, with only 30 condors here in Baja, the odds were against us in getting a glimpse of them.  

We closed out the day at the Old Mill Hotel and Restaurant in San Quintin.

Looking for California Condors in the Sierra San Pedro Martir mountain range.

Looking for California Condors in the Sierra San Pedro Martir mountain range.

Hidden Gems Film Club presents a sneak peek screening of "The Devil's Road: A Baja Documentary"

 

SPECIAL "SNEAK PEEK" RECEPTION with the filmmakers of "The Devil's Road: A Baja Documentary” (In Production)

Saturday, February 25th | Aptos Branch Library

SCHEDULE:

4:30PM - Doors Open
5:00 PM - Screening
6-6:30PM - Q&A Session with the Filmmakers!
6:30-7PM - Reception with Light Refreshments

Please join the Santa Cruz Public Libraries’ Hidden Gems Film Club for a special sneak peek screening of “The Devil’s Road: A Baja Documentary” presented by Broken Wagon Films. Audience members will also have an opportunity to meet the team of documentary filmmakers in the midst of their filmmaking process.

In “The Devil’s Road,” local Santa Cruz filmmakers tell the story of over 100 years of ecological change on the Baja California while retracing the steps of renowned American naturalist Edward Alphonso Goldman — a relative of three out of the four production team members. The diverse geographic features of Baja California — from inhospitable desert, to high mountains, and picturesque coastlines — comprise a distinct ecoregion that is home to a number of endemic species, found only in Baja. Who is Edward Goldman and why is he important? What is the importance of Baja’s biodiversity? Is human activity tarnishing this unique place?

Come and learn about Baja’s natural history and its global significance, and the documentary filmmaking process.

Bring your questions for a special Q&A session with the filmmakers after the screening! Seating is limited. Light refreshments will be served.

Learn more about the project at www.brokenwagonfilms.com or follow the crew on Instagram and “like” us on Facebook.

Orchilla Lichen in Bahia Magdalena

19th century naturalists E.W. Nelson and E.A. Goldman investigated the cloth and dye manufacturing industry in Magdalena Bay that was driven by the harvest of the unique Orchilla Lichen. The industry crashed when manufacturers moved over to artificial dyes.

Episode 2: Isla San Martin

Episode 2 from the island expedition brings the Broken Wagon Films crew to Isla San Martín off the Pacific coast of Baja California.

Elephant seals, breeding sea birds, scientists tagging snakes, rugged lavascapes, and strange endemic plants are just a few of the wonders found on this small volcanic island.

Journey Down 'The Devil's Road'

3,000 MILES  |  110 YEARS  |  3 GENERATIONS  |  1 EPIC ADVENTURE

In 1905, two American naturalists set out on horseback across the remote deserts of Baja California...

Their 2,000 mile expedition was the first of its kind to span the entire peninsula and complete a comprehensive survey of Baja's flora and fauna. Zig-zagging from coast to coast across the desolate interior, Edward William Nelson and Edward Alphonso Goldman described plants and animals unknown to science.

One hundred years later, Goldman's descendents return to Baja to retrace the steps of this landmark expedition on motorcycles, and document the changing nature of this strange and beautiful landscape.

Meet the Crew  |  Support the Project
 

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Day 12, Preliminary Expedition: May 27, 2016

May 27, 2016 (Day 12)

We planned for an early launch so we could follow one of the pangas out of the bay. Bahia San Quintin is very shallow in places and there are no channel markers. While we were preparing to launch, only two boats took off, and we missed them. So, we headed out on our own. We had all eyes looking out in order to navigate through the maze of shallow areas to get to the mouth of the bay. JT was in charge of the GPS, Greg had the binoculars, and I was driving blindly. I could feel every time the motor would bounce off the bottom.

It was about a twenty-mile run out of the bay and up to Isla San Martin. It is a beautiful volcanic cone island with a spit of rocks that harbors a sandy beach. Again, I had to let the film crew off and stay on the boat. Nelson and Goldman took the “motor launch” called Todo Santos to this island during their expedition.

JT and Greg were almost immediately met by two Mexican biologists that were studying the island’s unique flora and fauna. A request for an interview was granted and they graciously escorted them around for a short tour. They caught and tagged a gopher snake during their walk. When Nelson and Goldman were here, they noted that gopher snakes and “alligator” lizards were found on the island in 1903.

The island is covered with a unique plant with velvety leaves commonly called a Live Forever, or Dudleya anthonyi. JT and Greg also came across an elephant seal hauled up onto the shore. In 1906, Nelson noted that “the island was once a breeding resort for the sea elephant and is now extinct there.” The elephant seal was once on the brink of extinction, being hunted for their rich blubber. Nelson also noted that they saw a few “leopard seals.” Either that was a miss-identification of a harbor seal or in 1905 the harbor seal was called referred to as a “leopard seal.” We did see a large group of harbor seals that took to the water as soon as we arrived on the island.

We arrived back at The Old Mill Restaurant and Hotel early in the afternoon, packed up our gear, and headed for the States.

The Old Mill Restaurant and Hotel