Living or working on Fort Irwin puts its community well into the desert, but it also provides a great opportunity to learn about the unique environment of the Mojave.
Being good stewards of the land, the United States Army at the National Training Center and Fort Irwin employs experts in the fields of archaeology and biology. Those experts perform a mission to inform Soldiers and Families of the wonders and dangers of animals and plants, and about past inhabitants of the area. A group of students took advantage of that expertise during an outing to the Environmental Center of Directorate of Public Works here, March 14.
Approximately 40 homeschooled students, elementary to high school, attended the open house, said Stacey Baquera, military spouse and head of the homeschool community. Groups of students rotated through six stations displaying insects, snakes, tortoises and demonstrations of skill used by Native American Indians in the past. At the anthropology station, archaeologist Matthew Yacubic showed students how past indigenous people worked stone and obsidian to make tools and hunting gear. He also allowed students to use a metate (grinding stone) to crush seeds.
April Billingsley, a military spouse here, attended with: son, Josiah 3; nieces Jordan, 13, and Ariona, 8, and ; nephew Gary, 7. She provides homeschool instruction to the four and said the trip for them was really great.
Jordan called the exhibits “cool” and enjoyed leaning about the Mojave ground squirrel and snakes.
At the desert tortoise exhibit, lead biologist Liana Aker explained to the youth that the threatened species can live many years, such as Dozer, who is 50 years old and is one of three tortoises that reside in pens outside the facility. She explained that sightings of tortoises at the NTC and Fort Irwin are reported to the department of Fish and Wildlife.
Baquera praised the DPW experts as very knowledgeable and called the opportunity to visit their facility as awesome. She stated that the homeschool group goes on a trip about once a month. Previous outings have been to a train museum and Harvey House in Barstow and the Shark Reef Aquarium in Las Vegas. Future trips include the Riley Farms in Oak Glen for Civil War reenactments and Sea World in San Diego.