Natural History of the Patagonia Cordillera will take us on an epic journey into the remote regions of Patagonia, far from the “Gringo Trail,” as the typical tourist track is often referred to. Our travels will take us to two dramatically different and contrasting ecosystems of the Patagonian cordillera: the dry plateaus of Argentina and the lush forests of southern Chile. We will begin our study of temperate South America in the dry steppe habitat of the southern Argentina, the land of the gauchos. Although in the southern Andean “rainshadow,” there are numerous “oasis” and riparian habitats in the region resulting from the abundant snowmelt that percolates down from the nearby Andes. Here we will study adaptations that species have developed in order to inhabit such austere conditions.
We will then travel by horse and by foot up into the high, windswept plateaus and mountains of Argentina to familiarize ourselves with the inhabitants of these higher elevations, the region referred to as the “altoandino.”
Next, our journey will take us across the continental divide, west into Chile where we will descend into the forested landscape of the western Andean slope. In Chile we will travel to various forested landscapes including the distinct broadleaf-dominated, temperate Valdivian Rainforest. We will also visit vast forests of Nothofagus (“southern beech”), the giant and ancient Fitzroya (“alerce”) groves, often called the “southern redwoods”, as well as impressive mature Araucaria (“monkey puzzle trees”) forests. Along the way we will discuss the pre-historical context and abiotic factors that drive these observed species assemblages.
We will learn how geological processes have formed the landmass that was once Gondwanaland and helped to shape South America as we know it today. We will also experience the often dramatically different climatic conditions that influence this vast landscape. After developing a firm foundation in basic principles of natural history and relevant ecological processes, we will then familiarize ourselves with the extant plants and animals of Patagonia. Our botanical studies will include an introduction to major plant groups and the identification of vascular plants through the use of taxonomic/dichotomous keys and a hand lens. Additionally, we will have the opportunity to identify a variety of wildlife species along the way, including the Andean Condor, Guanacos, Rheas, and other interesting birds, mammals, amphibians and reptiles. Although we will study both plants and animals, this program will emphasize the vegetation of the region. Throughout our journey, we will discuss significant biological phenomena that warrant attention, as well as the influence that humans exert on these ecosystems.
The program meets in Zapala, Argentina (in the western province of Neuquen). You are responsible for making your own travel arrangements. Airfare is about $1,200 from San Francisco.
Student comments (anonymous) from Patagonia program evaluation forms:
“Brett was an amazing and patient leader. I felt he was/is my friend and mentor, not just a teacher. He has a great deal of passion for the material and an overall passion for the land of South America. I learned a lot about botany and the natural history of Patagonia. I feel so lucky and grateful to have been on a journey like this.”
“I feel that Brett was so excited and inspired by botany that it stirred us students to get just as excited as him. His knowledge and ability to teach the subject in a constant moving journey of intense backpacking correlated well.”
“There are so many things that I enjoyed that to rank them or say that one was better than another would be really difficult and unfair. However, if I were to try and say one thing that I liked most it would be the unconventional type of teaching and learning that was available to take advantage of. That is really the gem to this entire course. Not allowing for the systematic conventional theory of educational classrooms to take control of the amazing and dynamic forces present with the students, locations, materials, and professor is the key to this program and should be a model to all those I search of education.”
What did you like: “Our month on the steppe – for the lengthiness of it and the consequential sense of human wildness and closeness to the harshness of that land. Full moon hike and white chocolate. Circles. Field journals. Misty morning hikes. The attention paid to quieting the mind and being in a space. Happy, laughing, singing, playing, excited.”
I loved the fact that it was so hands-on and that material was presented as it presented itself to us. The learning environment was completely open. Any questions/suggestions/alternatives were received with open ears and open arms.”
“An amazing experience of a lifetime.”