Desert Institute Instructors

robins-image-taken-by-david-muench-small ROBIN BALCH  Recently retired school counselor and prior co-owner of a skydiving school with her husband. She is a Desert Institute “lead” volunteer and loves being around people.  She has hiked several portions of the Pacific Crest Trail and is a Forest Service Fire Lookout at Black Mt. Fire Tower in Idyllwild, CA.  She loves the outdoors, hiking and backpacking and has been mentored by the best learning the ins and outs of backpacking.  She has had experience of being caught in unexpected hail, snow and rain and learned how to pack light and smart.
Donald Chambers DON CHAMBERS has been hiking, climbing and taking pictures in Joshua Tree and throughout the west for 45 years. His early interest in the outdoors led him to an MS in Geography. He was a naturalist in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest for the USFS, taught geology of the National Parks at Valley College and Cal Poly, and for the last 36 years has been the manager of consulting services at ESRI.
JANIS COMMENTZ is a southern California native who grew up near the coast and began drawing and painting early in life. Janis moved to the Mojave Desert in 1977 to teach high school art and English. At the University of Redlands, she earned a B.A. in art and English. She holds an M.A. in Education from California State University at San Bernardino and teaches youth art classes at the 29 Palms Art Gallery and has facilitated life drawing in Joshua Tree for eight years.
  KELLY CRAWFORD is the founder/CEO of Joshua Tree Excursions. He served honorably in the U.S. Army National Guard and the United States Marine Corps for 23 years. Kelly has traveled extensively around the world exploring and discovering the hidden wonders of our amazing environment. He lives by the motto that, “Life is a jour­ney and not a destination.” He possess a wealth of leadership experience, is an avid outdoorsman and an expert in survival, navigation and backcountry expeditions.
CARYN DAVIDSON completed her yoga teacher training at the White Lotus Foundation in Santa Barbara, CA. The philosophy of White Lotus is to draw from the deep traditions of yoga while remaining non-dogmatic and open to the influences of the different contexts in which yoga is practiced. Caryn is a recently retired NPS Ranger at Joshua Tree National Park.
CRAIG FUCILE, B.A., Physical Geography, teaches photography for University of California, Riverside Extension. A longtime instructor,  Fucile has taught numerous photography workshops in western landscapes that he enjoys photographing including: Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Eastern Mojave, Owens Valley, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Anza-Borrego, Kings Canyon, and Sequoia.
ALESSANDRO GRIPPO, Ph.D. (Geological Sciences, University of Southern California) has done research and taught geology, oceanography, stratigraphy, environmental geology and field classes at Santa Monica College and several California State University campuses. Alessandro has a keen interest for the geology of the American southwest and loves been out there exploring, learning, and sharing his passion for Earth and its history.
  WILLIAM HAYES, Ph.D., Zoology and Physiology, Professor of Biology, Loma Linda University. Hayes specializes in the ecology of venoms and venomous animals, behavioral ecology and conservation of lizards, and behavioral ecology, taxonomy, and conservation of birds. He has published numerous works, taught and organized conferences and workshops, and has given multiple television interviews. Hayes currently teaches classes in behavioral ecology, herpetology, ornithology, and conservation.
  MARK JORGENSEN has been intrigued by desert bighorn sheep since he was 11 years old and has spent five decades studying and pursuing them throughout their range. He became a State Park Ranger for California State Parks after four summers studying desert bighorn for Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in southern California. He went on to become the last Park Naturalist for California State Parks at Anza-Borrego, as well as a Resource Ecologist, and he finished his 36-year park career as the Superintendent of Anza-Borrego. He is the author of the book Desert Bighorn Sheep: Wilderness Icon.
PAM KERSEY, Ed.D., MSN, RN, is the Dean of Science, Math and Engineering and a Health Education Professor at Cuyamaca College in San Diego. She volunteers as an archaeological site steward, for the Desert Institute at Joshua Tree and has also volunteered as a camp nurse. She has camped, backpacked, and hiked for many years including summits over 14,000 feet 5 times. She has taught outdoor classes for women, and enjoys helping others learn how to safely appreciate camping and hiking.
  LEW KINGMAN is a retired fire fighter and worked for the Palm Springs Desert Museum as a hike leader for 8 years. He volunteers with the Riverside County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue for 25 years and Joshua Tree National Park as an archaeological site steward and a lead field class leader for the Desert Institute.
  SCOTT KLINGER has been exhibiting his work at galleries and film festivals for over ten years. His work is in the permanent collection of the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Art and his most recent film The Lover Who Doesn’t Forget was screened at the 66th Festival de Cannes and his film Memento Mori (2010) won Best Experimental Film at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. Scott holds degrees from UCLA and UC Irvine.
  TOR LACEY, M.S., Geology, is a tenured instructor at Cerritos College teaching Physical Geology, Introduction to Earth Science, Geology of the Western National Parks and Monuments, Natural History of Southern California and Field Methods of the Earth Sciences.
  DAVID LAMFROM, Director of the California Desert and National Wildlife programs, National Parks Conservation Association, uses his passion and knowledge of our natural, cultural and historical resources to inspire others to learn about and protect our national parks.
KURT LEUSCHNER, M.S., Wildlife Ecology, Professor of Natural Resources, College of the Desert. Leuschner’s specialties include ornithology, entomology, and desert ecology. He has led hundreds of field trips both locally and as far afield as Africa. He teaches natural history courses for the Bureau of Land Management, UCR Extension, the Desert Institute, the Living Desert, California State Parks, Riverside County Parks, and many other conservation organizations.
  DANIEL McCARTHY, M.S., Anthropology, has worked at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, Joshua Tree National Park, San Bernardino National Forest and throughout southern California compiling photographic inventories of the rock art of this region. His research interests include desert archaeology, Native American uses of plants, aboriginal trail systems, material culture of the Cahuilla and Serrano Indians, and rock art.
DENNIS MAMMANA, M.S., Astronomy, has delivered the wonder and mystery of the cosmos to audiences for over three decades. A nationally syndicated newspaper columnist with Creators Syndicate and author of six books on popular astronomy, Mammana is also an accomplished night sky photographer and invited member of TWAN—an international team of the most highly acclaimed sky photographers on the planet.
  TANIA MARIEN has an Interdisciplinary Studies Master’s degree in Biology & Student Learning and a professional certificate in Free-Choice Learning. She served as full-time editor, educator, and bookseller at ArtPlantae, an educational resource connecting artists, naturalists, and educators pursuing interests in botany, botanical art and environmental education. Now working on other interpretive projects, she continues to connect with artists, naturalists, and educators as part-time editor of the ArtPlantae blog.
RALPH NORDSTROM has had several careers in education, along the way teaching the full gamut from pre-school to adult, and handicapped to gifted. Branching into photographic workshops was a very natural path for him.  His philosophy on workshops is simple: They are successful when the attendees return home with a few great photographs and feeling that they have expanded what he likes to call their “Creative Vocabulary”, that is, their ability to express themselves through their photography.
  TANYA PETROVNA is the Chef and founder of the all plant-based, Chef Tanya’s Kitchen in Palm Springs, CA , a fresh deli and take-out concept. She was the visionary founder of Native Foods Café (1994-2012). Chef Tanya currently resides in Palm Springs, California where she teaches cooking classes and Iyengar Yoga. She is an avid naturalist and is currently moderating the Facebook page “Keep Open Space Open” in hopes that current and future generations will be left space to breath and enjoy nature.
KEVIN POWELL was intrigued at an early age by the quiet complexity of this desert playground. Local author and photographer, Kevin Powell has spent forty four years hiking, rock climbing, photographing and exploring within Joshua Tree National Park. His book, Classic Day Hikes of Joshua Tree Park, is available at the Visitor Centers.
  TED REEVES, B.A., Geology, taught sciences at Chaffey High School for 37 years. He is presently teaching for University of the Pacific and believes that a relevant Natural History class requires an outdoor experience. In 2000, he received the National Association of Geology Teachers Outstanding Earth Science Teacher Award.
  STEFANIE RITTER was awarded an M.S. degree from the Technical University in Braunschweig, Germany, specializing in zoology, botany, and genetics. She has taught Biology at Copper Mountain College and presently holds the position of Museum Coordinator for the Hi-Desert Nature Museum where she is responsible for all educational programs. Ritter has also taught geography, ecology, and botany for National University at the Twentynine Palms campus.
TOM SCANLAN is a telecommunications professional and a part-time college educator. He loves the outdoors and has ten years of experience as a Boy Scout leader. As a hiking enthusiast he has climbed Mount Whitney twice. He has taught others of all ages how to backpack, camp and hike. Tom is an active volunteer archaeological site steward for the Joshua Tree National Park and the Cleveland National Forest and for the Desert Institute.
  JULIA SIZEK is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. Her research focuses on contemporary land management conflicts in the checkerboard of private and public land in the eastern portions of the Mojave Desert in southeastern California. She studies contemporary environmental issues as well as local history and efforts at cultural and historic preservation.
  MARINNA WAGNER recently completed her masters degree in Landscape Architecture and holds a B.A. in fine arts. Her graduate thesis reviewed revegetation projects throughout the Mojave Desert and reevaluated eight different restoration sites in and around Joshua Tree National Park. She has been living in Joshua Tree since 2015 and works at the Mojave Desert Land Trust Restoration Nursery and Seed Bank.
CANDICE WEBER, M.A., is an adjunct professor of natural resources at College of the Desert, teaching courses in Conservation and G.I.S. and leading students abroad to the cloud forests of Costa Rica. She majored in environmental studies and has extensive experience working with animals of all kinds (wild and domestic), including many years as a zookeeper and animal trainer at the Living Desert, the Long Beach Aquarium, and other marine parks.
TAYLOR WHITING is a high desert artist and educator with over a decade of experience developing curriculum that highlights creative exploration and developing technical skills to children and adults throughout the southern California area. No matter the medium or style, it is of paramount importance that her students have fun express themselves and find innovative inspiration from a historical and contemporary context.
  ELIZABETH WYATT, writer, artist, and educator holds a B.A. in English from Southern Methodist University, and Master of Fine Arts and Master of Arts degrees in poetry and English from the University of California at Irvine. She has practiced yoga since 2003 and currently teaches yoga in the hi-desert, in addition to serving as English instructor and Basic Skills Coordinator at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree.