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Desert Institute Instructors

MISHA ASKREN is an outings leader for the Sierra Club and is an instructor in the Wilderness Travel Course. He leads trips that are “off-trail” in the wilderness in the Sierras, the San Gabriel Mountains and in Joshua Tree.
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 KRISTIN H. BERRY, Ph.D., is Supervisory Research Wildlife Biologist at the Western Ecological Research Center of the United States Geological Survey, and current board member of the Desert Tortoise Council. Dr. Berry has published over fifty scientific journal articles about desert tortoises, as well as numerous technical reports, magazine articles and books. She has organized and instructed a great variety of scientific symposia and workshops, and made research presentations to many different professional groups such as the Desert Tortoise Council.
  DAVID CHAPPELL, Ph.D., Astronomy, Associate Professor of Physics & Astronomy, University of La Verne, has taught astronomy and physics since 2000. Chappell’s research interests include star formation, galaxy evolution, and computational astrophysics. His interest in archaeo-astronomy has led him to study in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, the Shetland Islands, and the Kingdom of Tonga.
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.
CHRISTIAN DELICH, B.S. Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Resources.  In 2011, Christian accepted his first term position with the National Park Service at Joshua Tree National Park.  Since then, Christian has spent his time crawling around the famed Wonderland of Rocks while honing skills as an amateur geologist.
JANIS COMMENTZ is a southern California native who grew up near the coast and began drawing and painting early in life. As the daughter of an artist, she was surrounded by art materials and enjoyed trips to galleries and museums, as well as seasonal trips to Laguna Beach and Carmel. 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 and studied with John Nava, well-known for his tapestries at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles. 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.
robins-image-taken-by-david-muench-small 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. The bulk of his time in the service was spent with the USMC as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician. Kelly has travelled 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 ex-perience, is an avid outdoorsman and an expert in survival, navigation and backcountry expeditions.
PAUL DELEY obtained his Ph.D. in Invertebrate Zoology at Ghent University, Belgium in 1994 and moved to Riverside in 2000 to join the Department of Nematology at UCR as a faculty member. His research focuses on ecology, diversity and systematics of nematodes in arid ecosystems, using methods that combine light microscopy observations with DNA sequence analyses. His current teaching duties include annual upper division undergraduate courses at UCR on the subjects of Invertebrate Zoology and Biology of Nematodes, and his past teaching also included subjects such as Soil Ecology, Arthropod Diversity, and Theoretical Systematics. He is an avid nature photographer with particular interest in macro photography as a tool for exploring biodiversity of southern Californian deserts and ranges.
PAUL DELANEY, Ph.D., is a tenured professor of biology at Copper Mountain College in Joshua Tree. He is the USFWS-authorized tortoise biologist for the CMC translocation area, and has been monitoring the tortoise population at the 85 acre preserve on campus since 2007. A field biologist since 1977, Delaney has conducted zoological research in California, Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and published over two dozen scientific papers.
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.
MONICA GORMAN holds a Ph.D in Biology and a J.D. She has spent most of the last 20 years teaching a wide range of biology courses at colleges in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, although she took time off from teaching to earn her J.D., work as a biotechnology patent lawyer, and travel. She moved to Joshua Tree in 2011 and currently teaches at Los Angeles City College and the Twentynine Palms Marine Base. She is an avid desert enthusiast and spends most of her free time exploring and hiking in Joshua Tree National Park.
SCOTT L. HOFFMAN, M.S., is a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His passion for the conservation of the Mojave desert tortoise began as a field biologist, where he gained expertise in surveying, telemetry, animal husbandry, managing translocation, and conducting health assessments. His current work focuses on the management and recovery of federally-listed species, and involves collaboration with a broad spectrum of partners (from federal agencies to grassroots organizations) to develop and implement conservation priorities for many different species in our California deserts.
DE KARLEN is a naturalist, hiking and desert guide with Desert Adventures. Previously, De worked as an Interpretative Park Ranger in Yosemite National Park, so she truly enjoys sharing her knowledge about the wonders and processes of our natural world.
LANCE KEIMIG is a Vermont based photographer who is best know for night photography of the build environment. The second edition of his book, Night Photography – Finding Your Way In The Dark, was published by Focal Press, and has been translated into 7 languages. Keimig is a partner in National Parks at Night, an organization dedicated to promoting and preserving ouir national parks through photographic education.
  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.
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.
EDWARD LARUE, JR., M.S., specializes in California desert biota as field investigator and scientist for Circle Mountain Biological Consultants, Inc. In 2005 he authored the Copper Mountain College Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP), and in 2008, he implemented the federal and state permits for the HCP. In 2007 he organized and coordinated a multi-agency effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), California Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service (JTNP), BLM and San Bernardino County to establish a tortoise conservation area in the Morongo Basin. LaRue has received numerous awards for his conservation work with desert tortoises.
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.
JIM LOWERY is a nationally known tracker and author of The Tracker’s Field Guide. He has taught tracking to thousands of students, including many special trainings for field biologists, universities, naturalists, and park rangers. Some of his specialized field workshops have focused on tracking individual species including bighorn sheep, badgers, mountain lions, elk and black bears.
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. Formerly he was the Director of the Cultural Resources Management Department for four years with the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians and spent 18 years on the San Bernardino National Forest as archaeologist and Tribal Relations Program Manager. 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.
  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.
NICOLE PIETRASIAK received her Ph.D. in the Soil and Water Program at UC Riverside. She is an Assistant Professor for Environmental Soil Microbiology, Plant & Environmental Sciences Department, New Mexico State University. Her research interests include soil science, botany, algal biodiversity, and desert ecology. Nicole has conducted extensive research on cryptobiotic crusts across the western U.S. and has made major contributions to the study of abundance, distribution, and diversity of cryptobiotic crusts at Joshua Tree National Park.
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.
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.
ALLAN SCHOENHERR, Ph.D., Professor of Ecology Emeritus, Fullerton College, is an expert on California flora and fauna, as exemplified by two major books he has authored, A Natural History of California and A Natural History of the Islands of California. Schoenherr has been doing research, traveling, and photographing the southwestern desert for many years. In addition to teaching ecology at several universities, he has led many field courses throughout the deserts of California.
DARRELL SHADE is a retired high school teacher and recognized botanist/desert naturalist for Joshua Tree National Park. Shade has a deep love for the desert and its enormous variety of plant and animal life as well as being a master teacher. He has worked closely with Joshua Tree National Park botanists over the last 20 years and keeps up on all the new floral discoveries being made in the park. 
D.D. “DEE” TRENT received his undergraduate degree in geology from the University of Southern California and his Ph.D. from the University of Arizona. Now semi-retired, he taught geology, physical oceanography and physics for 28 years at Citrus College, Glendora, CA, part of which time he was also an Adjunct Professor at USC teaching Field Geology. He is author of Mines and Geology of the Randsburg Area: An Historical Gem of the Mojave Desert, a co-author of a widely used college textbook, Geology and the Environment, now in its 7th edition and co-author of Joshua Tree National Park Geology.
MICHAEL VAMSTAD, M.S., Ecology, Evolution and Organismal Biology began working at Joshua Tree National Park as a restoration ecologist in 2004, and transitioned to wildlife ecologist in 2007. He received his undergraduate degree in field biology and for eight years worked on many bird research projects in California, Arizona, Rhode Island, Guam and Baja California, Mexico. Whie working for JTNP, he attended graduate school at the University of California, Riverside. In 2009, Michael received his M.S. in Ecology with a thesis on small mammal and vegetation responses from wildfire.
SANDI WHEATON is a freelance tour director and photography instructor based in Canada. After being downsized from General Motors in 2009, she took a life-changing drive across America on historic Route 66, creating three photography projects and an award-winning travel blog. One of Sandi’s greatest passions and long-term photography projects is the ecologically-troubled Salton Sea in southern California. She has been visiting and photographing the Salton Sea since 2004, sharing the work through several solo exhibitions over the years. A true globetrotter, Sandi leads week-long photography tours in Iceland and California, has taught Forensic Photography at the University of Windsor, and teaches “Moviemaking Made Fun” on a cruise ship.