UCC Mainstream Online

Online science course culminates with a trip to Baja

Photos provided by Ken Carloni
Above) Students will become accustomed to sunrises such as this one that rises over the eastern Baja Peninsula. (Bottom Left) A Cardon Cactus blooms in the spring sunshine. (Bottom Right) One of the desert’s most infamous creatures, the scorpion, glows iridescent under black light.

If someone said that you could go to Baja over spring break and earn four science credits while doing so, you just might think they were crazy. Well, they’re not. For nearly a half a decade science Professor Ken Carloni has been taking UCC students on adventures throughout the many ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. This spring Carloni is leaving the friendly confines of the northwest and will lead a trip to the shores of Baja.
Students taking the online class of Evolution, Diversity and Ecology of the Baja Peninsula (B1 101A) will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the Peninsula in an all inclusive trip that zigzags through some of the most beautiful locales in North America.
“I have been on three of these (Baja) tours in the past,” Carloni said. “You’re with people who are interested in having a relaxing, fun and exciting vacation in Baja where all the details are taken care of by somebody else.”
While there will be plenty of fun and excitement, the trip won’t skimp on its academic side.
“A typical science class with a lab has 30 hours in a term, three hours each week for 10 weeks,” Carloni said. “We will fulfill the lab requirement and then some. While academics are a major part of this trip, by no means will that be all of it.”
Carloni and students will take a rental van to San Francisco and board the Green Tortoise. The Green Tortoise is a California based tour company that has been taking travelers on trips across the country since 1974. The bus itself operates as a hotel on wheels. Its spacious communal seating is great for long travel, and the buses interior transforms into bunk-beds when needed.
Before departure there are a few items all students will universally need. Most importantly, a U.S. passport. The passport agency advises that a passport may take up to two months to obtain, but for many students the process took only about three weeks. A birth certificate is needed to obtain a U.S. passport.
“We are going into a foreign country, so folks need to know that you must have a valid passport to go on this trip,” Carloni said. “If you don’t have one now, you will want to get that taken care of ahead of time.”
The passport agency advises that a passport may take up to two months to obtain, but for many students the process took only about three weeks.
The group will leave San Francisco and drive throughout the night crossing the border in San Diego.
“After crossing the border, we will arrive in Ensenada for lunch,” Carloni said. “We will stay there until after dinner and then drive through the night and land in Ojo de Liebre, one of my favorite stops.”
Ojo de Liebre, which means Eye of the Hair, is one of the premier locations in the world for whale watching. The Baja waters are home to the calving grounds for gray whales. After spending their summers in Alaska, gray whales begin the long trek down the Pacific Coastline and give birth to their young in the warm waters of Baja.
“The whale watching tour we go on is out of this world,” Carloni said. “I was amazed at how interested the baby gray whales were in us. They came right up to our boats within reach of our fingertips; it was just an unforgettable experience.”
After their stop in Ojo de Liebre, the group will travel and arrive at their base camp for sunrise. For the next four nights and five days, students will camp along the ocean shoreline.
“Every morning we have the most spectacular sunrises,” Carloni said. “We are camped on the east side of the peninsula, so the sun rises over our camp each morning.”
The group will find themselves in a foreign ecosystem that’s home to a variety of plants and animals that you just can’t find in the Pacific Northwest.
“It is going to be a great year for wildflowers,” Carloni said. “It was a fairly wet year last year, and they have already had heavy rains down there from vestiges of hurricanes.”
“So the aquifers are full,” Carloni continued. “It will be more lush and green than some years that I have been down in the past.”
While students are enjoying the best that nature has to offer, they won’t have to worry about being short-changed on food. Fresh fish and lobster tails are a nightly occurrence on the menu.
“People think, ‘Oh I’ll lose a bit of weight on this tour,’ and nobody ever does despite the fact there is lots of swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking,” Carloni said. “It’s because we just eat like kings.”
Following their stay on the beach, the group will head north for one final stop before returning home. A visit to the town of Catavina provides students with a glimpse into the past. Nearby caves contains some of the finest examples of ancient native art.
“The caves are an amazing representation of ancient art that can be found in the Baja area,” Carloni said.
The trip as a whole provides a little bit of everything that Baja has to offer. However, Carloni envisions something greater for the students and programs at the college in regards to spring trips to the Baja peninsula.
“I would love someday to do a trip where we integrated multiple programs from throughout our college for the same trip,” Carloni said. “Science, Culinary, and Spanish programs to name a few could have a real opportunity here. For Spanish majors it would be great. You would have a week to immerse yourself in this culture.”
Carloni adds that many of the students who take his on-line science courses are non-science majors.
“This is a 101 class that is designed for non-majors,” Carloni said. “What I hope to do during the online portion of the class is to have students think about how they can incorporate their major into what we are doing here regardless of what it is.”
“If you’re a business, art, literature, anthropology, or history major there are aspects of this trip that be applied to almost any major.”
While the trip’s price tag of $1250 is fairly steep, financial aid is applicable. Carloni assures the trip will be unforgettable.
“I want this trip to very relevant to whatever you are planning on doing in school, but still be fun,” Carloni said. “If you attach adventure and excitement to something, people will remember it forever. We are shooting for a life changing experience here.”