Chronicle: Road trip! San Diego Museum of Natural History’s New Exhibit Explores Beautiful Baja California

In the San Diego Museum of Natural History’s new “Expedition Baja” exhibit, the journey begins with 2,000 square feet of converted office space.

Balboa Park Museum’s new permanent exhibit opened yesterday in a new gallery on the top floor of Nat. What was once six staff offices is now a bright space dedicated to the Baja California Peninsula’s 775 miles of biodiversity.

It’s also a continuation of the museum’s march towards a more sustainable, science-driven, Nat-powered future.

“We are leading with our science to open a whole series of exhibitions based on our collections and showcasing our collections,” said Michael Field, director of experience design at the museum.

“We are coming out of a period of renting traveling exhibitions, many of which have no connection with our region. We’re sitting over 8 million objects here, and only a tiny amount of them have been visible in the past. Leading with our collection and research is going to be our guide. »

The “Expedition Baja” tour officially begins outside the entrance, where a new mural by Tijuana-based street artist Néstor “Spel” Mondragón offers a colorful introduction to the plant and animal wonders on display inside.

Here are the rare Goldman agaves, found only in the coastal succulent scrub and central desert of Baja California. Learn about dune scorpions, which thrive in Baja’s endangered sand dunes. And don’t hesitate to get up close and personal with the San Quintín kangaroo rat, which was thought to be extinct until a binational team including scientists from the Natural History Museum rediscovered it in 2017.

Whether it’s an exhibit dedicated to the successful cross-border effort to save California’s red-legged frog, a specimen of the long-extinct Guadalupe caracara bird collected in 1875, or stunning photographs of the mountains of San Pedro Mártir, the “Expedition Baja” exhibit taps into the vast resources of The Nat to give visitors an in-depth look at the large swath of territory between Tijuana and Cabo San Lucas.

For San Diegans, those many miles are kind of our version of flyover country. For scientists, researchers and conservationists, it’s a gold mine. A region that must be preserved so that its natural wealth can be shared with future generations.

“We are so connected to the Mexican culture here. It cannot go unnoticed how much it influences our everyday life. The same goes for wild animals and plants that are also linked to our region. Baja is the other half of our research mission,” said Bradford Hollingsworth, curator of the Museum of Herpetology.

“I would like people to go beyond the everyday interaction of eating a good fish taco to think about the whole connection to the landscape. Biodiversity is kind of our key ingredient for ecological balance. This has long been studied and proven time and time again as an essential element for a healthy environment and healthy cities.

Like The Nat’s award-winning permanent exhibit “Coast to Cactus in Southern California” celebrating our beaches, deserts and mountains, “Expedition Baja” is a grassroots project that explores our nearby natural world from top to bottom. . And like the exhibits “Unshelved: Cool Stuff from Storage” and “Extraordinary Ideas from Ordinary People: A History of Citizen Science,” the museum taps into its massive collection to do just that.

The exhibit dedicated to the 2017 discovery of the unextinct San Quintín kangaroo rat, which occurred almost 30 years after the last official sighting, includes kangaroo rat specimens collected in 1925 and 1947. Since then, other kangaroo rats have been found in nature reserves protected by the Ensenada-based conservation organization Terra Peninsular, and the museum works with Terra Peninsular on the conservation and protection of the species.

The section documenting the human-assisted decimation of Isla Guadalupe—where goats, cats, and other invasive animals trampled native plants and drove out nesting birds—includes the 1875 caracara specimen and a specimen from the seabird Guadalupe may have been extinct in 1897. The elimination of feral goats in 2007, along with other animal invasion measures, helped the volcanic island make a comeback.

While “Expedition Baja” highlights elements of the museum’s historic past, it also highlights the scientists and researchers who are making the news.

Follow the recorded sounds of nocturnal ribbits and you’ll find the California red-legged frog exhibit. In 2016, a year before the kangaroo rat was discovered, the museum partnered with Mexican conservation organization Fauna del Noroeste to study and conserve remnant populations of California’s red-legged frogs, which have almost completely disappeared from our land. State.

Today, thanks to the efforts of researchers on both sides of the border, new habitats are being constructed and more than 6,000 eggs have been released into two new breeding ponds in Southern California.

From sustainably wise use of upcycled fallen local trees and carpet tiles made from recycled materials, to displaying the equipment, gadgets and snacks researchers take on field trips, every detail of “Expedition Baja” serves the museum’s mission to honor and conserve what remains of the natural world and recognize the work of people who work miracles.

The footprint is small, but the vision is wide.

“There are a lot of stories told here,” said Hollingsworth, looking around the bright, cramped space. “And there are more stories to tell.”

The San Diego Museum of Natural History is located at 1788 El Pradoin Balboa Park. It is open from Friday to Tuesday. Regular hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except Fridays, when it’s open until 10 p.m. for its “Nat at Night” summer program, which runs until September 2. Admission is $22 for adults; $18 for seniors, students, and military with ID; and $12 for youth ages 3-17. Children 2 and under are free. Admission is half price on Fridays after 4 p.m. Call (877) 946-7797 or visit for information.

About Carlos V. Mitchell

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