Day 23: Craig, CO to Vernal, UT

Today’s ride was just as spectacular as yesterday’s from Granby to Craig. The morning started off very cold again, in the low 40s, but by the time we reached Vernal, the temperature was above 90—a 50-degree swing.  What made the ride today so special was the breathtaking shift in the landscape.

As we left Craig, the heavy rains and snow melt has left lush, green, and blooming fields everywhere—a mountainous landscape is so beautiful all covered in green.  As we approached Utah, in a span of about 10 miles, the arid, dry, brown desert landscape began to dominate.


Some may think of the desert as lifeless, dry, barren, even unwelcoming, but it was simply magnificent today.  The various rock formations colored the lofty sheer cliffs, and the Blue Mountains usher you into Utah with an overpowering presence of serene, unspoiled landscape.  A dinosaur is on the Utah welcome sign, big and bold in the open landscape. What an extraordinary day in this splendid stretch of nature.


As I rode through this beauty today, I could not help but think about two related items—Notre Dame’s Environmental Change Initiative and Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment.

The Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ECI) deals with the connected problems of invasive species, land use, and climate change, particularly the ways they impact water resources. Its goal is to provide solutions that minimize the trade-offs between human welfare and environmental health where trade-offs are unavoidable, and to discover win-win solutions where they are possible.

Our climate change adaptation research focuses on how humans might help reduce the consequences of climate change, not only for specific animals ,but also for entire ecological communities. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index (ND-GAIN) produces the world’s leading Index showing which countries are best prepared to deal with global changes brought about by overcrowding, resource-constraints and climate disruption.

We are working to help protect the Great Lakes region from invasive species such as Asian carp, and are working to understand the role of the global transportation network in the spread of those species.

Our efforts in environmental genomics aims to provide quick, reliable data on both the spread of invasive species and the status of endangered species in an ecosystem. A new Paleoecological Observatory Network in ECI will give us insights into long-term forest change so that we can better anticipate the future.

To support these efforts, the University has built world-class facilities, including the Notre Dame Linked Environmental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF) that bridges the gap for researchers between the controlled laboratory setting and the uncontrolled natural environment. This $1 million project in St. Joseph County includes two constructed experimental watersheds, each consisting of an interconnected pond, stream, and wetland. We have also established the Geospatial Analysis Laboratory (GAL) at the Center for Research Computing (CRC) to connect the Notre Dame community to Geographic Information Systems and Remote Sensing (GIS/RS) technology and resources. The GAL lab provides geospatial computing and consulting services and partners with clients in multidisciplinary research to find geospatial solutions. The GAL provides GIS and RS technical support, training, help in grant proposal writing, and even courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels.

This focus on understanding and protecting the environment is an important way that we advance our mission as a force for good to elevate the well-being of people around the world. It resonates deeply with Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment issued on Thursday, which makes a significant contribution to the global issue in a way that reflects our own Catholic heritage and approach in the College of Science at Notre Dame. The Pope, who earned a degree as a chemical technician in Argentina before he became a priest, understands the science behind the issues threatening the environment, especially climate change, but he takes a broader, humane view that focuses on care for creation, economic justice, concern for the poor, and the ethical dimension of our activity. He highlights the importance of virtues like courage, honesty, and responsibility and calls for a better quality of life for all. This is the comprehensive, person-centered approach that is at the heart of Notre Dame’s tradition and culture, and the voice that we bring to conversations about technological, medical, and economic progress, globalization, access to the benefits of discovery, and other major issues of the 21st century.

Riding through such a pristine and beautiful part of our country on the Road to Discovery is a fresh inspiration to strengthen our dedication as good stewards to our earth. This Earth that is our home is filled with so much splendor and wonder to enjoy and to pass on to future generation, and Notre Dame, with our deep heritage and commitment, is playing our part in this grand challenge and opportunity.

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