Desert Naturalist

Desert Naturalist

Starting location: Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Hays, Kansas (June 23rd)  

Ending location: Sternberg Museum of Natural History
Hays, Kansas (June 29th)   



  • Introduction

    We will be driving from Hays, Kansas to Arches National Monument in Utah! On our way, we will explore wildlife and ecosystems from prairie to mountains to rocky deserts. We will camp at different locations along the way, and use tools such as GPS units, black lights, spotting scopes, and aspirators (tiny insect vacuums) to learn about how professional scientists investigate the natural world. Students will explore how plant and animal life interacts in remarkable, unique ways bursting with opportunities for discovery! We will also introduce essential concepts in ecology and evolution that are key to understanding how living systems and organisms work, change, and interact. Along the way, we will emphasize discussion of ideas and critical thinking skills, helping students build knowledge as well as mental tools to tackle complex subjects. This camp is perfect for any middle school students with a love for wildlife and the outdoors. We can’t wait for you to join us!

  • Staff

    Biology student, camps alumna

    Instructor: Margaret “Maggie” Wolf (Certified Wilderness First Responder)
    Maggie Wolf is a student at the University of Evansville in Evansville, Indiana. She is a Biology and Spanish double major and hopes to continue her education and eventually conduct research. Maggie has had extensive experience in the outdoors through Girl Scouts and Venturing Crew. She participated as a student in Sternberg Paleontology Camp (2015), Southwest Biology Camp (2016), and Expedition Ecuador (2017). During the summer, Maggie works as a camps  program assistant in the field and in the office, working with students and managing logistics. During the school year, Maggie manages our wildlife data processing, including overseeing the work of our student interns. She also helps with the development of new camps, and making improvements to existing camps.





    Biology student, campus alumnus

    Teaching Assistant: Logan Grose (Certified Wilderness First Responder, Lifeguard)
    Logan is from Lawrence, Kansas and will be starting his undergraduate studies in wildlife biology in the fall. Logan has been camping and adventuring outdoors his whole life. He participated as a student in the Southwest Biology Camp (2017) and Expedition Ecuador (2018). He was a camp assistant last year for Middle School Paleontology Camp. Logan enjoys birdwatching and animal behavior. In his free time he enjoys hiking, biking, traveling, swimming, and spending time with his cats. He spends a lot of time volunteering at the local humane society and works as a lifeguard.

  • Application Requirements

    • All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019. (But, the see the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our four application and admission periods from February to May.) 
    • Student applicants must be ages 11 to 13 as of June 2019.
    • Complete online application.
      • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDocs. You can do this by clicking the link above. Once this is done, you’ll be able to log back in to your account as you complete the application process. 
      • The waiver can be found in the online application. 
      • The financial aid application can be found in the online application.
    • 2 page (5-7 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant. 
      • You can find suggestions for writing your letter of interest here
      • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
    • Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
      • This must be submitted through the CampDoc application system. 
      • You can find instructions for recommendation letter-writers here.
      • Returning students in good standing do not need to submit a recommendation letter. 
        • Standing is determined by staff. A student not in good standing will be expressly notified by the Camps Director.
  • Admission Decision Schedule

    We run on a rolling admission schedule from February to May. Each month, we will evaluate students with complete application files to determine admission and scholarship award decisions. If your student is denied admission to a camp, you will be specifically notified. Below we have listed evaluation period cutoff dates, and notification periods. 

    Please contact us at if you have any questions about this process. 

    • Application period 1
      • Cutoff: February 23
      • Admission notifications: February 24th-28th
    • Application period 2
      • Cutoff: March 23rd
      • Admission notifications: March 24th-28th
    • Application period 3
      • Cutoff: April 20th
      • Admission notifications: April 21st-25th
    • Application period 4
      • Cutoff: May 14th
      • Admission notifications: May 19th-24th
  • Additional Information and Logistics

    Drop off is 8:00am on the first day. Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day.

    Please see Frequently Asked Questions for information about attending the camps for out of state students.

    You can follow along with our camp programs on Twitter and Instagram at @SternbergCamps.

  • Program Cost

    Tuition is $660 per member, and $740 per non-member.

    Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
    A: 100% of the deposit and any paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. We encourage students not accepted to a program to apply again the following year. Many of our programs are competitive, with more applicants than space available. Unfortunately, this means that some years we won’t be able to admit 100% of applicants to any particular program.

    Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy? 
    A: Our refund policy for cancellations is dependent on which kind of camp you are signed up for (domestic or international), and when the cancellation is received.

    Refund policies Domestic Programs:
    For programs taking place within the United States, cancellations must be  submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Each camp registration is held  to a 20-percent cancellation fee. If you cancel 30 to 10 days prior to the  start of a program, half of the total fee is refundable. If you cancel 9 or fewer  days prior to the start of the program, no amount of the fee is refundable.  Registration fees are non-transferable between applicants.

    International Programs:
    Cancellations and withdrawals must be submitted in writing, via email or  typed letter. Up to the registration deadline of May 1st, 2018, the program fee is fully refundable. After May 1st, the registration fee is only 50% refundable, as we will have already provided payments for airfares, accommodations, and guide services.

    For answers to more possible questions, see our Frequently Asked Questions page!


  • Contact Us

    For questions about the Sternberg Science Camps programs, contact us at or 785-639-5249.

  • Evolution

    To understand the differences we observe in organisms, an understanding of evolution is absolutely necessary. Students are presented with an initial lesson on how populations of organisms evolve, and how selection over time can lead to new species. We continue lessons on evolutionary biology throughout the program, always relating back to the essential concepts of heredity, selection, and relating genes to physical features. From beak shape and feather colors in birds to the shapes flowers, we will be discussing evolutionary biology frequently, in great depth.

  • Ecology

    Studying the interconnected nature of organisms to each other and their environment is crucial for understanding the structure of that ecosystem, and why organisms have evolved as they have. Within the extremely broad field of ecology, we make sure to touch on the following during the program, tailored for abilities of a junior-high student audience:
    – Population ecology
    – Community ecology
    – Niche ecology
    – Trophic ecology
    – Behavioral ecology
    – Biogeography

  • Conservation

    Human environmental impacts are a huge concern, even in the typically arid lands of the southwest. The majority of our hikes and exploring will take place in habitats set aside to protect them from destruction and pollution. Even still, human environmental impacts can still be easily found in all the ecosystems we visit. Students will participate in lessons and discussions about the importance of habitat and biodiversity conservation, including how to approach these topics in the 21st century.

  • Hiking

    A majority of our field lessons and exploring will require 2-4 hour hikes through the rocky desert, with a lot of heat and bright sun. In order to stay safe and healthy, students will receive instruction on properly packing their backpack, optimal attire, hydration, footwear, use of sunscreen, self-awareness and group safety. Weather in the desert is typically hot during the day, and cooler at night (and we do go out on night hikes to look for nocturnal wildlife – owls and foxes and kangaroo rats!). Preparation is key, and we will make sure your student has the information to be prepared.

  • Leadership Skills

    Taking initiative, staying organized, and effectively communicating are all important skills for working with a team in the field. Over the course of the program, students are coached on developing these areas. With guided opportunities to lead portions of field work, students are encouraged to develop their voices, organize team efforts, and build confidence in their abilities.

  • Field Safety

    From staying hydrated to dealing with bad weather, students are introduced to the hazards of field work and how to effectively, safely deal with them. Staff provide lessons on safety through discussion, making sure students have a clear understanding of problems that can arise and how to effectively avoid them, or mitigate their effects afterwards.

  • Camping

    Knowing some basics of camping is essential to field work. Scientific field work is often done in remote or semi-remote locations, making camping skills necessary to being able to do field work at all!

    Training includes:
    – Putting up tents
    – Camp cooking
    – Setting up and breaking down camp
    – Leave No Trace strategies
    – Efficiently loading and unloading field vehicles
    – Environmental injury and illness mitigation
    – Building and safely managing a campfire


Student testimonials


Parent testimonials

Financial Aid





Other 2019 middle school camps! 

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Mountain Naturalist

Paleontology Explorers OR