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)   


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!

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!


Application Requirements

All application materials must turned in no later than May 14th, 2019.
– Student applicants must be ages 11 to 13 as of June 2019.
– 1 page (2-3 paragraph) letter of interest from the student applicant. (Click here for tips on writing your cover letter. Also, tips for constructing good paragraphs.)
– Letter of recommendation from the non-family member for the student applicant.
– Financial aid application paperwork (if applying for financial assistance).
– Complete online registration.

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.

Contact Us

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

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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! 

Paleontology Expedition KS
Mountain Naturalist
Paleontology Explorers OR