Southwest Biology Camp


Due to the Covid19 pandemic, all of our 2020 in-person camps have been cancelled. We have transitioned to online-based summer camps with our instructional teams. To learn more, click here.



A fox photographed on one of the motion detecting camera traps we set in NM.

Interested in wildlife and ecosystems? The Southwest Wildlife Biology Camp students will take a trip to New Mexico and Arizona to observe and participate in ongoing research projects. Using professional tools and techniques, we will investigate insect, fish, mammal, bird, reptile, and plant communities and populations. These investigations will include capturing and documenting a number of different species/organisms, and collecting GPS data on observed organisms.  Students will have the opportunity to survey incredible area bird diversity using a spotting scopes and binoculars, hunt for scorpions using UV lights, perform nocturnal animal surveys using spotlights, use thermal cameras, and receive training on a professional-grade super-telephoto digital camera, among other unique field lessons and activities. In 2015, students documented ten different bat species during a netting survey with biologists working in the region! In 2016 we spotted an Elegant Trogan, one of the rarest birds in North America. We are proud of this incredible program and the remarkable experiences it provides our students.

2017 student Makenna Harris holding a bat captured during one of the researcher bat netting surveys we were privileged to join.

Overarching themes of the Southwest Wildlife Biology Camp will include critical thinking skills, use of the scientific method, understanding the process of biological evolution through natural selection, ecology, and generating an informed argument through the use of evidence. The SBC is designed to be an immersive learning experience for students interested in biology and ecology. Our goal is to make sure any student planning to pursue a career in life science will leave our camp with relevant, practical skills and knowledge they can apply in their future coursework.

Concepts and Skills

A whip scorpion found by one of our students in 2019!

Here is an overview of the content students can expect over their two weeks at Southwest Wildlife Biology camp:

  • Wildlife identification
  • Wildlife surveying and photography
  • Motion sensor camera use
  • Data collection/field notes
  • Database use (iNaturalist, eBird)
  • Evolution and ecology
  • Conservation biology
  • College academics 
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Outdoor safety
  • Camping
  • Maps and navigation

Conditions Summary

2019 TA Maggie Wolf, with a tarantula she made friends with.

These categories are presented to help applicants determine if a program is a good match for their preferences. We have set up a separate page here outlining how to interpret each category, and how to interpret the respective scores.  

Physical Exertion: 8
Wildlife survey activities will typically involve moderate hikes with day-packs. These excursions are sometimes early in the morning (birding) or late into the evening (nocturnal animals). This score also reflects the high daytime temperatures frequently encountered during our activities and lessons. 
Academic Pace: 7
Outdoor Intensity: 8
Between our time in the desert and time in the mountains, temperatures will vary widely over the two weeks of the camp. We will also be in the Southwest during the end of the rainy season, which increases chances that we will encounter sporadic rainfall during camp. While this is great for seeing amazing wildlife, it means participants should bring rain gear, and be prepared to be damp in the desert from time to time. 
Computers and Mathematics: 5
Art and Graphics: 3
Writing: 6

Projected Number of Field+Travel Days: 10
Projected Number of Indoor/Lab Days: 3

Project Summary

 2016 SW Biology: Examining a massive neotenic salamander found while netting bats in New Mexico!

Students and staff will work together to document plant and animal diversity of sites visited White Sands National Monument, the Chiricahua Mountains, and the Gila Wilderness Area. Wildlife data collected will be added to the iNaturalist database, used by research biologists to track sightings of organisms around the world!

White Sands National Monument

2018 group at White Sands National Monument

The trip begins with a drive from Morrison, CO to southern New Mexico to explore the spectacular dunes and incredible specialized wildlife of White Sands National Monument, including the White Sands Earless Lizard, found only in this location. Despite looking mostly barren and desolate, White Sands contains a remarkable diversity of plant, insect, and reptile life that reveals itself upon exploration. Students and staff will dive further into discussions of ecosystem dynamics, evolution, speciation, and adaptation.

A White Sands Earless Lizard

Leaving White Sands, we will begin the last leg of our opening drive, to the Chiricahua Mountains National Monument. This spectacular “sky island” ecosystem boasts incredible biodiversity spread across four distinct ecosystems. It is a world-renowned birding hotspot, with Central American species frequently journeying into the region. 


Chiricahua Mountains National Monument

Students surveying for birds, snakes, lizards, and insects in a dry riverbed at Chiricahuas National Monument.

At Chiricahua National Monument, we will explore world-class birding sites. This unique ecosystem stretches deep into Mexico, with many species found nowhere else in the United States. (In 2016 we were lucky enough to spot an Elegant Trogan, a species sought by birders who visit this region from all over the world!) Using spotting scopes, binoculars, and our super-telephoto digital camera kit, students will survey and document local birdlife. Later in the camp, they will learn how to turn their recorded data and photos into database entries on the Camp’s iNaturalist and eBird database accounts.

An Elegant Trogan, spotted during our 2016 SW Biology Camp trip. This is one of the rarest birds in North America!

Students will also have a chance to visit hummingbird feeder areas, and go night cruising for nocturnal mammals, reptiles, birds, and insects! This will also be our first opportunity to set up the motion-detecting night-vision camera traps we will be using throughout the trip.

Weekend Rest

During the middle weekend, students and staff will take a break from fieldwork to organize their field notes and photos. This process of turning field notebook records and digital photos/videos/audio recordings into neatly organized data is a crucial skill for every field biologist to learn. This indoor rest portion will also provide time for the group to review concepts from the previous week, and work on unique mini-projects we’ll be developing in the field. 

Gila Wilderness and National Forest

Guest instructor Dr. Mary Harner discussing mountain stream ecology and conservation with SW Biology Camp students in 2017.

Following the recover weekend, the group will head to the Gila National Forest area north of Silver City.  Here, students will observe habitat differences as they travel from the desert/mountain transition region, up into higher altitude coniferous forests. With changes in ecosystem, students will see dramatics shifts in plant and animal life! Along with these activities, we will be collecting bird sighting data and surveying for mammals, insects, and reptiles. Students will continue practicing keeping field notes and using field recording devices.  As with the first week, data collected will be processed and entered into online databases, available for researchers around the world to use!

Guest instructor Dr. Keith Geluso discussing a bat just freed from the net with students in 2017.


Additional Information and Logistics

Drop off is 8:00am on the first day at Dinosaur Ridge visitor center in Morrison, Colorado. Specifics on the drop-off location will be provided to admitted applicants.
Pick up is by 5:00pm on the last day, unless other specific arrangements are made well in advance with Camps staff. 

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.

Application Requirements

  • All application materials must turned in by May 2, 2020. (See the Admission Decision Schedule tab below for our five application and admission periods from January to May.) 
  • Student applicants must be ages 14 to 18 as of June 2020.
  • Complete online application.
    • To do this, you will need to set up an account with CampDoc. 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.
    • If you already have an account with CampDoc, simply log in. Your personal information should all be saved from your last application.
    • 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 January 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: January 11
    • Admission notifications: January 20-24
  • Application period 2
    • Cutoff: February 15
    • Admission notifications: February 24-28
  • Application period 3
    • Cutoff: March 14
    • Admission notifications: March 23-27
  • Application period 4
    • Cutoff: April 11
    • Admission notifications: April 20-24
  • Application period 5
    • Cutoff: May 2
    • Admission notifications: May 4-8

Program Cost

Tuition is $1,634 for Sternberg Museum of Natural History or Dinosaur Ridge members, and $1,815 for non-members. Tuition includes food and lodging costs during the camp.

A 10% deposit is paid at the time of registration. Students who are accepted into the camp must then have the remainder of the registration fee paid by the May 16, 2020 payment deadline.

Q: What if my student is not accepted into the camp they applied for? Do you refund tuition?
A: 100% of paid tuition is refunded to any students not accepted to a camp they applied for. This includes the initial deposit paid at the time of initial application.

Q: What is your cancellation and refund policy?
Refund Policy:
Cancellations must be submitted in writing, via email or typed letter. Deposit fees for camp(s) applications are fully refundable until the applicant is officially accepted for admission. Prior to admission, the deposit is fully refundable in the case of cancellation submitted in writing. Denial of application acceptance will result in a full refund of the deposit payment for each camp the applicant was not accepted to. Following application acceptance, the deposit is no longer fully refundable, and each camp registration is held to a minimum 10-percent cancellation fee. For cancellations 30 to 10 days prior to the start of a camp, half of the total fee is refundable. For cancellations made 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 or to accepted participants. Funds provided Sternberg Science Camps in the form of any financial scholarship to the participant will be withheld in any case where a scholarship awardee or their parent(s)/guardian(s) cancels an accepted application.

Cancellation Policy:
In the event of a trip being cancelled, either due to insufficient enrollment, sudden onset of extensively unsafe travel conditions, or other unforeseeable impairments, the Sternberg Science Camps will provide a refund of all tuition and/or deposit fees paid up to the point of cancellation. Any scholarship funds awarded to the applicant to aid in attendance will be retained by the Sternberg Science Camps program. We are unable to reimburse the cost of any travel expenses paid to transport successful applicants to and/or from their camp(s). We strongly recommend attendees insure their travel to and from their respective camp(s) being attended.


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.

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