Category Archives: Environment

Talking about the weather, terrain, flora, fauna, etc…


Day 5 (Field): The Heat is On

And with that, another field season in the books! And it wouldn’t be a Texas trip if we didn’t end it on the hottest and most humid day of the week! Today’s high was a mild 103 degrees with a heat index that reached 112 degrees right around noon. Thankfully, we did have some cloud cover today that made the temperature a little more bearable but we knew that we had to hit the ground running this morning before it got too warm. Fortunately, for a team like ours, this was no problem.


The beginning of the day involved moving a lot of dirt. A LOT of dirt. We had at least a couple of feet of hard, rocky clay to remove in order to uncover and remove the last burial in the area. Additionally, we had to remove a lot of the extra loose dirt around the burial so that it wouldn’t all just fall back on top and recover it. In our normal, and now very practiced fashion, we were able to efficiently complete this arduous task by utilizing our rotation system so that no one was getting to wiped out early on in the day. By 10:30 am, we had uncovered the final burial in area 2 of the Rio Grande Cemetery.


By this point, our pit had taken on quite a weird shape. In order to get in and out we had to create a large step in the back of the pit for us to climb up and down. This made removing the remains quite an interesting task. We all got together to come up with a plan for how we were going to go about this. Because of our preparedness, and critical and creative thinking, however, we were able to remove the remains from the pit very smoothly, completing the fifth and last burial in our area.

In order to be thorough, however, it was decided that we should dig a trench in the back wall of our pit in order to ensure that there were no other burials in this area. This was no small task, as the back wall was approximately 5-6 feet high.

Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench
Haley fitting perfectly within our test trench

We decided to rebuild our ramp (more like a slide) and start the trench with the step we had built into the back wall. We resumed our rotation system and each took turns using the mattock (see: awesome pickaxe tool) to dig our trench. After digging to almost six feet again in the heat we felt confident that there were no other burials in this area. And with that, area 2 was closed!

We finished off the day cheers-ing our Mexican cokes and ate our lunch in the air conditioned hotel. Tonight, we will be heading down the road to join our Texas State comrades for a pool party at their hotel! It’s been another great trip here in Texas, and it will be bittersweet to be leaving tomorrow. But I know that all of us are proud of what we have accomplished these last ten days and I am excited to see what the future holds in South Texas. Hasta luego!





Day 4 (field) – An Evening in Roma…

Sun rise at the cemetery
Sun rise at the cemetery

In the past three days, we have exhumed three individuals from Area 2.  This means that we only have two more days to exhume the remaining two individuals buried in this area before we head back to Indiana on Saturday.  With this being said, today’s goal was to find and exhume at least one of the two remaining burials.  While this may seem like a simple goal, we were racing against the sun.  The forecast today was 97 degrees with zero clouds in the sky, meaning that in order to stay safe, we needed to work quickly and efficiently.

Dr. Latham and Haley digging the trench
Dr. Latham and Haley digging the trench

To accomplish our goals, we started by digging a trench from the Northern end of the pit towards the location of burials we removed yesterday.  We decided to dig the trench down the middle of the pit to ensure we find the remaining burials if they exist there.  Because the morning started out relatively cool, our rotations were 15 minutes long.  After a few rotations, we found evidence of another burial so we began to investigate further.  As the day drew on and the temperature continued to rise, we decreased our rotations to four minutes long.  By lunch time, we had the burial completely exposed and ready to remove.  After we removed the burial, we continued the trench Southward to look for the last remaining burial in Area 2.

We ended up leaving the cemetery at around 2pm.  Even though today was shorter than our other days, we still worked really hard to meet our goal and find, uncover, and exhume another individual.  We made the decision to leave at 2pm because it was getting too hot to safely work outside.  Before we left, we strategized about finding and removing our last burial tomorrow morning over some ice-cold Cokes.

Rio Grande overlook in Roma, TX

After we returned to the hotel and cleaned up a little, we traveled to Roma – a city West of Rio Grande City in Starr County.  This city is located along the Rio Grande and has an amazing lookout deck with incredible views of the river and Ciudad Miguel Aleman, Mexico.  While we were at the lookout, we met a very nice border patrol agent who talked with us about his job and about the river border in general.  It was about 97 degrees while we were there, so we took some pictures but quickly returned to the car so as not to get anymore sun than we already had gotten today at the cemetery.  After this visit, we went to the Mezquite Grill in RGC for dinner and the food definitely did not disappoint! We left full and very, very satisfied.

Erica's nachos at Mezquite
Erica’s nachos at Mezquite

I am looking forward to what tomorrow holds for us.  It is bittersweet because tomorrow is our last day at the Rio Grande Cemetery, however, we will leave feeling accomplished and extremely humbled if we are able to exhume all five individuals in our area so they can begin their identification process.  As for now, we are all going to get a good night’s sleep so we are well-rested and ready to take on our last day.




Day 2 (field) – We will rock you.

Today we arrived at the cemetery at 6:30 am and were able to start our work under the rising sun. Our first goal this morning, was to create steps leading from the excavated area to the surface for us to be able to work efficiently and safely. As we worked, there would be peaks of sunshine complemented by overcast skies and cool winds.

Creating Steps
Creating Steps.

After completing our steps came our first challenge which was uncovering the first burial. Our group quickly found that a portion of the burial extended under one of the walls, requiring us to cut away a section of the wall and then undercutting the same spot another foot just to reach the end. Our group worked efficiently and tirelessly; taking turns every 4-5 minutes, that way everyone had an opportunity to rest and drink plenty of water.

Group photo on our woman-made steps
Group photo on our woman-made steps.

Tomorrow our goal is to tackle the next two burials. Our area is especially tricky because we must excavate the first three burials in our section (including the one that was excavated today), then rebury the area to excavate the last two burials. All the burials are estimated to be at least 5 ft deep but what we have found thus far in this area is that the burials are closer to 6 feet down. Our entire group is extremely thankful for the assistance of the excavator operator, Silvestre, for his assistance with digging the area. It is slightly terrifying to think about where we would be without him. The next three days are going to be extremely hot with temperatures expected to be in the high 90s to 100s with total sunshine. Even though every evening we have come back exhausted, I have a suspicion that these past two days are going to be considered our ‘easy’ days due to the rising temperatures.

It is hard physical work that we are doing, but it is also hard work emotionally. For me, it always comes back to the reasons why we volunteered on this humanitarian issue. No one should be left unidentified and everyone has a right to know what happened to their loved ones. That is all the motivation we need to continue this mission and that is what is going to help us get through the next couple of days. That and iced cold cokes.