Category Archives: Environment

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

A New Perspective

At last our journey has come to an end. I must admit that I felt a bit odd when I first woke up this morning. I’ve grown accustomed to the fast-paced routine we had in Texas. It was an intense work week where it sometimes seemed that we didn’t have a moment to take a breath. The physical and mental toll it took on my body was draining and unlike anything I have experienced before. That being said, I can’t wait to go again.

I must admit that I was a bit unsure about how our team dynamic was going to play out. The other more experienced members of my team have known each other for a whole year before I joined the Human Biology program. I can now say that I am glad to have shared this experience with them. Izzy, Jordan, and Olivia are incredible scientists and professionals who I’ve seen persevere and grow throughout this trip. I believe we have grown closer as colleagues and friends. There were many laughs and lighthearted times as well as times spent looking out for each others’ well being. Being the new guy on board, I learned a lot from them and look forward to working with each of them in the future, in whatever form that may take.



This trip was also very enlightening for me. My entire perspective about the humanitarian crisis at the border has changed. With every step through the treacherous terrain and every heavy sigh I grew more and more appreciative of the life I live. I could not imagine being in a predicament where one is essentially forced to make this journey. To say that someone has merely “crossed the border” is such an understatement of the sacrifices these migrants make. I understand that the topic of immigration is such a complicated issue oftentimes far beyond my political understanding. However, I can’t deny that these people deserve better. My heart breaks for the families of the deceased and missing. I hope they find peace. Although our team did not find what we were searching for at each coordinate location associated with a missing person, I can rest easy knowing that we did everything we possibly could to best serve the families and the migrants themselves.


I can’t end the last of my blog posts without mentioning Don and Ray of the Remote Wildlands Search and Recovery team. They made the journey with us to not only search for missing persons, but to keep us safe and healthy. Their efforts are the reason why we could participate in this trip in the first place. They are admirable men who aim to serve humanity out of the kindness of their hearts.



I also want to thank Dr. Latham for choosing me to be a part of this trip and for teaching me more about how to perform and execute my skills in the field. I am honored by her confidence in my abilities to serve the team.


During this trip I learned what the core principle of forensic anthropology is all about: community service. Solving cases and identifying individuals is about serving humanity and honoring the deceased. This trip showed me just how important it is to provide closure to families of loved ones whom they may never be reunited with. My family means everything to me and thanks to this experience, I now know just how important our work is.

Austin

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Due Diligence

Day 6!

Today, waking up and getting around was bittersweet. Sure, we’re all tired but this has been such a great experience it’s hard for it to come to an end. We started our day at breakfast with Ray and Don. Ray couldn’t come out with us today so unfortunately, we had to say goodbye before heading out. We were very happy he was able to accompany us while here and appreciate his assistance!

Izzy, Olivia, Austin, Don, and Dr. Latham on one of our breaks

We started where we left off yesterday, searching a portion of the ranch aiming to recover remains and material evidence important to the family members of a migrant who had gone missing. In this case, a cell phone. The cell phone may seem trivial to some, but could mean everything to his wife as it may contain photos that are important memories of her loved one. It is our job when conducting a recovery to work in the best interest of the decedent and their loved ones. This not only includes doing our due diligence to recover as many skeletal elements as possible but also extends to material objects like a cell phone.

Austin searching an area of the brush

After a line search of the area of interest, we each took a small portion where we combed the ground more thoroughly. During this search, we flagged skeletal elements until the area was fully searched. We then set up a baseline in order to obtain measurements and map any evidentiary items. Simultaneously, photos were taken to further document any findings. Once all documentation is finished each item is able to be collected by the proper authorities. In this case, we were very fortunate to find the cell phone that the family members were hoping to get back (good eye Austin!).

Olivia and I measuring an element of interest for mapping

Once we felt comfortable that we searched this area thoroughly, Don drove us to another location on the same ranch. This was based on a description of an area where an individual went missing and had yet to be searched. We continued with our typical process of a line search moving west up the south side of a dirt road and then pivoting across to the north side to move east. The brush here was slightly less dense but the foliage was, in the words of Olivia “angrier”, as the plants had more thorns than we had experienced previously. On this search there was some evidence of migrant activity in the form of water bottles, food packaging, and a sweatshirt but less than we had seen at other locations. Finding this material evidence is important information for Don to know as he proceeds with searches of the area in the future.

Line Searching

When our time in the field came to a close we all piled into the truck and headed back to town. Don gave us a bit of a tour. We got to go to the Brooks County Sheriff’s office where we got to meet Sherrif Benny Martinez. He has been very supportive of the work the Beyond Borders team does since the very beginning. We then wanted to end our week the way we started – with snow cones.

Brooks County Sherrif’s Office

After a quick break with showers and pool time, we headed to Jalisco for dinner with Don. It was just as good as before, and it was nice to be able to spend some more time with Don. From there we said our goodbyes and headed back to the hotel to pack. This trip has been extremely rewarding and I am very grateful to have been given the opportunity to experience it. I have learned many things that will stick with me for a very long time. As much as the Texas heat has tested us all, it is quite difficult to leave it behind.

One last selfie

~ Jordan

Happy Place

Austin in a tree

Izzy Sandwich

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Knocked Down, But Ready For Round Two

Ready to Go

Today was by far the most grueling work day so far. We definitely made up for the work we missed yesterday. Although we had a great time at the cookout last night, we lost a few hours of much needed rest. Nevertheless, we were up and ready to go by 7 am…well actually by “we” I mean just the girls. I had to fight to get out of bed and was barely awake for the car ride to the search location. Fortunately, I haven’t felt any muscle soreness, but my legs felt incredibly weak. On top of that I skipped my morning coffee, so I was already priming myself for a rough day. The only thing keeping me going is constantly reminding myself why we are here and the difference our team is making in Brooks County.

All Smiles

The day started off with team breakfast as usual. It’s been years since I’ve had frosted flakes. A good sugar rush definitely helped wake me up a bit. After that we were out on the road again, traveling to new GPS coordinates suggesting the last known location of a missing individual. The ride was short and we parked Sandy outside the entrance to the ranch (we weren’t going to risk her off-road capabilities again). The drive in was fun though. Me, Izzy, Olivia, and Jordan hopped in the back of Ray’s truck for a VERY bumpy ride. We spotted some deer and a herd of wild pigs that I just managed to miss snapping a pic of.

Oh Dear


The terrain on this ranch was extremely difficult to navigate. There was so much dead, overgrown grass that completely covered the dirt below. This made our searches extremely difficult and walking very taxing. I think I speak for the rest of the group when I say that this search really beat us up. Today was my new record for how much water I consumed on the job. I drank two full camelbacks (4 liters total), a full 32 oz travel bottle, as well as a 20 oz regular plastic bottle. Needless to say, I was thirsty.

A Break in the Brush

Despite the difficult terrain, this search was probably our most successful in terms of finding evidence of human travel. We found plenty of water bottles, trash bags, and food wrappers. More importantly though, We found a blue backpack and a sweatshirt that seemed to be in new condition, suggesting that these items were recently discarded. This may not seem like much, however, the photos of these items can be used to potentially help identify who was traveling along the route we searched, if they can be recognized by the family of the individual from the GPS coordinates. We have to remember that sometimes our progress is all about perspective. We don’t know if the individual is still out there. They could have moved on or may still be missing. But that small finding could mean a world of difference to the family that has no idea what happened to their loved one. Sometimes all we can do is contribute just a small part of the story, but at least it has the potential to make a difference in the perspective of the family of the missing.

Recent Clothes


Our day ended not long after reaching a new search location on the same ranch. By this time it had already been our longest day in the field this trip, with the temperature reaching 97 degrees fahrenheit (with the high humidity the “feels like” temperature was well over 100) while we were out in the field. Unfortunately, the heat got the best of us. Progress on the search was made, but not long before the team had to get benched with the search getting called off. All of the students had elevated heart rates. Thankfully, we had Ray and Don to take care of us and remind us that although we are on a mission, our safety is a priority as well. What I like about this team is that we all want to push ourselves to our limits and care for one another like a good team should. However, today was a friendly reminder to listen to our own bodies and protect our own health too. We decided that it would be most efficient to quit now and resume the search in the morning when we are well rested and ready to tackle the task head on. In about an hour we were all fine and healthy.

Whatever it Takes


The work day concluded with a much needed shower/nap combo. We went to Strickland’s for dinner where I ended my meal with a refreshing hot coffee. I haven’t had hot coffee in a week and I didn’t realize just how much I missed it. Love me a steaming hot cup o’ joe that just instantly reminds me of home.

To Walk A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes


This work is extremely tough on the body. Everyday I try to put myself in the shoes of the people who make this excruciating journey in search for a better life. With little resources and everything against you, it is proof of how one’s willpower and determination can push you to incredible lengths. Our week is quickly coming to an end with our last day in the field tomorrow. One thing is for sure though, I do not have to hope for a good outcome. I have faith in my team that we will finish out our week strong.

Austin

Day 5 Complete!

Ray’s Little Buddy

I Don’t Even Know What to Say Here…Izzy With an Animal Pelvis

Decomposition

Happy Don

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