The next morning, Mr. Bundersmith again took the kids to school. They didn’t go to first period this morning though, but collected in their team rooms with the seniors who would serve as their guides on the field trip. Then they loaded up onto the monorail train for the trip to the Saguaro Cactus Park, located deep within the Maxxim campus. There were 105 freshmen on the trip, divided up into groups of five. Each group was guided by a senior. Dennis Brown led Astrid and Christopher, as well as Alicia Noble, Madison Laurel, and Bud Collins. Each of them carried a small backpack, containing their lunches and their personal digital assistants.
Supervising the entire gathering was Dr. Franklin the Geology teacher, Dr. Ikeda the Biology Teacher, History teacher Mr. Hoffman, and five parent volunteers.
Technically there wasn’t a monorail station in the Saguaro Cactus Park. However there was a platform forty feet in the sky and a stairway leading down to the desert floor. The students and teachers climbed out of the train and made their way down to assemble into their groups at the foot of the stairs, as the monorail whooshed away.
“Alright guys,” said Dennis, taking charge. “We’re going to walk about two hundred yards due east. There’s an outcropping just above a dry riverbed there where I think you’ll find some great samples.”
The freshmen dutifully followed him through the sand, around rocks, prickly pear cactus and towering saguaros. Alicia and Madison happily snapped pictures of the various plants, squealing excitedly when they identified a teddybear cholla. Astrid made note of the various cactus varieties too, but she really wanted an example of the wildlife. She began looking in the many holes around the bases of the cactus plants.
“Watch out there,” said Dennis. “There are five different kinds of rattlesnakes around here and I don’t want either one of us bitten by any of them.”
“I don’t want to be bitten either,” said Astrid. “But I wouldn’t mind getting a few snapshots.”
When they reached the dry riverbed, she found not a snake, but a large chuckwalla lizard that had taken refuge in a crack on the rock face. She took a dozen photographs and recorded her findings on her MX-360. The beast was about eighteen inches long, and its orange colored body indicated that it was a male of the species. She tried coaxing it out of the crack, but the lizard closed its eyes and ignored her. By the time lunch rolled around, she had photos and notes on half a dozen different lizards—no snakes or tortoises though.
As the six students sat on a large rock, in the shade of the outcropping and ate their lunches of ham and cheese sandwiches, they compared their findings. Bud, who was the only student in the group besides Astrid working on desert animal life, had found and photographed coyote, rabbit, and kangaroo rat tracks. He and Astrid shared their data by bumping their MX-360s together. An hour later, Dennis guided them all back to where they had started, to find another monorail train waiting to take them back to Rachel Carson High School.
“I hope you found plenty of interest, Astrid,” said Dr. Ikeda. “I’m expecting something great from you.”
“I think I got everything I need,” replied Astrid.
Toby and Denise approached the staircase from the west and gave Astrid a wave. They both looked just as pleased with their field trip as she was. When she saw Austin trudging back in the rear of his group however, his face was clouded over by a frown. Once everyone was aboard the train and it was on its way, she stepped forward to where he was sitting to see what the problem was.
“Um, nothing,” said Austin. “I’m just worried about… um, putting all this stuff together. I never had to write a really big assignment, um, paper, like this before.”
“Don’t worry,” said Astrid. “You’ve got lots of time and I’ll be glad to help you.”
Austin nodded, but looked far from happy.