(Updated June 10, 2015)
Earlier this year, the San Diego Natural History Museum (theNAT) opened its new $9 million dollar, 8 thousand square-foot permanent exhibition, “Coast to Cactus in Southern California,” just in time for Balboa Park’s centennial celebration of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition.* This exhibit features the biodiversity of Southern California and includes an Airstream Bambi trailer made possible by the Hunte family.
TheNAT is located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park* and on the north entrance side is a huge Moreton Bay fig tree,* Ficus macrophylla, with sensitive roots that are protected by a chain-link fence, which underscores part of theNat’s mission, “to inspire in all a respect for nature and the environment.” TheNAT traces is roots to a group of amateur naturalists, who formed the San Diego Society of Natural History in 1874, making this the oldest scientific institution in southern California.
TheNAT’s exhibits* help to further its mission “to promote understanding of the evolution and diversity of southern California and the peninsula of Baja California.” The southern California region is one of 35 global hot spots having high concentrations of different species. The unique biodiversity of southern California is explained by theNAT’s president and CEO, Dr. Michael Hager, who said in this KPBS interview* that our topographical features of a cool ocean current, a mountain range that limits desert rainfall (rain shadow effect), and streams that dissect our mesa tops (giving each canyon a unique habitat) play a big role in our biodiversity.
The “Coast to Cactus” exhibit* takes visitors on a journey through the diverse representative habitats of the region ranging from the coastal beaches, urban canyons, riversides, chaparral, valleys, and mountains to the desert, all within a single museum visit. As visitors approach the desert section, they see the Airstream trailer.
This Airstream trailer has an appearance of a naturalist’s field station with a lantern, canteen, maps and labeled specimens on display, such as “Red Diamond Rattles” from a Red Diamond Rattlesnake, Crotalus ruber.*
On the other side of the Airstream trailer, visitors can experience what it’s like to camp under the stars when the sun goes down and the desert comes alive during the multimedia mini theater presentation of “Desert at Night.”* During the presentation, two children in a virtual tent hear and see creatures of the night and share their thoughts and feelings as they converse in both English and Spanish, or as some would say, Spanglish* (a regional way of speaking where two bilingual people move fluidly back and forth between English and Spanish), underscoring theNAT’s appreciation of diversity theme. (All exhibits are in English and Spanish.)
Elizabeth Salaam, in her San Diego Reader article, “Press 1 for Spanglish,” reports that theNAT’s Exhibition Developer, Erica Kelly said, “We’ve kind of strived to create experiences more than lecturing.” TheNAT’s attempt to engage English and Spanish speakers at the same time illustrates theNAT’s vision to “provide programs that are timely, user-friendly, and relevant to the real-life needs of the diverse populations of the San Diego-Baja California region today and tomorrow.”
It’s only natural for an Airstream trailer to be included in the desert section of the San Diego Natural History Museum’s “Coast to Cactus” exhibit, because as CEO Michael Hager says, “Camping in the desert [and] Airstream kinda go together.” It is especially appropriate that an Airstream trailer has a home in this permanent exhibition in San Diego because its iconic, aerodynamic design using monocoque aircraft technology was pioneered by Hawley Bowlus,* who supervised the construction of the Spirit of St. Louis in San Diego in 1927 and developed the first riveted aluminum trailer, the Road Chief, in 1934.
Michael Hager also says that he likes to think of theNAT as “the visitors center for the region,” which encourages people to go out in nature and explore, have more questions, and then come back to learn more.
*This is a link to a YouTube video.