Steve Leavitt is standing in the middle of a circle of people who are all laid out on the ground, observing lichen on slickrock.
Steve Leavitt leading a lichen hike during last year’s festival. [Courtesy photo]

For seven years, the annual Festival of Science in Moab has organized free activities and invited speakers to celebrate local Colorado Plateau science. This year’s festival includes five days of hikes, movies, talks, and activities, all designed to bring local scientists and the Moab community together. 

“To me, it seems like the public often thinks of science as kind of inaccessible … scientists on the news seem like these people up in weird, strange places who you can’t ask questions to,” said Erika Geiger, one of the festival organizers and supervisory biologist with the U.S. Geologic Survey Canyonlands Research Station. “But I always loved the idea that during the festival, especially during events like the mingle, you’re introduced to scientists: these are people who live in our community, who are your neighbors, who you can run into at the grocery store. We’re here in the community, and we’re here to serve you.” 

Geiger said festival organizers always attempt to make the festival relevant: This year’s keynote panel is about water in the West. 

“We’re here to provide information, but also just to get people excited about science—we all love what we do,” she said. “We hope our enthusiasm permeates the community, and that we get people, especially kids, involved in and excited about science.” 

During the Festival of Science, Moab community members and visitors can interact with local scientists. [Courtesy photo]

The festival kicks off on Wednesday, Oct. 19 with “STEMonstration” activities for kids, which Geiger said festival organizers were particularly excited to host this year. The event will include multiple booths hosted by a variety of organizations and scientists, including the USGS Canyonlands Research Station, Youth Garden Project, and Grand County Emergency Medical Services. Each booth will feature its own activity. 

Wednesday’s lineup also includes a talk by Arches National Park staff about the park’s timed entry pilot over the summer and a screening of the 2021 documentary “Inhabitants: Indigenous Perspectives on Restoring Our World.” 

On Thursday, there will be a tour of Utah State University’s Moab campus; a presentation on snake biology and ecology by Scott Gibson of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, with an emphasis on venomous snakes and snakes of Utah; and a “star party,” a night sky astronomy tour hosted by National Park Service staff. 

[Courtesy photo]

Friday’s activities begin with a “Talk & Walk” at the Mill Creek Dinosaur Tracksite with paleontologist ReBecca Hunt-Foster and Bureau of Land Management staff. In the afternoon, community members are invited to a “Science Mingle” on the Moab Museum lawn to enjoy light refreshments and meet local scientists. 

On Friday night, the festival will host its keynote panel: “Water in the West: Weather, Earth, & People,” with Crystal Tulley-Cordova, the principal hydrologist for the Navajo Nation; Celene Hawkins, the Colorado River tribal engagement coordinator for The Nature Conservancy; and Jon Meyer, the assistant state climatologist with the Utah Climate Center. The three will each give a presentation on their expertise and have a panel discussion and Q&A about water issues in the Four Corners region. 

On Saturday, festival participants will be taken out into the field for a number of hikes, including a birding hike called Utah Raptor Talk & Walk led by Amanda Foust, a biological science technician with the NPS; a geology hike with Will Leggett, an NPS interpretive ranger; and a “lichens of slickrock” hike with Steve Leavitt, an evolutionary biologist at Brigham Young University. Kara Dohrenwend, founder of Rim to Rim Restoration, will also host a talk about and subsequent tour of Moab’s recent flooding, including a discussion on “the challenges of building a town at the mouth of a canyon in a flash-flood prone system.”

Saturday will wrap up with a talk by Dr. Sasha Reed on “finding hope in times of change,” which will discuss the science of solutions: how science is “suggesting hope in our ability to sustain our dryland ecosystems in the face of climate change.” 

On Sunday, the last day of the festival, there will be a morning hike—Lichens of the La Sals, hosted by Steve Leavitt; and a geology driving tour hosted by scientists Chris Benson and Terry Dial. The festival will officially end Sunday night with radio science trivia, hosted by Moab Pub Trivia. 

All the events are free, though many require pre-registration. To find a full schedule of events with times and locations, and to find registration, go to www.moab-scifest.org.