Personal Profiles

A snapshot view of

some of ABDNHA'S

Activity Leaders



ABDNHA would not exist if it were not for our knowledgeable program leaders and other volunteers, some of whom are profiled below.   


Don BarrieMike & Jan Bigelow |   Hal Cohen | James W Cornett | Reena Deutsch

Mary Ekelund & Paul Larson | Robin Halford | Kurt Leuschner | Joan Malone

Mike McElhatton | Joe Migliore | Doug Nolff | Urmi Ray & Sanjiv Nanda | Dr. Jim & Grace Rickard

Deborah Sperberg

Don Barrie, M.S., Geoscience Educator

Photo of Don Barrie
Don Barrie is head of the geology department at San Diego Mesa College.

Prior to joining the Mesa faculty in 2004, he taught geology, oceanography, physical geography, and natural disasters part time at Mesa, Cuyamaca, Grossmont, and MiraCosta colleges, and at San Diego State University.

As a professional geologist (PG) and certified engineering geologist (CEG), he has over 14 years' professional experience managing geologic and environmental field investigations. For 8 years, he worked as a senior geologist with AMEC Earth & Environmental, a San Diego consulting firm.

Barrie is a California registered professional geologist and certified engineering geologist. He holds a B.S. degree from Humboldt State University and an M.S. from New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology.

Don conducts Geology lectures and field trips for ABDNHA as well as programs in Borrego Springs Elementary School for the ANDNHA After School Science Program.

Mike and Jan Bigelow

The Bigelows are native Californians. Jan is a graduate of UC Berkeley, retired from teaching. Mike is a graduate of California State University, Chico, retired foreign editor for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Transplants from Northern California, where we were volunteers at Yosemite
National Park, we have been coming to Borrego Springs since 2002. We are
volunteers at the state park Visitor Center, Anza Borrego Foundation,
ABDNHA, and are certified naturalists. Mike is active in the local Botany
Society, Jan an avid hiker.

We have enjoyed taking all of our five grandchildren on different
international Elderhostel trips, in the last few years. We have traveled in
our motorhome around the US, to Canada and Mexico. We also did a motorhome trip in South Africa.

The Bigelows conduct hikes for ABDNHA.  The have a well-rounded knowledge of the Anza-Borrego desert but their particular expertise is botany.

Hal Cohen

Hal moved to Borrego Springs in 2001 and spends his time studying bird migration, specializing in the migration of Swainson's Hawks. He loves to play tennis and to hike in Borrego Springs. Hal has acted in several community plays. He travels worldwide and has taught classes on every continent including Antarctica.

Prior to moving to Borrego Springs, he taught Field Natural History and Ornithology at College of DuPage near Chicago for 38 years. In 1998 Hal was selected Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation, Washington DC.

Hal Cohen graduated from the University of Illinois with a BA degree in Political Science and from Chicago State University with an MS degree in Biology. As a post graduate, Hal spent half a year at the University of Miami studying marine biology. He received National Science Foundation Grants to study ecology at California State/Long Beach and marine ecology at Stanford University.

Hal is the founder of the annual Borrego Hawk Watch, which documents the annual migration of the Swainson's Hawk through the Borrego Valley.

James W. Cornett

Jim Cornett received B.A. and M.S. degrees in biology.

He is the former curator of natural history for the Palm Springs Desert Museum. He has published over 150 scientific and popular articles, as well as over twenty books on a variety of desert subjects. He is the author of Desert Palm Oasis, Desert Bighorn Sheep, Desert Snakes, and Desert Lizards, among other books, published by Nature Trails Press.

He conducts research projects sponsored by the Joshua Tree National Park Association and has been a speaker for the Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association's Annual Desert Lecture Series.

Reena Deutsch

Photo of Reena Deutsch

Reena Deutsch is an outdoors leader and naturalist who organizes excursions in Anza-Borrego.

She has published a book "The San Diego and Arizona Railway" on the history of the railway using historic photos and extensive research, all of which help to explain why the line earned the nickname of “the impossible railroad.”

Deutsch is known to ABDNHA for her Impossible Railroad lectures and field trips to the historic Cary Ranch in Anza. She has led a wide range of outdoor adventures including overnights with the Sierra Club and its Wilderness Basics course. She is a former board member of the Anza-Borrego Foundation, and has led tours along the Impossible Railroad in the past for ABF.

Mary Ekelund and Paul Larson

Mary Ekelund and Paul Larson

Mary and Paul are a husband and wife team that spend winters in Borrego Springs and summers at their home overlooking Lake Superior in Bayfield, Wisconsin. They are volunteer naturalists for ABDNHA and the Anza Borrego Desert State Park, leading hikes to some of their favorite places in the park.

Paul, a retired chemist, has also studied geology and shares his knowledge of the various rock forms in the area. Mary, a retired high school math teacher, is especially interested in the historical and archaeological features.

Both Mary and Paul enjoy meeting the many visitors to the desert and sharing with them the unique plants and fascinating wildlife.

Paul and Mary lead hikes for ABDNHA.

Robin Halford

Photo of Instructor Robin Halford
Robin Halford is a fifth generation Californian who graduated from Colorado State with majors in zoology and entomology.

After several years of working in Death Valley in the winter and Yellowstone National Park in the summer, she decided to make a change.In 1990, she discovered Borrego Springs and never left.

The owner of the Desert Robin shop on Palm Canyon Drive, Halford assisted Art Morley and Keith Smeltzer with field work for their Lower Willows chapter in Barbara W. Massey's Guide to Birds of the Anza-Borrego Desert. She is currently a volunteer parabotanist in the San Diego Natural History Museum's Plant Atlas program.

Halford is perhaps best known as the author of Hiking in Anza-Borrego: Over 100 Half-Day Hikes.   A new edition is in the works and will be released shortly.

Robin leads hikes for ABDNHA.

Kurt Leuschner

Michael Wangler
Kurt Leuschner is a Professor of Natural Resources at the College of the Desert.

His specialties include ornithology, entomology, desert ecology, and natural history.

His favorite bird is the Pinyon-Jay. Kurt does a variety of programs for ABDNHA; he leads excursions to the Salton sea, has given lectures, and a wide range of programs in the ABDNHA library.

Joan Malone

Borrego Springs resident Joan Malone is the former educational program director for ABDNHA, and she still leads an occassional hike

Avid hikers and campers, Malone and her husband Bill purchased a home in Borrego ten years ago, and moved here fulltime when she retired in 2005 from the Navy as a Lieutenant Commander. Much of her 25-year career centered on teaching Naval personnel, including a year-long stint at the Royal Military College of Science in England where she was primary developer of coursework and lead instructor and assessor of two courses attended by 1,200 Naval officers.

She holds a masters degree in Computers and Education and studied geology as an undergraduate. Since her arrival, Malone has worked in the library at Borrego Springs High School and taught mathematics there.

A native of Nebraska, Malone was introduced to the desert in 1974 when she moved to California. It was love at first sight.

“I love the starkness, the dryness, and the openness,“ she said. “And the rocks – the rocks are beautiful – it’s just a beautiful place.”

Joan and Bill Malone have two grown daughters – a married daughter and two grandsons living on the East Coast and a daughter who teaches dance in San Diego.

Mike McElhatton

Mike is ABDNHA's Educational Program Coordinator.  He and his wife Terri moved to Borrego in 2011.

Mike and Terri have a long connection with Anza-Borrego; it was their destination for countless spring break camping trips and winter vacations for more than 30 years with their two sons.  Mike and Terri say that Borrego Springs just seemed "like home" long before they actually moved here.  They are now full time residents.

Prior to moving to Borrego Mike worked for 33 years with the Idaho State Park system as a state park manager and then five years as a professional photographer.

Mike started his career with the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation as assistant park manager at Priest Lake State Park, near the Canadian border.  He later worked at Boise Area State Parks and he then served as park manager at Winchester Lake State Park, Dworshak State Park, and Hells Gate State Park, all in north central Idaho.

He took an early retirement from the park system in December of 2006 and returned to his love of photography, starting Digital Arts Photography, covering all of northern Idaho and eastern Washington.

But a strong connection with the desert kept pulling on Mike and Terri and they decided on the move to Borrego.

Joe Migliore

Photo of Bill Burke by Karyn Barnett

Joe Migliore returned to desert living in 2000 and quickly immersed himself in his first passion, natural history. Motivated by this love of nature he has committed himself to sharing with others his appreciation for the desert environment.

As a volunteer and docent, he gives talks and leads nature walks and interpretive hikes about the Coachella Valley and environs on behalf of several conservation minded organizations. These include; The Living Desert, Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, Bureau of Land Management, Anza-Borrego Desert Natural History Association, Wildlands Conservancy at Pipes Canyon, San Jacinto State Park, Friends of The Desert Mountains, the Natural Science Collaborative and the Desert Trails Hiking Club.

Migliore’s interests include geology, especially this very tectonically active region of southeastern California. He believes that an indispensable part of appreciating our natural history involves interpreting geology as a dynamic and “living” process which has a fundamental influence on the local environment. He regularly gives talks and teaches classes on geology, plate tectonics, earthquakes and earthquake preparedness.

Migliore has a BA in Zoology from UCLA and is a Certified Interpretive Guide by the National Association for Interpretation with the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument, Friends of The Desert Mountains, Docent, and geology instructor at The Living Desert.

Joe leads hikes to the Mecca Hills area along with excursions the Salton Sea.  He is also a lecturer on geology.

Doug Nolff

Doug Nolff

Popular trip leader Doug Nolff has lead hikes and taught classes for ABDNHA for more than three years. In addition, he has lead nature hikes for the San Diego Natural History Museum since 1996, and has led Sierra Club backpacking trips and hikes in California, Arizona and Utah for more than seven years.

Nolff has also been a docent for Blue Sky Ecological Preserve, and has spent the last 40 years backpacking and camping over much of the United States and Canada.

He has college degrees in physics and computer science. Doug leads hikes for ABDNA.

Urmi Ray and Sanjiv Nanda


Urmi and Sanjiv have been hiking in Anza Borrego since 2002 when they first visited the park from the East Coast and fell in love with the desert. Since then their jobs brought them to San Diego, and luck brought them to ABDNHA.

They spend their weekends hiking and watching the changing light and shadows on the Santa Rosas.  Urmi and Sanjiv lead hikes for ABDNHA and they assist with production of "The Sand Paper."

Dr. Jim and Grace Rickard

James Rickard has had a 40 year research career in both optical and radio astronomy and as a university professor. After obtaining a PhD from University of Maryland, he and his wife Grace spent a number of years in Chile, where he was employed as a staff astronomer at the European Southern Observatory. He came to Borrego Springs as a staff member at the Clark Lake Radio Observatory in 1977. In 1994 he took a teaching position at San Diego State University, Imperial Valley campus and retired in 2004.

For more than 25 years Jim and Grace have been giving popular star gazings for the public as part of the ABDNHA programs. They enjoy sharing their telescopes to observe celestial objects, pointing out the constellations, and considering the possibility of “life out there” with Borrego Valley residents and visitors.

Deborah Sperberg

Photo of Deborah Sperberg
Deborah Sperberg was a poet, a painter and a business executive who only became a naturalist after falling in love with Borrego in the late 80's and moving here in 1992. She designed the award-winning passive solar house she and her husband share here.  She now conducts 4 wheel drive trips for ABDNHA.


Michael Wangler, M.S.

Michael Wangler
Michael Wangler is a professor of geography and coordinator of the Earth Sciences Program at Cuyamaca College. He teaches courses in physical geography, including the Earth's dynamic surface and field trips to Yosemite National Park and the Eastern Sierra Nevada.

Wangler holds a Master of Science degree in Geography with a specialization in fire ecology. He regularly gives talks and leads field trips throughout San Diego's back country for ABDNHA and other organizations.

Active in outdoor affairs, Wangler serves on the board of directors of the Back County Land Trust.

In fall 2005, Wangler was honored with the Cuyamaca College President’s Award for outstanding dedication, service, and leadership to the college and its students. He is vice-president of the Academic Senate for 2006-07.

An active member of the California Geographical Society, Wangler was coordinator of the 61st annual CGS Conference in Borrego Springs in March, 2007, under the sponsorship of the Anza-Borrego Foundation and Institute and Cuyamaca College.   Michael leads geology hikes for ABDNHA