Interviews with Hikers


In July 2004, I waylaid people either returning from or setting off on Mount Diablo trails from the Mitchell Canyon trailhead.


  1. A) MDAI volunteer naturalist, male, white, fiftyish
  2. B) Hiker #1, male
  3. C) Hiker #2, male
  4. D) Hiker #3, male
  5. E) Mountain Biker, male
  6. F) Botanist, female, white, twentyish

In hindsight, I wish I had interviewed the botanist as a professional biologist, as our question and answer session was a poor fit to the "member of the public interested in natural history" model, as well as representing a perspective from a different institution.

Questions and Responses

These are my on-the-fly transcriptions of the participants' answers. Additional questions that I asked to encourage elaboration are in bold, included in the answer to the previous question; Reading the same answer in all the questions, in order, should reconstruct the interview. A "-" means either I didn't ask the question, because I forgot or it seemed redundant to ask it given other answers already given. Content [in brackets] has been added belatedly to clarify my rapidly typed notes.

Hi, I'm from the Berkeley Natural History Museums, and we're building a website that we hope will serve folks like you. Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?

Do you use the internet? How often do you use the web for personal reasons? What type of access do you have?

  • A) do web stuff at work; access the web for personal reasons few times a week.
  • B) yes I have web access - don't like to use it much. have a slow modem. If it's the only way to get info, I use it when I have to - I check e-mail 3x a day... but I'd rather go to the store than go online to look at stuff. Fix other people's computers as a profession, so don't want to spend much time on it in leisure!
  • C) yes, daily
  • D) -
  • E) yes - daily - IT worker
  • F) yes fully networked - daily - all day! Grad student at U Texas, expert on a genus of sunflower.

What other types of outdoor activities do you enjoy?

  • A) camping, backpacking,...camping, hiking..
  • B) camping, backpacking...
  • C) camping, backpacking,...all around California.
  • D) camping, backpacking,...I'm a hiker! day hikes.
  • E) camping, backpacking,...on bike
  • F) camping, backpacking,...

What natural history subjects do you enjoy?

  • A) botany - wildflowers are gorgeous in the spring - birds & butterflies& tarantulas, coyote, bobtail..
  • B) botany - I do unusual plant monitoring for Diane Lake & ... publication. Also seed collecting for Native Here nursery. Today, I'm looking for California Milkweed.
  • C) native plants especially aromatic ones - sage; birdwatching
  • D) notice a lot of things, don't know their names - I know what the mammals are, typically, since there are only 4 of them. I don't notice trees too much to differentiate them - unless they are redwoods - I can tell a pine from an oak from a redwood ...
  • E) (mining, entomology)
  • F) botany, birdwatching

Do you use field guides?

  • A) occasionally - take with to use to id. bird book, wildflower book -
  • B) [Jepson Manual]
  • C) I have some Audubon field guides for western trees, birds, wildflowers; sometimes take with, not today - sometimes look stuff up afterwards - but usually use them on the trail.
  • D) not at all when I'm hiking...I have looked on the internet at some flowers - the website of the stanford preserve - called.... I can't remember. 500 acres closed to hikers, unless you have a liaison take you through, but they have a website that has a couple hundred photos of flowers - just the name & no info. One time I looked through all of them - I did have a favorite flower - the forget me not? little blue flowers right along the trail - like stars.....
  • E) yes, pile of Peterson's, usually use after to look stuff up; if can't find, go online. Track through various websites, managed to identify a land planeria - thought it was an earthworm/annelid, saw pictures on an earthworm site of them being predated by the land planeria, was able to track it down from that.
  • F) yes - take with -

Have you ever used a computer to answer a question you had before or after hiking? What did you use?

  • A) -
  • B) I contribute to CNDDB & diane lakes' database right now, & john games' database - as long as I can enter things without reading lots of ads.... right now I fill out form & mail to them in Sacramento - It's useful & I enjoy doing it - I'd enter stuff if it wasn't too difficult & was being used for something I thought was helpful - Calflora - dying for funding - yes I've used it - not since no longer free - I think I would use it to get picture ID's of plants - If I remember right - & Jepson Herbarium has a good database of pictures - I use that - the list of all their stuff in the herbarium & pictures of the different things - Tried to use "cal biota" software or something - 17 MB to download - didn't have the time/connection to do it...
  • C) yes - this morning - instructions on getting here & info about the trail... the trail map - on the MDIA website.
    natural history things - sometimes. not a lot.
  • D) (see above answer)
  • E) (see above answer)
  • F) yes - for bird songs - downloaded them all to my ipod & carry with - not much more internet - sometimes for checklists

Do you visit the websites for the areas where you hike/bike?

  • A) I look up MDIA [note - he volunteers for MDIA] - having that online would be valuable - dichotomous keys - 6 legs, identification keys - work with a good mental picture. It's important to have an ethos on the website that encourages taking mental pictures & notes, not taking specimens from parks.
  • B) -
  • C) yes - before going...Q: Do they have lists of species? A: yes, very interesting. some do have this - birds or plants - Q: Do you print them out? A: no - looked at.
  • D) go different places - yes, visit the websites for the places - although usually the unofficial ones are better - this guy has 180 hikes on the site - with full descriptions - basically a professional photographer - all over the bay area, yosemite, sierras - narratives of the hikes - rates the trails,
  • E) -
  • F) yes for Checklists before going places - sometimes find them on park websites - also visit rare bird alert -

The natural history museums have collections of specimens of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, plants, insects, fossils and artifacts that scientists have collected and use in their research.
What level of interest would you have to see a map of where scientists have collected specimens in the place where you are hiking/biking/camping? your zip code? your county?

  • A) That's more for kids who were doing a term paper - oh, here's a spot where we knows owls nest - down to a few hundred yards - great to give them a chance for seeing things in the field...
  • B) [high interest for botanical collection locations]
  • C) not really.
  • D) I would really like that!
  • E) yeah, that'd be interesting...
  • F) definitely! I have archaic collecting info, very general & hard to decipher - I'm interested in this particular plant - where it had been collected, species distributions maps...

Would you be interested in knowing what bioregion your zip code is in?

  • A) -
  • B) -
  • C) not really - I'm in the city. Not interesting biologically!
  • D) yes
  • E) -
  • F) I know them! I took my botany here -

How interested would you be in going online to get a list of the species found in a given area?

  • A) That'd be interesting - to know what has actually been seen there - no guarantee - but that'd be good for the kids. Yeah, a natural history museum ONLINE would be great - spend your lunch hour looking at things - getting away from what you're working on... Joe Dimaggio memorabilia museum in Martinez.. I like museums, history, getting away.
    Q: Does the Yosemite project appeal to you [I described it briefly]? Yeah, that would be interesting - like the guys doing John Steinbeck's trip again...
  • B) yes...If it's updated continuously & a lot of people contributing to it - very up-to-date - that would be useful - if a new plant discovered, & you could know right now - like the rare bird spotting lists...
  • C) yes
  • D) -
  • E) I'm interested in knowing what can be found in this area, what's been seen recently....
  • F) Yeah - great!! species lists are hard to obtain! I'd want a checklist - what's here!

How specific should the "area" be?

  • A) I usually hike 3-4 miles, so something in that area...
  • B) [specific enough to find the plants again]
  • C) county-specific, city specific
  • D) a trail region - like "Diablo region" or in palo alto - "windy hill" - ~ 1500 acres... covered about 5 different hikes - any more general would be too general... if you could do it by trail, that would be cool...
  • E) -
  • F) by acre - I know the habitat type my plant lives in - seepage areas in the sun - just give me the general area & I'll find it.

How interested would you be in some indication of what might be happening (blooming, reproducing) at this time of year?

  • A) That would be great! I know what happens here pretty much - October get tarantulas, spring wildflowers, winter get rain, summer get heat. Helps me interpret things to people - "we want to take a hike & what can we see - " would be good to have someone dig it out & print it out before hand - b/c we don't even have a phone line - being knowledgeable about what's happening & share that with people. It's good to see the kids out - makes my day.
    Q: What do the kids like? Butterflies, wildflowers, getting out & getting exercise...
  • B) [yes - and what's developing seeds]
  • C) yes, that's definitely interesting.
  • D) that would be invaluable! The problem with the list of 200 flowers is that there are too many - I hike windy hill 2-3 times per week - each time I go there is a different flower! & other things have disappeared - I find it hard to remember when I go back to the website -It would be great if the website gave me a short list based on what is likely -
  • E) -
  • F) yes! for the birds - which I don't know as well -

Would you be interested in online keys to help identify things you saw on your hike/bike?

  • A) -
  • B) Entomology - I see all kinds of interesting beetles & flowers - would be nice to ID them - I don't have good beetle manuals...if I had a reference manual with the info, I'd use the manual instead. The only advantage of the computer would be better indexing than the book could provide -
  • C) Yes
  • D) yes.... not interested in identification that feels like a quiz... yes for something that helped identify the most common ones - moving or not = animal - visual is good - "more like this" "more like that" - pictures to choose between would be good. Q: Are you interested in knowing native vs. not ? yes -
  • E) yes...some sort of expert system to help would be nice - asking which features, did it have this, did it have that - usually I browse through the field guide until I find some insects with a similar structure, for example, to the one I saw..
  • F) keying plants really helps me learn them -

What information would you like about those things? pictures? common names? species accounts? distribution of those species? abundance? likelihood of seeing at this time of year? anything else?

  • A) picture & synopsis what time of year it is active, what it does - is it caterpillar turning into a butterfly - a little bit about it.
  • B) Especially pictures & ID help - I have the Jepson Manual & can go through keys but the pictures help a lot too.
    Any help on IDing - tips for differentiating two species in the area, taxonomy....and what time of year the seeds develop... that's never written down anywhere. I'm also interested in growing natives & using them in landscaping - any tips on being successful with different species would be interesting...I'm interested in traditional ethnobotany in the area - what species were used for what kinds of treatments - or food or whatever - what were they used for.
  • C) color of the male & female, habitat what plants they eat, the habitat they live in, if they are migratory.. nocturnal or diurnal; their habits, their behavior, their ecology, mating behavior, gregarious or solitary... Q: distribution? yes. Q:likelihood? yeah.
  • D) They always have the 'best' picture - would be good to see pictures of the rest of the plant, of the flower at different stages - in a few different lights , seeing the plant context - looking at more than the perfect flower in a field of green - even better if you could smell them.
  • E) -
  • F) the most helpful bird guides are the checklists - and are the ones with the time-of-year abundance curves - [the graphic shows] darker when they are there, [lighter when not].

Would you be interested in an interface that uses cookies to remember the places you've looked up before, and the types of things you are interested in?

  • A) fine.
  • B) I use an older browser - Netscape 4.73 - but eBay can't get their browser act together & it causes lots of problems - [the cookies would be OK] as long as it doesn't generate ads & spread info to other sites.
  • C) I wouldn't mind. That might limit where you could consult the site from - some work sites would give you error message when the site wanted you to accept the cookie.
  • D) Yes - that would be fine.
  • E) -
  • F) -

How often do you think you might use this?

  • A) once or twice a month.
  • B) -
  • C) a few times a year.
  • D) if it did all that I described - I'd probably go once a week. If not, might be one-visit...
  • E) -
  • F) once - just before I went to a place.

Would you be interested in a palm/phone application to help identify species (trees, wildflowers) or display a map of the area(trails, points of interest, landmarks)?

  • A) probably not - not good access - Q: Even if standalone? I don't have one.... yeah, if I could borrow one... if the cost wasn't too great. Don't want to spend $300 bucks looking up things!
  • B) I have a GPS unit - I can record locations so I can find stuff later... the PDA is too intrusive - they direct me, I don't want someone to call me -
  • C) neat idea - but I don't have one, so I wouldn't use it. Q: If the interpretive center had one, would you borrow it? A: yes! but I can't imagine the state of CA having the money for that...
  • D) no - I'm pretty low tech when I hike - not liking to fool around with gadgets.
  • E) yeah - that'd be cool - I have a PDA in a drawer that I don't use, that would be a good use for it.
  • F) I've tried it - the bird songs work for me, but the other ones I haven't found to be helpful - the light is hard [hard to see content on the monitors in the sunlight], the batteries run out -

Museum scientists compare the distribution of specimens with climate and ecological data to understand what conditions the organisms live in, and use this to predict their distributions. Would you be interested in an online activity that allowed you to do this, too?

  • A) probably not.
  • B) Yea - that's cool - I'd really be interested in that - there are lots of plants that only occur in one or two places in CC & Alameda county - it would be neat to identify other places to look for them - the manual tells you where the plants occur, but there's nothing that tells you where else these conditions occur. It would have to be free -
  • C) -
  • D) that would be kind of interesting - that little flower, the forget me not - it would be interesting to see if there is another hike I could go on that would have that - Also interested in if this is a common flower, or is it pretty rare -
  • E) that sounds neat if I had a research tasks that needed it, but I don't have any personal reason to do that...
  • F) Yeah - cool! Right know there's such a learning curve [for that type of software]- I don't know that much about it. It's a whole lot of time that needs to be dedicated to it.

Anything else?

  • A) if it could be parallel - a combo of information about the trail up-ahead & the things you're going to see up there - not just for bugs & wildflowers, but about the trail & all the different organisms - the whole thing! tell me about altitude, incorporate GPS so you know where you're at - if you're going to go that fancy.
    What people need to know is, If I go over & touch that tree & step on that snake, am I going to die?
    Really Fancy idea - can I run the DNA of some tree bark & tell what it is - although that takes the adventure out of it.
  • B) I'd like to be able to look up locations of unusual plants, or even usual native plants - by species, or by location & see all the unusual plants at that location.
  • C) that would be a rich resource - as we've talked about it...
  • D)
    • I would be doing all of this while I should be working - so the threshold of interest is pretty low - I'm a lawyer - for SRI international - research & development - we have a lot of speech recognition software...
    • it would be great for the birds if you had a little sample of what they sounded like -
    • Q: would you contribute sightings? my wife & I saw a bob cat - would be cool to add what we've sighted - at x time on the xyz trail - yes, I'd definitely read what other people put, and I could maybe see myself contributing...
    • the museum - could have a special class to tie into the website - have a special class where an expert helps with identifications of birds - & how to use the website - Palo Alto environmental group - Citizen Stream Keeper - 1/2 day class, learn about a stretch of a creek, you're assigned it - go out once-a month - if you see something, call this number .... They gave us a thermometer to test the water - though didn't tell us how to use it, so I haven't unpacked it...
    • topographic maps of these areas so you can plan out your hikes better - that would be awesome - if that were on the website, that would be awesome...
    • It would also be cool if you linked it to other museums that were doing similar things - covering other states... or to the forest service...
  • E) Would be great to have the topographic map online - I did go looking for that - I'm also very interested in the mining history in this region and how that correlates to what I see on the trails - sometimes I see caves and things that look like tailings, and I'd like to know more...
  • F) what's most helpful for me are the plant-lists for an area - species names, usually I'll have a key to a state - then having the plant list for the area helps you narrow it down.