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NPS Leadership spotlight: Anne Miller, geologist, paleontologist at Grand Canyon

I was actually born in Canada, but my family moved to Oklahoma when I was pretty young. I got my bachelor’s degree in geology from Oklahoma State University in 2013. After that, I worked with the American Geosciences Institute in Virginia for a summer and then started a year-long position on a trail crew with the Student Conservation Association, mostly in the Mojave Desert with a couple months in Klamath National Forest because, well, the desert is hot in the summer. The eight months I spent working and living in the Mojave contributed to my love of the desert environment. At first, it was a little intimidating sleeping outside with no barrier in a new environment, but I kept thinking: at least the ticks are minimal out here compared to Oklahoma.

I fell deeply in love with the desert flora and fauna, despite a not-so-pleasant encounter with a rattle snake while sitting on the groover (we called it a “rocket box”). I loved my experience there, but I was really craving something with geology. I eventually got a paleontology internship at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in the summer of 2015 where I documented dinosaur trackways in the Navajo sandstone and did research on erosion in the tropic shale to protect fossils like mosasaur bones and teeth. This is where I ultimately fell in love with paleontology, especially trace fossils.

Despite my fear of heights, I applied to a paleontology internship at GRCA starting in April of 2016 and have worked here ever since. I didn’t get over my fear of heights, but people call it a “healthy fear”, so I think it got better. At that time, the paleontology program was just a disorganized dataset with some photos previously run by interns, so I published a paper on how to better manage these resources, which prompted an entire renovation of the paleontology geodatabase with the help of our previous GIS program manager, Mark Nebel. I was able to get my master’s degree in geology from Northern Arizona University through a CESU agreement with Grand Canyon National Park. I was helping to develop and publish the Grand Canyon National Park Centennial Paleontological Resources Inventory Report while simultaneously writing and defending my master’s thesis in 2019. I survived. Mark was so enthralled with our progress in paleo, that he became my new supervisor – the program manager of the Geosciences Program. He is, after all, a professional geologist. Since then, the paleontology program here at GRCA has expanded tenfold. We’ve been hiring interns, discovering new species, working with world-renowned scientists, getting filmed in science documentaries and just recently, I led the park’s first ever paleontology-focused full NPS river mission!

How long have you worked at GRCA? Where are you based out of?

I started working at GRCA as a paleontology intern in April 2016 and have been here ever since through various internship renewals, CESU agreements, and finally as of March 2021, a federal term position. I am based out of Flagstaff.

What have you enjoyed the most about working and/or living at GRCA so far?

What I love most about working at GRCA, besides its amazing fossil resources, are all the great people that make this place feel like home. I find that our greatest ideas and accomplishments stem from working and brainstorming as a team.

Any summer adventures you’re looking forward to this year?

I am looking forward to visiting Paris with my sisters this summer! I love traveling overseas, but I also love to explore my local area for hiking, camping, and kayaking.

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