February 15, 2014: California’s Drought, Inside the Human Brain, a 1,000 Mile Desert Trek and More

California is having the worst drought in 500 years. Climatologists discover that the 20th century was wetter than average, and that the climate is now shifting back to drier conditions.  (Photo by James Stanfield / National Geographic)
California is having the worst drought in 500 years. Climatologists discover that the 20th century was wetter than average, and that the climate is now shifting back to drier conditions. (Photo by James Stanfield / National Geographic)

Every week, embark with host Boyd Matson on an exploration of the latest discoveries and interviews with some of the most fascinating people on the planet, on National Geographic Weekend.

Please check listings near you to find the best way to listen to National Geographic Weekend on radio, or listen below!


Hour 1

– Inspired by Wilfred Thesiger, long distance hikers Leon McCarron & Alistair Humphreys trek 1,000 miles through the Empty Quarter Desert in Oman. To record their journey, the pair created a film titled Into the Empty Quarter, which highlights their struggle through the desert, including dragging an unwieldy cart overflowing with supplies. Despite trials of extreme heat, cold nights and losing their sleeping pads on the first day, the most memorable part was the kindness of locals who brought them ice cream in the middle of the desert. Listen here.

–  In China there is a town called Shangri La which is the Chinese equivalent of Disneyland. National Geographic Writer Scott Wallace forgoes the tourist town to follow his late grandfather’s quest for the real Shangri La – a “lost tribe” hidden in the Eastern Himalayas. Though he didn’t confirm whether his grandfather’s discovery of the mythical civilization was true or tall tale, the trip brought him closer to his grandfather’s past. Scott then recounts his trip to Brazil where he discovered a previously uncontacted tribe in the Amazon rainforest. Listen here.

– California is in the middle of the worst drought in 500 years. Paleo-climatologist Lynn Ingram at California UC Berkley studies tree rings and soil samples to investigate past drought conditions. The worst was back in 1580. Her findings show that the 20th century was wetter than average, and that the climate is now shifting back to drier conditions. Smaller communities could run dry as population and development continues to grow. Water awareness is needed to mitigate current and future problems. Listen here.

– Trust is important when following a tracker through the African bush. Chief Ranger Dierdre Opie takes Boyd on an adventure following tracks and droppings to find rhinos. With their large size, rhinos should be easy to track in Kruger National Park, but following footprints in the thick brush won’t always lead you to them.  Dierdre says it takes 5 or more years to become a master tracker, and shares that she has been charged by quite a few species you wouldn’t want to tangle with. Listen here.

– Searching for authenticity in Chinatowns in American cities, writer of the book American Chinatown, Bonnie Tsui explores these Chinese cultural centers which are found in many large cities across the US and the world. Expecting to find a tourist fabrication in Las Vegas’ Chinatown, she found the authentic Chinese experience she was hoping for. Listen here.

Hour 2

– Photographer and National Geographic Traveler of the Year, Alison Wright “Tries to be aware of every breath” after a near death accident in Laos.  A collision left her unconscious with half a severed arm, a heart and a broken back. Alison recounts her story of the heroic strangers who attended to her and the villagers who sowed up her arm in the book Learning to Breathe. She created the Faces of Hope Fund to support woman’s and children’s rights around the world. All inspired by the idea of the kindness of strangers. Listen here.
– The March 2014 National Geographic Magazine cover story “New Science of the Brain” written by Carl Zimmer, highlights how scientists are creating a road map of the brain. Researchers are finding billions of neurons create complex pathways of communication. Some of these neurons are specific to recognize an individual’s name and face. Brain mapping hopes to uncover how the brain processes information and ultimately find a cure for neurological conditions including Alzheimer’s and autism. Listen here.

Vladimir Zhelvis, Professor of Linguistics and author of Xenophobes Guide to the Russians, explains the difference in Russian and American social interactions. While Americans smile during a friendly greeting, Russians only smile when there is a good reason to. Further, Russians do not have a personal space bubble like Americans. So huddle close to ask that personal question and then slap them on the back after telling that joke that will hopefully make them roar with laughter. Listen here.

– When people are looking for a long term partner in life, sometimes their top criterion for suitable dates is based on physical attraction and material wealth. Ty Tashiro, author of the book – The Science of Happily Ever After, tells Boyd the secrets to a lasting relationship and why 66% relationships fail. Often they fail because we choose the “wrong person from start.” Look for someone who is stable, selfless, and kind, and matching your interests and values is more important that matching your personality. Listen here.

– On this week’s Wild Chronicles, Boyd tells his stories about injuries in the field. While out on assignment, sometimes medical help is hours away. During his first National Geographic trip in Africa, several radio calls to a distant doctor office were needed to diagnose a foot problem, and in Chile, his arm needed resetting after a motorcycle accident. Listen here.


Meet the Author
Justin O'Neill produces the weekly radio program National Geographic Weekend with host Boyd Matson. Check it out on on SiriusXM satellite radio (XM channel 133 Sundays at noon), subscribe to the iTunes podcast, or stream it directly to your smartphone with Stitcher Radio.