Instructor Biographies

text: The Grand Canyon Field Institute

Instructor Biographies

Expert Field Instructors

Grand Canyon Association Field Institute is proud of its outstanding team of instructors. Made up of resource experts possessing PhD's, Masters, and Bachelors degrees, our instructors continually share their passion for Grand Canyon with others. The following is a list of instructors that will likely be leading classes during the upcoming season.

If the class description lists the instructor as “Field Institute staff,” one of the following instructors will serve in that capacity. Preclass materials will indicate which instructor has been scheduled for your class, or you can call the Field Institute office for the latest information on specific assignments. All instructors listed, with the exception of Mike Buchheit, Jack Pennington, Elaine Maier, and Jennifer Allen, are acting as independent contractors while leading courses and performing duties for the Field Institute. Mike, Jack, Elaine, and Jennifer are full-time employees of the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute.

Listed alphabetically by last name.
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Haley Johnson

Haley’s first Grand Canyon experience was at the age of ten. She passionately recalls witnessing her very first sunrise during that trip. Since then, the lure of the Canyon has drawn her back many times and now this is where her hat hangs.

If she is not day hiking in the Canyon or on a multi-day backpacking trip, Haley is most likely to be found with her nose in a history or geology book, “There is always something new to learn.” An infinite Grand Canyon library could not quench her thirst for knowledge and she revels in sharing during her canyon hikes.

If asked about her favorite Grand Canyon subject she would answer, “Everything… but it’s the little things, the minutiae, that really catch my eye.”

Lisa Kearsley

Lisa Kearsley came to love the Grand Canyon spending her childhood summers on the North Rim while her father studied Kaibab squirrels. She finally was able to move to Arizona in the 1980’s to earn a master’s degree in biology at Northern Arizona University. And, like many who have come to Arizona, she never left.

She has worked for the National Park Service at Grand Canyon as an interpretive park ranger and as a researcher, studying vegetation trends and the effects of Glen Canyon Dam on river campsites. Her love of river running drew her to Utah’s San Juan River, which prompted her to write and publish the San Juan River Guide, a comprehensive guidebook for river runners. In addition to leading backpack trips with the Field Institute, she leads outdoor education trips and provides lectures on the Colorado Plateau for Road Scholar, works intermittently for the Park Service, and is a natural science illustrator.

Kory Kirchner

Kory is an Arizona native who quickly developed a love for the wilderness after his first backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon at 11 years old. He is an avid climber, backpacker, skier, paddler, photographer, and videographer. He attended Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona and completed a BS in geology. He continued his education at The University of Texas at Austin, where he earned his MS in geology. His research, studies, and teaching in the field of geology have taken him across the Western United States, Hawaii, Canada, Europe, South America, and Antarctica. He is always eager to learn about the geology of new places and to teach others about the planet we live on. His favorite spot in the Grand Canyon (so far) is the summit of Zoroaster Temple.

Gary Ladd

Gary Ladd is a freelance large-format photographer specializing on the wilderness interior of Grand Canyon, the surprisingly pristine sandstone landscapes surrounding Lake Powell and the slickrock terrains of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. His photographs have appeared in a variety of magazines and books including Life, Newsweek, Professional Photographer, National Geographic Adventure, Sierra Press books and National Geographic books. Gary’s awards include the 1997 gold, 1998 silver and 2005 silver Arizona Highways Awards for Best Photography of the Year and the 2004 Grand Canyon Historical Society’s Pioneer Award. Gary has lived in Page, Arizona, along the Colorado River for 27 years. He has led trips for the Museum of Northern Arizona, Sierra Club, Arizona Highways, Grand Circle Field School and Elderhostel. He has completed over 75 backpacking trips and over 30 river trips at Grand Canyon, and has rowed his wooden dory through the canyon numerous times since 1973.

Stewart W. Lasseter

Stewart W. Lasseter has been teaching and exploring in the Southwest and afar for more than 25 years. He came to Arizona for studies in Geosciences and Languages at The University of Arizona and stayed to explore the Southwest’s rich natural and archaeological history. He expanded his explorations throughout the Americas fascinated by all forms of self-impelled travel: rafting and kayaking in California, Wyoming, West Virginia and Patagonia, cycling treks in Europe, South America, and the Great West, and backpacking in mountains from Maine to Washington to Tierra del Fuego. Today you’ll find him facilitating adventure philanthropy projects and adventure-based educational programs in the US, Mexico, Chile, and Central America and consulting on stress management and wellness for students, corporate clients, and indigenous peoples.

Larry Lindahl

Larry Lindahl is a professional travel and nature photographer with images consistently published in international magazines, coffee table books, and scenic calendars.

His photography takes you deep into the American Southwest to witness breathtaking scenes from National Parks to life within Native American cultures. Books featuring his images exclusively include: New Mexico Kicks on Route 66 (2016), The Ancient Southwest: A Guide to Archaeological Sites, (2015), and Arizona Kicks on Route 66 (2012). His award-winning book, Secret Sedona: Sacred Moments in the Landscape, thoroughly explores the red rock wilderness through his vibrant photography and text. The books, Grand Reflections, Grand Canyon: The Vault of Heaven, and Lasting Light: 125 Years of Grand Canyon Photography, showcase his photography. Outdoor Photographer magazine (July 2016 issue) published his Grand Canyon photograph on the cover, and his article on photographing Grand Canyon.

Larry is also leads landscape and nature photography workshops with the Petrified Forest Field Institute, Sedona Arts Center, Enchantment Resort, and Sedona Photo Hikes. As an inspiring guest speaker Larry presents his work at photography conferences, book signings, camera clubs, and in television interviews.

Elaine Maier

Elaine Maier has spent much of her time backpacking and hiking the Southwest. For over 30 years, she has hiked extensively in the Grand Canyon. In 2004, she left the Phoenix area and moved to Grand Canyon to pursue her dream of becoming a Grand Canyon hiking guide. Elaine has worked as a trail guide, river guide and tour leader in the Southwest, and taught backpacking and hiking skills classes for several parks and recreation departments in the Phoenix area. When not on the trail with Field Institute participants, Elaine is in our office assisting instructors and students as they prepare for their journey into the Grand Canyon. She loves traveling with her husband on their motorcycle visiting historical places in the United States. At home, you would find her in her garden, sewing, working on a home improvement project, or walking her dogs.

Kate McHugh

Kate comes to Grand Canyon Association with over ten years of outdoor and environmental education experience across the west and Mexico. Kate is a native of Southern Arizona, and stays connected to the pulse of the desert by exploring Grand Canyon. After earning a BFA in Environmental Art in 2009, she found a passion for connecting people to their environment through experience. She has served as an instructor for the Northwest Outward Bound School, a field educator and administrator for NatureBridge: Yosemite and manager of The University of Arizona’s Outdoor Adventures program.

Melissa McMaster

Melissa McMaster was first enchanted by the red dirt of the Southwest at the age of ten while on a trip to Arizona with her grandparents. She earned her B.S. in Biology and Secondary Education from Utah State University and an M.S. in Forestry from Northern Arizona University. She came to the Grand Canyon in 2005 as a recipient of the Eugene Polk Fellowship and was an intern with the vegetation program. She continued to work for the park as a botanist until 2014. While working for Grand Canyon, she was the plant biologist for all vegetation programs in the backcountry. She developed and implemented the first large-scale riparian restoration project along the Colorado River at Granite Camp and led the charge for tamarisk removal in the side canyons for many years. She currently resides in Flagstaff and is working as a plant biologist on various vegetation projects throughout the Southwest. She loves sharing her passion for botanical wonders with others.

Kathleen “Keek” Mensing

It was 1962 on a family car trip “Out West” from Minnesota when Keek looked up through the towering pines that framed a snow-capped mountain out the windshield and decided, “I’m going to live out here.” She was 8. She attended the University of Montana and stayed in Missoula for 42 years, hiking, rafting, fishing, skiing, and loving and learning about The West.

Wanderlust won and she moved full-time into a small RV and hit the road for five years, destined to ramble through the most beautiful and remote places in America. Discovering the beauty and secrets of the Colorado Plateau became a passion in recent years, and Keek has settled down again to make the area her new home. She is honored and excited to be working at the Grand Canyon. She also has worked in the Everglades, Grand Teton, and Death Valley national parks as well as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Her professions as a journalist and a psychotherapist taught her the value of a good story told with heart. She delights in sharing facts and fascinating stories about the canyon and people who have called it home.