MNA Courtyard App

San Francisco Peaks from Fern Mountain.

San Francisco Peaks from Fern Mountain.

MNA Courtyard App

GKC Geoscience  won the contract to develop a downloadable app in support of the major renovation of the Jaime Major Golightly Courtyard at the Museum of Northern Arizona.  Darryl Brown and his crew at 2b design and development in Flagstaff have subcontracted to do the programming and help with the design of the app, while GKC Geoscience is responsible for content. The beta version of the app is finally available as a free download! For Android devices go to Google Play (or equivalent) and search under Apps for MNA Courtyard. On iTunes you need to search for Museum of Northern Arizona Courtyard. Please post any feedback you have right on this page. This is a beta version after all, so we expect suggestions for improvements before 1.0 comes out.

The Courtyard

When the original museum building was constructed in the 1930’s, the courtyard was divided into four planters, and each was planted with different trees and shrubs to represent the four major life zones observed in Northern Arizona’s forests.  A number of interesting rock specimens were also embedded directly in the building’s walls.  Signage was minimal, and over time several of the trees grew so large and sick that they threatened to topple over onto the museum roof.  Uneven stone work and poor drainage also made for poor handicapped access. The renovation is currently 90% complete, and is a huge improvement over the original.  One juniper and two Ponderosa pines were preserved, while all of the other trees have been replaced with young, healthy specimens.  Each planter now is at a different height, which represents the order of elevation of the four forest life zones.  We now have a water feature in the center of the courtyard, which should be up and running when final touches are applied in spring 2014.

Purpose of the App

  • To provide greater depth and breadth of information than on traditional museum signage.  The Museum of Northern Arizona is not a zoo, yet it’s relatively easy to include local animals within an app, as well as additional plants characteristic of our forests for which there was no room in the planters.  Only one of the rock slabs even has a label at this point, an omission easily remedied with an app.  Visitors will also have immediate access to more information in areas of interest.
  • Audio and video.  Rustling aspens, chattering blue jays, and even singing dinosaurs can be added to the museum experience at relatively little cost.  With headphones, visitors that prefer a lively experience will not disturb those who prefer quiet contemplation.
  • Interactivity, particularly for kids.  MNA is a museum that welcomes all comers, and surveys have indicated that a lack of interactivity is a major shortcoming for younger visitors.  With an app we can take an experimental approach to designing an interactive experience, and quickly swap out things that don’t work for things that do.
  • Connection to the Northern Arizona Landscape.  There’s no reason the museum experience should end when you walk out the door.  In the app we will attempt to connect the planters to experiences in the natural landscape.


In the lean entrepreneurship movement a key element is the “Minimum Viable Product,” or MVP.  The idea is to put something together quickly that works well enough to produce useful feedback, rather than spending large amounts of money on a polished final product that may have no market.  We’ve adopted this model for the Courtyard App.  The beta version of the app has been published.  Initially almost all of the content will have been produced in house, with some public domain images from the Forest Service and National Park Service filling in where GKC Geoscience has none available. These images serve as what the tech geeks call a “stub,” a relevant content placeholder that can easily be replaced in the final version.  Almost all of the narration and written explanation is provided by Dr. Colbath in this initial version. We would like to solicit feedback from museum visitors, and especially from the curators, staff, docents and volunteers at the museum.  A short video explaining how to download the app and the proposed review process is available here. We expect that many of the images, plus most of the narration will be replaced by material solicited from these folks for the 1.0 version of the app, with scheduled release in the summer of 2015.

Source Material

On Line


  • Springer, J.D, Daniels, M.L. and Nazaire, M., 2009. Field Guide to Forest and Mountain Plants of Northern Arizona. Ecological Restoration Institute, Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ, 649 p.
  • Corman, T.E. and Wise-Gervais, C. (eds), 2005. Arizona Bird Breeding Atlas. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 646 p. This volume can be consulted using Google Books, although most of the illustrations are omitted.
  • Blakey, R. and Ranney, W., 2008. Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. Grand Canyon Association, Arizona, 156 p.

App versus Web Page

Do we really need an app to support the courtyard, or will a dedicated web page do? Click on the link to pull up a test web page to see how it looks on your phone or tablet.

Ponderosa Pine Zone

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.