Westminster Expedition Students in the Open American West

Westminster Expedition

During the 2017 Fall Semester, 16 students, two professors, and a program coordinator will load books, camping gear, and themselves into a couple of vans and hit the road for a semester-long tour of the American West.

The trip is designed as an exploration into the issues at the heart of the contemporary West. Students will earn 16 credits in environmental studies and history as they study Environmental Cooperation and Conflict, Landscape and Meaning, the History of Public Lands, and the Native West.

This prolonged journey into the field will allow us to learn directly from landscapes and ecosystems, as well as from people who live, work, and study in those places. Together, we expect to build a cohort of impassioned scholars with a particular breadth and depth of experiential knowledge who are equipped to build a better future for the West.

We will visit iconic, protected sites like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, contentious places like the Little Bighorn and the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, working landscapes like the Butte Copper Mines, and communities from present-day Native nations to "New West" towns like Bend, Twisp, and Moab.

What to Expect

We plan to camp every four or five days, spending the fifth day in a motel or lodge. We've also scheduled a larger city visit every two weeks, or as weather dictates. At each site, we will meet with local residents and experts, including Native leaders, writers, scholars, activists, elected officials, and government land managers.

We will return to Salt Lake City for Fall Break before heading back on the road for the second half of the trip. Students will work on a variety of assignments—including photo essays, journals, interviews, essays, and longer research papers—many of which will be shared on social media as we travel, and presented publicly when we return to campus. While our itinerary is carefully planned, we'll also allow for the (safe and sane) serendipities of a good road trip.

The Route

Our proposed route is an enormous figure eight, heading northwest first (because of potential early winter weather) and including Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Course-related sites include sites of environmental/cultural conflict or cooperation (e.g., Malheur National Wildlife Refuge; East Tavaputs Plateau tar sands; Klamath River dams; the Berkeley Pit, the Nevada Test Site, Owens Lake); National Parks (e.g., Yellowstone, North Cascades, Olympic, Redwood, Grand Canyon, Great Basin); wilderness areas (e.g., Bob Marshall, Glacier Peak); Native nations and sites (e.g., Burns Paiute, Coast Salish, Miwok, the Nez Perce trail, Colville, Pyramid Lake, Hopi); dam sites (e.g., Teton, Grand Coulee, Hoover, Hetch Hetchy, Snake River); and relevant towns/cities (e.g., Bozeman, Bend, Cody, Moab, Winthrop, Page).

Expedition Route


Register for the Fall Expedition: April 3


In addition to your regular tuition fees, we expect the cost for the expedition will be $6,848 for each student. This is just a bit more than the college’s budget for room and board for students living off campus (but please see notes 2 and 3 below). A few notes about this fee:

  • The costs are all inclusive. They include meals, campsites, hotels, park entrance fees and other programing fees, transportation/etc.
  • The course fee will be listed by the school as a lodging and travel fee (akin to room and board) and so you will be able to use financial aid to cover the costs of the semester. We’re working with folks on campus to make this as seamless as possible.
  • We are actively fundraising for the trip in order to reduce this cost. As we have budgeted the trip, we have done so in a way that the costs of the trip will not increase, we do believe however that the costs may come down through fundraising efforts.
  • We want this trip to be available to as many people as possible, if you feel that costs will prohibit you from coming on the trip, please be in touch with us to see if there is something that we can arrange.
  • If you’d like to support students who want to go on the trip, please consider donating to the Go Fund Me page. All donations made there will go directly to reducing student costs.

Course Descriptions

This course will examine the link between the landscapes of the West and the cultural meanings attached to them. The natural landscapes that surround us contain a world of meaning. The earth is home, habitat, playground, resources, and waste-sink. It is seen as dangerous and peaceful, bountiful and depleted, crowded and open. How do we reconcile these contradictions? What do they mean in terms of the cultural and political ecologies of particular places? How do the cultural values we attach to natural landscapes challenge our understanding of their history and our own involvement in the natural world? By looking at the cultural geography of the environment we can analyze how the meanings of nature are actively created and why it is contested by different people in different places. And, perhaps most importantly, why it matters.

Native peoples inhabited all of the American West; today’s Native nations exercise sovereignty over fragments of their former territory. This course investigates the Native history of some of the West, based upon the expedition itinerary. We will visit contemporary Native nations and investigate their roles in land-use issues; meeting with Native peoples, public lands managers, scholars, and activists on our route.

In 1872, the US Congress declared the Yellowstone region the world’s first national park. In 1916, Congress created the National Park Service, which works to conserve the scenery, natural and historic objects, and wildlife found in our national parks. Today, the Park Service manages over 400 units with more than 20 different designations — including national parks, monuments, historical parks, military parks, preserves, recreation areas, seashores, parkways, lakeshores, and reserves — and nations around the world have created their own versions of national parks. In this course, we will investigate the implications of national parks on natural and human history.

Wars, ambushes, evictions, occupations, political and personal arguments, murders, and feuds. The environmental history of the West is full of conflict, but it is also full cooperation, agreement, help, love, encouragement, and collaboration. In this course, we will visit the sites of this conflict and cooperation. We will debate subjects, learn about the process, and work to understand the surrounding context.