students sitting around a campsite fire

Westminster Expedition

During the Fall 2021 semester, 16 students, led by a program assistant and faculty members Jeff Nichols, history professor, and Brent Olson, environmental studies associate professor, 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.

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

You will earn 16 credits while visiting iconic, protected sites like Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks, contentious places like the Hanford Site and Bears Ears National Monument, working landscapes like the Butte Copper Mines, and communities from present-day Native nations to "New West" towns like Bend, Twisp, and Moab.

two female students playing in a light snow in the mountains

students gathered around a container of soil collected from a learning site

The Route

The proposed route is an enormous figure eight. Before fall break, the expedition will head to the Pacific Northwest. After fall break, the expedition will head to the southwest. The expedition will return to Salt Lake City just before Thanksgiving. States to be visited include Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah.

The stops of the expedition were selected for their potential to teach profound lessons about humanity’s relationship to the environments of the West and the chance a stop provides to meet people who can teach students to live in the landscape in new ways.

Course-related stops include:

  • Sites of environmental/cultural conflict or cooperation like the Holden Mine; Klamath River dams; the Berkeley Pit, Coeur d'Alene, the border with Mexico, and Los Alamos
  • National parks and monuments like Yellowstone, North Cascades, Glacier, Organ Pipe, Great Basin, Mesa Verde, and Bears Ears
  • Wilderness areas like Bob Marshall and Glacier Peak
  • Native nations and sites like Burns Paiute, The Dalles, the Nez Perce trail, and Hopi
  • Dam sites like Teton, Grand Coulee, Hoover, Snake River
  • Relevant towns/cities like Winthrop, Bozeman, Bend, Cody, Moab, Winthrop, Page, and Flagstaff

Follow Along

Dispatches from the Expedition

expedition trailer driving down freeway in mountains

Desert's teaching

pixelated painting of woman's face and hand up close portrait placeholder   Dec. 05, 2021

water snacks sticking up out of sea floor

The Designation of Places
We’re back from our time on the road, but we’ll keep publishing some reflections as we wrap up the semester.

selfie of Lilli Eckberg and female friendLilli Eckberg   Dec. 3, 2021


View Journal Entries from this year's expedition →View Journal Entries From THe first expedition →

student wearing a hat and smiling while sitting in red rock desert

Information for Enrolled Students

Planning Your Trip

You will live closely with your peers as a traveling community of scholars, with everyone actively contributing to the community. You can expect to build lasting friendships and profound memories while on the expedition.

About 4 of every 5 days will be spent camping, with the fifth day spent in a motel/lodge. At each stop, you will meet with residents and experts (Native leaders, writers, scholars, activists, elected officials, and government land managers) and will sometimes perform services for the community, such as wilderness trail maintenance. About every 2 weeks, the expedition will visit a larger “city.”

You will be expected to bring versatile, outdoor clothing for weather from warm sun to snow, as well as a sleeping bag and sleeping pad. A week’s worth of clean clothes should be enough to use between laundry stops. You may also want to bring a camera, games, music for the van, etc. A complete packing list will be provided later in the spring.

Group gear such as cooking and dining equipment, tents, etc., will be provided by Westminster. Most meals will be prepared by you and your peers using this equipment. When you are in town, you will have a stipend you can use to find food on your own.

Maintaining a healthy and safe atmosphere and committing to accessibility is a top priority of the expedition. While you will be camping on the trip, and may take hikes, this trip is not a wilderness outdoor recreation trip. You will never be far from the vans or medical care. At least 1 member of the leadership team will be a wilderness first responder, and the other members of the team will be wilderness first aid certified. If necessary, medications can be kept cool, and regular access to medical care can be provided. If you have dietary restrictions, they can be accommodated. Keep in mind that this trip may also be emotionally challenging for you at times.

The expedition will work on off-setting the trip’s entire carbon footprint. More info will be available on this later.

Course Descriptions

The expedition is designed as an exploration into the issues at the heart of the contemporary West. You will earn 16 credits from courses in the Environmental Studies and History programs, which can be applied towards a degree in those programs. The course History of Public Lands can fulfill your Writing Emphasis course requirement, and the course The Native West can fulfill your Engaging the World requirement for WCore. Honors College students can also choose to take the course Landscape and Meaning as an Honors seminar course.

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.


Community and shared learning are important parts of the expedition. A portion of your grade will be earned by your participation in all parts of the expedition.

Before departing on the trip, you will do some reading during the summer. During the trip, you will be expected to keep a journal in which you will record and reflect upon what you learn and do each day. Along the route, everyone will present short, informal vignettes about people, events, and places along the route. You will also work on other assignments such as interviews and will be responsible for doing some short writings for the web and social media.

Upon returning from the trip, you will complete a story map, a photographic essay, and a research paper on a topic of your choice that was identified during the expedition.

Costs and Financial Aid

Applications will be due March 1, 2020 and applicants will hear something by March 8, 2020. Deposits and financial agreements will be due at the time of registration (March 30).

The cost for the semester (in addition to your Westminster tuition) is $6,800 (including a $500 deposit), which covers all of your transportation, lodging, food, programming, guest speakers, park and museum entry fees, etc. This cost replaces and is similar to on-campus housing and meal plan costs for the semester (or off-campus living estimates included in financial aid calculations). The course fee will be due before the first day of classes.

There are some funds available for need-based aid to partially cover the fees for the expedition. You do not have to do anything to apply for this aid. After it is determined who will be going on the expedition, the names will be forwarded to the financial aid office who will adjust the course fee based on your FAFSA information. It is intended that your specific financial obligation will be back to you before you register for the expedition.

two students exploring in a river

students around a campfire

Share your memorable moments.

Learning beyond the classroom can be a truly transformative experience. Sharing those experiences invites, inspires, and encourages others to step outside their comfort zones and try something new. Whether you’re embarking on a Field Semester, Expedition, May Term Study Experience, or Non-Credit Trip, follow a few tips for sharing your experience on social media.

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