Westminster Expedition Students in the Open American West

During the 2017 Fall Semester, 14 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.

Meet the Expedition

Learn More About the Students and Faculty on the Expedition

Read the Latest Journal Entry

The Unofficial Mayor of Gardiner, Montana

August 30, 2017

Kara Kornhauser

This afternoon, while wandering around Gardiner, Montana, I had a fascinating conversation with a man named Joe in a coffee shop. Joe was probably around 90 years old, and was willing to share some of his life experiences with me and a few others. I struck up conversation with him by asking what he did for a living and how he ended up in Gardiner. He told us that he had come here working for the railroad. He had been transferred to many places around the country and this had been his fourth time in Gardiner. He began working for the railroad company in Washington in 1954 and was hired after taking interest in the telegraph that they had in the railroad office. Once he was in Gardiner, he took people into Yellowstone on the train. He said that he enjoyed taking new groups of people to the park to see the wonder on everyone’s face. While he did like working for the railroad, he said that his first job running a dairy queen was by far his favorite. Joe Worked on the railroad in Yellowstone until 1975 when it was shut down and eventually torn out. He remained in Gardiner as their unofficial mayor, taking care of the town and making sure that the chamber of commerce fixed road signs, cut weeds and took care of things in general. Everyone in Gardiner seemed to know Joe and appreciate his spirit and care for the town and the people that live there.

My chat with Joe reminded me that everyone has a story, and if you never ask you may miss something amazing. Joe’s experience with the railroad also reminded me that along with helping settle the west, the railroads made places like Yellowstone accessible to more people. While this can be viewed as a positive and negative impact to Yellowstone and the west in general, it poses the question of who should be able to see these wonders and how accessible natural places should be.

If you want to know more about the railroad that used to run through Yellowstone National Park, follow the link.

View All Journal Entries →

Expedition in the News

Two people on a canoe
Group of Students around Campfire

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

Course Descriptions


Follow the Expedition's Progress