students at a campfire

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.

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Food on the Road

October 14, 2017

Naomi Shapiro

One of the main worries I had before beginning the expedition was food—How are 17 people going to possibly be able to eat with any degree of mindfulness while on the road? The typical outdoor program menus are pasta heavy, and not exactly sustainable for 84 days. These fears were quickly quelled. 10 of the 17 of us are vegetarian and/or vegan leaning, and all of us care a lot about the food we are eating. This is not to say that we haven’t consumed our weight in trail mix and Oreos (which are vegan in case you were wondering), but we have also had the opportunity to eat a wide variety of locally sourced foods all along the way.

While in Yellowstone, we talked to some of the park biologists about fish management. In the 1940’s, Lake Trout were introduced to the park. This aggressive species kills off the native Cutthroat Trout. Part of the management plan involves contracting commercial fishing companies to catch Lake Trout, as well as encouraging anglers to fish for this species. Anglers are actually required to kill any Lake Trout that they may catch. These methods are all in an attempt to try to protect native Cutthroat numbers. A few days after our meeting with the biologists, a few of us had dinner at a cafe in Cody, Wyoming. I had a lovely trout salad with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. We were able to talk with the restaurant’s buyer about where it came from. Although not a Yellowstone Lake Trout, it came from Colorado, where stocked fish outcompeting native trout is also an issue. It has been interesting being on the road and being able to see the impacts our food choices have on the issues we have been learning about.

Freshly Picked Onion

The Methow Valley is a Mecca for fresh organic fruits and vegetables. During our stay, we had a couple of opportunities to get our hands dirty and harvest the vegetables we would cook for dinner. One afternoon, we picked onions on a family-run organic farm, and were able to see first-hand some of the struggles of running operation without the resources of a large farm. The Methow Conservancy, a land trust, has a program that helps farmers in the area find affordable farmland and supplements, some of the resources they lack. They matched us, a group of volunteer laborers, to assist during one of the busiest harvest times of the year. Having local produce is a priority for this community, and it was very cool to see how they have come together to make it accessible. The farmers sent us home with freshly harvested potatoes and garlic that we supplemented with carrots and onions from the garden of artist and friend of the expedition, Tori Karpenko to make a delicious hearty soup.

Washing Some Carrots

All of us in the van were involved in the cooking process. We formed rotating cook groups that were in charge of planning and then cooking meals. Being on the road and learning more about the issues surrounding food in the areas we’re visiting has allowed us to have conversations about how we feed ourselves.

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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

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