This semester takes place in the Colorado Plateau region of the American Southwest, on successive explorations of Horseshoe Canyon, Dirty Devil Canyon, Hopi Reservation, Navajo Reservation, Dark Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyon along the Green River. Throughout the semester, students and instructors visit a variety of communities, meet with guest speakers, and tour sites relevant to the course curriculum. The semester begins and ends in Green River, Utah.
15 total credits:
All courses offered through the Wild Rockies Field Institute are accredited through the University of Montana and the School for Extended and Lifelong Learning. Each Wild Rockies Field Institute course is approved and supported by University of Montana departmental leadership and faculty.
The “Colorado Plateau” semester offers five independent courses, each worth 3 semester credits, for a total of 15 credits earned for successfully completing the program.
For colleges and universities on quarter-system calendars, each of the five courses is worth 4.5 quarter-system credits, for a total of 22.5 credits upon successful completion of the program.
Colorado Plateau Course Description
The Colorado Plateau semester entails a combination of backcountry expeditions, meetings with guest speakers, and site visits. The course is split into five sections, each lasting between 10-12 days. Approximately two-thirds of the course is spent in the backcountry, traveling across the landscape. The remaining one-third of the course duration is spent engaging with community members in the region.
Between sections the group will visit small towns and meet with a variety of local citizens, land managers, tribal members, scientists, elected officials, farmers, recreationists, and ranchers. These guest speakers expose students to diverse perspectives on the landscapes and cultures of the area. The days between sections are used to re-supply the course with food and other supplies. Typically, students have the opportunity to receive mail, check email, take showers, buy personal food and do laundry between each section. There is also a course recess approximately half way through the course in which students and instructors get a brief break from the rigors of traveling and academics.
Section One: Horseshoe Canyon | Backpacking
On the Horseshoe Canyon section, we begin our intensive study of the ecological interactions and geological phenomena that make this region unique, and contemplate the lives and livelihoods of the indigenous people who lived here as we observe their rock art and other artifacts.
Section Two: Dirty Devil Canyon | Backpacking
The adventurous Dirty Devil backpack extends explorations from Horseshoe Canyon, with a greater emphasis on geology, mining history and fossil fuel extraction, paleontology, and regional land-use history.
Section Three: Front Country | Road Trip in the WRFI Van
Following the extended backcountry trips, we spend two weeks in the front-country meeting with more guest speakers representing a wide array of expertise and views including restoration ecologists, environmental activists, journalists, agency officials, and historians. We visit archaeological sites, do homestays on the Navajo and Hopi Reservations, visit Glen Canyon Dam, tour coal mines and power plants, among other activities.
Section Four: Dark Canyon | Backpacking
Our final backcountry section takes place in the Dark Canyon Primitive and Wilderness Areas. The backpack trip will take us through the spectrum of regional ecological communities, from montane aspens and pines to recovering deserts on the receding shore of Lake Powell. A rich array of ancient ruins highlights the long human inhabitation of this area, and current land-use issues are evident as we pass through different land management regimes. We finish with an ascent of a peak in the Abajo Range, for a literal overview of our explorations for the last two months on the Colorado Plateau.
Section Five: Labyrinth Canyon | Canoeing
The Labyrinth Canyon canoe trip provides a change of pace from backpacking, and concentrates on riverine and riparian ecology, water policy, bioregional history, and sense of place.
In addition to the academic topics mentioned above, throughout the course students learn and cultivate skills of wilderness travel, minimum impact camping, orienteering, and natural history.
For the five weeks prior to the field section of the course, students are assigned introductory readings and assignments. They will participate in online discussions in preparation for the field experience. These readings address the basics of regional flora, fauna, geology, and cultural history of the Colorado Plateau. They also introduce students to current events and issues. Assignments include writing introductory personal essays, researching current events, reading classic southwest literature, and writing responses to readings and instructor prompts. Following the field portion of the course, students will have one week to type and revise their final assignment.