Wyoming Yellowstone Field Studies

This class uses a month of day hikes to explore the myriad natural resources in and around the greater Yellowstone region.  The first ten days focus on unravelling the forces that have produced the spectacular geology of the region as well as the underlying natural resources that plants, animals, and humans rely upon to survive.  The second ten days focus on the diverse ecosystems of the region, including those of the dry basins, the relatively wet mountains and plateaus, and the near-arctic conditions of the highest elevations of the Beartooth Plateau.  Particularly noteworthy is the diversity and abundance of birds, mammals, and wildflowers across the region.  The final third of the class focuses on public policy:  How should people best manage the natural resources of the area?  What should the roles of government and private enterprise be when it comes to hunting wolves and elk, exploiting petroleum and mineral resources, protecting wild areas, and making the natural wonders of Yellowstone and beyond accessible to visitors?  Students will see amazing geology, abundant wildlife, and difficult public policy issues, and they will come to appreciate the many ways in which the West is both geographically and culturally distinct from the East.

 

This class is open to all majors.

 

What You'll Accomplish

Enthusiastic members of our team will gain:

  • The skills needed to safely hike in a range of weather conditions.
  • The ability to see how and why geology affects the distribution of natural resources.
  • The ability to find and identify a host of plants and animals, and to understand their ecological associations.
  • The ability to understand opposing views when it comes to managing the natural resources of the West.

The class is run out of the K-Z Guest Ranch (http://www.kbarzguestranch.com/).  This ranch is—relatively speaking—centrally located:  It is about 30 minutes from Yellowstone National Park, 30 minutes from the high-elevation Beartooth Plateau, about 45 minutes from the hot and dry Bighorn Basin, and about an hour and a half from the nearest major towns of Cody, Wyoming, and Red Lodge, Montana.

You can see the location of the ranch within the beautiful Clarks Fork Canyon by clicking here:  https://goo.gl/maps/PSg7Xygruwq341vm6.  Because it is located within the Shoshone National Forest, right next to a lake and several wetlands, it hosts a diversity of birds, mammals, and plants.  Cody’s attractions include weekly amateur rodeos, a professional rodeo event in July, daily quick-draw shoot-outs, and four beautiful museums focusing on the Plains Indians, natural history, Buffalo Bill, and guns.  The lovely town of Red Lodge features (among other things) a wildlife rescue center with a number of animals that you otherwise are unlikely to see up close.  

 
Weather is still pretty unpredictable at this time of year near Yellowstone. Temperatures can average anywhere from 55-80 degrees during the day and drop down between 45 and 60 degrees at night. It is really important to make sure you bring a variety of clothes that you can layer with to stay warm and dry regardless of the weather. 
 

Where You'll Live

The field program is hosted at the K-Z Ranch http://www.kbarzguestranch.com/ located only 25 miles east of Yellowstone. You can expect the following at the lodge:

  • You will live either in log cabins that accommodate 2 to 4 students each or in a larger log structure with two large rooms, each of which host 5-6 people
  • All log structures feature hot-and-cold running water and showers
  • The main lodge of the guest ranch features a comfortable common area with a wood-burning stove, TV, games, and books
  • You will get three meals a day
    • Including a hot breakfast (with cold cereal, yogurt, etc.)
    • Supplies to make a bag lunch for the field excursion of the day
    • A delicious dinner cooked by the K Bar Z Staff
      • The family that runs this operation does an amazing job accommodating dietary restrictions. K-Z provides fully separate vegetarian or vegan meals . They are also able to accommodate wheat or dairy restrictions.

We do our best to provide the most accurate information about housing and amenities but due to the nature of the locations in which we offer programs and limited availability, these items are subject to change.  Contact your program manager with any questions. 

What You'll Study
Most instruction in this class takes place on field trips and day hikes that are specifically selected for their exceptional intellectual interest and spectacular natural beauty.  People who love nature and hiking often end each day with a feeling of euphoria that comes from seeing so many different plants, animals, and spectacular landscapes.  It can be hard for those of us living in the East to even imagine that such wilderness still exists!  Some instruction and discussions also take place in the K-Z Guest Ranch lodge.
 
The first ten days of the class will be taught by Pitt professor Dr. Bill Harbert.  He will lead you on a tour that begins with the oldest rocks in the region, which formed 2.7 billion years ago when chains of island volcanoes collided to build Wyoming, and ends with the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano and the ice-age glaciers that shaped much of the higher elevation landscapes.  By the end of this section you’ll be able to recognize the different rock units across the region and know why, for example, the badlands are bad for vegetation, why we find oil and gold were we do, and why some areas are wet while others are dry.  You will have an intimate feel for the geological processes that have shaped the region’s landscapes, and this will provide an important context for the next part of the class.
 
The second ten days will be taught by Pitt environmental science lecturer Dr. Kyle Whittinghill.  You will again visit the hot and dry Bighorn Basin, the cool and wet Absaroka Mountains and Yellowstone Plateau, and the near-arctic Beartooth Plateau, but now you will learn to find and identify the surprisingly high diversity of plants, birds, and mammals that live across the region.  The flowers alone are worth the price of admission!  You will also learn a lot about edible plants and their use by native peoples and the first Euro-Americans to move into the area.
 
The last ten days are taught by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette environment reporter and Pitt adjunct professor Don Hopey.  Hopey is an expert on environmental policy and how both sides see particular issues.  He will take you on yet another series of spectacular hikes, including a trip to the Tetons.  The West is a great place to explore policy issues because a lot of land is under Federal government control.  The debate between private enterprise and Federal control is thus real and has tangible consequences.  Moreover, a lot of people depend directly on limited natural resources for their living (whether it is water for agriculture, elk and deer for guided hunting tours, or visitors who come to see the unspoiled wilds of the region).  With the first two sections under your belt, you can competently address such questions as whether some national forest lands should be privatized or leased for mining, or whether the National Park Service was right to bring back wolves, which many blame for recent dramatic declines in elk populations (which people pay to hunt), or whether Yellowstone National Park should strive to accommodate more visitors.
 
 
Prerequisites
 
The class has no pre-requisites and accepts students from any academic major.  However, we can recommend several classes that will maximize what you get out of the Yellowstone field class.  
 
  • GEOL 0055 Geology Lab is excellent preparation for the geology section.  It is a two-credit lab class that introduces you to the basics of rock and mineral identification, map reading, geologic structures, and the origin of many of the landforms you will see on the trip.  
  • GEOL 1641 Ecosystem Ecology or BIOSC 0370 Ecology will give you a more sophisticated understanding of the processes going on in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem.  This will enable you derive more from your observations and to ask more probing questions of the instructor.
  • Finally, prior exposure to a class in environmental law, ethics, and/or issues will provide an excellent lens through which to view the issues confronting the Yellowstone region.
 
If you want to count this class towards a major, minor, or certificate, please meet with your academic advisor.  You can find whether this class counts toward a general education requirement for different schools and campuses by going here 
Yellowstone Field Class (GEOL1930)

This class uses a month of day hikes to explore the myriad natural resources in and around the greater Yellowstone region.  The first ten days focuses on unravelling the forces that have produced the spectacular geology of the region as well as the underlying natural resources that plants, animals, and humans need to make a living.  The biology section focuses on the diverse ecosystems of the region, including those of the dry basins, the relatively wet mountains and plateaus, and the near-arctic settings of the Beartooth Plateau.  Particularly noteworthy is the diversity and abundance of birds, mammals, and wildflowers across the region.  The final third of the class focuses on how people should best interact with the natural resources of the area.  What should the roles of government regulation and private enterprise be when it comes to hunting wolves and elk, exploiting petroleum and mineral resources, protecting wild areas, and making the natural wonders of Yellowstone and beyond accessible to tourists?  Students will see abundant wildlife, amazing geology, and come to appreciate the many ways in which the West is culturally distinct from the East.

Your Pitt Study Abroad Contacts

Tim Crawford

Hi Everyone! I’m Tim, a Program Manager here in the Study Abroad Office. I’m proud to be from a small town in Central PA but now love calling Pittsburgh home. My study abroad experience includes a semester in France during my sophomore year, Spring Break in London during Grad School and Summer in Italy as a Program Assistant. My experiences opened my eyes to the rest of the world and I’d love to help you take advantage of the numerous study abroad opportunities here at Pitt. Outside of the office, I’m always looking for the next adventure whether it’s exploring a new city or new neighborhood in PGH. I fully embrace the yinzer way of life and plan my schedule accordingly around every Pens, Bucs and Stillers game. I’d love to talk to you more about any of our study abroad programs and answer any of your questions. Please reach me at TSC29@pitt.edu or 412-648-2156.

Your In-Country Contacts

Dr. Bill Harbert

Dr. Bill Harbert is a professor of geophysics from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. William Harbert received his MS in Exploration Geophysics and Ph.D. in Geophysics from Stanford University. He is a life-time member of SEG, a registered professional petroleum geophysicist and member of AAPG and SPE. He has been a DOE ORISE Research Associate and a Resident Institute Fellow of the NETL-Institute for Advanced Energy Solution (IAES). He was a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the In Salah CO2 Injection Project facilitated by British Petroleum and is presently on the Altarock Review Board, which focuses on an enhanced geothermal power project funded by the United States Department of Energy. On this program Dr. Harbert teaches the geology section of the class.

Don Hopey

Don Hopey, instructor for Topics in Environmental Geology, has been covering environmental issues for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette since 1992. A Pittsburgh native and Indiana University of Pennsylvania graduate. He also holds a graduate degree in journalism from Pennsylvania State University.
He worked at The Pittsburgh Press for 12 years, and then was hired by the Post-Gazette. He has reported on an 80-mile canoe trip through the wild and scenic sections of the Allegheny River, the Wise-Use/Property Rights movement in Pennsylvania, and problems with the nation's hazardous waste incinerators. Other stories of note include investigative reports on how state Sen. William Slocum caused 12 years of sewage pollution on Brokenstraw Creek in Warren County; the intentional pollution of the Casselman River by Action Mining Co., which had a federal grant to clean it up; shortcomings in the state's regulation of longwall mining operations in Washington and Greene counties; problems with Pennsylvania's air quality reporting to the federal government; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failure to enforce wetland protections, and the environmental health of Lake Erie.

Don regularly teaches classes in environmental issues as an adjunct faculty in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science here at the University of Pittsburgh.  He is also extremely well versed in the environmental issues facing the West.

Kyle Whittinghill

Dr. Kyle Whittinghill is a lecturer in environmental science at the University of Pittsburgh.  She got her B.S. from Middlebury College in biology, with minors in chemistry and mathematics, and her Ph.D. in soil sciences from the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the University of Minnesota.  She completed post-doctoral research projects at the University of Michigan and the University of New Hampshire.  Her teaching portfolio includes three years teaching ecology, environmental science, and statistics at St. Olaf College and Colorado College and, since joining the University of Pittsburgh in 2017 environmental geochemistry and writing on campus and field classes in Wyoming and Puerto Rico.  She was awarded (along with Danielle Andrews-Brown) a major innovation in education grant to incorporate evidence-based modern teaching methods into Pitt’s environmental science classes.

  In- State Out-of-State
Estimated Expenses Billed by Pitt  $4,999 $5,199
Estimated Additional Expenses $550 $550
Total Estimated Cost $5,549 $5,749

Final program costs and will be available by November 15 .

Remember that your lifestyle and spending choices can greatly affect the amount of money you'll need while abroad.  Visit our Budgeting page for more information.

What's Included

As a part of your program fee, the following are included:

  • 4-Credits of tuition
  • Food and Accommodations at the K-Z
  • Includes three meals a day
    • Including hot breakfast with cold cereal, yogurt
    • Supplies to make your own bagged lunch for field excursion of the day
    • Home cooked dinner
      • The family that runs this operation does an amazing job accommodating dietary restrictions
  • All park entrance fees
  • All ground transportation to and from the Billings, Montana airport and all around the Yellowstone region
  • Entrance fees to group activities, such as museums and a professional rodeo
  • Visits to: Yellowstone National Park & Grand Tetons National Park

 

When You'll Go

The program will take place from June 17 to July 16.

What Else You Need to Know
  • This program takes place at higher elevations. Field trips also include long hikes (up to 9 miles), often strenuous, at altitudes above 10,000 feet. These hikes may be full-day hikes where you begin after breakfast, pack your lunch, and return to your accommodations at dinner time. 
  • Due to the nature of the program, the schedule is subject to change. There may be instances where a guest speaker or field excursion needs to be rescheduled. We ask for your patience and understanding in advance.
  • Remember that this is an academic program and that you should expect to invest the same amount of time and effort on this course as you would on a course at Pitt. 
  • Independent travel cannot conflict with this class. Independent travel is possible, with permission of instructor on a day off or it may be better left to before or after the program
  • Classes meet six days a week (Monday through Saturday), beginning immediately after breakfast and ending at dinner. There is nevertheless ample free time for recreation.
  • These field experiences include part-day and full-day trips by van, overnight camping trip to the Tetons.