Wyoming Spring Creek Field Studies

The Spring Creek Field Studies Program is designed for: Geology, Ecology, Biology, Environmental Science and Environmental Studies students. There are no formal pre-requisites and the program is open to all majors. For this program it would be helpful, not required, if you’ve previously taken courses in Geology or Ecology. The goal of this program is that you will develop an understanding of the complex geological, biological, and historical processes that shape the landscape, habitats, and natural and human communities that you see today. This 6-week, 6-credit program course is a unique introduction to the practices of ecology, paleontology, and archaeology, with a strong emphasis on field techniques.


The first 4.5 weeks focus on the rich resources of the University of Pittsburgh’s Spring Creek Preserve outside Laramie, WY, as well as the Medicine Bow, Laramie, and Vedauwoo mountains. The Spring Creek Preserve includes an intact, mixed-grass prairie, largely untouched beds of dinosaur and other fossils, and prehistoric Native American campsites. You will use the overall region to explore stream and terrestrial ecology; you will conduct surveys of plants, mammals, birds, and insects in these ecosystems; you discover dinosaur bones and marine fossils; and reconstruct the ancient environments In the midst of all of this, you discuss current issues facing the region, including water rights, cattle grazing, wind farms, and economic development.  Finally, you will embark on a hiking and camping trip around the state to consolidate and expand what you learned in southeastern Wyoming.  This trip includes stops at many natural wonders, including those of Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons.


What You'll Accomplish: 

As an engaged and active participant in this program, you will have the opportunity to develop:

  • An understanding of the rich resources of Laramie Basin, Laramie Mountains and Medicine Mountains of Wyoming and the surrounding region
  • A foundational understanding of the complex geological, biological, paleontological and historical processes that have shaped Wyoming
  • Knowledge on water rights, cattle grazing and economic development


Most of the time this program is based at the Allen L. Cook Spring Creek Preserve located a short drive west of the small town of Rock River, WY. The property is a sprawling 6000-acre tract that embraces pristine dinosaur-bone-bearing beds, 9,000 years of Native American archaeology, native prairie ecosystems, and a section of the original grade of the 1869 trans-continental railroad. There are even the remains of an old ghost town on the property.  The Preserve includes prominent exposures of the Jurassic Morrison Formation, which contains some of the most famous dinosaurs in the world.  In fact, the finest example of Diplodocus carnegii, whose skeleton resides in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, was unearthed from a site only about 30 miles north.  Unlike many dinosaur sites, the Spring Creek Preserve was left untouched during the great Western U.S. excavations of the 19th and 20th centuries.  As such, students can see much what the original dinosaur prospectors saw when searching for the next big specimen.


Considerable time is also spent working in the high elevation Snowy Range/Medicine Bow Mountains located west of Laramie, WY the lower-elevation Laramie Mountains to the east and the Vedauwoo Recreational Area to the south The Snowy Mountains feature peaks up to 12,000’, crystal-clear mountain lakes jumping with fish, and year-around snow fields.  Vedauwoo is famous for striking outcrops of granite that are great for hiking and rock climbing. The 10-day trip around the state at the end of the class typically visits sites in or around Lander, Thermopolis, the Bighorn Mountains, the Bighorn Basin, the Absaroka Mountains, Yellowstone, and the Tetons.


Temperatures and precipitation vary based on the season. Weather near Rock River and Laramie, Wyoming can still be unpredictable in June. The temperatures average 60-80 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 35-55 degrees Fahrenheit at night. Temperatures cool off at night and there’s also always potential for rain. It is a good idea to pack a light, waterproof/resistant jacket. 


Where You'll Live: 

While studying in southeastern Wyoming, the class will stay in the cabins of Tyler Sims Outfitters (www.tylersims.com/lodging ), which are located at the very edge of the Medicine Bow Mountains. You will either stay in the main lodge or you will stay in rustic cabins near the lodge. You can expect the following at the cabins:

  • Three to four students per room or cabin
  • En-Suite bathrooms in the cabin
  • Running hot water
  • Refrigerator
  • Satellite TV
  • Washer/dryer on-site in the main lodge
  • Breakfast and sack lunches will be prepared in the main lodge from groceries purchased for the class
  • Most dinners will be provided by Shawna’s RoadSide Café in Rock which is near the Spring Creek Preserve.  Evening meals will either be eaten in the restaurant or served buffet-style back in the lodge.
  • Every effort will be made to accommodate dietary restrictions

On the trip around the state, you will camp at various sites, you will stay at the K-Z Guest Lodge east of Yellowstone; www.kbarzguestranch.com ). At the K-Z Ranch you can expect the following at the cabins:

  • 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
  • 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.
  • Meals are included

Finally you will stay at the University of Wyoming-National Park Service Research Station http://uwnps.org ) on the shores of Jackson Lake in full view of the Tetons! you can expect the following at the cabins:

  • Rustic log cabins that accommodate 4 to 6 students per room
  • Communal bathroom
  • Wi-Fi
  • Kitchen with refrigerator, stove, microwave, coffee maker, pots, pans dishes and basic cooking supplies/utensils
  • Breakfast and lunches will often be prepared from groceries packed into coolers.  You will eat most dinners at restaurants and the cost of the dinner is included in the cost of the program.

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: 

You'll earn a total of 6 credits on the Spring Creek Field Studies Program. Everyone who participates on the program will take the same course. The Spring Creek Field Studies course is taught by local Pittsburgh faculty, but also by local guest lecturers. All faculty have backgrounds in ecology, geology, paleontology or anthropology. On this program students will take daily hikes and will see abundant wildlife and spectacular geology. Trip highlights include visits to natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton National Park. You will spend most of the time in the field gathering, analyzing, and interpreting field observations. In these courses you will study:

  • The ecosystems of the Laramie Basin, Laramie Mountains, and Medicine Bow Mountains
  • Dinosaur bones, fossils, ancient environments and Native American hearths
  • Water rights, cattle grazing and economic development

If you are seeking to count these courses towards a major, minor or certificate, please meet with your academic advisor to discuss this program and what the courses will fulfill for you. Information about how the courses on this program count towards general education requirements for different schools and campuses can be found here.


Spring Creek (GEOL1955)

You will achieve a deep familiarity with the landscapes of Wyoming through a series of field exercises in which you gather the observations that you and the class need to understand the ecology or unravel the geologic past of a particular setting.  In the ecology exercises, you will learn how to identify native and invasive plants, insects, mammals, and birds.  You will also learn how to deploy remote cameras to automatically photograph animals and to deploy small live animal traps.  At least one day is spent visiting a facility where mist nets are used to safely capture birds for hands-on examination and release.  The data that you and the class gather are used not only to characterize the different environments, but also to address specific questions, such as the impact of grazers on the landscape and cattle on stream ecosystems.
Similarly, you will survey the different geologic units on the property and search for both vertebrate and invertebrate fossils.  You will learn to identify the rocks on the property and the clues they contain as to the ancient environments in which they were deposited.  You will also learn to identify the major groups of fossils on the property.  These lessons will be expanded through visits to other geologically interesting sites in the region.
The archaeology exercises occupy one or two days and consist of surveys of various sites on the property under the guidance of a skilled archaeologist.  You will learn to identify the various features and objects that are associated with ancient campsites and to spot arrowheads and other types of worked stone.  When you are standing out in the open prairie, especially if it is a dry year, it is quite an experience discussing how native peoples managed to survive and thrive throughout the seasons.  There may be trips to other archeologically interesting sites if the opportunities arise.
The field exercises will culminate in a final independent research project (supported by some library research) that each student formulates in consultation with the instructors.  This is a valuable experience in applying what you have learned and in getting a sense for what it takes to do real research in the natural world.
The trip around the state combines a tour of some of Wyoming’s most spectacular landscapes, including ones packed with wildlife, with a series of field exercises that reinforce and extend some of the lessons gained in the Laramie region.

Your Pitt Study Abroad Contacts: 

Tim Crawford

Hi Everyone! I’m Tim, and I am the Assistant Director for Domestic Study Away Programming. I have experience running international study abroad programs and programs here at home in the United States. I was fortunate to have many experiential learning opportunities, both international and domestic, during my college career. Being from a small town in Central Pennsylvania, my experiences opened my eyes to the rest of the world and helped open my eyes to different cultures and career opportunities I’d love to help you take advantage of the numerous experiential learning opportunities here at Pitt. Outside of the office, I’m always looking for the next adventure. I love traveling, hate sitting still and love doing anything outdoors, in all seasons. Personally, I’m on a quest to visit as many national parks as possible. I’d love to talk to you more about any of our study away programs, answer any of your questions and help you find the right opportunity. Please reach me via email at timcrawford@pitt.edu

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Your In-Country Contacts: 

Mandi Lyon

Mandi is an expert in paleobotany and Wyoming geology who works at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.  She has conducted extensive field research in Wyoming, and she has taught this class since 2008.

Charles E. Jones

Charlie is the senior lecturer in geology at the University of Pittsburgh. He has been leading field trips around various parts of Wyoming since 2006, and he will come out to help lead the trip around the state over the last roughly 10 days of the class.

Items Billed by Pitt

  In-State Out-of-State
Tuition $4,656 $4,856
Program Fee $1243 $1243
Study Away Fee $300 $300
Total Billed by Pitt $6,199 $6,399

Estimated Additional Out-of-Pocket Costs

Airfare $500
Personal Expenses $250

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

The amounts above are for the 2019-2020 academic year and should be used as estimates only. Pricing for 2020-2021 will be posted and announced in the fall term.

What's Included: 

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

  • 6-Credits of tuition
  • Accommodations
  • Most meals
  • Equipment
  • Transportation around Wyoming
  • Visits to: Yellowstone National Park & Grand Tetons National Park, Laramie Basin, Laramie Mountains and Medicine Bow Mountains


When You'll Go: 

Dates for the 2020-2021 academic year will be posted in the fall!

What Else You Need to Know: 
  • This program takes place at higher elevations. Field trips also include long hikes, 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. 
  • Mandatory trips. Independent travel cannot conflict with fieldwork. Independent travel may be better before or after the program.