Wyoming Yellowstone Field Studies

The Yellowstone Field Studies program is designed for students of all majors interested in learning more about geology, biology and policy in Yellowstone National Park, the nations first National Park. This class four-week, 4-credit course uses a month of day hikes and lectures to explore the myriad natural resources in and around the greater Yellowstone region.  The program is broken down into three unique sections focusing on geology, biology and policy.
The first ten days focuses on unraveling 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. You will see abundant wildlife, amazing geology, and come to appreciate the many ways in which the West is culturally distinct from the East.

What You'll Accomplish

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

  • Observation skills to evaluate geologic features, approximate and mode of formation
  • An understanding of the economic resources represented by different rock units including gold, oil, water and recreation
  • Knowledge about public policy, ethics and issues related to natural resources of the area

The program is based at the K-Z Ranch located off the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway (State Route 296) that follows the Clarks Fork Yellowstone River, Wyoming's only National Wild and Scenic River. The northeast entrance of Yellowstone National Park is a short 25 miles away. The ranch offers excellent living accommodations and is perfectly situated to provide a starting point for the program's field trips to Yellowstone, the Beartooth Mountains, Sunlight Basin, the Clarks Fork Canyon and more.
The closest town is Cody, Wyoming. Located about 1.5 hours away, Cody Wyoming aims to be the archetypal western town.  It features weekly amateur rodeos, professional rodeo events, daily quick-draw shoot-outs, and four beautiful museums featuring the Plains Indians, natural history, Buffalo Bill, and guns.  On you days off you can also arrange in Cody other activities, such white-water rapids tours.  To the north over the Beartooth Mountains is the lovely town of Red Lodge, Montana, which among other things features a wildlife rescue center with a number of animals on view that you otherwise are unlikely to see up close.  Finally, each drive to Yellowstone will take you through the tiny old mining towns of Cooke City and Silver Gate.
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

You'll earn a total of 4 credits on the Yellowstone Field Studies Program. Everyone who participates on the program will take the same course. The Yellowstone Field Studies course is taught in 3 sections over the four weeks. Each section will be led by a different faculty member. The first section will be led by Pitt professor, Bill Harbert and it focuses on how the deep geologic past has generated the resources that plants, animals, and humans need to make a living. The second section is led by University of Wyoming Ecology professor Carlos Martinez del Rio and it focuses on the diverse ecosystems that exist in the dry basins, the relatively wet mountains and plateaus, and the near-arctic highest elevation areas. The last section is led by Pitt guest professor Don Hopey and it focuses on public policy and the best use for natural resources of the area. On this program you will take daily hikes and will see abundant wildlife, spectacular geology, and come to appreciate the many ways in which the West is culturally quite distinct from the East. Most instruction will take place in the field.  Some evenings will include lecture, discussion, or other work. In these courses you will study:

  • The Geologic History of the Yellowstone region
  • Minerals, fossil fuels, water and recreational resources for plants, animals and humans in diverse ecosystems
  • Public policy, ethics and issues related to natural resources of the area

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.

Yellowstone Field Class (GEOL1930)

This class has no pre-requisites and accepts students from any academic major.  However, you will get more out of the experience if you are able take some classes before you come out to Wyoming.  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.  If you can manage to take a class in ecology (e.g. BIOSC 0370) you will have a more sophisticated understanding of the processes going on in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem and thus can ask more probing questions of your observations and of the instructor.  Finally, prior exposure to environmental law, ethics, and/or environmental issues will provide an excellent lens through which to view the issues confronting the Yellowstone region today.

All three instructors have extensive experience working in the greater Yellowstone area.  Dr. Bill Harbert is a professor of geophysics from the University of Pittsburgh and teaches the geology section of the class.  Dr. Carlos Martinez del Rio is a professor of ecology at the University of Wyoming and teaches the ecology section of the class.  Finally, Don Hopey is an award-winning environmental journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who regularly teaching classes in environmental issues as an adjunct faculty in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science.  He is extremely well versed in the environmental issues facing the West.

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.

Dr. Carlos Martinez del Rio

 Dr. Carlos Martinez del Rio is a professor in the Department of Zoology and Physiologyecology at the University of Wyoming. laboratory conducts research on a variety of themes that can be best placed under the umbrella of functional ecology. We focus on organisms and how they work to inform broader ecological and evolutionary processes and patterns. Adopting an organism-centric viewpoint demands that we look downwards to molecular biology, upwards to ecology and evolution, and sideways to physiology and behavior. On this program he teaches the ecology 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.

  In- State Out-of-State
Estimated Expenses Billed by Pitt  $4,999 $5,299
Estimated Additional Expenses $1,750 $1,750
Total Estimated Cost $6,749 $6,949

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 Mid-June to mid-July. Exact dates will be posted soon.

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.