Seeking an educational wilderness experience
Question: I am looking for a backpacking trip to any mountain wilderness area in the United States to increase my understanding of the environment. I am a 47-year-old environmental educator who seeks a wilderness educational experience which will teach me more about wildlife or biodiversity or geology. Although I’m looking for the physical
challenge of a backpacking trip to a remote wilderness area, it is not primarily the Outward Bound adventure I am looking for. I’d like a trip that is led by a naturalist or scientist and the subject we learn about can be pretty much any aspect of the natural world, as far as I’m concerned. It would be nice to find a program that draws people of a variety of ages,
since a lot of them are geared for young students.
Adventure Adviser: I have a few suggestions, not all of which you may find helpful because some are not backpacking trips. I’ve included a variety of options because I think the learning experience is valuable no matter what the mode of transportation. Even if one of the following trips doesn’t sound appealing, consider calling the
company anyway. They may have a trip more suited to your needs, or they may be able to refer you to a company that I’m not familiar with. Just over the border in Canada Good Earth Travel Adventures (403-678-9358) offers a unique trip called Parks Canada Research Adventures. These six- to 14-day programs offer working holidays where you’ll contribute first-hand to
ecological and wildlife research within Canada’s national parks. You’ll work alongside park wardens, scientists, and environmental educators researching black bears, wolves, lynx, and big horn sheep, or work on stream ecology or biodiversity projects. Side trips, depending on which adventure you choose, may include canoeing, soaking in hot springs, and rafting the
Kicking Horse River. Though you won’t be backpacking per se, you will be spending plenty of time in the great outdoors with scientists who can teach you valuable skills and give you a greater appreciation for their particular area of study. The Yellowstone Institute (307-344-7749 or 307-344-2294) out of Yellowstone National Park offers dozens of weekend and week-long
courses—everything from “The Evolution, Ecology, and Future of the Wolf Family,” to “Fly Fishing in the Fall.” A few courses that sound suited to you are, “Backpacking in the Beartooths, The Leave No Trace Way,” “Geology of the Yellowstone Country,” “Participate in Yellowstone Archaeology,” and
“Wildflowers Llama Trek.” Prices are generally pretty reasonable and classes are sometimes only a few days so you may be able to piggyback two classes on top of one another. You’ve probably heard of Earthwatch Institute (800-776-0188), but you should order their catalog of courses if only to live vicariously through its rich, photograph-filled tabloid pages.
Earthwatch offers trips throughout the world under the moniker of “Pillars of Sustainability.” These pillars are the “Endangered Ecosystems Program,” the “Oceans Program,” the “Biodiversity Program,” the Cultural Diversity Program,” the “Global Change Program,” and the “Origins of our Future
Program.” Although it’s not backpacking they do offer a Rocky Mountain Wildflowers trip where you’ll help to monitor climate change in one of the Earth’s most sensitive ecosystems. You’ll study with Dr. David Inouye, a highly regarded zoologist at the University of Maryland, who has been monitoring the ecological dynamics of Montane Meadows in
Colorado for 26 years. The trip cost is $1,595 and includes accommodations in a resort condominium and meals in the old mining town of Gothic which is now the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory. When you get the catalog, also check out their “Mountain Lion” program in Idaho. A few other companies to consider are Nature Expeditions International (800-869-0639),
Olympic Field Seminars (800-775-3720) based in Olympic National Park, Washington, and Natural Habitat Adventures (800-543-8917).