American High Plains: Mountains, Badlands, & Prairies

Photo from High Plains Study Trip


Update: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SAIC has canceled this study trip.


May 27 - June 8, 2020
*Note: Dates subject to change

Humans first encountered the high plains of North America 12,000-20,000 years ago, as they migrated from Asia across the Bering Strait and southward.  Their descendants live in the area to this day, members of the Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Lakota Sioux tribes. In our own journey of discovery, we will encounter the landscapes, geology, rivers, mountains and fossil records of the high plains. We will see and document native wildlife such as bison, antelope, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. We will attend ceremonial dances of the native Lakota Sioux Indians, and meet some of the ranchers, fur traders, miners, and fossil hunters of South Dakota and Nebraska.

For science credit we will examine the geological history of the area, and the nature of extinctions. When European settlers arrived in the high plains they encountered a pristine wilderness – or did they? Humans have been occupying this region for 10-20,000 years, changing the landscape and altering the ecology. As the humans arrived many of the large mammal species – mammoths, giant sloths, wolf-bears, and camels - went extinct. Was this the first sign of the Anthropocene of North America? Or were these “natural” extinctions unrelated to human presence?

For studio credit, we will keep journals of writing, drawing, and photography documenting our own discoveries of the physical and cultural landscapes of the American high plains.  Photography is a means of discovery. We will make use of photographic techniques such as drone photography, night sky photography, time lapse, and 3-D photography to observe and document our discoveries.

Itinerary and internal transport: Students will fly into the Rapid City airport and from there the group will travel in vans to our first destination, Custer State Park. Vans will also be used during the trip to transport the group to and from various sites. At the end of the trip students will be taken back to the Rapid City airport.  

See highlights from last summer's class

Credits3 credits STUDIO and/or 3 credits SCIENCE (3000-level) 

Beth Wright, Liberal Arts

William Harper, Art & Technology Studies, Liberal Arts 

Program feeApprox. $2,100 (not including airfare to Rapid City; including accommodation, admissions, ground transport during the program from and back to Rapid City, some group meals)

Budget at least $400 for airfare if flying from Chicago. (Note this is only an estimated figure. Actual fare will depend on many variables including airline, number of stopovers, ports of departure and return, and date of ticket purchase).

PLUS Tuition cost per credit:
Undergraduate—$1,666 per credit hour;
Graduate—$1,730 per credit hour.

Online registration beginsMarch 11, 2020

Deposit due at registration$525

Information sessions:
Wednesday, February 12,  4:15-5:15 p.m., MacLean room 707
Thursday, February 20,  12:10-12:50 p.m., MacLean room 112

Previous trip’s course evaluations:

• This trip was enormously rejuvenating for me. It was also very validating, I feel more confident in my connection with the earth and nature, and also in my capabilities to venture into nature and allow nature to change me. I was encouraged to continue to grow those skills through recommended programs. I also felt for the first time in awhile like leadership was a position I am capable to hold and should work so that I can be a leader in the most successful ways possible for the people around me and myself.

• It really put city life in perspective. I keep fantasizing about sitting in the middle of nowhere Nebraska breathing that sweet sweet air instead of stuck on the red line, stressed and sweating.

• The biggest takeaway from this experience would be that I learned that I'm capable of doing more than I think I can.

• Beth was a delight to have as an instructor and also as part of the group. She made geology very approachable and made the reality of geology being all around us actually fathomable.

• William was a wonderful companion on this trip. He has so much knowledge about the area and the history. It was lovely to spend time at dinners or in the van asking questions or just chatting.