Land & Environment

USU Students Venture on Colorado River for Hands-On Look at River Ecosystem

By Marcus Jensen |

Students canoe on the Colorado River.

MOAB, Utah — Braving monsoon rains, a group of 12 Utah State University students, along with USU Moab professional practice assistant professor Terry Dial, took a four-night, five-day camping and canoe trip on the Colorado River a week prior to the beginning of the fall semester.

The trip was a part of a course called Colorado River Science, in which students explored a variety of topics within the ecosystem of the river.

“This group was a good cross section of students at various levels of their academic careers,” said Dial, a lecturer in the Quinney College of Natural Resources. “We were able to discuss water use, water policy, the different uses of the river and the species that live here. The goal was to engage in the subject matter while experiencing it first-hand. This level of immersion is something the classroom simply cannot replicate.”

The group of students was composed of six students from the USU Moab campus and six students from the main Logan campus. The trip, which took place on Aug. 21-25, spanned 45 miles in Canyonlands National Park.

“It was an awesome experience spending five days in nature away from cell phone service and normal society,” said Savannah Gleeson, a Conservation and Restoration Ecology major at USU Logan. “Something I learned that I wasn't expecting was not only about the ecology of the river, but also how to canoe and navigate down a river in general.”

During the region’s monsoon season, the group faced rain and wind throughout the experience, with trained guides to help keep students safe and dry.

“I loved watching the rain fall from the sky and seeing how the water patterns affected the desert landscape,” said Sydney Smith, a nursing major at USU Moab. “It was gorgeous. I was also grateful for the geology majors on the trip, otherwise I would have slept in a watershed and washed away.”

Despite the harsh conditions, students agreed that the trip was very instructive as well as just plain fun.

“This trip further taught me the importance of diversity in an ecosystem — including both in the backcountry and our everyday lives,” Smith said. “Each organism has a special part to play in a healthy environment and I was again taught that this also applies to our everyday life too. We need each other's diversity to thrive in our communities.”

Some students felt they got hands-on experience that can serve them as they further their studies on environmental topics.

“This trip will impact my future at USU and my career, as it helped further my knowledge of Utah's deserts,” Gleeson said. “As a student in the natural resource college, being able to immerse myself and learn about a more unfamiliar ecosystem was such a cool experience that I will look back on throughout the rest of my college years.”

Dial hopes that this can be a recurring event. With the campus located in a recreational paradise, he feels the opportunities for students to experience things in person are too good to not take full advantage.

“Moab is an outdoor educational mecca situated in the heart of Canyonlands and is home to many governmental agencies that manage recreation and land use,” Dial said.

Located in the outdoor recreation paradise of Moab and boasting one of the greenest buildings on any USU campus, Utah State University Moab offers students the personalized attention and small class sizes of a small-town college with the resources of a large university. With programs such as Nursing, Elementary Education, Recreation Resource Management and Social Work, technical education in Health Professions, Automotive and Business, and degree options ranging from associate to doctorate degrees, USU Moab offers programs that help fuel local economies and empower individuals and their communities. Learn more at


Marcus Jensen
News Coordinator
University Marketing and Communications


Terry Dial
Professional Practice Assistant Professor
USU Moab


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