A field trip to distant locations is designed to test, amid a culturally and topographically foreign environment, the rather abstract knowledge students acquired previously in the lecture hall. California and the immediate geographic regions to its east appear ideally placed to do just that. The areas visited showcase a highly diverse landscape, demonstrating all the altitude characteristics typical of the subtropical climate. There is arguably no other region on this globe which boasts such a wide variety of exemplary physio- and human-geographic features on a relatively small space. The excursion focused on these main study areas:
- Urban growth and ethnic segregation (Los Angeles, San Francisco);
- Earthquake risks (San Francisco Bay Area);
- High-tech industries (Silicon Valley);
- Counterurbanization (High Sierra);
- Modern irrigation management (Central Valley, Salinas, Imperial Valley, Coachella Valley);
- Municipal Water Supplies (Los Angeles Aqueduct);
- Religious groups - confessional diversity (Mormons in Utah);
- Ethnic minorities (Chinese/Asians in Oakland, Hispanics in the Imperial Valley, American Indians in the Grand Canyon region);
- Select forms of urban settlements (mega cities, mining towns, gambling towns, "sun cities"/retirement settlements);
- Vegetational profiles in high-altitude mountain areas (High Sierra) and deserts (Mojave and Colorado Desert);
- Geomorphology in arid zones (Basin and Range region, Colorado Plateau);
- National parks (Yosemite, Grand Canyon);
- Electricity production and supply (Colorado River).
A field trip to such a richly diversified terrain is intended to provide opportunities for students to sharpen their insights into some of the areas of geographic specialty just cited. A first indication of success or failure in this effort at academic sensitization can be gained from the student's interest in the subject prior to, during and after this excursion, as well as by the degree of personal engagement in composing his or her individual excursion report. What is even more important, however, is the special "mental profile" of the area visited that each excursion participant takes back to Austria. The excursion leaders as well as the chairman of Innsbruck University's Department of Geography, Prof. J. Stötter, trust that such field trips, in conjunction with ad-hoc preparatory seminars, provide students with crucial qualifications and necessary background knowledge which will endow our young geographers with the necessary knowledge for a promising professional career.
The pertinent academic information was provided and analyzed in three phases:
- Introductory information: Prior to the excursion, students enrolled in an interdisciplinary seminar at the Department of Geography which focused on "U.S. Regional Geography" as well as on the "Political System in the United States." Following introductory lectures by the teaching staff who would lead the excursion later on, students independently researched various themes relevant to the field trip; the idiographic aspects were kept in the background. The students' presentations were discussed in detail throughout semester classes and corrected and complemented if necessary. It would have gone beyond the scope of this publication to render in full length all the individual dossiers presented by the students. Instead, they have been included as "text boxes" in this excursion volume - albeit in a shortened and edited version.The entire digest is broken down into "log reports" which render a day-to-day chronology of the field trip as well as the respective issues covered on a particular day. Each of the 20 reports is complemented by text boxes designed to provide additional information. These enclosures primarily serve to highlight the overriding thematic focus of a given day; they may also offer further, in-depth information on a general theme or on special events, or they may simply point to noteworthy singularities studied that day.
- The main body of information was provided during the excursion itself. Relying on the students' written documents as well as on the joint trip preparations and the trip route (which was oriented along a day-by-day theme roster), the on-site information rendered was concise and to the point. It was the goal of the excursion directorate during the 6,000- kilometer field trip to provide both a landscape perspective and to address important regional issues of economic and social geography. For this purpose, we visited not only rural spaces, but also targeted agglomerations, tourist locations or high-tech industrial zones. Our means of transportation were two 15-seat passenger vans, which was not only cost- effective, but also allowed us to be flexible in our day-to-day route planning. In addition, it became obvious in the course of the excursion that the constant direct interaction between excursion leadership and the students created favorable motivation impulses.
- Post-excursion analysis: This was achieved through the submission by each participant of individual summary reports on the field trip (radically edited versions are included in this publication). In addition, the students launched pertinent initiatives, such as slide shows, photo exhibits or photo documentaries, as well as self-produced CDs featuring the most popular sing-along songs played during long bus drives.
Despite the editors' efforts to harmonize the reports, the individual submissions are heterogeneous both with regard to style, length of presentation, and source quotations. As far as the regime of measures quoted is concerned, the European and U.S. systems are used alternately. It is noteworthy, for example, that the U.S. still goes by the old British measures and weights system, while U.S.-originating technical literature tends to rely on the widely-used metric system. As a result, the editors left respective measures largely unchanged. They can be easily transformed using the attached conversion table (cf. appendix).
Many facts in the report stem from internet sources. Customarily, these "web sites" appear and disappear within a relatively short period. Thus, their contents cannot always be verified ad infinitum. This should help explain the different quotation policy regarding internet locations, as not all of them have been included in the bibliography list. In order to render the report still readable, it was necessary to contain the bibliography part to a reasonable size as well.
Finally, this preface also serves to thank various individuals and institutions. First and foremost, of course, we wish to thank the participants who managed the sometimes strenuous and stressful excursion days with considerable motivation and discipline. We would also like to thank the U.S. Embassy in Vienna, which provided the excursion organizers with financial and organizational assistance for a preparatory trip to the region in February 1998. We would like to extend our special thanks to the U.S. Ambassador to Austria, Kathryn W. Hall, and her husband Craig, who not only encouraged this academic endeavor from the beginning and commended the students and staff of the Department of Geography for their scientific focus, but invited the student group from Innsbruck to a generous wine- tasting at their private vineyards in Napa Valley on Day 4 of the field trip.
In addition, we thank the publishers of "inngeo," Prof. A. Borsdorf and Prof. J. Stötter, for their guidance in composing this publication. We also thank Mag. Gerhard Auinger of the Interpretation Division of the Federal Chancellery, Mag. Gerhard Frank of the Vienna Institute for Interpreters and Translators, Dr. Violaene Konar-Leacy of the U.S. Embassy, Dr. M.A. Mel Reasoner of the University of Alberta, Mr. Andy Nobel and Mr. Eugene Tuttle, retired U.S. diplomat, for their review work on the text. Thank you also to Gernot Schwendinger for helping with the layout and production of the field trip map.
Vienna, July 1999