Our 2016 theme is shaped by historical land journeys that helped form the cultural and political geography of the contemporary American West. We will retrace segments of these routes in the reverse direction as a symbolic gesture of “unwalking.” Our discussions will focus on the continuing demand for indigenous sovereignty, as well as the contemporary legacies of development and resource extraction.

For each of the trips, Signal Fire plans routes, coordinates transportation, and supplies food. Our Unwalking the West trip participants will each receive a reader with a selection of texts that frame our experience within the context of the human and nonhuman interests at stake. Wide Open Studios trips dedicate time to individual and collaborative art projects, facilitated by Signal Fire instructors.


Emigrants Crossing the Plains, Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902)   


Wide Open Studios Siskiyou Backpacking: Unwalking Jedediah Smith

June 11-17, meet in Portland, OR

Our season begins along the Smith River, the namesake river of the famed Mountain Man and the most pristine river in California. This journey will share the skills of safe backcountry travel with an introduction to the dizzying abundance of the Klamath-Siskiyou, the wildest corner of California. The trip is offered in a curriculum-rich, workshop environment, and is open to current students, as well as artists looking for continuing education. More on Wide Open Studios...

Klamath Backpacking: Unwalking John C. Frémont
June 20-26, meet in Portland, OR

What city in the West doesn’t have a street named after John Frémont? This trip uses his second expedition (1843-44) as an entry point to discussing the fraught history of the Klamath Basin. Combining field trips to important cultural sites, car camping, and a short stretch of backpacking, this week will offer an introductory survey of the Klamath and what’s at stake in its future. More on Retreats...

Outpost Residency: Cascades

Session One, July 2-8 and Session Two, July 10-16, meet in Portland, OR

The eighth annual Outpost Residency is a self-directed week of comfort camping in our home forests of Cascadia. Four residents per week are each given a large canvas wall tent as live-work space, along with food and provisions. Signal Fire organizers are stationed nearby and are available to lead day hikes and stargazing. Food is provided and organizers prepare group dinner each evening. More on Outpost...

Wide Open Studios Summer Immersion: Unwalking Lewis & Clark

July 24-August 20, meet in Portland, OR

This month-long odyssey retraces much of the route of America’s legendary expansionists, from the coast of Oregon to Eastern Montana. We will journey together by van, completing a sequence of backpacking trips in the wilder reaches of the West as well as field trips to areas of cultural and historical significance as we make our way east. Our trip culminates with a canoe journey down the Upper Missouri River. This course is available for three transferable graduate or undergraduate credits through a partnership with Oregon College of Art and Craft. More on Wide Open Studios and how to apply...

Alumni Backpacking: Unwalking Zebulon Pike

August 27-September 2, meet in Denver, CO

Signal Fire invites our alumni to deepen their engagement and compare stories with other artists from our community. Alumni backpacking is collaboratively-planned affair, more rugged and improvised than our other trips. It is intended to impart the skills needed to plan your own backpacking trips, and is the first step for artists wishing to join our group of dedicated guides. More on Retreats...

Canoe Trip: Re-floating John Wesley Powell

September 4-10, meet in Green River, UT

We return again to the Green River for one of the world’s top flatwater canoe trips, through Canyonlands National Park. Sandstone hoodoos, ancient petroglyphs, and days spent paddling along this vital tributary of the Colorado, where Powell once surveyed the lands of the West and warned of the dire consequences of industrializing the arid West, will shape this, our only retracing of a route in a western direction. Powell’s grand vision of managing the West’s resources by local watersheds was usurped by a century of dam-building and irrigation. More on Retreats...

SW Backpacking: Unwalking Coronado

September 12-18, meet in Albuquerque

The mountains of Northern New Mexico house an astonishing history within a landscape to match. Francisco Vasquez de Coronado came here in 1540, seeking gold and sowing empire, leaving in his wake the scourges of disease and slavery. Military and mining interests have continued to plunder ever since, but the cultural resilience of New Mexico has seen invaders come and go. This is a backpacking trip with an emphasis on the natural and human histories that have shaped the landscape of the Southern Rockies. More on Retreats...