A Little Taste of Heaven

PROVO, Utah – Sep 17, 2019 – BYU Marriott ExDM professor Brian Hill sits by a campfire like the one he built on Native American land with the Navajo people almost forty years ago. During his time with them, the Navajo taught Hill life-changing lessons on the value of peace and unity. Nowadays, Hill is the one playing the role of teacher. Recently Hill, along with three other BYU professors, led a group of fourteen students on a six-week expedition exploring Utah’s natural wonders. The trip was inspired by his meditative time in the outdoors all those years ago.

The group explored a variety of places such as Antelope Island and Snow Canyon state parks, as well as Capitol Reef and Zion national parks. For Hill, one memorable experience was a six-day canoe trip down the Green River starting at Mineral Landing at Canyonlands National Park and ending at the Colorado River. “Our paradigm of time changed in those canoes,” Hill recalls. “We moved at the river’s speed, totally out of connection to cell coverage or the internet, and stuck together in that canyon. We couldn't just go somewhere else. The experience was transforming for everyone.” 

All of that time spent in nature may have been beautiful and life changing, but it wasn’t a walk in the park. The group, stripped of material comforts, learned how to embrace all kinds of experiences—even in the extremes of weather. “You get rain, you get the hot sun, and you shower once a week,” says Hill. “The trip fosters a lot of resilience and self-reliance.” 

The outdoors has always been an important part of Hill’s life and is what eventually led him to become a professor. Growing up in Magna, Utah, his family prioritized time outside together, visiting Yellowstone National Park twice a year. As Hill got older, he thought he'd be a lawyer, but after serving a church mission on Native American land in Holbrook, Arizona, he realized he wanted to pursue something else. “Being on tribal lands changed me,” Hill says. “The Navajo’s values impacted me. I decided I couldn't be in a profession dealing with conflict or controversy.”  

Once home from his mission and studying at BYU, Hill switched majors several times before finding the outdoor recreation program. He felt a sense of belonging and purpose there but didn’t know exactly what kind of career he wanted. Then an economic recession made jobs scarce. “The job offered to me after graduation was no longer an option, so I figured I’d just get more schooling,” he says.

After this setback, Hill decided to pursue advanced education. He studied parks, recreation, and tourism management at Clemson University where he earned his PhD in 1994. During his studies there, he began teaching at the University of Nebraska, where he stayed for ten years. In 1999 he returned to BYU as an associate professor in the Recreation Management and Youth Leadership Department—and even after thirty years of teaching, he is far from slowing down. Aside from his normal teaching responsibilities, he has also served as department chair, graduate coordinator, and the ExDM undergraduate coordinator.

Hill looks forward to more opportunities to share his knowledge, especially through outdoor adventures. “I’d love to put together a late-summer expedition where students can get on top of mountains, do some backpacking and river tripping, that sort of thing,” he says. “Teaching in that kind of setting especially brings me fulfillment because of the unity that develops among the groups. I think that unity is a little taste of what heaven is like.” 

Brian Hill canoeing. Photo courtesy of Brian Hill.
Brian Hill canoeing. Photo courtesy of Brian Hill.
Brian Hill outside. Photo courtesy of Brian Hill.
Brian Hill exploring the outdoors. Photo courtesy of Brian Hill.

Media Contact: Chad Little (801) 422-1512
Writer: Erika Magaoay