The High Desert Center Gap Year

Video and Photos

Find freedom
Find freedom
Learn new skills
Learn new skills
Get dirty
Get dirty
Opt outside
Opt outside
Build community
Build community
Grow
Grow

About

Our Gap Year Programs are designed for people who want to have fun in life. Not the kind of fun that comes with escaping our lives but rather the kind of fun that comes from living with a sense of adventure and curiosity; the kind that comes from continually choosing the courage to be real and vulnerable and go for what matters; the kind that comes from being okay with messing up because you went for it.

One of our goals is to unlearn conventional institutional ways of thinking, to recognize and transform staff/student divisions and power hierarchies that we often create by habit since most of us have grown up surrounded by power hierarchies in school, work or our families. These habits are obstacles to what we all crave, which is a sense of connection, shared purpose, mutual respect, and freedom.

We inspire people to thrive and to contribute to the well-being of human and natural communities.
We ask questions. We dialogue. We adventure and take on real-world challenges.

Highlights
  • Live the good life while climbing mountains and hiking canyons, baking your own bread, learning community living skills, and exploring sustainable living.
  • Experience small town, off the beaten path Mexican culture and learn about pressing border and environmental issues.
  • Be part of a homespun family that challenges you to deeply understand and experience your inner self, your world, and your options.
  • Adventure with fellow participants who are creative innovators, young people in charge of their own education already making things happen in the world.
  • Imagine sleeping on top of the van under the stars, listening to coyotes, being with best friends, knowing that the next day anything could happen.

Apply Now for 2020-2021 Gap Year

Applications are coming in for our upcoming Gap Year. If you resonate with our homespun, wild approach and want to join us in a year of adventure, community living, and personal growth at a relatively affordable rate, apply today.

Popular Programs

Guatemalan woman working on artistic projects.

Join us for a year of travel and adventure in Colorado, Mexico, and Guatemala. Guatemala is a place for adventurous visitors and most folks who go fly there on a luxurious airplane. Not us. We’re going overland, on public transit, through the entirety of Mexico. Our goal is to have more real experiences and also spew less carbon. Once we arrive in Guatemala, we will dive into experiencing the place.

Large group of writers on site in Colorado.

The purpose of the Writing Retreat is to support budding writers in accomplishing an ambitious, self-paced writing challenge. The Writing Retreat is modeled after National Novel-Writing Month (a.k.a. NaNoWriMo: the challenge to write 50,000 words in one month) with a community of like-minded aspiring writers. This is your opportunity to set your sights high and expand the limits of your creativity.

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9.9 Rating
based on 10 reviews
  • Housing 9
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.8
  • Value 10
  • Safety 9.2
Showing 1 - 8 of 10
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Kieran
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Good times in an arid climate

If you are looking for a Gap Year program where you expect the unexpected, this is it. Be prepared for something that will change you in ways you never anticipated. This program is an amazing combination of outdoor leadership skills, emotional growth, and community building, which makes for an amazing Gap Year that could never be repeated. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, filled with quirky, creative adventures like getting lost on purpose and finding your way back--the affordability compared to other programs was also a huge benefit. If you are considering it--DO IT!!

What was your funniest moment?
Me and two friends made a podcast about octopi taking over the world.
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Sophia
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Loving community

During this gap year I have grown into myself. I first joined the High Desert Center (HDC) feeling unsure about the future and nervous about my responsibilities in it. Throughout this year I have become grounded in my sense of self and excited to go out into the world. I attribute this to the spaciousness of the program. Its leaders are inspiring, authentic, supportive and always ready to launch into epic and meaningful experiences . This is a beautiful place, perfect to start investigating the true meaning of community and adventure.

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Connor
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A gap year to remember

The High Desert Center taught me so much about myself, all while pushing me in new directions and encouraging me to follow whatever path that might lead to. By the end of it, I had climbed mountains, gone backpacking through canyons, and experienced community living to a refreshing degree. This place and its people forced me to confront myself as I was, and though it was hard to contend with that, I had support from every direction. There was never a day where someone wasn't willing to take a walk. So if you are looking for an adventure, both externally and internally, then this is the place for you.

What was the most nerve-racking moment and how did you overcome it?
When my backpacking group tried to climb over a mountain to take a shortcut all with packs on our back, only to find at the top there was no way over. I kept my head down and kept climbing, and soon enough I was on flat ground.
Default avatar
Clayton
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Empowering and "Real"

Let me tell you about the mountains that we wake up to every morning, surrounded by sun-kissed peaks that offered weeks of back country exploration. Let me tell you about the delicious smell of bacon calling me from my bed just before the breakfast bell rings, bacon from a small organic farm down the road where we visited and worked with our hands in the dirt. Let me tell you about how I learned to thrive with less, how to live simply and cheaply, and minimize my impact on this environment. Let me tell you about the triumphs and tribulations of living in close community as I learned how to communicate and navigate conflicts. Let me tell you how I became empowered to notice and shift inner patterns and habits that didn't serve me, learning tools to liberate myself from myself. Let me tell you how I was guided by staff that supported me and made space to truly hear and see me. This gap year changed my life. If it calls to you, I encourage you to take the leap.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would open up more and talk to the staff and other participants about my inner fears and challenges rather than trying to hide from them or hide them from others. I would make the most of the numerous learning opportunities that arise at HDC. I would put more thought into my personal goals and how they align with HDC opportunities. And I would spend more time in the Paonia community, getting to know some of the amazing people that live in the area.
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Anna
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Amazing leaders

The directors, Dev and Marian, are both incredibly intelligent, caring and skillful leaders. They created an open, safe space for individuals to create community and share their stories. The program's combination of adventure, challenge, and support made for an amazing year with strong friendships and connections between other participants and staff members alike. The group was able to bond over things like hiking in the back country or cooking food in the outdoor kitchen. I wouldn't have traded this experience for any other.

What was your funniest moment?
When we played board games in the strawbale, there were so many times where everyone ended up on the floor laughing so hard we cried.
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Chris
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Talk about ADVENTURE!

Let's just say I felt STUCK! But that literally changed overnight when my friend received an email spreading the word about this wild opportunity. We clicked the link to The High Desert Center's website advertising the 2016-2017 gap year program, and I was blown away. We read about the previous gap year and all the experiences they offered in the program. I felt like I found the way out of feeling so stuck. I applied the next day! When I found out I was accepted, I was ridiculously excited.
Meeting the directors Dev and Marian for the first time was a breath of fresh air. They were so welcoming, and I could tell they would take such good care of everyone. Over the course of the year, they proved to be incredible mentors! I had so many first time experiences, like climbing a mountain, backpacking, traveling the southwest in a van, and going to Mexico!
Of course there were were challenges, and I was often encouraged to step a little outside of my comfort zone (like being a total city boy and then told that I would be using a composting toilet for the majority of the time), but I always felt really supported and listened to when I had any concerns. I felt very safe with Dev and Marian and the rest of their staff. They taught us a lot about open and honest communication, and I think that learning those skills with them in such a safe space changed my life!

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
I would do more! I wish I took every opportunity for adventure they offered or that was thought up by other participants. If I got another chance to do a minimalist backpacking trip or hike in and out of the Grand Canyon in one day, I'd say HELL YES.
Ruby
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A year I will always remember!

This program strengthened and developed my passions! I fell in love with dancing every day, community meals, late night conversations, sleeping under the stars, and the adrenaline rush of exploring and backpacking the gorgeous backcountry of Colorado! I would highly recommend to anyone who wants to dive deep into the next step of life in an off the beaten path kind of way. Community is a very important part of this program and you will learn not only about yourself, but also how your role and compassion plays such an important part of the group throughout the year. This program creates a family where communication, food, mud fights and adventure are the foundation for love.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Dive deep and pay attention to what truly brings you joy! This may be a break from work or school, but it doesn't mean you shouldn't still be working hard and giving it your all! Rest is important too, but don't let yourself lose track of the reward of accomplishment.
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Tess
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A delightful and transformative experience

Although my time at the High Desert Center (HDC) ended well over a year ago, my experiences there impact me to this day. I enjoyed growth as a writer through both expert-led workshops and opportunities to share our work in intimate groups. Perhaps even more memorably, I transformed as a person. The small, tight-knit group felt like a family, and we shared the knowledge that we were in a space safe for vulnerability — not just through our writing, but through any stories, ideas, or questions. Through this communication, participants were able to form close bonds with other participants and with staff. Two of the program staff also taught partner dance lessons, which provided engaging yet relaxing community-oriented environments where we learned and laughed.

In addition to the mental and emotional growth I experienced, I became more independent; this program was the first time that I had been away from my family and hometown for so long. Participants experienced significant freedom in our daily lives — from walking through the woods or into town, to making consequential decisions about work and food, to grabbing our sleeping bags and sleeping outside beneath the twinkling stars. We also were encouraged to develop grit and appreciation for nature through hikes, survival trips, and group activities. Because it was such a distinct and powerful experience, I don't think I will ever forget how truly at home I felt at the HDC and how meaningfully it shaped my outlook on life.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Whenever I was walking into the town of Paonia, I loved to snack on a green shrub with small lavender flowers that grew along the side of the road. In a survival workshop, the program leader introduced us to certain wild plants that were safe to eat, and this was one of them -- unfortunately, I don't recall its name. It tasted somewhat similar to alfalfa; it was fresh but earthy and poignant.