The High Desert Center Gap Year

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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 2021-2022 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. Explore the world with opportunities to travel to Spain, Australia, Thailand, Guatemala and more.

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.

girl throws her shirt as she gets into the ocean

Part of the full gap year includes an opportunity to travel to Australia. Enjoy the fun of a family homestay in a wonderful old seaside home nestled among the urban Henley Beach. With good public transport and cycling path access, the city of Adelaide is in full summer swing for adventures and exploring. Learn about permaculture, the indigenous Kaurna culture, and seaside lifestyle in Australia.

man peaks out from behind a column near golden buddhist statues

Experience Thailand while living in a community center focused on building the skills of self-reliance. You will learn how to save seeds, garden, and practice natural building. Take advantage of getting to know the indigenous cultures of the Karen, Hmong, Lisu, and Lahu people and experience life from the vantage point of a vastly different worldview.

Related Programs

Questions & Answers

Reviews

9.87 Rating
based on 15 reviews
  • 9-10 rating 100%
  • 7-8 rating 0%
  • 5-6 rating 0%
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  • 1-2 rating 0%
  • Housing 8.9
  • Support 9.9
  • Fun 9.9
  • Value 10
  • Safety 9.3
Showing 1 - 8 of 15
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Victoria
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

High Desert Center: Best Experience!

My time at the High Desert Center was life-changing. Even though I was only a semester, the friends I made and the perspective I gained will definitely stay with me. I’ve gained a new appreciation for the simpler things in life, for what it means to live life to the fullest and create a community with like-minded people. I learned so many useful skills, spent time in the most beautiful mountains and landscapes, and made friends for life. Marian and Dev’s mission of sustainability and adventurous living is incredible and after only 3 months, I learned so much about myself. I guarantee that this is the program for you, and if you have doubts my advice is just to go for it. You’ll be so grateful you did.

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Juniper
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Having fun by the mountains

This program truly holds so many surprises. Whether we were climbing a mountain, learning about local ecology, playing a city wide game of hide and seek, or planning a community celebration, every day was a new adventure. I was continually inspired by the passion of program staff and energy of my fellow participants, which really encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and dive into new experiences. The sense of community created in this program is phenomenal. After just a few days I felt completely at home, and I know I made many lifelong friends. I think this program would be a perfect fit for anyone who wants to learn a lot, see the world, and experience life in a one of a kind community.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
One week, a small group and I embarked on a spontaneous road trip across southern Colorado. We spent much of the week searching for trash to upcycle into cool art, as well as taking in beautiful sights of Colorado. We camped in a canyon in the snow, ate lunch in a Walmart parking lot, and even made a short film. It was an awesome experience I'll never forget.
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Lily
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Adventures of a lifetime

My experience at the high desert center has been one of the most formative experiences of my life. I went into it thinking I knew what I was getting myself into- a gap year program centered around community, sustainability, and adventure. In reality, it is so much more. The people you meet here become your family and the adventures you'll go on are unforgettable and out of the ordinary. You'll be challenged and learn so much about yourself in the process. I recommend this program to anyone looking for an unconventional and inspiring year full of love, growth, adventure, practical skills, and so much more.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Say yes! There will be lots of opportunities and some may seem scary or out of the ordinary, but I encourage newcomers to try something new that might be out of their comfort zone!
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Towner
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

My Desert Experience

I don't think any amount of reviews could accurately capture the magic that is the High Desert Center. I applied to the program unsure of who I was as a person or what I wanted in life, and found a community that not only accepted me, but celebrated me for everything that I am. From day one, it felt like everyone wanted to tear down their walls and be as authentically themselves as possible. I had formed stronger connections with people I'd known for a couple weeks, than I had with people I'd known my whole life. I grew emotionally by learning to get more in tune with my feelings, physically as we interacted with nature through biking or backpacking trips, and mentally as I overcame the doubts I had about myself. I laughed till my stomach hurt, learned survival skills, created pots out of clay I made myself, biked 50 miles in a day, learned how to farm/live sustainably, and literally so much more. I truly believe anybody could gain something from coming to the High Desert Center.

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August
9/10
Yes, I recommend this program

High Desert Center

The High Desert Center has been one of the greatest surprises of my life. I went into it knowing very little but came out feeling good about community, life skills, and myself. Here I was able to push myself and challenge myself day to day, I also found that my sense of community pushed me in many areas as well. Coming here I was able to make friends with people from around the US and create deep meaningful connections with them in just a matter of a few weeks. I lived in an environment of constant support and love that I'd struggle to find in other areas of my life. The number one take away has been how much I learned about who I am And what I was capable of, the people of HDC improved my confidence and I learned more about life skills and independence.

If you did this all over again, what's one thing you would change?
Id be way more open to the challenges it presented
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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.
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