NOLS Southwest

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About Program

Discover the rich and varied landscapes of the U.S. Southwest on your next adventure. Arriving on campus, you’ll find yourself surrounded by an iconic desert landscape dotted with saguaros and ocotillo. But the Southwest has far more to offer than sand and cacti—the wilderness classrooms you’ll explore range from desert terrain to ponderosa pine forests and narrow river canyons. The technical skills you can learn here are just as varied: hiking, climbing, lightweight backpacking, whitewater canoeing, and caving.
Backpack through the “sky islands,” isolated mountain ranges that rise up out of vast expanses of desert. Canoe the Rio Grande or climb granite crags at Cochise Stronghold, notable for its cultural and historical importance to the Apache as well as its climbing routes. The U.S. Southwest has a far-reaching and ongoing history of human presence, from the traces of ancient cultures you’ll see at Cliff Dwellings National Monument to the stories of indigenous communities.

Popular Programs

Student rock climbing

Discover a landscape that’s alive with coyote and javelina, mesquite and cactus. On this course, you’ll learn the outdoor skills to explore rivers and mountains. Follow the Rio Grande through steep canyons and climb rocks warmed by the sun. Navigate swift-moving rivers and learn about the area's ecology as you move through ponderosa pine forests and river ecosystems. Though the outdoors are central, this course is about more than gaining outdoor skills. You’ll also dive deep into leadership!

Student rock climbing

On this course, rock climbing will be your challenge, whether you’re a beginner or starting with years of experience. Head to Arizona’s Cochise Stronghold, an area renowned for its climbing and unique desert environment. You’ll start with the basics of climbing, as you gain competence, you’ll progress to more advanced skills like gear placement, and multi-pitch climbing. After hard days of climbing, you’ll enjoy meeting up at your group’s camp to cook dinner, and absorb the quiet of the desert.

Students sitting at camp

Expand your outdoor skills and pursue your climbing dreams with fellow people of color. Head to Arizona’s Cochise Stronghold for nine days of immersive, experiential learning at a world-class climbing destination. Explore the area’s granite domes, jagged spires, and winding desert canyons. Work toward new goals at the crag and build community in a POC affinity space.

Program Reviews

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2
Default avatar
Molly
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Still to this day I speak of my NOLS experience...

I was a student in 2003 Fall Semester in the Southwest and still to this day 12 years later it comes up in my mind, my stories, and my experiences daily. I was challenged on a level that was so different than anything I had ever experienced. Many of the things I could have never had accomplished without the support of not only my instructors, but my course mates as well who I still consider great friends. NOLS takes adversity and diversity to a whole new positive level.
I have so many memories that stick out in my mind but one I think of so often was sitting on the river bank of the Rio Grande after canoeing over 150 miles and watching a pack of wild horses cross the river. I still get chills today when I think of it. I would never call my NOLS experience easy or comfortable but I would call it unforgettable, and life changing. I would recommend the semester course to anyone with any experience level. I so hope to take another course soon.

What would you improve about this program?
I would change the type of credit system the courses get you in college. I feel they could actually go toward core curriculum and not just elective. They are that extensive.
2 people found this review helpful.
Default avatar
Jeff
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

A defining moment in my life

I did a NOLS Semester in the Southwest in 1998 when I was 20 years old. I cannot say enough about the positive and lasting impact it had in my life. I always enjoyed the outdoors, but NOLS made me a competent outdoorsman. Gaining the confidence to traverse through wilderness also had a spillover into my overall confidence and self-reliance. I recommend a NOLS course to ANYONE and to ANY AGE... it was one of the best experiences of my life.

2 people found this review helpful.

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