The High Desert Center--one year of adventure and growth at an unparalleled rate.

The High Desert Center


The current High Desert Center Gap Year Programs represent our best efforts to take the most successful strategies and components and link them together into the kind of long programs that support participants in discovering who they are and what they want and then learning the skills to start living it. Our campus has gotten closer to home to the point where it is now deeply integrated with the local community and Devâ??s home.

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.


Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

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.
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

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!
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

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.

Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

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
Default avatar
Yes, I recommend this program

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.


Displaying 1 - 4 of 4

Alumni Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with verified alumni.

Willa Bryant

Willa has an insatiable passion for wild places, especially in the American southwest. She is always planning her next big backpacking adventure, river trip, or other wilderness excursion.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the High Desert Center's Expeditionary Semester in Arizona because it seemed curious in its exploration in both the cultural and natural worlds. The program offered hiking through rugged Arizonian desert in the south and gentle evergreen forest in the north while exploring quaint Arizona towns along the way.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

The HDC organized so many logistics for the group. Our questions beforehand were answered promptly with clear instruction and advisory.

High Desert Center provided all paperwork for signing up for the course and were very helpful in scheduling FaceTime calls, answering emails, etc. Students were in charge of buying their own airfare and buying incidentals if they needed them (I spent around $100 on the occasional kombucha, showers at a campground, postcards, etc.)

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

You get whatever you put into the trip. For example, if you are in love with learning about plants, there are exceptional resources that can support you in accomplishing that goal. If you love running, there are tons of opportunities for that need to be met.

The one thing that I encourage everyone to remember is that, if you're driven and excited about something, lots of HDC staff and students will support you in doing so. However, to get what you want, you really must communicate your goals to the group. The HDC family always has one's best interest at heart and will do as much as they can to help one achieve their goals.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
  • Day: Wake up with the sun. Kitchen Crew will make breakfast while others get ready for the day by brushing teeth, packing up their sleeping bags, and organizing their day packs. After breakfast, dishes are washed and the tables and stove are put away. After we have cleaned up and people are in the van, we either drive to the next trailhead or if we have camped at the trailhead people will start walking right away. On average, we hike 16 miles a day with the occasional overnight or 30 miler. Around 4 or 5 pm, we get back to the van and drive to our next campsite. We'll have dinner, make a fire, and go to sleep around 8:30.
  • Week: Every 3-5 days we will have a rest day where we usually go into a town and buy groceries, catch up on emails, and maybe take a shower. Depending on our timing and how tired people are feeling, we will have rest days more or less occasionally.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

When I was going to leave on my western adventure, my biggest fear was not fitting into this new community where I really wanted to feel at home. I was so nervous about not finding connection with the people around me. I remember thinking about it on the plane, and even when I first met people in the airport, however, after 3 days of being with the group, I felt as if I had known everyone for years and years.

I would encourage others to just try their best to not worry. The worrying was the hardest part! No matter what, there will be things you don't expect to happen but worrying about what's going to happen in the future and/or how you're going to feel in the future will never do anyone any favors.

Did you change after the trip? If so, in what ways?

I absolutely changed after going to Arizona. I feel so much more open to the world, the people, the places, the feelings. The HDC community gave me the opportunity to feel comfortable with myself by creating a safe, supportive, kind environment. I feel free of things that were once holding me back and able to follow my passions.

Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Dev Carey

Job Title
Dev’s highest priority is creating and sharing special moments. He wears thrift stores clothes, tries to fix his own old cars, butchers his own meat, and gets excited about bobcat tracks in the mud. He has a Ph.D. in ecology, has started numerous learning programs and communities, and lives with family in Paonia, Colorado.

What is your favorite travel memory?

A while back a group of gap year students and I decided to travel overland from Guatemala back to Colorado. We wanted to do it using minimal money while maximizing adventure so we took chicken buses north through Guatemala, sitting four people to a bus seat and living off food we bought on the street. We walked into Mexico and made our way to Palenque. From there it was second class buses and conversations with locals all the way to the Sinaloa where we slept on the beach. Finally we made it to the border and walked with our backpacks into the States and slept in a hidden spot in the woods off the highway.

The next stage of our adventure was to hitchhike to Colorado. Each day we would choose our next place to meet and sleep, then we would divide into groups of two and go stand on the highway and have adventures. We met up and slept in Tucson, under a bridge on Roosevelt Lake, on an abandoned hill in Flagstaff, and then back in Paonia. Each time we met up, there were crazy stories to tell and campfires to sit around.

The whole experience was night and day from traveling in an airplane. We met local people, got dirty, experienced the changing landscapes, and felt empowered by our ability to travel using relatively little money and resources.

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Living in community and choosing adventures inevitably means a life full of chaos, surprise and ambiguity. I used to think I could control it, that if I was smart and charismatic enough, I could identify and create the best way. Nowadays I don’t think it matters much what I choose; what matters is who I am as life happens. Regardless of what comes my way, can I love? Can I take responsibility? Can I find that simplicity that lies on the far side of complexity, the simplicity that comes not from ignoring the chaos of life but from embracing it fully.
The young people who come to our program often feel a lot of stress and pressure trying to figure out “what to do” with their lives. By the end of our year together they often feel less pressure because regardless of what they end up doing, they know “a way to be” that feels right.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I’m reading a 120 page journal by a former student who decided to ride his horse home after completing architecture school in New Mexico. Currently he’s a month into his trip and part way across Colorado. The depth with which he sees the world and reflects on it is wowing me. It’s the kind of thing we do in our programs--come up with a crazy idea and then do it. In the process we get to know ourselves and the world.
One of our goals is actually to unlearn conventional institutional ways of thinking, to recognize and transform the whole 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 just obstacles to what we all crave, which is a sense of connection, shared purpose, mutual respect and freedom.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would choose the full nine-month gap year, because it’s where people change the most, make life-long friends, and experience the most profound adventures. In the fall, I like being part of a local community here in Colorado and meeting and working beside the inspiring folks that live here. I like preparing peaches and venison for winter, jumping in the ditch after saunas, and dreaming about possible winternships. I like backpacking. In the winter I like going south and seeing the other end of the Colorado River where it no longer reaches the sea. I like being outside for 8 weeks straight, understanding how the country is connected, speaking Spanish and finding petroglyphs hidden under cliffs. Finally, in the spring I like building something out of local or found material and designing a big adventure and doing it. I’m always surprised by what happens.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

We are unique in that we don’t see ourselves as a company. We don’t think and act like a company. Rather, we see ourselves as individuals trying to create a meaningful and interesting life while inviting others to join us for a while on our path.

One of our goals is actually to unlearn conventional institutional ways of thinking, to recognize and transform the whole 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 just obstacles to what we all crave, which is a sense of connection, shared purpose, mutual respect and freedom.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Once when I was hopping freight trains, a hobo told me, “If’n you ain’t having no fun, you ain’t helping nobody.”

People want to have fun in life, and I’m not talking about the kind of fun that comes with escaping our lives but rather about 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.

Successful communities support this way of living, not by policy but by a culture of individual conversations that are honest, accepting and direct and that have the potential to build inspiration, self-awareness and personal choice and responsibility.