Dear students and families,
We are thrilled to present to all of you our tentative itinerary and thematic focus for the spring semester! We are excited about each person, place, and organization listed here and we hope you can start to build your own excitement as you read through this. As you read, you will find that our course does not neatly follow the geography of the river that our semester is named for. We have put a great deal of thought into the flow and themes that we would like to cover on our program and have adapted the course a bit to incorporate the instructors’ specific interests and passions.
Our program will explore human relationships to land through a social justice lens. We will look at border issues, indigenous land sovereignty, sustainability, and conservation throughout the American Southwest. Each aspect of our itinerary will allow us to explore these themes deeper, gaining new perspectives from the people we meet along the way.
Lastly, we must recognize the importance of flexibility on this trip. We are still in the midst of a pandemic and need to be able to adjust on the fly as situations change. Rest assured, we will all be experts in the art of adaptability by the end of our time together. During our orientation and in your pre-course phone call with an instructor we will discuss this more and answer any questions you may have.
Okay, with all that said, let’s get into it!
Orientation, Big Bend, TX : (March 1-7) We will finally meet in person at the El Paso airport and drive 6 hours to arrive at our campground in Big Bend Ranch State Park. On the banks of the Rio Grande, we will introduce course themes, take a few days to get to know each other, familiarize ourselves with our camp and cook setup, and set our intentions for the program. We’ll also talk about our group culture and how we want to travel and trek as a group.
Backpacking and Floating the Rio Grande: (March 7-13) – After orientation, we will put our group coordination to the test as we undertake our first physical challenge backpacking in Big Bend National Park. We will be treated to spectacular canyon vistas and starry desert nights. After backpacking, we will take a few nights to regroup before embarking on a four day float on the Rio Grande. Moving slowly by canoe, our guides will share some of the cultural and geographic history of the river that divides the United States and Mexico.
El Paso/Southern New Mexico: (March 14-24) We will then make the drive back to El Paso, one of the largest ports of entry on the United States’ southern border. Staying on a small family-run farm, we will get to know a number of local people whose lives and work revolve around the border. We will meet with immigrant advocates, educators, and borderlands conservation experts. Leaving El Paso, we will join our friends from Nuestra Tierra, a small organization that works to involve border communities in conservation. Together, we will explore the borderlands of Southern New Mexico and spend time on the Gila River, the last free flowing (undammed) river in the American Southwest.
Southern Arizona: (March 25-April 2) Continuing our border studies, we will visit important sites along the Nogales, AZ border and meet with other activists in the region. In Tucson, we will learn about indigenous land stewardship and begin to explore the impacts of settler colonialism. There will also be time to take in the rich biodiversity of the Sonoran Desert and admire the oddly human looking Saguaro cactus!
Northern Arizona and the Grand Canyon: (April 3-11) Traveling north, we will meet up with a dear friend of Dragons who has lived in this unique part of the country for 30 years. He will help orient us to the culture and natural history of the Grand Canyon as we camp together and explore below the Canyon’s South rim. We will learn about the importance of the Colorado River to this arid region, looking at the impacts of dam building and commercial agriculture. Near the Utah-Arizona border, we will pause for “midcourse”and reserve two days for our group to reflect inward. We’ll provide each other with feedback and re-evaluate our goals for the rest of the course.
Bears Ears National Monument & San Juan River Float: (April 12-27) Setting up camp in Bluff, UT we’ll spend some time with local people and organizations involved in the protection and preservation of Bears Ears National Monument. We will hear stories and learn about the cultural significance of this landscape for the native groups whose ancestors have lived in this area since time immemorial. Next, we strap on our backpacks and set off on foot for a five day backpacking trip through Cedar Mesa in the heart of the Bears Ears Monument. Rounding out this adventurous segment of our journey, we will float the San Juan River, taking in the beauty of Utah’s red rock canyons from below.
Earth Mountain Education Farm: (April 28-May 6) For our last leg of the journey, we will experience agricultural life on a sustainable farm in Southern Colorado. Here we will learn about permaculture, be involved in planting for the next season’s harvest and explore what it means to live close to the land. This will also be the location of our student led expedition ( x-phase), where students will be empowered to plan activities and take ownership over our day-to-day schedule.
Transference, Northern New Mexico: (May 7-10) Depending on where we finish our x-phase, we will choose a location in Northern New Mexico to come together as a group one final time before saying our goodbyes. We will take the last three days to reflect on our trip and learning, celebrate our successes, and consider how to integrate our experiences into our lives at home. On May 10, you will depart from Albuquerque and fly home.
It is always an exciting process to think through our itinerary and place intention towards the learning outcomes of each phase of the course. We can’t wait to start this adventure with all of you!