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Your Rio Grande Tentative Itinerary!

Dear students & families,

We’re excited to present our tentative itinerary for this spring! In the months ahead, we will spend time on the land and on the water. In the desert and in the mountains. In the solitude of the wilderness and in community with people whose lives are intimately connected to the waters of the Rio Grande. We will learn from the people we meet, the earth we walk on, the things we read, and the challenges we embrace as a group. We are excited to follow this incredible waterway from the gulf to the high mountains of northern New Mexico. To learn about its 1,900-mile journey through the most remote desert canyons and cities divided by a border.

As we write this, your instructor team (I-team) is still chatting about the benefit of option A over option B, monitoring weather reports, and of course, keeping up to date with the ever-shifting landscape of Covid-19 risks and regulations. That is to say, expect this itinerary to change. Traveling as a relatively small group allows us flexibility to take advantage of unexpected opportunities and to find ways to better incorporate the interests of the group into our travels.

Adaptability has long been our style at Dragons and it is the virtue we have all learned to embrace even more fully this past year. We’re excited for the flow and opportunities this tentative itinerary presents and we are also looking forward to the way it morphs over the course of the semester. Fluid like the river that will guide us.

Orientation, El Paso, TX: (March 1-6)

We are so excited to finally meet you in person at the El Paso airport! For our orientation, we will begin calling our tents home at a beautiful campground outside the city and across the state line in New Mexico. We’ll take these days to get to know each other, introduce course themes, familiarize ourselves with our group and personal gear, and set individual and group intentions for the months ahead. This will also be a wonderful setting to keep outdoor social distance as we work on testing and forming our pod safely.

Hiking in Big Bend State Park: (March 7-11)

After orientation, we’ll travel south to Big Bend State Park. Here we will encounter the Rio Grande itself for the first time. We’ll camp along the river and spend several days backpacking through the canyons and mesas of the beautiful Chihuahuan Desert. At night, we’ll sleep beneath thousands of stars above one of the most remote corners of West Texas. In addition to the physical challenge of the hike, this will be an opportunity to grow our backcountry skills and our relationships as a group. On this hike, we will also have an opportunity to begin to reflect on narratives of the land in these contentious border regions.

Floating the Rio Grande: (March 12-16)

Next, we’ll head back to the river in nearby Big Bend National Park. Away from the crowds, we’ll spend five days kayaking the Rio Grande along the US/Mexico border through Boquillas Canyon. We’ll spend days between canyon walls and low grassy banks and nights on the sandy banks as we continue to reflect on the meaning of the border in this wilderness and the significance of water in the desert.

Border Experience, McAllen, TX: (March 17-30)

After first connecting to the river border in the backcountry, we’ll head further south to the small city of McAllen, TX where we’ll work with an organization providing essential support to immigrants after their arrival in the United States. We will learn first-hand about the complex issue of immigration from the perspective of activists, humanitarian leaders, and people who have experienced this journey themselves. During this time, we’ll also have the opportunity to visit sections of border wall and to travel down to the terminus of the Rio Grande where it meets (and sometimes doesn’t meet) the Gulf of Mexico near Brownsville.

Del Rio, TX: (March 31-April 3)

On our way back north, we will have the opportunity to spend several days camping on the Amistad Reservoir near Del Rio. Over the past hundred years, dams along the Rio Grande have significantly impacted the flow patterns of this river and provide significant water and hydroelectric power to cities across the arid southwest. During our time here, we will have the opportunity to learn about and discuss water management through the region. This will also be our midcourse destination. A time to reflect on everything we have experienced so far, to touch base with where we’re at as a group and as individuals, and to reset intentions for the rest of the course.

Border Hike on the Continental Divide Trail: (April 4-10)

We will begin the second half of our course in New Mexico on the southern border where we will spend five days backpacking the first section of the Continental Divide Trail. In its entirety, the CDT travels 3100 miles from the Mexican to Canadian borders across public land in five states. On this hike, we will have the opportunity to see its southern terminus and to experience days of travel through the harsh but beautiful borderlands that neighbor Chihuahua province. This second backpacking trip will allow us to start to refine our technical and leadership skills in the backcountry and reflect further on immigration as well as public land.

Owl Peak, La Madera, NM: (April 11-29)

Traveling north to Lamadera, NM, west of Taos, we will spend time at the Apache-owned Owl Peak Farm. Owl Peak is an organic farm growing healthy local produce through soil regeneration projects and providing support for community development issues in the surrounding region. In addition to land and food, we will also have a chance to engage with local artists and craftsmen on projects like adobe building and pottery. This will be a time to engage more deeply through a two-week stay and to consider issues of food sovereignty, food production, and indigenous history and cultural heritage in this region.

Final Trek in Southern Colorado or Northern New Mexico: (April 30-May 5) 

As we near the end of our time together, we will have the opportunity to go on a final backpacking trip in the mountains not far from the Rio Grande’s headwaters in the San Juan mountains. This time will be an opportunity for students to take on more leadership with greater confidence in the backcountry. Our destination and objectives will be determined by the interests of the group.

Transference, Northern New Mexico: (May 6-10)

We will choose a location in northern New Mexico to spend several days reflecting as a group before departure. This will be an opportunity to celebrate the semester: everything we have learned, the relationships we have formed, and the places we have seen. We will consider ways to integrate our experiences into life after the course, wherever your journey is taking you next.

We are so excited to engage with immigration, indigenous sovereignty, and relationship to the land over the course of this semester with the Rio Grande as our guide. We have enjoyed building this itinerary immensely and can’t wait to experience it with all of you in just over a month!

Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you have further questions! We will be sharing additional information about packing and preparation in the weeks to come.

With gratitude & anticipation,

Maddie, Luis, and Cal’