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Your Tentative Week-by-Week Itinerary!

Paddling the Black Canyon of the Colorado River below the Hoover Dam

Dear Students & Families,

Without further adieu, we are ready to present your tentative itinerary for the Colorado River Basin Spring 2021 semester! We have been working for months to build an intentional course flow that represents the core themes, landscapes, and communities central to the Colorado River Basin Semester (CRBS, for short).  When examining sustainable relationships with land and water in the Western US, we wanted to create a program that exposes you to the historical, cultural, and ecological uniqueness of the region through direct contact with activists and researchers, farmers and ranchers, NGOs and grassroots communities, and of course, the awe inspiring landscapes & watersheds that connect them all. 

Of course, in COVID times, “direct contact” has to be managed with extreme caution. Everywhere we go, we will always operate out of a “do no harm” principle first and foremost: your health and the health of anyone we come into contact with will always be primary. What this means in practical terms is that we will need your flexibility, adaptability, and patience as we navigate the difficulties of offering immersive programming amidst a pandemic. Our plans will change along the way. Keep your expectations nimble and open to the experience ahead. And please join us in showing up with gratitude that we’re able to embark on this journey together. 

Fortunately for Dragons, adaptability and dynamic course planning  has always been our style. We find that the best courses are the ones in which we safely embrace the unexpected and remain responsive to the unique dynamics and interests of our group. We can’t wait to breathe life into this itinerary together. 

*****

Arrival & Orientation (March 1-5, near Phoenix, AZ)

We are so excited to finally meet you in person at the Phoenix airport where our journey kicks off!  For our orientation, we will begin calling our tents home at a beautiful campground located a few hours outside of Phoenix. 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 the time when we maintain our mask wearing and social distancing protocols in an outdoor setting until we have our follow-up COVID tests processed and officially form our group pod. While the first days of the semester are mostly group oriented, we will also have the opportunity to first experience the Colorado River with an all day canoe trip through Havasu National Wildlife Refuge and Topock Gorge. Floating through the beautiful terrain south of Lake Mohave we’ll start to explore the beauty and complexities of the Colorado River basin. 

Payahuunadü  and Indigenous Sovereignty (March 5-13, Owens Valley, CA)

We transition to the sacred valley of Payahuunadü, home of the Nüümü people, a Native American Nation also known as Paiute. Located outside Bishop, CA in the magnificent eastern slope of the Sierras,  we will partner with facilitators and activists from the Bishop Paiute to learn about indigenous work to regain sovereignty over food, land, and water. The Owens Valley has a long and checkered history of water theft and disenfranchisement of indigenous populations that are emblematic of the settler colonialism in the Western US. We will engage with the work of the Bishop Paiute Food Sovereignty Program, as well as learning from the Owens Valley Water Commission, and the Tribal Environmental Department about Indigenous stewardship, water and land management in Payahuunadü. In addition to our workshops, we will also go on hikes under the shadow of snow capped mountains, excursions to the lunar landscape of the dry Owens Lake bed, and soak under the stars in geothermal hot springs. 

Colorado River Canoe Trip (March 14-18, near Lake Mead, NV)

Leaving California and the Sierra Nevadas, we drop back into the desert to float a magnificent portion of the Colorado River. Located just south of Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, we will paddle the Black Canyon section of the river which concludes with a surreal vantage point from the bottom  of the Hoover Dam. Many have looked down from the top of the dam, but it is a very special experience to look up at this mass of concrete and marvel of New Deal engineering from the water below. When not paddling through the red rock canyons, we’ll do day hikes to hot springs up side slot canyons, discuss the impacts of hydroelectric power, and swim in the cold clear water of the Colorado. 

Sustainable Building in the High Desert (March 19-23, Elgin, AZ)

Having our fill of sunshine and river paddling for now, we drive to the high desert of Arizona to undertake a hands-on sustainable building project with family-run Canelo Project. We hope to balance the weighty themes of environmental degradation and exploitation with more positive  & sustainable approaches to the land. As such, here we will learn about how indigenous communities have sustainably constructed homes out of nothing more than the earth underfoot for millennia. We will practice some of these sustainable building techniques by constructing a small scale structure of our own during our stay. 

Borderlands Restoration Network & Advocacy (March 23-April 2, Patagonia, AZ)

We stay close to the southern border to take a deep dive into conservation efforts, environmental & social justice advocacy, permaculture, native seed saving, and borderlands studies. We cannot fully understand the flow of the Colorado River without understanding the transnational nature of water rights. Just across the border in Nogales,  nearly two thirds of all agricultural goods grown in Mexico are transported into the US via trains passing through this crossing point. Working with partner NGOs and experts, we will explore the intersection of water policy, food justice, and immigration during our extended stay in Patagonia. Our days will be filled with hands-on environmental restoration projects, excursions, and workshops focused on promoting environmental and social advocacy. 

The Grand Canyon and Northern Arizona (April 3-6)

Leaving our friends and community partners in southern Arizona, we make our way northward to Utah. We will camp near the Grand Canyon to take in this wonder of the world and discuss the impacts of tourism & development on the  ecosystem. We’ll do some day hikes near the southern rim of the Grand Canyon to take in the memorable vistas and also  visit with local ecologists and researchers working in the area. 

Mid-course Reflection (April 6-8, Mancos, CO)

Staying at a basecamp cabin outside of Mancos, CO, we will pause for a couple days of mid-course reflection. We’ll have time to reflect, share feedback, and re-evaluate our goals for the rest of the course going forward. It will also be a time to prep for our upcoming trek! 

Bears Ears National Monument Trek  & San Juan River Float (April 7-26, near Bluff, UT) 

Feeling rejuvenated and ready, we strap on our backpacks and set off on foot for a five day backpacking trip through the canyons of Cedar Mesa in the heart of the Bears Ears Monument. After completing our trek, we camp near Bluff, UT where 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. Rounding out this adventurous segment of our journey, we will float the upper section of the San Juan River, taking in the beauty of Utah’s red rock canyons from below and continuing to explore the themes of water & land management first hand. 

Colorado and Expedition Phase (April 27-May 6, Location TBD)

Coming off our extended wilderness time in southeast Utah we’ll make our way north into Colorado, passing through the Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. With all Dragons programs, we follow a progression of increasing student empowerment and ownership over our daily activities as we near the end of the semester. For our course, we want to leave this final portion of the itinerary more open in order to incorporate the unique interests of our group. Options could include: a final multi-day backpacking trip in Colorado pending snow levels, a farm and permaculture stay in Paonia, CO, an exploration of dams and the Big Thompson Project outside Grand Lake, and more. Once we are together, we can collectively decide how we want this time to look for our group! 

Transference and Goodbyes (May 7-10, near Boulder, CO)

We will finish our semester nestled in the front range of the Rocky Mountains. We will take the last three days to reflect on our semester and learnings, celebrate our successes, and consider strategies to integrate our experiences into our lives back at home. On May 10, we’ll have one final goodbye before students depart out of Denver.