Colorado to Mexico

A gap year For those inspired to create a meaningful and magical life.

Practice leading the good life based in freedom, community, service and adventure

group of young people smiling and dressed up posing in front of mountains

Who

12 participants age 18-25 who align with these intentions.  (LINK)?

 

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Where

We begin in the mountains and farms of  rural Paonia, Colorado.  We then travel overland through Utah, Arizona, and Mexico.

High Desert Center Background

When

Aug 6 to Nov 17, 2025.  We end the program in Oaxaca, Mexico.  You will have options to stay longer, go home or keep traveling south.

young man smiling on the side of the road with his thumb up, hitchhiking

Cost

Sliding Scale $11,000 to $15,000.  All inclusive although you must get to Colorado and home from Oaxaca on your own dime.

It's not for everybody.  Are you willing to go deep and step out of the box?

A group of young people looking hip and silly

What we'll do

These are not ordinary adventures

The first nine weeks we'll be based out of our student-built campus in Colorado.  The goal is to learn and practice important skills for living the good life.  Challenges include picking a place far away on a map and walking there.  You will also swap inspiration with strangers, sleep on the street and go with nothing into the wilderness for a couple days and nights.  You will create plans for your life that inspire you, dance around a fire, practice being real and connecting deeply.  We will climp mountains, slaughter chickens and busk for food.  You will live simply and outside. You will make group decisions about what to do and then do it.  You will follow and you will lead. You will become more of yourself.

In October we will drive south in our colorful bus.  We will see ancient pueblo ruins, camp on the side of the road, and hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back in a day.  We will camp among Saguaro within sight of the border fence with Mexico.  We will explore and learn about place and then venture across the border for homestays in a small dirt street ejido in Sonora, Mexico.  From there, we cross Mexico on public buses, stopping where you've planned, until we arrive in Oaxaca.  There you will take Spanish classes, learn the culture, and prepare for your adventures that will begin once the program has ended. By then you will have the skills to stay on in Oaxaca, keep traveling south to Guatemala, or return home or to a job.  It's up to you.

young people camping on a beach in Baja

Who we'll be

There is a method to our madness.  

We have chosen challenges and adventures that will deepen skills and shake up the assumptions and habits in your life so that you are more likely to thrive, to be true to your values, effective in your actions, and delighting in your moments.

Each challenge is an excuse to practice being real, seen and valued.  To practice liking yourself and knowing you're capable.  It's a time to practice making the things you believe into reality, to care for yourself and others, to deeply connect to other people and the natural world.  We practice communicating effectively and deeply as well as being okay in the face of discomfort, emotions, or not knowing what will happen.

We practice thriving and creating positive change in the world.

We practice embracing challenge in a way that aligns with our consent and inner sense of safety and connection.

We are not ones to settle for "shoulds" and "have tos" and "if onlys?"  Instead we hold out for the magic of knowing that going deeper is always possible.  Once you experience it, there is no going back.

group of young people with backpacks on smiling in nature

Themes within our community include:

Simple Community Living 

 

Our priority is to create tight-knit, authentic community. Not only among ourselves but with the people we meet on the street.  We do this by being real and making the inspiring courageous choices that are good for us and the world.  We value eating mostly local unprocessed food.  We are glad to use a composting toilet, shower outside in solar heated water, and walk or bike when we can. We help the neighbors.  We do crazy radical things simply because we want to!  We laugh and cry and forgive.  We learn and practice the skills to serve and mentor one another.

Adventuring & Laughing

 

Adventure is a frame of mind.  It can happen anywhere and anytime when we say “yes!”  to a thing.  Maybe it's to  helping the neighbor fix their roof, or spending an entire night mostly naked  around a campfire eating cactus fruit or going a full week eating only local food.

Our intent is to lead a life that feels more like an adventure and less like an obligation, more like play and less like school or work.  Our goal is to have the courage to choose things that might be uncomfortable, unpopular, or unknown but feel deeply aligned.

 

Questioning Norms and Finding Authenticity

We live in a community full of people who have stepped off the well-trodden path.  People who build their own houses and refuse to work normal jobs, people who often question traditional views on school, career, money, marriage, and so forth.

We also question superficial politics that seem to divide us.  We seek out deep conversation and connections with those who may have differing political views.  We avoid being dogmatic or righteous.  We question rules and keep our word. We get involved with local issues and care for community and place.

Options for After the Program

We end it November 17 in Oaxaca.  What's next?  You could fly home from Oaxaca or Mexico City, but you also could stay or travel overland to Guatemala or invite your friends and family to Oaxaca, or...

Work a Ski Town Job.  Here in Colorado we are surrounded by ski towns like Crested Butte, Breckenridge, Vail, and Aspen.  If you start months early, it is not too challenging to get a job that pays you and gives you a ski pass and a place to live. Some people get ski jobs (teaching kids, putting people on lifts, shoveling, etc.) but there are also restaurant jobs, room service, etc.

Go to Language school in Guatemala or Oaxaca.  For not much money you can go stay with a family and study Spanish while being part of the Language School Community.  This exists in Oaxaca but Guatemala is a couple bus rides to the south and Xela, Antiqua and San Pedro are full of affordable and quality language schools.  It's the fast track to good Spanish and fun community and adventure.

Plan the next adventure with your new friends from our Program.  You'll be in a cool place with friends so why not plan to continue on and go to the Yucatan or Costa Rica or to work on that farm or wherever.  You'll have all fall to plan what you want,  Many of our graduates end up adventuring or living together.

WHAT PARTICIPANTS SAY ABOUT OUR GAP YEAR PROGRAM

a young female student is wearing red top smiling

CORI SHOOTER

Belfast, ME

When I first arrived at the High Desert Center I could never have imagined how much I would grow to love and value all those unfamiliar faces I met in the airport. I wouldn’t have even dreamed of all the laugh-till-you-can’t-breathe moments, the sense of support and excitement every time we accomplished something together, and the tears both of sadness and of joy we would all share.

A male teen student smiling wearing floral shirt outdoors in the Colorado desert

KIERAN SMITH

Nevada City, CA

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.

WHEN DO I APPLY?

Today! We are currently accepting applications.

Have more questions:

Where will you sleep? What will you eat? What will each day look like?

Can I Afford a Gap Year?

When we ask our students why they chose us, many say words like “community,” “philosophy” or “strong recommendations.”  Another thing we commonly hear is that our programs are affordable. Read more about how the HDC offers the most affordable gap year program out there.

A group of young people pose for a gap year program photo, looking hip and silly