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Gap Year 2019-2020

Gap Year 2019-2020

The Good Life isn’t something you find; it’s something you create.

Practice creating it at The High Desert Center.


12-16 participants, ages 17-23; plus our staff team


Colorado, Mexico, and the South-West


Sept 11, 2019 to May 21, 2020


$7,750 for a year of adventure, travel, room, board and learning.

The High Desert Center Gap Year is comprised of three phases: The Community Adventure Semester
This semester is about challenge and new experience in rural Western Colorado. You’ll be climbing mountains, canning peaches and making bread, biking to town, meeting people who inspire you, getting purposefully lost and finding your way home, and living the simple, good life. In the process you will learn the skills of self-sufficiency, community and quality living. You’ll have backpacked in mountains and canyons, made a slew of new friends, and have a list of new practical things that you know how to do. Winternship
Between semesters, from mid November to mid-February, Gap Year participants will execute a self-design initiative. The options are endless. You can arrange independent apprenticeships, travel, work or adventures either near your home, in Paonia or elsewhere. During the fall semester we will support you to develop a meaningful project, and we provide weekly support during this phase of the year. Previous Gap Year students have arranged: catering with a macrobiotic chef
walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain
working with horses
nannying for a band on the road touring dance events
visiting deaf communities in Japan
studying Spanish at language school in Guadalajara
volunteering on organic farms
working a job and saving money or being a ski bum. The Watershed Semester
We meet up in late February, share our wintership adventures and travel south, down the Colorado River to Mexico. We’ll meet Mexican scientists and lettuce pickers, immerse ourself in border issues, and see first hand how we are connected to the people of Sonora not only by a river and water issues but also by trade, food, migratory fish and birds, politics and the human experience. We will then slowly make our way north through iconic western settings and see canyons, ancestral ruins, and road runners. We’ll hike and backpack. We’ll peer over the Grand Canyon and find remote spots where nobody goes to experience the full, nitty gritty essence of The West. And return to Colorado
After eight weeks on the road, returning to Paonia will feel like coming home. For the final four weeks, we up your leadership skills to a new level. Now instead of following on adventures, you’ll be leading them. Students will run the program, plan the adventures and the meals, and make it happen. When do I apply?
Right away. Interviews are happening. We have a few spots left.


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 relatively affordable.

Read more about how the HDC offers the most affordable Gap Year Program out there. The Gap Year FAQs
The answer depends on where we are and what we’re doing. Most days we’ll be up with the sun, either going to a farm or biking to a mountain trailhead or canning peaches. In the afternoon there is some individual time while the cooks make dinner. After dinner there might be a meeting and check-ins followed by dance or a campfire. At least once a week we’ll have adventures and two days a week will be free days to explore the town, do laundry, and generally take care of yourself.

Yes, visits are possible. Normally we ask people to only stay for a day or two and to not sleep in our cabins. Finally, it is important that visitors get themselves to and from Paonia. Generally we are too busy during the semester to be picking up visitors at airports or bus stations.

The program fee includes all food, housing, transportation and activities while the group is together but does not include your individual transportation to and from Paonia and optional spending money for personal purchases or activities. You will need to provide your own health insurance. You will also be asked to come with some of your own outdoor equipment, like a sleeping bag, hiking boots and a water filter. An equipment list will be provided after you are accepted to the program.

We are accustomed to meeting the needs of vegetarians and vegans, although you should expect to eat local beans and walnuts rather than avocados and soy cheese. We can also minimize gluten, although it has proven challenging to serve those who are strongly celiac (we have done it). If you have special food needs that aren’t easily met with a local, whole foods diet, you might need to supplement with your own snacks. Please talk with us well in advance about your special needs.

Participants should already be in decent shape by the time they arrive, able to comfortably walk six miles with a pack in two hours as backpacking in steep country will be a significant portion of this semester.

We will ask you to sign an agreement form that includes: No use of drugs (including tobacco and marijuana) and alcohol.
Doing your share of cooking and cleaning.
Abiding by fire and general safety procedures.
Participating fully in program activities unless there is agreement otherwise. Participants, and their parents if participants are not legal adults, will be asked to sign a release form before the program starts acknowledging the risks associated with this program. They include the risks inherent to backcountry travel in rough and remote county, traveling in Mexico, working on farms, and travel in vans and cars driven by staff.
Participants are often unsupervised by staff during days off and certain adventures.
Participants, by consent, may also engage in dumpster diving, skinny dipping, and other unconventional but safe adventures.

After the interview, if you have been offered enrollment, we will hold your spot for two weeks and ask you to make a $1000 payment and complete and send in medical history and consent forms as well as an acknowledgement of risk form. When we receive these, we will formally accept you and give you a spot in the program.