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The Expeditionary Semester


800 miles stretched between the borders of Mexico and Utah.


8-10 participants, ages 16-22–flexible


The Arizona Trail, from Mexico to Utah


March 11 to May 20, 2019



This semester is for those excited about life on the trail.  Join us for ten weeks and over 800 miles of walking through some of the most spectacular landscapes Arizona has to offer. We’ll form a tight knit community as we meet the challenges, the rewards, and the unexpected turns of this rugged trail. On top of that, we’ll engage in a meaningful examination of immigration and border issues and learn how about the natural history of the area. This semester will shape your values and character while giving you the skills necessary for adventure planning, building and contributing to community, and being a great friend.

When do I apply?

The first round of Interviews happen in November of 2018.

Previous programs have filled quickly.

We recommend applying soon.

More about the Expeditionary Semester


The Arizona Trail, a stretch of trail linking Mexico to Utah, was designated a National Scenic Trail in 2009 and completed on 2011—it’s relatively new. Over the 800+ miles, we’ll encounter both interesting communities and people as well as diverse ecosystems: deserts, mountains, and canyons. We’ll pass through Saguaro National Park and the Grand Canyon, witness the spring bloom of wildflowers, and resupply in charming “trail towns”.

On this expedition, it’s inevitable that we’ll navigate tough times and encounter unknown challenges. These moments provide the context to explore both teammate and leadership skills.  In the process you’ll learn about yourself, be challenged to grow, and master a number of relevant outdoor skills, from outdoor cooking to risk management as well as life skills like practicing patience and honing your sense of humor even in stressful situations.

If you are new to hiking, we’ve got you covered–you’ll be carrying minimal gear thanks to our support vehicle and we’ll start with lower milage days, hiking 9-12 miles. By the end of the trip we’ll be in such great shape that we’ll tackle a few twenty mile days. Once a week we’ll take a rest-day to catch-up on e-mails and laundry, and if you’re having a rough day, you can alway ride along in the support vehicle.

Exploring Immigration

Immigration issues are front and center in news headlines, without much attention on the complex realities of many immigrants’ lives. While we hike across landscapes that are traveled by those who decide to cross the border, we will take time to consider this arduous journey that often results in arrest by the Border Patrol and deportation. We’ll consider the factors that motivate these folks to take this risk, the effects it has on our society, and the various responses people have to immigrants. We’ll talk to human rights groups active in the area as well as with Border Patrol, and in the evenings after hiking, we’ll read and discuss relevant books around the fire.

Natural History and the Environment

It’s inevitable that as we walk and sleep under the stars, we will talk about plants, birds, constellations, and the stories of the places we pass through.  We’ve been leading trips and teaching in the southwest for decades and have a ton of enthusiasm and learning to share.  At night we’ll learn the names of constellations. Maybe we’ll make cordage from Yucca and sample wild edibles.  And along the way we’ll tell the stories of the land, from Native American migrations to the impacts of grazing to public land and water use.


Our staff not only loves to hike–we love to sing in harmonies and rounds. Together we will develop a shared repertoire of folk songs: work songs, political resistance songs, healing songs, and celebratory songs from across the centuries and the globe. We’ll practice on the trail, as we cook our meals, and in the evening as we watch the stars. All the music will be taught by ear and will surely delight the people we meet along the trail. Even if you aren’t a practiced singer, these songs all have a simple base for beginners with more complex harmonies for those with singing experience.

The Expeditionary Semester FAQs

The answer depends on where we are and what we’re doing.  Most days we’ll be up with the sun, preparing a group meal and lunches and then hitting the trail. After walking ten or so miles, we’ll set up camp and then have some down time before dinner and an evening around the fire either singing or talking about boarder issues. Other days we might meet with someone from an immigration advocacy group, explore a “trail town”, or meet up with a boarder patrol agent. At least once per week we’ll have a day off for doing laundry, sleeping in and generally taking care of ourselves.We will pick up and drop off participants at the Phoenix airport during the morning of the start and end dates.

The program fee includes all food, transportation, and activities while the group is together but does not include your individual transportation to and from Phoenix 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.

This program is not available for college credit. If you are seeking college credit please consider The Watershed Semester.

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 simple, whole foods based 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 in two hours while carrying a light pack that contains food, 2-3 liters of water, and some layers. We also suggest training on hills beforehand as the first portion of our hike is steep.

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.