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    The High Desert Center: Gap Years for Adventurous Spirits

    The High Desert Center: Gap Years for Adventurous Spirits


    • Listing Type: Gap Year Programs
    • Program Delivery: Residential
    • Destinations: Australia, Mexico, Spain, Thailand, United States
    • Credit Awarded: None
    • Program Length: Semester, Five Weeks
    • Start Month: February, May, August
    • Category: Outdoor Adventure
    • Selective: Yes
    • Gender: Coed
    • Ages: 17, 18, 19+, 19
    • Housing: Cabins, Homestay, Tents
    • Financial Aid: Not Available
    • Minimum Cost: $1,000 - $2,999
    • Call: (970)361-1233
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    Explore with a tight-knit community. Find purpose. Feel inspired and playful. Maximize your freedom. You will explore the mountains of Colorado, the canyons of Utah, practice Spanish in Mexico, and experience sustainable community in Thailand. You will spend time learning about who you are as an individual, in community, and within the context of the broader world. 


    Here you have the chance to be seen and accepted for who you are.  You might feel like you're coming home or feel a sense of closeness we all crave. Share challenging & crazy adventures that create unparalleled friendships.


    You don’t want to sign up for an ordinary Gap Year program; you want to co-create adventures.  Rules? How about choices and opportunities? Here you can be what matters.


    Join us if you want to feel inspired; if you embrace homespun and informal fun; wilderness adventure; if you're intrigued by dumpster diving, skinny dipping and being real. Be ready to laugh hard and feel high on life.


    Here you'll find your voice will be respected and heard. We believe that choice matters. You'll find a place where part of freedom is having the courage to take ownership of what you choose.


    We serve young adults, ages 17-23.

    We travel around the south western US, Mexico, and Thailand.


    Reviews (6)

    • The High Desert Center was...
      stars stars stars stars stars
      Reviewed on Dec/23/2022 by Amy Kight

      The High Desert Center was a wonderful experience for me. In the weeks before leaving for HDC I had no idea what to expect, but it turned out to be better than I could have ever expected. I wanted a program that would allow me to spend time in nature, make friends, gain confidence, and travel. I feel like I really loved every aspect about the program. I had really unique life experiences that I feel like have allowed me to grow as a person and also have a lot of fun. I look back on the past few months and can't believe I met these amazing people. Everyone I met was so warm and welcoming, making me feel like a part of the HDC and Paonia community from day one. As someone heading to college next year, I feel like it prepared me to live and travel on my own, increased my confidence, and taught me a lot about life. Some of my favorite highlights are seeing the constellations for the first time and practically every night there, backpacking in the West Elk, roadtripping to different towns like Patagonia and Tucson, exploring Goblin Valley in Utah, and staying with host families in Mexico. I feel like at HDC I participated in some amazing group actives each day while also having time to explore Paonia and the other places we camped in, expand my hobbies, make excellent food, and form connections with people from all over the world.

    • For those who like brevity...
      stars stars stars stars stars
      Reviewed on Nov/26/2022 by Ellie Choslovsky

      For those who like brevity, here's the punchline: if you want a truly meaningful, unparalleled, one-of-a-kind, nature-focused, intimate, challenging, growth - not gap - year, then check out the High Desert Center (HDC). It has no equal. It really is transformational.

      I knew I wanted to take a gap year after high school and did a LOT of research. I wanted something nature-oriented with a sustainability focus. HDC is all that and then some. I just completed the Fall 13 week program (Aug 17-Nov. 21), and it turned out to be one of the best decisions I have ever made. Reading about HDC beforehand, my mind, body, and soul instantly lit up telling me this was the one. Now, I can validate that I was more than right! HDC is the real deal, and then some.

      If you are unsure of exactly what you want to do with your life and realize that you want a space where you can grow you - your passions, communication skills, adventurous nature, connection abilities, adaptability skills, and so much more - HDC may be the program for you. The thing that HDC has, that other programs don't, is its ability to balance physical growth (outdoorsy, tangible skills) with personal emotional growth (diving deeper into who you are and your purpose.) Most programs that I found while I searched highlighted outdoor adventure, with little to no direct spotlight on diving deeper into who you are.

      The structure of the program is unique. The first 7 weeks are spent at base camp in Paonia, Colorado, a neat little rural town in Western Colorado at about 5000 feet. There we do many day and overnight treks, and work on sustainability initiatives getting our hands quite dirty. Then, we head out on the road for the final 6 weeks through the southwest in our mini, funky decorated bus. We don't just visit Indian reservations, we live on them. We don't just hike in national monuments and state parks, we live in them. We don't just talk about border and immigration issues, we go to the border, observe and interview people, and live there. And for the last 10 days, we cross the border south and live with host families in a remote, quaint Mexican village 50 miles south of the border. To say the experience is immersive is an understatement.

      And with the group relatively small - just 13 participants and 4 staff - the relationships are amazing, intense, and real. The program is run by Dev and Marian, two kind, generous, genius people who have PhD's in ecology. They don't outsource anything. They are hands-on. They are as kind as they are wise. They've been doing it 20 years. They have no equals. They truly live their values.

      Coming out of the program, I know I have a deeper connection with myself. For one, I am more confident in who I am, which my family and friends have already complimented me on. Secondly, I have unveiled my passion for restoring this earth and it validated that I want to pursue environmental conservation in college. Thirdly, it has given me a totally different perception of our world from our focus on the US and Mexican border, Native American Reservations, and the environment and wildlife. This leads me to another aspect of HDC which other programs don't have. That is, that all of these focuses were things that OUR group voted on and chose to pursue. HDC allows its participants to make big, group decisions which I appreciated so much. It feels great knowing that you have a huge input in what you're gonna be doing everyday versus a standard schedule which is set-in-stone.

      This program allows ALL people to thrive! No matter your personality traits, likes and dislikes, and life experiences, HDC allowed me and all of the other participants a safe place and community to pursue ourselves and each other. Being surrounded by amazing people around my age as well as very devoted staff members who want to see you succeed made this program so much more special. I can now say that I have 16 lifelong friends that I know I will keep in touch with. Though the program is over, we are already thinking of planning a reunion!

      So if you haven't figured it out by now, I highly recommend this program to anyone looking for an authentic, deep, challenging way to dive deeper into themselves and the world around them. This program has changed my life for the better and I will fondly look back on it for . . . ever.

    • Transformative Year
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      Reviewed on Oct/30/2017 by Hero KB

      My gap year at the High Desert Center was easily one of the most transformative, rich, and important experiences I've ever had. That year spent in the red canyons and tall mountains and juniper forests and small farms of Southwest Colorado brought me more growth, learning, joy and challenge than I ever imagined.

      Creating a strong, intentional community with the other participants and staff was a challenging and incredibly rewarding experience. The staff at the High Desert Center were inspiring, knowledgable and kind adults who strove to create an environment that fostered growth, community, and connection. They were there to guide us through the challenges of living in community, and I learned so much about myself and how I interact and communicate with other people.We built something really incredible together. I didn't know it was possible to feel such a sense of belonging and purpose and empowerment in a community. I didn't think I'd ever feel so at home and so much like myself.

      Having the opportunity to live and learn at the High Desert Center taught me so many useful, practical skills, but the most important thing I learned is that I have a place in this world that is important, and I have the power to affect my community and my life. I am so much more empowered and confident than I was. I know that I can go out into the world and create the beautiful and meaningful life that I want for myself.

    • Consider this program if you're looking for a big change!
      stars stars stars stars stars
      Reviewed on Oct/22/2017 by vonmilla

      Living among a group of people for a year is an experience unmatched, and taught me so much about myself and my interactions with others. The staff encouraged me to leave my comfort zone behind and strive to find the parts of life that truly inspired me. I left with the skills and experiences necessary to be a happy and confident member of the world and for that I will always be grateful. I got really inspired about partner dance, made a lot of connections, and these days I'm getting job offers to teach my passion.

    • HDC 2014-15 Southwestern Gap Year
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      Reviewed on Oct/21/2017 by Rae

      I was tired of going to college - being surrounded by students who didn't want to be there, professors who didn't want to either, and I decided to be done with it. Soon after that I found out about the HDC gap year, and after reading everything I could on the website, I got so excited about going. It seemed to provide the community and meaning that I felt I was missing in my life. And it turned out to be true. My group had it's challenges, but we became a second family because of it. It became difficult to make decisions when everyone wanted something different, but after a lot of trial and error we started to get the hang of consensus. Even when things were hard, I always felt like I had support and love from everyone. I realized while I was there that I always want to live in a large group. While on the program I got the support to go out and try new things, from traveling on my own with little budget and the faintest outline of a plan, to backpacking the canyons of the southwest. I love this place and these people so much and I just keep coming back. I'm forever grateful for the friends I've made here, and the experiences I've had. I think it's even safe to say the High Desert Center has made a bigger impact on my life, than anything else I've ever been a part of.

    • When I first arrived at...
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      Reviewed on Oct/21/2017 by Cori

      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. If someone had told me on that first day the sense of achievement I would gain from summiting the peaks towering off in the distance, or the warm fuzzy feeling I would get every time I saw my community all together whether for a meeting or a meal, or how I would look back on who I was then and not feel embarrassed but rather proud of how hard I worked to be who I am now, I would have said "No, that's impossible." With the subtle, rock-solid support of the incredible staff, and the love and lessons I received from my peers, I was able to grow into the empowered, inspired, and capable person I am now. The community we built was what made my Gap Year experience what it was-challenging, fulfilling, joyful, and real. I recommend this Gap Year to any young person with the desire to build strong relationships, grow as a person, and be themselves.