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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

Presenting Your Itinerary!

Dear Students & Families,

We are delighted to present our tentative itinerary for the Colorado River Basin 2021 summer program! We have been working steadily to build an intentional course flow that represents the core themes, landscapes, and communities central to the Colorado River Basin. 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. 


Week 1: Arrival, Orientation, and Trek Prep

We will meet you at the Denver airport land of the Arapahoe and Ute,  where our journey will begin. Once we have packed our gear into our trailer and our bodies into our van, we will drive West to our first stop in the White River National Forest. We’ll take our first few days to get to know each other, introduce course themes, learn about our group gear, and become comfortable calling our tents home. We will also go on day hikes and get introduced to the concept of permaculture above 8,000 feet!

During this time, we’ll also start preparing for our trek in the Gunnison National Forest, land of the Ute. We’ll design our backpacking food systems and pack our food and gear into our backpacks. We’ll stop in Crested Butte (Ute land)  for a tour of the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory to understand the particular effects of climate change in these mountain environments.

Week 2: Trekking and farming!

We will head off on our four-day trekking loop in the Gunnison National Forest, where we will learn the power of our bodies and the landscape first-hand. Carrying all that we need on our backs and purifying stream water along the way. We will learn the backcountry skills to thrive in the subalpine and alpine environments of the Rocky Mountains. Our relationships as members of a dynamic group and our relationship to the natural world will be a central theme of week 2.  

From the trek, we will take a day to rest and shower in Gunnison before traveling Northwest to Paonia, where we will spend some days farming and learning about seeds, water, food, and sustainable agriculture.

Week 3: Floating the San Juan and exploring Southwestern Colorado

From Paonia, we will travel further into Southwest Utah, where we will float the upper section of the San Juan River, one of the largest tributaries of the Colorado River. The San Juan originates in the Southern Rockies and meanders through red rock desert canyons filled with cottonwood trees, hidden ruins, and thousand-year-old rock art. Our days will be spent learning about the land and water management, geology, and history of the area as we paddle Class II and Class III rapids.

Once off of the river, we’ll head back into the four corners region of Colorado by travelling up out of the red rock desert and into the foothills of the La Plata mountains. This corner of Colorado is culturally and geographically diverse and will offer the group opportunities to engage with local farmers, conservation projects, archeological sites, and day hikes in the backcountry.    

Week 4: Transference and Farewell

In week 4, we will begin our journey away from the four corners and back towards the front range. Along the way we will experience firsthand the Colorado River.  

We will spend the final days of our summer program in Grand Lake, Colorado, (land of the Ute) where we say farewell to the Colorado River, reflect on what we have learned, celebrate our successes, and consider strategies to integrate our experiences into our lives back at home. On July 30, we’ll have one final goodbye before students depart from Denver.