This 10-week semester program offers you enriching and inspiring experiences throughout the United States’ west frontier and the offshore beauty of Hawaii’s Big Island. It combines service-learning conservation projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including backpacking, rock climbing, yoga, surfing and white-water rafting; and educational adventure travel through the west’s stunning mountain, rainforest and desert environments. Discover the weaving and cooking traditions of the Native Americans, the navigating skills of the indigenous Polynesians, and the National Parks’ efforts to mitigate deforestation and reintroduce endemic wildlife; uncover more about your own backyard than you even knew existed.
Facilitated by our supportive and experienced Program Instructors, this is an excellent opportunity for students wanting to develop personal and leadership skills, have new experiences and challenge themselves, be immersed in unique environments and learn about sustainability - not to mention, have an insane amount of fun!
The program is open to high school graduates, university students and graduates, ideally 18 – 24 years. Optional transferable academic credit is available to all participants.
You can choose to fly into SFO or LAX or drive to LA - our private transportation will arrange to pick you up at your most convenient destination. Regardless of how you arrive to the starting points of Los Angeles, you’ll be met by your awesome Program Instructors and transferred to our group's Palm Springs accommodation for an in-depth 3-day program orientation to focus on getting to know each other and create a positive and reflective group culture to support us in realizing our program goals.
If you don’t know, now you know. The Dali-like imagery of Joshua Tree makes our very own planet feel somehow warped and disorienting. From the massive boulders to the trees – each with branch shapes as unique as a thumbprint – we will have the opportunity to meditate among the madness as we spend our days tramping throughout its many trails and our evenings stretching our bodies into shapes as humbling as the Joshua Trees that surround us.
Sedona is most commonly – and appropriately – linked to its iconic red rocks. We will explore them by foot and mountain bike to get a real feel for their unique formations. To discover the red rocks is to get a deeper understanding of the spirituality that resides in this unique destination. Renowned for its vortexes – identified locations that hold powerful and transformational energy centers – Sedona has long been a sacred site for the region’s inhabitants. You will have the opportunity to learn about the four different sites identified within Sedona, as well experience the ancestral ceremonial traditions which include sacred drumming and songs, smudging, and aura clearing.
Volunteering time and energy to the organizations that manage public parks and forests is tantamount to those areas’ health – and the public’s ability to enjoy them. We will dedicate two full days to tackling one of the biggest threats to the Tonto National Forest – the arrival and subsequent need for eradicating invasive plants that are harming the park’s ecosystem. We will learn about the poisonous plants and do our part in the process to eliminate them!
In this insanely unique overnight, we will have the opportunity to roll up our sleeves and do some serious hands-on experimenting, with a focus on Earth systems and solutions for a sustainable future. Working alongside scientists and researchers, we will learn about the ongoing efforts to, well, learn more about this planet that we inhabit. We will get to use the most modern of technologies to engage with different approaches to science. It’s some seriously cool stuff.
A long-kept secret between two young cavers, it wasn’t until 1978 that they shared their discovery of the awesome Kartchner Caverns with anybody else. Recognizing its importance and fragility, they took the finding to the Arizona State Parks organization, with the hope and belief that they would manage and care for its well-being. The underground formations are mind-blowing, with stalactites growing over 20 feet and the tallest column in the state – 58 feet – visibly in the appropriately named Throne Room. It feels like a fairy tale to walk along these formations, the majority of which have been growing and developing for over tens of thousands of years. We will spend the day exploring their magic, and the night exploring the magic of the stars in the officially designated Dark Sky destination. During the following day, we will wander around the protected land and see what it looks like in daylight.
We will have the unique opportunity to explore the vast sand dunes of New Mexico's recently established national park (White Sands) alongside an official park ranger! Each day will provide us with a specific theme, from plants and animals to history and culture. We will hike various trails as we get to play in one of the country’s most accessible protected areas.
The following day we will have the opportunity to go inside of a Pueblo, on a personal guided tour teaching us about the Puebloans through places as well as stories. After hearing the many stories and legends of indigenous ancestors, it’s about time we feel the passage of time through the lens of incredibly maintained ruins among the desert landscape. Containing the biggest collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, we will have the chance to explore the preserved region of Chaco Canyon, once a major center of culture and trade for the Ancestral Puebloans.
You’re in for a serious treat as we settle in to explore the cultural hub of Santa Fe. New Mexico’s capital has a reputation that precedes itself, characterized by its restored Pueblo architecture and its beating heart – Central Plaza, a place where local artists spread themselves along the covered grounds to craft, design, create. The city’s winding streets and surrounding nature immediately instill marvel and appreciation; it is not hard to feel why one would want to live out the end of their years amongst its beauty – which is exactly what legendary artist Georgia O’Keefe did. We’ll spend an afternoon exploring her abstract desert-themed artwork, and then spend a day exploring one of her many inspirations – the nearby Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.
Taos’ allure is one that can be difficult to describe before it’s experienced; it goes far beyond its location, an authentic longtime artist colony surrounded by New Mexico’s high desert and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s not solely because of its rich cultural history, with its traditional adobe buildings and multitude of museums showcasing its Native American roots. It’s something intangible, something that lies in the mysteries of its skies and souls. But trust us – when you arrive, you’ll feel it too. It is a place whose visitors find hard to let go of when it’s time to depart. So much so that the full free day you have to explore it won’t seem like nearly enough, but you’ll appreciate the insight gained when we are taken into the home of a born-and-raised tribal family who shares the secrets – and joys – of traditional Horno baking. We’ll work up an appetite preparing various dishes before sitting to a family feast and sharing stories about our cultural differences – and similarities.
Heading north through the desert that separates the border of New Mexico and Colorado is a trip in and of itself, enroute to our destination: the laidback and mesmerizing town of Leadville! We will have an afternoon to explore at leisure before donning some pretty tight shoes and a sweet as harness to spend three days learning climbing, rappelling and belaying in one of nature’s finest playgrounds!
Our epic 3-day rafting journey starts and ends in the shadows of some of the most awe-inspiring mountains in the west. We’ll have an opportunity to wander the adorable town of Aspen and some of its surrounding trails before gearing up for an absolutely wild ride! The days are spent navigating rapids while the evenings are a healthy combination of cooking, searching for constellations, and good ol’ classic campfire stories. Upon our return to Aspen, we will have a day to check out the beautiful Maroon Bells, with an option to stretch our legs on a hike up to the base of Crater Lake.
Pacific Discovery’s self-led weeks have long been ingrained in our company’s DNA. We truly believe in the amount of learning and growth our students experience throughout our semester programs, and this week puts that to the test. You will be handed over the reins to work collaboratively as a group and determine how you want to get from Aspen, Colorado to our next destination: Park City, Utah. There are various routes: Will you choose to head southwest, maybe with a pit stop at the infamous Moab Arches and the incredible Canyonlands of Utah? Will you prefer to go east to find out what the hype is all about in Boulder before heading back west through Rocky Mountain National Park? It’s up to you – and the budget you’re given – to figure it all out!
We arrive in the legendary destination of Park City, home of the 2002 Winter Olympics (as well as endless non-winter-based experiences!). We’ll have a full day of fun in the official Utah Olympic Park, where we get to up our adrenaline on various zip lines, tubing lanes, and ropes courses. We then have a few full day to explore the beauty of the city itself, from its incredibly maintained walking trails to its shops and restaurants downtown.
Upon arrival on the postcard-perfect Big Island, we’ll immerse ourselves in the epic nature surrounding our new home base. Our days will be spent hiking the local tracks for panoramic views, exploring the local town and its exotic fruits and veggies, and getting familiarized with the local vibes. Then it's time to get our hand’s dirty! While the project revolves around food harvesting, dam reconstruction, and border stone building, we’ll also be learning about the legends of the island, the local medicinal plants, and even take a workshop or two in lei- and dye-making!
We’ll spend the next few days being introduced to the culture and history of the Hawaiian people. From workshops on building and rigging canoes, to gathering and preparing a full imu feast, we’ll learn what life for this Polynesian tribe was like hundreds of years ago, and what it’s like today. Complete with Hulu lessons and spiritual storytelling, these days will be nothing short of magical.
Time to challenge our physical strength on a bike tour through the impressive mountain ranges and lush rainforests of the Big Island’s National Park! We’ll spend the next few days observing the variety of flora and trying to spot the native fauna, and we’ll even venture out to Akaka Falls and visit Green Sand Beach. Time to disconnect from the online world and reconnect with the outside world.
The time has come to dive deep into the lush rainforests that Hawaiian fairytales are made of. The contrast from the desert hiking of Joshua Tree to the vibrant moss-colored forests of Hawaii will be on full display as we spend our days truly reveling in the endless beauty and diversity these mystical landscapes hold.
Can you consider yourself to truly understand the culture of Hawaii if you don’t get on a board and walk the walk? Or more aptly, surf the surf? For three days we will have lessons from a local legend, who is sure to get even the clumsiest and most unathletic of us at least skillfully wobbling on the waves. We’ll learn to laugh at ourselves as we no-doubt tumble into the turquoise waters and we’ll learn to trust ourselves as we slowly develop the skills and strengths needed to master this graceful art.
Sadly, the time has come to begin our process of digesting the once-in-a-lifetime experiences we just had with the once-in-a-lifetime friendships we have developed.
Note: Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, relax and have your own independent experiences with others in the group.
Open to students, graduates and non-students, ideally 18-24 years. This program is suitable for anyone of average fitness with an enthusiasm for the outdoors, conservation and new experiences. You need to be committed to, and prepared for, some physical work whilst on the volunteer components of the program i.e. trail building or the removal of invasive plants and while on the outdoor activities, be prepared to give-it-a-go. As a guideline, you should aim to be comfortable hiking 4-6 hours with a backpack. You don’t need to have had previous experience with any of the activities offered.
The program is a shared group experience. We expect you to join the program with an open mind and a willingness to work together with your group mates to make the program an amazing experience for the whole group. Additionally, the program will be as much about the inner journey of personal growth and learning about yourself as it is about what you will experience in the outer physical journey. We expect you to be open to learning and challenging your ideas and assumptions.
Our accommodation will be a mixture of camping (tents supplied) and comfortable and clean hostels and lodges. Laundry and WiFi facilities will be available most days, except during the weeks in the field on the volunteer projects and on expeditions. Accommodation is diverse, comfortable and carefully chosen to fit our needs.
Meals are fresh, tasty, healthy and varied. Special dietary requirements and vegetarians are catered for. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight.
The Pacific Discovery Hawaii & Western United States semester combines conservation volunteering, adventure travel and experiential learning through different six unique states.