It combines service-learning conservation projects in diverse reserves; outdoor expeditions including backpacking, kayaking, rock climbing, yoga and mountain biking; and educational adventure travel through the west's stunning mountain, forest and desert environments.
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.
While travelling domestically may look a little different to Pacific Discovery's other programs, our program design remains unchanged.
The Western United States semester program is a journey of discovery, where students are immersed in a facilitated learning environment, designed to maximize the educational and life-skills potential. Students are regularly encouraged to reflect and think about their values, goals, and what they wish to gain from the program experience and from their lives in general. It’s time to explore our own backyard, and there’s a lot of it!
• Program orientation in Palm Springs, CA
• Hiking in Joshua Tree National Park, CA
• Learn how to mountain bike in the famous red rocks Sedona, AZ
• Step into another atmosphere at Biosphere 2 in Tucson, AZ
• Explore ancient ruins in Chaco Canyon, NM
• Ranger Guided Program & Sledding in White Sands National Park, NM
• Sustainability Farming Project in Espanola, NM
• Practice leadership and development in student led section between Taos, New Mexico and Park City, Utah
• Discover the magic of the Grand Tetons and hike to see Old Faithful up close in Yellowstone NP
• Get hands on with a service project in Missoula, MT
• Multi day rock climbing in Whitefish, MT
• Test your balance and strength in the air and on the water during a yoga retreat in Park City, UT
• Epic kayaking trip in San Juan Islands, WA
• Educational service learning in Mount Rainier, WA
• Program wrap in Olympia, WA
• Small group experience with qualified and knowledgeable instructors
• Experiential core curriculum that pushes students to reflect and ask questions of themselves, working towards a deeper understanding of their values, identity, passions and purpose
You can fly or drive to join this program - our private transportation will arrange to pick you up at the airport or a nearby destination. Regardless of how you arrive at the starting point, you’ll be met by your awesome Program Instructors and transferred to our group’s private 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 disoriented. 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 time hiking throughout its many trails and our evenings camping under the night's sky, accompanied by 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. Next up we’ll head the Petrified Forest National Park for some self directed exploration!
Have you ever wondered if life on Mars was actually possible? Now’s your chance to find out! We’ll team up with scientists from Biosphere 2: a three acre laboratory that is recreating life on earth in an atmosphere similar to space. Built in the late 80's after the Apollo space mission, researchers wanted to develop technologies that would allow humans to sustain life on other planets. The dome shaped structures contain a variety of ecosystems from tropical saltwater oceans, rainforests, savanna and deserts, all here in Arizona! Prepare to nerd out on the biggest science experiment you've ever seen!
It wasn’t until 1978 that two young cavers 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 mindblowing, with stalactites growing over 20 feet and the tallest column in the state – 58 feet – 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.
We will also have the unique opportunity to explore the vast dunes of the recently established White Sand National Park alongside an official park ranger! Learn about plants, animals, history and culture while hiking various trails and play in one of the country’s most accessible protected areas. Next we’ll make a stop at Gila National Forest best known for it’s wilderness areas.
Before heading to Sante Fe to hear all the stories and legends of indigenous ancestors. We'll go back in time and get a glimpse into the local history through 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 treat as we settle in to explore Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital. This city 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. On our last day we will have the opportunity to go inside of a nearby Pueblo, on a personal guided tour learning through places as well as stories.
This is an amazing opportunity to connect to and get involved in the growing, harvest, and preparing of fresh foods. This experience is as much about education as it is about participation. Many topics will be explored, including the various challenges confronting the food industry, how COVID-19 has affected the country’s food supply chain, and what it really means to eat healthy.
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 it hard to let go of when it’s time to depart. So much so that the full free day you have to explore 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.
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 Taos, New Mexico to our next destination: Park City, Utah. There are various routes but It’s up to you – and the budget you’re given – to figure it all out!
Once we make it to Park City, you’ll have a well earned relaxation day before spending the next few days exploring all the various ways one can practice the art of yoga, from hanging silks to paddle
boards to connecting with yourself deep in nature. It will be a wonderfully resetting few days!
These few days are going to feel like you’ve been transported from our wondrous planet earth to a galaxy far far away. We’ll spend a full day exploring the majesty of the Grand Tetons, where we’ll get to experience an official dark sky territory with the Teton Science School. Next we’ll continue onto Yellowstone National Park where we will spend a couple of days exploring the trails and get up close and personal with Old Faithful.
You are in for an absolute treat as we gear up in some pretty tight shoes and a sweet harness to spend three days learning how to climb, rappel and belay, and spending the exhausted nights sleeping under the stars.
Prepare to get your hands dirty as we dive into a volunteer service project alongside the United States Forest Service and local partners. Think tree planting, trail restoration, invasive species removal and water drainage creation. You'll also learn about fire protection, which are the events of this year, are crucial in maintaining and preserving these lands.
Surrounded by mountains, forests and water our next stop sits on the edge of the great outdoors. Known for its magical lakefront and water sports, Coeur d’Alene is the perfect spot for a couple days of relaxation. You'll never want to leave this postcard town! Once the energy levels have been restored we’ll be making our way to the coast
to explore Moran State Park.
Next we'll travel by road to Mount Rainier National Park, eponymously named after the iconic 14,410-foot active volcano, Mount Rainier. It is the most glaciated peak in mainland USA, and its ancient forest’s diverse ecosystem is home to an immense amount of wildlife, making it a fascinating setting for researchers, scientists, and Pacific Discovery semester students to explore! We will spend three days embarking on nature-based educational experiences, using the park as our playground to discover and learn.
Oh the magic of protected parks does not get old, boring, or mundane, and Olympic National Park will be one more wonderfilled region for you to check off the bucket list! We will have the opportunity to explore the trails on our 4 day backpacking expedition and allow ourselves and our inhibitions to run free as we soak up the raw rugged nature of this place.
Explore the channels and keep your eyes peeled for the various marine life as you kayak across to Sucia Island for the night. You will set up camp on rugged and quiet shores, enjoying the calm and clear skies that provide amazing stargazing opportunities. In the morning you will wake up to a warm and hearty breakfast, break down camp, and hit the waters for another day of kayaking fun! One last adventure before the semester comes to an end!
Sadly, the time has come to begin our process of digesting the once in-a-lifetime experiences that the last 70 days have taken us on. Our lives are all somewhat chaotic right now, so we are sure that you will reflect on how amazing it was to have a chance to take a break from everything, learn about ourselves, but also prioritise time to
experience and have gratitude for our own stunning and important national culture and environment.
*Each week there will be some designated free time in a town or city so that you can catch up on email and laundry, rest, and explore independently with others in the group.
**Pacific Discovery reserves the right to alter and/or change the order of the itinerary, the focus of the projects or the activities themselves due to dates, availability, and safety precautions.
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 are accomodated. All meals are included in the program cost. Food preparation, shared by all students, is fun, social and often a highlight.
The Pacific Discovery Western United States Gap Year semester combines conservation volunteering, adventure travel and experiential learning through the best of the west!