Expand your classroom and your skills as you travel through one of the last true desert regions of North America in Big Bend, Texas.
Head down to the great American Southwest to backpack through the desert of Big Bend and paddle through the canyons of the Rio Grande. In addition to the extended canoeing and backpacking expeditions, this semester course includes canyoneering, rock climbing and rappelling. The length of this course allows for ample time to examine and develop personal goals, leadership styles, problem solving techniques, effective communication, group processing and an ethic of service.
NOTE: For the health and safety of students and staff in the COVID-19 pandemic, students will be required to travel to course start by private transportation. Please work directly with your School for the most up-to-date and regionally-focused travel options. All students and staff must provide a current negative COVID-19 viral test result before arrival to course and/or consent to having a COVID-19 test administered at course start. Outward Bound requires students and staff to follow COVID-19 protocols for 14 days prior to course start and while traveling including physical distancing, wearing a mask in public, and frequent and thorough handwashing. For complete “Health and Safety Standards for Outward Bound Expeditions,” click here.
This course starts within the next week. Please call us at 866-467-7651 to assess the possibility of applying for this course!
Most College Savings Plans, including the 529 College Savings Plan, may be used to attend an Outward Bound expedition, thanks to a partnership with Western Colorado University. Anyone can register – you do not have to be a current Western Colorado University student. Registration is easy! Click here to learn more.
Break away from traditional education and make the world your classroom on an Outward Bound Semester expedition. Experience life adventures and expand your skills as you interact with new environments and diverse cultures. Form lasting relationships with outdoor experts and crewmates who are sharing the same successes, failures and discoveries. Strengthen your commitment to community as you participate in service projects that support local needs.
Build skills, form connections: Amidst rugged natural landscapes, learn to lead and to follow; to give and receive feedback; and to trust in your own capabilities as you expand your technical and personal knowledge base. Find connections with your crewmates based on support and respect (and fun too!), and in the thick of challenges, discover there is more in you than you know.
Value strengths and strengthen values: Uncover your unique character strengths, exercise your independence as you gain life experience and learn how to let compassion in to everyday life by pushing your own limits and supporting your crew as you tackle obstacles together, big and small.
Demonstrate mastery: As you gain confidence in new skills and a better understanding of the natural world around you, take on more decision-making responsibilities. Work together to achieve team goals, solve problems and succeed both as independent individuals and as a group.
What you’ll learn: Examine your personal values and discover more about your true self. Hone your technical abilities as you become a master at ropes courses or swiftwater rescue techniques and Wilderness First Aid. Numerous certificates are available depending on the course, and up to 18 credit hours can be earned along the way.
Exploring new environments and building new connections will put your tenacity to the test. You’ll return with broader understanding of the natural world around you, deeper appreciation for small kindnesses and greater confidence in yourself and others that will serve you well long after you return.
Outward Bound is accredited with the American Gap Association and is the longest running program in this elite group dedicated to providing safe, meaningful and high-caliber educational experiences to students.
At altitudes of 2,000-8,000 feet, backpack the vast Chisos Mountains and explore the Chihuahuan Desert, crossing mountainous terrain and traveling through water-polished canyons. The small group will hike both on and off trail, crossing mountain passes, exploring immense canyons and traversing a rugged desert where atmospheric clarity and wide-open spaces make distances deceiving and navigation challenging. While hiking, students will learn desert travel skills such as strategies for water management and environmental preservation, and the finer points of balance and foot placement on rough terrain.
After first learning basic whitewater strokes in calm currents, students are ready to begin the canoeing expedition. Paddling together, the group travels down-river through sections of calm currents and swift-moving whitewater rapids. The waters of the Rio Grande offer beginning and more advanced paddlers progressive challenges and a perfect place to learn and hone skills.
Instructors assist students in mastering skills of paddling, scouting and running rapids. Students learn all the skills they need to move efficiently down-river, including an introduction to whitewater rescue techniques. As there are only two students in a whitewater canoe, everyone has the opportunity to "captain their watercraft." Students learn to adapt to the river and desert environments and reset their internal clock to rise with the sun and sleep with the moon.
Rock Climbing & Rappelling
During climbing days, students learn about general rock climbing equipment, safety and etiquette. Students have many opportunities to climb, belay and rappel while learning and employing safety systems that are compliant with national standards. The rock climbing sites provide a number of different route options; including cracks, sheer faces and chimneys. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing background, they are sure to find a route that will encourage them to expand their comfort zone and accomplish their goals.
Weather and group dynamics permitting, there may be an opportunity to go canyoneering on this course. During this activity, the group will descend down steep canyons using rappel techniques learned during their rock climbing experience. These canyons often provide a group problem-solving aspect as students descend the canyon, cross pools of water, and navigate maze-like boulder constrictions. During canyoneering, teamwork is essential to getting everyone and their equipment safely and efficiently through the canyon.
Note: In an effort to adhere to CDC guidelines related to COVID-19, cayoneering as an activity may potentially be eliminated from this course temporarily. This change will likely affect Fall 2020 courses and potentially courses in 2021.
Service to the environment and to others is one of the core values of Outward Bound. Students are encouraged to practice service to the environment; leaving campsites cleaner than they found them and practicing Leave No Trace ethics. Students gain an appreciation and desire to help and understand others without the expectation of personal gain through community service opportunities. The specific type of service project depends on the structure of the course, along with local needs and opportunities.
The Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. Many students use this reflection time to make decisions about their future, journal and enjoy the beauty of their surroundings unencumbered by the constant stimulation of modern life. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type, as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. With all the food, skills and supplies they need, students are given a secluded spot to reflect alone, and are monitored by staff throughout the experience to maintain safety. Students find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound course.
Longer courses allow for full immersion in the Outward Bound experience, more time to practice wilderness travel and the opportunity to experience both success and failure to promote personal growth. The Semester course in particular offers the opportunity to achieve success in multiple course areas and activities. Students can expect to get comfortable living and working together in the wilderness while creating a solid foundation of skillsets they can continue to build on after course. This independence easily transfers back to home, school and work with an increased confidence, direction, and sense of responsibility and purpose.
Big Bend Ranch State Park and Big Bend National Park, Texas
Along the US-Mexico border in southwestern Texas, a powerful river and a mountainous desert unite in Texas’ Big Bend park system. The Texas course area is one of the most remote and geologically interesting in the nation. The Rio Grande River carves a huge, sweeping bend where Big Bend National Park earns its name. This 750,000-square mile wilderness is the eighth largest national park in the lower 48 states and a desert backpacking and rock climbing paradise. In this region, delicate desert flowers exist alongside fossilized trees millions of years old. Mountain passes give way to steep-walled canyons and cliffs. The land itself is awe-inspiring, with canyons towering 300 to 1,200 feet over the river. It is one of the last true desert regions in North America. Much of this rugged land has remained unchanged for centuries. Hundreds of species of birds and a healthy diversity of other animal and plant communities thrive within the splendid isolation of ancient limestone canyons, juniper and mesquite-covered mesas and coal-black night skies. These regions are the ancestral lands of the Jumanos, Yoli (Concho), Pescado, Mescalero Apache and Chiso nations.
Travel to El Paso, meet your group and travel to your first campsite. Get packed for the trip and spend your first night out under the stars.
Begin the backpacking portion of your expedition in Big Bend State Park. Learn to set-up camp, cook over camp-stoves, and navigate with a map and compass.
Participate in a Solo experience, where you will have a small area to yourself overnight and the Instructors will check on you periodically.
Basic rock climbing and canyoneering instruction at a gorgeous wilderness rock climbing site.
Return to basecamp for a mix of activities including gear clean, a service project, and canoeing expedition preparation and planning.
Start down the Rio Grande River for the paddling portion of your expedition with an introduction to whitewater paddling session. Gain experience as you paddle down the Rio Grande.
Begin the final phase of the canoeing expedition. Work with your group to navigate to your pick-up location.
Transition back to backpacking for the final phase of your expedition. Work with your group to navigate to the course-end location with less oversight from your Instructors.
Arrive back at base. Clean gear and enjoy a shower.
If you are ready to enroll on a course click the enroll button next to the course you wish to select or you can enroll over the phone by speaking with one of our Admissions Advisors (toll-free) at 866-467-7651.
To secure your spot on a course you must submit an enrollment form and $500 deposit that is applied toward the total cost of the course and includes a $150 non-refundable enrollment processing fee.