Legends of the Southwest
A journey into community, across borders, and in partnership with the natural world.
September 2 – December 14, 2024
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Remote and mysterious, the canyonlands of the desert southwest offer a unique lens through which to view the cultural and natural history of North America. Our Legends of the Southwest Semester is a 15-week immersion in place-based experiential learning, backcountry wilderness travel, and climate-resilient living. As we travel through the desert landscape on foot, by mountain bike and by paddle, we will transect the region’s deep history and the complex present-day cultural crossroads. Our classrooms are the deep canyons and endless deserts of Arizona, and our teachers are the plants, animals, and people who inhabit them. Alive with natural beauty and transcending cultures and borders, Kroka’s Legends of the Southwest Semester offers endless possibilities for exploration, discovery, and adventure.
Community & Preparation: September – October
During the first seven weeks of Kroka’s Fall Semester students will make their home at our basecamp in Marlow, NH. Here our days are rich with community life and place-based adventures that weave together organic farming, service projects, academic study, hand crafts, and adventure sports. The rhythm and groundedness of our basecamp life is balanced by a three-week long training expedition to prepare us for the journeys ahead. With a backdrop of brilliant fall colors, we will hike, paddle, mountain bike and rock climb through the best of northern New England’s wilderness, building our strength and endurance, while learning from local farmers, craftspeople and experts in regenerative systems. As the golden leaves turn brown and the weather turns cold, we will turn our sights to the southwest desert and our culminating expeditions.
Southwestern Expedition: November – December
We paddle and bike through unique desert landscapes, experiencing the heat of the sun by day, and fire-lit nights under a tapestry of desert stars. Our days of paddling through the Grand Canyon along the Colorado River are coupled with explorations of canyons, and studying the iconic geology, flora and fauna of the desert region. Then, packing our saddlebags, we will depart on an expedition by bicycle traversing the plateaus and mountains by our own power. All of the preparation early in the semester allows students to feel at home in this rugged and beautiful wilderness, and ready to travel as a peer-led group through parts of this expedition. A strong community supports us throughout our transformation into our more true and authentic selves. Students emerge from extended wilderness travel with a renewed sense of confidence and awareness. We arrive by bike to Tucson, AZ, to study, learn and witness the cultures and conflicts along the US-Mexico Border. As we begin our drive east, we make other stops along the Border to work in service to the individuals and communities there. Finally, we return back to Kroka’s basecamp to process and synthesize this rich and diverse experience.
Upon arrival to the Kroka Farm and Village, there is much to learn; we begin by building an intentional and inclusive community. Students study the foundations of sustainable agriculture while working on Kroka’s organic farm, and become familiar in practices of sustainable living through a simple life in the village. Each day, the group will paddle, bike, run or swim for fitness, becoming familiar with the surrounding lakes, rivers and mountains, and engage in preparation for their first expedition. When all is ready, the newly formed community will set off on their first adventure.
The first expedition is a multi-week sojourn into the heart of the New England wilderness to paddle rivers and bikepack through the hills and peaks of Vermont. Buoyed by the thrill of adventure, students will paddle down the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers, learning to navigate class II and III whitewater while studying hydrology and the local ecology of the region. With the basics of expedition life learned, students trade boat for bikes on the banks of the river and embark on a 200 mile bikepacking expedition across Vermont, studying local geology, flora and fauna along the way. The route will transect the Green Mountains of Vermont, following forest roads, abandoned railroad beds, and single-track trails. Students will help on small farms along the way in exchange for food, rock climb at several outstanding areas, and end the expedition with a caving adventure before returning home to Kroka.
Returning to Kroka Village after their expedition, students join the Kroka farmers in harvesting, preserving the fall bounty for the long winter months ahead, planting cover crops and making fresh apple cider! Students will divide into smaller in-depth interest groups to work on projects that can range from forestry and biodynamic agriculture to construction projects to leather shoe making and fire by friction. Then, it becomes time to make thorough preparations for the final expedition! Each student will choose a specific expedition responsibility (called a “Big Job”) and work with a mentor to take full ownership for this aspect of the upcoming journey. Big Jobs include: master navigator, food manager, medic, fire keeper, and so many more. Students will complete an academic review of all their New England studies, help put the farm to sleep for the winter, and come back together with their families for a Parent Weekend to say goodbye before departing for the Southwest!
After departing Kroka, the group will begin an exciting drive across the country. Whenever possible, they will follow scenic routes such as the Blue Ridge Parkway, tour local colleges and explore interesting towns. Camping along the way in beautiful natural areas or with partner organizations, students will explore new ecosystems, open their minds to new landscapes, and contribute physical labor with their hands through service projects. Academic work will continue with studies focused on the relationships between humans and the natural world. Every day will include some form of adventure, be it a hike, a place to rock climb or a cave exploration.
Ahead lie vast wildernesses of wild rivers, deep canyons, fantastic spires and buttes through which students will paddle and bike. As the group begins their final expedition, life becomes simplified. Each day on the water students will paddle wild rapids and stretches of flat water and exploring the canyons. Students will then pack all they need to thrive onto their bikes and embark south, covering hundreds of miles of the Arizona and Black Canyon Trails. Each afternoon a new home is created along beautiful river beaches and desert plateaus, and each evening desert sunsets paint the landscapes. In this environment, bonds within the group–ones that will last far beyond this journey–become even deeper, as students learn to depend on one another for safety and sustenance. In addition, students begin to connect to the land itself, as a powerful pulse and source of life supporting a multitude of unique plants and animals, including themselves!
Students will arrive in Tucson and emerge from the depth of extended expedition into society. As we make the intentional shift toward larger communities, study will continue on the history and legacy of migration, colonization and immigration in the region that we now know as the border between the US and Mexico. Students will learn about the indigenous people who lived throughout the Southwest before the arrival of European settlers and who still reside in the area today. They will study edible and medicinal plants and learn to sustain life in the desert, studying some of the wisdom of these indigenous groups. Students will also wrestle with the complexity on either side of the river and the tensions that run deep along the border. As they study the past and experience the present, a seed is planted with a prayer for an imagined future where the river unites, rather than divides, communities, cultures and countries. The group will complete the expedition with new knowledge, experience and perspectives, and emerge full of questions, curiosity and passion for a more just and equitable world. From here, the return journey back home begins.
Back at Kroka, students arrive full of excitement for life. As time is taken for reflection on the past three and half months of community living in nature, the group begins to synthesize and metabolize the lessons learned and how to carry them forward into the greater world. A journey of transformation has begun for each student, and it is now time for transition. Therefore, the focus of the final week is centered around shifting the group’s collective energy, generated through learning and growth, towards making positive differences in their communities back home. To celebrate their accomplishments, students complete the semester with a theatrical performance for families and the greater Kroka community.