Legends of the Southwest

A journey into community, across borders, and in partnership with the natural world.

September 2 – December 17, 2023

Ages 16-21

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 vast snow-capped mountains, deep canyons and endless deserts of Utah, Arizona and Texas, 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 8 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. Our basecamp life is punctuated by a series of training expeditions 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 6-week culminating expedition. 

 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 are coupled with explorations of canyons, and studying the iconic geology, flora and fauna of the desert region. 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. From here we head to Del Rio, TX and Acuña, Mexico to work and learn firsthand on the US-Mexico Border. In early December we will drive back to Kroka’s basecamp to process and synthesize this rich and diverse experience. 

*Water levels in the Southwest rivers are highly variable and we cannot predict if there will be enough water for an extended paddling expedition. Our semester is climate-resilient with a flexible itinerary that may include expeditions by mountain bike, canoe, or cataraft through the Grand Canyon, Arizona Trail, or the Rio Grande.  

A month-by-month overview:

Block 1: Building Community

Upon arrival to the Kroka Farm and Village, there is much to learn; we will begin by building an intentional and inclusive community. Students will 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 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.

Block 2: Mahoosuc Mountains & Rapid Rivers

The first expedition is a multi-week sojourn into the heart of the Maine wilderness, to climb mountains, paddle rivers and handcraft wooden canoe paddles that will be taken down the Rio Grande. Donning well-laden backpacks, students will climb into the Mahoosuc Mountains, studying local geology, flora and fauna. With full hearts and sore legs, they will paddle down the Androscogin and Rapid Rivers, learning to navigate class II and III whitewater while studying hydrology and local ecology of the region. Working with a senior boat builder and craftsman at our partner organization, Mahoosuc Guide Service, students will handcraft their own wooden canoe paddles and deepen their connection with the surrounding region through storytelling and daily explorations.

Block 3: Harvest, Crafts & Bikes

Returning to Kroka Village after the first expedition, students will join the Kroka farmers in harvesting and preserving the fall bounty. Students will study permaculture design principles as they practice preserving food for the long winter months ahead, plant cover crops, and make fresh apple cider! For continued fitness training, the group will mountain bike to nearby granite cliffs for daily rock climbing practice, and explore the remnants of old mines and water-powered mills while studying patterns of colonization in New England. Students will divide into smaller in-depth interest groups to work on projects that will range from forestry and biodynamic agriculture to leather shoe making and fire by friction.

With a solid foundation of biking and climbing, students will depart on their second and final New England expedition by mountain bike. The route will transect the Piedmont Mountains of New Hampshire and Green Mountains of Vermont, following forest roads, abandoned railroad beds, and single-track trails. Along the way, students will focus their study around the local geology and design principles of permaculture. They will help on farms in exchange for food, rock climb at several outstanding areas, and end the expedition with a multi-day caving adventure before returning home to Kroka.

Block 4: Preparations for the Journey

It is now time to make thorough preparations for the final expedition! Each student will have chosen a specific expedition responsibility (called a “big job”), and work with a mentor to take full ownership for this aspect of the Rio Grande 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 river!

Block 5: New Hampshire to Texas

After departing from Kroka, the group will begin an exciting drive across the country. Whenever possible, they will follow scenic routes such as the Blue Ridge and Natchez Trace Parkways. 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.

Block 6: Journey Through the Desert

Ahead lie 300 miles of wild river through deep canyons carved over millennia into the limestone of the Chihuahuan Desert. Fantastic towers, spires and buttes loom overhead as students paddle rapids through a myriad of canyons and desert landscapes. As the group begins their paddling expedition, life becomes simplified. Each day is spent on the water paddling rapids and stretches of flat water, soaking in natural hot springs, and exploring slot canyons. Each afternoon a new home is created along beautiful beaches and mesas with extensive views of distant mountains. In this environment, bonds within the group that will last far beyond this journey become even deeper, as students learn to depend on one another for safety and sustenance. In addition, they begin to connect to the river itself; a powerful green ribbon of life supporting a multitude of plants and animals as it winds through the desert landscape.

The focus of study will be on the history and legacy of colonization in the region that we now know as the border between the US and Mexico. Students will learn about the indigenous people who lived on the shores of the Rio Grande 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, the two countries. The group will complete the expedition enlightened, and emerge from the canyons near Del Rio, Texas and the city of Acuña, Mexico. From here, the return journey back home begins.

Block 7: Returning Home

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 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 will be 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.