This backpacking and canoeing course is designed for struggling youth and their families. These courses help address behaviors such as unhealthy risk-taking, low motivation, defiance or poor school performance. Courses are presented as metaphors for the transition from childhood to adulthood and help teens connect their desire for more freedom with the reality that they must take on additional responsibility.
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Big Bend region, Texas
The Texas course area, one of the most remote and geologically interesting in the Outward Bound system, lies along the US-Mexico border in southwestern Texas. The Rio Grande River carves a huge sweeping bend through the area earning its namesake, Big Bend National Park. This 750,000-square acre wilderness is an ideal setting for desert backpacking, canyoneering and rock climbing. Delicate desert flowers exist alongside fossilized trees millions of years old, mountain passes give way to steep-walled canyons and cliffs.
The Chihuahuan Desert of Texas is usually dry, warm during the day and cool at night. Students may encounter hot sun or a snow shower. Desert temperatures vary widely. Night temperatures are often cooler, averaging 20 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Voyageur Outward Bound School Basecamp, Texas
The Voyageur Outward Bound School Texas basecamp is located in Redford, Texas at the edge of the Western edge of the Big Bend Ranch State Park. Situated between the mountains of Big Bend to the North and the Rio Grande to the South, the Voyageur Outward Bound School basecamp provides an ideal location for launching/ending paddling and backpacking trips in Big Bend.
Rock Climbing – At one or two different points during the expedition, students have the opportunity to climb at a stunning, outdoor rock climbing site. Outward Bound chooses rock climbing sites that provide a number of different route options including cracks, sheer faces, and chimneys. Regardless of a student’s rock climbing background, everyone is sure to find something that will both challenge and encourage them. All Outward Bound rock climbing experiences are heavily supervised and employ safety systems that are compliant with national standards.
During climbing days, students learn about general rock-climbing equipment, safety and etiquette before practicing how to belay. Students have many opportunities to climb, belay, and rappel throughout the day. Rappelling involves stepping over the edge and controlling one’s own descent.
Solo – Weather and time permitting, an Outward Bound Solo experience provides an important break from the rigors of the expedition and gives students the opportunity to reflect on their Outward Bound experience. The duration of Solo depends on the course length and type as well as the competency and preparedness of the student group. Students on a 3-week course typically spend 2-nights on Solo while students on a 1-week course may spend one night or even just a few hours on Solo. Regardless of Solo length, all students receive sufficient food, water, and shelter to keep them safe and healthy during Solo. Instructors choose Solo sites to offer as much solitude as possible while retaining some proximity to the whole group. While students spend the majority of their Solo time alone, Instructors do check on each student as often as needed, usually 1-4 times per day, to ensure that each student feels safe and comfortable. Instructors work with each student individually to structure a successful, unique Solo experience that meets their specific needs. Solo is purposefully scheduled near the end of the expedition so students have plenty of time to acclimate to their new environments beforehand.
Students often have mixed feelings leading up to Solo. Inevitably, students feel some nervousness and hesitation but are also excited to rest, reflect and test their new skills after spending many days in the wilderness. Students often find that Solo provokes profound and powerful learning in a short period of time and Solo often becomes one of the most memorable parts of their Outward Bound experience.
Final Expedition – Outward Bound believes that an appropriate amount of independence is a powerful educational tool. In order to deliver that benefit, Outward Bound purposefully and gradually transfers certain leadership responsibilities to the students culminating with our “Final Expedition.” Near the end of course, if you and your group have demonstrated the necessary leadership, team problem-solving and wilderness living skills, you may be given the opportunity to travel without your instructors immediately present. Students on courses designed for ages 16 and older may travel without instructors immediately present (although they will be near the group for safety reasons) for one to five days depending on course length, student age, staff assessment of students’ abilities, and terrain. Many of our students feel this phase of the course is the most rewarding as the group learns to work together, problem solve, and accomplish a goal independently while utilizing all the skills they have acquired.
Desert Backpacking - Students backpack through rugged desert up to the mountainous terrain – elevations range from 2,500 to 7,500 feet. During the expedition, instructors will help you learn safe desert travel, teaching how to plan the expedition around water management strategies. The group will navigate “from tinaja to tinaja” – desert water sources vital to desert life. Following trails or traveling cross-country, the group will explore wide open expanses and encounter water-sculptured canyons. Here it will be necessary to scramble around boulders, climb low walls, or give packs or companions a boost.
Students will grow accustomed to backpacking over rough terrain and become familiar with balancing and shifting weight while carrying a pack. Each student carries his or her own personal gear, some group gear, and four to six liters of water in an internal frame pack. Packs weigh at least 50 lbs., sometimes considerably more. Students often choose to redistribute weight according to physical strength. Courses are designed to be challenging. Outward Bound requires that groups travel together for safety and peer motivation and form a blend of everyone’s backpacking styles and needs.
Rio Grande Canoeing - After learning basic whitewater strokes in calm currents, students begin the expedition. The group will spend five to six days traveling downriver through sections of calm currents and whitewater. The whitewater of the Rio Grande offers beginning paddlers a progressive challenge, and a perfect place to learn and hone skills.
When the group reaches a set of rapids, the group will stop to read the current, deciding whether to run the rapids or portage around, examining the river for obstacles and current patterns. As a group, you'll decide the best route, and then plan and assign roles for a river safety system. While two paddlers maneuver a canoe through the rapids, other group members observe, ready to activate the safety system and paddle after floating gear, should a canoe dump or tip over.
Family Seminar – A Family Seminar is held at the end of all Intercept courses. Outward Bound strongly encourages all parents or guardians who live with the student to attend the Family Seminar, but only one parent/guardian is required to attend.
Service – Service is an integral part of the Outward Bound curriculum. In addition to practicing Leave No Trace® ethics on all Outward Bound expeditions, Outward Bound also coordinates service projects with land management agencies like the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and local land agencies. For the most part, service projects will be done outside, and all service projects will be in a socially distant manner. Most Outward Bound students have an opportunity to participate in at least one service project during their course. Intercept courses always include 2-4 days of community service.
Personal Challenge Event – Time and weather permitting, Voyageur Outward Bound School courses end with a Personal Challenge Event (PCE), a final individual physical push. The PCE usually involves an 8-mile run starting as the sun rises over the mountains in Big Bend Ranch State Park.
The PCE is non-competitive. Each student sets his/her own time goal for completion and works toward it to see how their mental and physical stamina has grown as a result of their wilderness expedition. Students celebrate the completion of their wilderness expedition and PCE with a final banquet and graduation ceremony at the basecamp.
The following is an example of what your course itinerary may look like. Your actual itinerary will vary according to weather, student skills and abilities, and instructor preferences.
Day 1: Travel to El Paso, meet your group and an Outward Bound staff representative. Travel by van to your first campsite. The journey takes about 5 hours and meanders through low and high desert grasslands and small towns like Marfa and Presidio. Get packed for the trip and spend your first night out under the stars.
Days 2-13: Begin the backpacking portion of your expedition in the Big Bend State Park. Learn to set-up camp, cook over camp-stoves, and navigate with a map and compass.
Day 14: Spend the day climbing at a gorgeous wilderness rock climbing site. Learn the basics of rock climbing and rappelling.
Days 15-17: Participate in a solo experience, where you will have a small area to yourself overnight and the instructors will check on you periodically.
Days 18-23: Begin the final phase of the backpacking expedition in Big Bend National Park.
Days 24-26: Return to basecamp for a mix of activities including gear clean, a service project, and exploration of the “next-steps” in life. Make final preparations for your first family phone conference.
Day 27: Family phone conferences.
Days 28-29: Canoeing expedition preparation and planning, and service project.
Days 30-38: Start down Rio Grand and begin the paddling portion of your expedition with an introduction to whitewater paddling session. Gain experience as you paddle down the Rio Grande, taking time to understand each rapid before and after you paddle through it.
Days 39-40: Second solo
Days 41-44: Begin the final phase of the canoeing expedition. Work with your group to navigate to your pick-up location.
Day 45: Arrive back at base. Clean gear and enjoy a shower.
Day 46: Community service project. Parents/guardians begin the virtual Family Seminar.
Day 47: Family conferences
Day 48: Community service project and final morning of Family Seminar.
Day 49: Parents travel to El Paso, TX while students participate in Personal Challenge Event, graduation, and explore "next steps" in life.
Day 50: Travel home together.
The Outward Bound School’s Intercept Program provides experiences specifically designed for struggling youth and their families. The program intends to remove students from the pressures and influences of home and school, while presenting them with healthy risks and real life challenges in a highly structured, supportive environment. As a result, students have time to examine the decisions they have been making in their lives and are provided with concrete opportunities to practice new ways of making decisions, setting goals, and connecting decisions with consequences.
Although each Outward Bound experience is unique, certain key components are a part of every Intercept course. Each course begins with a wilderness expedition. Instructors work closely with students to impart the necessary skills to overcome a variety of expedition challenges and mentor them through the process of self-discovery. All of this learning happens in a community environment with fellow expedition members. The idea that students are “crew, not passengers” is central to the Outward Bound learning approach. Wilderness living does not encourage students to contribute to acts of daily life; it requires it. As students learn to cook, care for equipment, stay warm, navigate and plan routes together, they become more aware of one another and how their individual actions affect the group’s ultimate success or failure. As the course progresses, Instructors guide students to understand how their newfound skills can transfer to their lives at home. The expedition focus on community and interpersonal relationships allows students to better connect their Outward Bound experience with their behaviors at home, school, and in society. Through lessons in leadership, communication, conflict-resolution, and judgment, students become empowered with the skills and awareness to start on a new path when they return home.
The wilderness expedition is followed by a carefully designed curriculum aimed at preparing students to reunite with their families, reengage in their home lives, and transfer their successes at Outward Bound to the challenges they will face in the future. The post-expedition curriculum includes at least two days of community service and culminates with a facilitated conversation between individual students and their families. This conversation provides a chance for the family to work together to make a plan for the student’s return and for the student to verbalize his or her continued commitment to growth and goals for the future.
The expedition phase of an Outward Bound Intercept course is designed to focus on:
Weather is always a factor when traveling in the wilderness and it adds an exciting element of challenge to each course. Learning to handle varying weather conditions is essential to a successful wilderness course.
In Texas the temperatures vary between 15-70 degrees during the winter. Typically there will be little to no rainfall during the desert portion of your course, though an occasional storm will happen. You may encounter hot sun or even a brief snow storm!
At least one parent/guardian is required to attend an interactive series of workshops during the last few days of your course. Due to safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the parents and guardians will participate in the seminar virtually as the students conclude their course. The purpose of the seminar is three-fold:
The seminar can be emotionally challenging, enlightening and be a great opportunity to renew hope in your future relationship. You will get to see your parents/guardians and have a chance to speak with them about your course and your plans for home before your course ends.
Parents, the Seminar will focus on how your family can best support one another as your child finishes their Outward Bound course and transitions home. The seminar is crucial to the success of the Intercept Program, and your choice to participate demonstrates a strong commitment to that success. Thank you for your involvement. Here is a brief outline of what to expect at the seminar:
Day 1: During the first day of the Family Seminar you will meet your child’s instructors and the parents of the other students. You will participate in lectures, interactive lessons, and discussions in the morning and afternoon via Zoom. In the afternoon and evening, you will have one hour to engage in an in-depth conversation with one of your child’s Outward Bound Instructors.
Day 2: There will be a parent session over Zoom, followed by a virtual reunion. Afterward, your child and their group will give a short presentation about their experience. Individual family conferences are scheduled throughout the afternoon. You will have one-and-a-half hours scheduled to have a conversation with your child that will be facilitated by one of their Instructors.
Day 3: On the final day, we will have course closure with the group of parents. The course will conclude two days later in order to give you time to travel and pick up your child.
Click below for more information about the Family Seminar. The Parent Workbook will be added to the Course Paperwork tab on the first day of the course.