Terms and Definitions Used Around Cottonwood Gulch

Cottonwood Gulch Expeditions sponsors educational wilderness expeditions and outdoor programs in the American Southwest that promote personal growth, scientific, historic, and cultural discovery as well as a knowledgeable environmental ethic among all those who participate.

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Backpacking allows you to get to more remote places than where you can walk to in a single day. You carry everything you need—shelter, food, clothing, and gear—to be out for a period of several days. Each individual will be responsible for carrying their own personal gear (sleeping bag, clothes, etc.) as well as some of the group gear (food, stoves, etc.).


A 550 acre nature preserve in Thoreau, NM that the Gulch has owned since the 1930’s. It is equipped with rustic cabins, composting latrines, a mess hall and commercial kitchen, art workshop, museum, swimming pool, and shower facilities. If you’d like to see photos of Basecamp, click here.



While there are caves in the world that require days to travel through, the caves we visit typically take under 4 hours to explore. You’ll have the opportunity to explore lava tubes, experience total darkness, and see rare ecosystems. 

College Credit

 Included with the tuition for Paleo Trek are 4 college credits from the geology department in paleontology field work. The credits are pass/fail with the determination based on attitude and effort. Cottonwood Gulch is not able to request transcripts on behalf of the students. Students who would like a copy of their transcript will need to reach out to the registrar at Mesalands College. 


While at Basecamp, participants will have the opportunity to engage with staff who have specialties in areas like art, ecology, music, mountain biking, cooking, rock climbing, desert farming, and archaeology. Typically, Cottonwoods are half-day activities that participants choose from a menu of options. Not every speciality will be offered every day.



The things that need doing in order to keep a community functioning. We work together to make sure that things like dishes, caring for the chickens, sweeping the floor, taking out the trash, and stocking the bathrooms get done and have way more fun than doing chores at home! 



In contrast to backpacking, which happens in the backcountry, frontcounty camping is done in places that can be accessed by a car. This style of camping allows for more amenities than backcountry camping like a larger stove, cooler for dairy and fresh veggies, more musical instruments, etc.


Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is a wonderful way to experience southwestern ecosystems. Participants will have the opportunity to try mountain biking while at Basecamp if they wish. We will supply bikes and helmets and as long as someone has confidently ridden a bike on pavement, we can teach them how to transfer those skills to the trail.


Opportunistic Learning

At the Gulch, we believe in taking advantage of opportunities that present themselves while we’re on trek. This may mean that we deviate from the planned itinerary in order to learn from an expert ornithologist, beekeeper, etc., attend a feast day in a local pueblo, or visit a lavender festival.


Rock Climbing

Rock climbing is a great opportunity to challenge oneself. Contrary to popular belief, upper body strength is not the main predictor of an effective climber. We’ll focus on body movement and mechanics as a way to overcome the physical challenge as well as strategies for overcoming mental challenge. We will cover basic climbing techniques while top rope climbing.


A day when all trek participants return to Basecamp for a day of festivities. Treks have an opportunity to let the rest of the community know what they’ve been up to, we sing songs, play games, and enjoy one of the few times we gather as a larger community.



An opportunity to spend time outdoors alone for a period of 1-24 hours. The length of solo during each trek will depend on the group and the instructors’ assessment. Although it can be challenging, many people find that solo is a great opportunity to reflect and spend their time journaling, observing nature, doing art, etc. Those on solo will be provided the necessary food and gear for the duration of the experience.

Supported Backpacking

Backpacking allows you to get to more remote places than where you can walk to in a single day. Traditionally, you carry everything you need—shelter, food, clothing, and gear—to be out for a period of several days. However, as an introduction to backpacking, the trekkers on Outfit Expedition carry daypacks plus their sleeping bags and a change of clothes while the food, tents, cooking equipment, etc, are driven to their campsite.



We believe in offering an experience largely free from technology. Our staff do have access to technology for emergency communication purposes, however, we do not allow participants to have and/or use cell phones.