Sustainable Living Project


Nestled at the base of the majestic Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the San Luis Valley of central Colorado, this coed course offers high school students an adventurous cure for the summer time blues. The Sustainable Living Project is designed for students who are passionate about doing something meaningful, something important, and something extraordinary! We will spend the week camping under the stars at Earth Knack, a stone-age living skills school in Crestone, Colorado.

We will focus on learning and practicing sustainable living skills, including shelter, fire, cordage, how to make basic stone tools, primitive pottery, and primitive hunting tools like atl-atls. As we learn the cultural survival skills of our ancestors, we will discuss ways to reduce our ecological footprint living in this modern age. We will apply these ideas of treading lightly on the earth by completing much needed ecological service projects at Earth Knack, including fire mitigation, organic gardening, composting, straw bale, and adobe construction. While the days will be action packed, there will be plenty of time in the evenings for relaxing around the fire, hanging out, and philosophizing. You will be able to work on projects at your own pace, so make this experience as mild or as wild as you want. Spaces for this course are limited and fill up early so register today!

To register for this course, please click the Register For A Course Today! link or call us at 303.447.1076.


Day 1 – And We’re Off: The first day we will meet together at a central location to check equipment and travel to Crestone, Colorado. When we arrive in Crestone, we will set up our base camp at Earth Knack and get to know each other. We will meet our host, Robin Blankenship, and get a quick orientation about what to expect for the week. We will begin to learn about the history and ecology of the area and awaken our awareness skills.

Day 2 – 3 Sustainable Living Skills: We will begin the week by tapping into our ancestral past. We will experience first hand how we used to live, thrive, and survive in the natural world by learning and practicing stone age survival skills. We will practice making natural shelters, friction fire, natural cordage, stone tools, primitive pottery, and we will make primitive hunting tools. We will discuss the environmental impact of these skills, look at the waste we produce, and contrast that to the way we live today. Expect morning hikes, a hike to the Orient Mine to view one of the largest bat colonies in North America, an astronomy night hike, and guitar strummin’ around the fire in the evenings.

Day 4 – 5 Action Projects, Movie Night, Night Hike: During each Cottonwood Institute course, we will complete an Action Project to address a local environmental issue, to walk our talk, and to give back to the land. Earth Knack is a living example of a sustainable community. We will take an in depth tour to understand the inner workings of this community while learning and practicing sustainable living skills and building techniques. We will cover fire mitigation, organic gardening, composting, straw bale, and adobe construction. During the afternoons, we will continue to practice wilderness survival skills including primitive and modern fire methods, water location and procurement, and rescue techniques. We will pick a night to have a movie night to watch movies about organic farming and sustainability and if the conditions are right we may also find time for a night hike.

Day 6 – Survival Challenge: We will break up into small groups and complete a survival challenge together to apply some of the skills we have learned throughout the week. We won’t tell you too much about this challenge ahead of time, but take comfort in the fact that you will have the support of your teammates and you will have access to your gear and supplies if you need it. The survival challenge is a fun and memorable part of your Cottonwood Institute experience and will consist of a series of survival activities and you will be rewarded after completing each task.

Day 7 – Final Celebration, Depart: During our last full day, we will have our final breakfast together, reflect on all that we have learned and accomplished during the week, and our reward for all of our hard work will be a trip to the Sand Dunes Swimming Pool. We will soak our tired bones in their natural hot springs and take a tour to see how they trap the heat from the thermal pools to grow food year round in their greenhouse. Participants will also set the intention to reduce their ecological footprint at home. Finally, we will pack up our gear, final clean up, and depart.

To register for this course, please click the Register For A Course Today! link or call us at 303.447.1076.


  • Host Organization: Earth Knack
  • Location: Crestone, Colorado
  • Date/Price: This course is available for schools, youth organizations, and adult groups. If you have a group of 8 – 12 students you would like to send on this course, please call us at 303.447.1076 for a custom quote.
  • Difficulty: Be prepared to hike a few miles at altitude and work up a sweat with practicing stone-age survival skills and completing the service projects listed above.
  • Average Temperatures: High 85ºF / Low 50ºF Be prepared for a variety of weather conditions and temperatures.
  • Beginners welcome!
  • Recommended Books: Earth Knack: Stone Age Skills for the 21st Century, by Bart and Robin Blankenship and Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond.

To register for this course, please click the Register For A Course Today! link or call us at 303.447.1076.


  • To check out photos from previous Sustainable Living Projects, Click Here.


  • Get out of the house this summer for an unforgettable adventure.
  • Practice stone-age survival skills to reconnect with your ancestral past, including: shelter, fire, cordage, stone tools, primitive pottery, and primitive hunting tools.
  • Complete much needed ecological service projects to benefit Earth Knack.
  • Learn how to reduce your environmental footprint in this modern age.
  • Explore future careers in archaeology, history, permaculture, and sustainable building.
  • Knock out high school and/or college credit.


Where will we sleep? As with all Cottonwood Institute courses, we recommend that students sleep under low-tech poncho shelters, which can be set up individually or with other students to make a larger group shelter. We will spend the first day learning the necessary knots and techniques for setting up a bomber poncho shelter. This shelter may look small, but it is actually quite roomy and keeps you dry during thunderstorms. Annie is demonstrating her textbook poncho shelter in this photo! It is ok to bring a tent on this course.

What will we eat? Unlike some of our other courses, we are fortunate to have access to Earth Knack’s outdoor kitchen during this course, so prepare to feast on fresh veggies, wild grains, and wild game such as rabbit, dear, elk, bear, and mountain lion. Don’t worry, we can accommodate vegetarians as well!

Where do we go to the bathroom? Unlike other Cottonwood Institute courses, we have access to Earth Knack’s outhouse during this course. The outhouse is not like the smelly outhouses you may have encountered in the past. Earth Knack practices human waste composting (we’ll fully explain the process during the course) and there is no foul smell – I promise!

How hard is this course? This obviously depends on each individual. Unlike other courses, we will not have to hike in to our base camp during this course. Expect to go on 2-3 mile day/night hikes throughout the week and work on a variety of Action Projects that can be physically demanding. However, we strongly encourage students to go at their own pace to make their course as mild or as wild as they feel comfortable pushing themselves.

I am traveling from out of state, how should I get to Colorado? We have had students from California, Wyoming, Ohio, New York, and New Orleans. If you are traveling from out of state, you need to coordinate your travel arrangements so you fly to Denver International Airport (DIA) one day before your course starts and plan to leave the day after your course ends. You will need to arrange lodging the night before your course starts and the night your course ends. A Cottonwood Institute representative will pick you up from your hotel the morning your course starts and take you to our course start location. When you register for this course, you will receive a detailed registration packet outlining all of the travel logistics. (Photo Credit: Denver International Airport).

To register for this course, please click the Register For A Course Today! link or call us at 303.447.1076.

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