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About Us

The Outdoor Wilderness Lab (OWL) is an outdoor science school owned and operated by Mesa County Valley School District 51. Located at the Gateway School, 47 miles west of Grand Junction in the heart of one of the most iconic landscapes in Colorado, it features diverse habitats, sandstone buttes, and open skies in abundance. Surrounded by the Unaweep and Dolores River Canyons with West Creek running right through the center of campus, OWL's unique learning environment invites students to explore the natural world around them with curiosity and critical thinking at every turn!

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“When we were learning it didn’t really feel like we were in a classroom. It felt more like we were experiencing it. Honestly it felt more like a family than a group of teachers trying to teach us.”  Delylah Swofford (Bookcliff Middle School, Spring 2020)



Provide every student with meaningful learning opportunities by experiencing science and overcoming social-emotional challenges outside.


Engage every D51 learner in unique learning experiences that explore the conservation of natural resources in our local environment and empower health and wellness for our learners. 


  • Environmental Education: Environmental education provides the foundation for all of OWL's programming. It's embedded into each and every learning opportunity students experience.

  • Experiential Education: OWL's curriculum focuses on naturally-occurring phenomena that are abundant and easily accessible for all students. This allows students to experience what they're learning in tangible and authentic ways. 

  • Learning is a Process: OWL supports the D51 Learning Model in that students learn best when they experience unique challenges in ways that are meaningful to them individually and embrace a growth mindset throughout the process.

  • OWL For Life: OWL is just the beginning. It's where the skills and knowledge students have gained in the classroom meet real-life experiences that bring that learning to life. The learning continues after they leave OWL.

  • OWL Code: Students achieve the greatest success by setting their focus to start each day, then taking steps in that direction in pursuit of their goals. To guide them through this process, they use the OWL Code. 

OWL Code

As an owl I will do my best to…


Treat others and myself with dignity and respect,

Protect and appreciate the outdoors,

Learn every day, even when it’s hard,

Adapt, improvise, and overcome challenges before me.


Others, Environment, Learning, Self

OWL History

OWL was created in 2012 when a group of teachers from Bookcliff Middle School and officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife took thirty-three 6th graders on an unforgettable outdoor learning experience. 

During its first 7 years, OWL was run as a pilot program, for 1 week per school year with a volunteer staff at various camps in the mountains surrounding the Grand Valley. Its focus was developing its curriculum and building systems that allowed the amount of students who attended each year to steadily grow. 


By year 7, OWL was serving 150 students in a single week and the time had come to begin looking for a permanent home. In order to continue growing the amount of students it could serve, it needed both a facility and a staff that could operate year-round.  So many selfless volunteers and generous community members contributed to get OWL to this crossroads and we can't thank them enough! Yet, in 2019 when the opportunity arose to move to the D51 Gateway School, it became clear that OWL had finally found its home. 

In the fall of 2019, construction began at the Gateway School, bringing OWL to life. Staff were hired and programming was  developed that focused on the unique natural environment OWL's new home. In the spring of 2019, OWL hosted its first students.

OWL continues to operate today and is proud to call beautiful Gateway, CO home.

OWL Campus

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The Land

OWL operates out of the Gateway School, in beautiful Gateway, CO. The Gateway School has served students in the Gateway- Unaweep area for over 100 years! We are proud to be part of this legacy!

The points represented on the map (at left) represent student lodging and outdoor classrooms while the yellow line represents the main trail connecting OWL's outdoor classrooms.


West Creek runs right through the center of campus. What  a treat in the high desert climate OWL calls home!


Outdoor Classrooms

Here at OWL, we like to use the natural land as our classrooms. We spend nearly all day outside providing experiential based learning opportunities. Students learn how to respectfully learn and play in the outdoors while participating in a variety of environmental science lessons.



OWL's tent-cabins provide a comfortable home away from home after students have had a long day learning and exploring.

OWL Campus
OWL History
OWL Code
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