Yosemite National Park and neighboring Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks - there is always something new to discover.
The Road Scholar program offered through the Episcopal Conference Center Oakhurst (ECCO) offers classroom and feet on the ground opportunities to explore and learn more about the parks’ natural wonders.
Participants may stand in awe at the base of El Capitan’s vertical rock face towering over 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley or may marvel at the giant sequoias which grow from seeds so small that it takes 91,000 of them to weigh in at one pound.
ECCO has offered Road Scholar programs since 1994, but many know the program under its previous labels, Elderhostel or Exploritas.
“Road Scholar is a not-for-profit that inspires adults to learn, discover and travel,” said Sadie Beling, guest services coordinator for ECCO. Since 2002, ECCO has hosted over 7,345 Road Scholar participants and they employ some 18 Road Scholar staff members as well as an additional 18 ECCO staff members.
“Our learning adventures engage expert instructors, provide extraordinary access and stimulate discourse and friendship among people for whom learning is the journey of a lifetime,” Beling said during a recent outing to Yosemite.
While the majority of the programs are geared toward adults, one, Magical Yosemite With Your Grandchild: Trains, Gold & Robots, allows grandparents and grandchildren the opportunity to bond while experiencing Yosemite.
The titles of programs available give a glimpse into the experiences provided - Seasons of Magic: Splendor in the Sierra Nevada, Hiking Yosemite: Up Close & Personal, The Beauty of Yosemite and the Joy of Watercolor, and Photograph Yosemite.
Local naturalist, Shirley Spencer, instructs many programs including the Seasons of Magic in Yosemite. Activities include classes in geology and animal life and are followed by field trips into Yosemite.
“There’s a lot of geological drama going on west of the Rockies,” Spencer said. “There’s a lot of interesting geography and geology [and there are multiple] geographic and political boundaries.” She speaks of continuing water wars in California.
“You can go out of a snowstorm and drive into spring in about an hour and a half,” Spencer explained to a recent class showing the diversity of California.
Spencer’s presentations are peppered with song, guitar accompaniment and illustrations she sketches as she speaks.
Spencer explained that Yosemite Valley Indians probably traded acorns, a source of protein, fat and carbohydrates for obsidian, used for tools and arrows, with eastern Sierra Indians. The Indians discovered that “instead of putting your food over the fire, you put the fire into your food,” explaining the process for turning the acorns into mush or a flour.
There is a sense of camaraderie shared by the group. “We are at an age where there is no embarrassment, said Sharon Dunne who came from Renton, Washington, with husband Tony. “We are friendly. While we’re here, we’re custodians.”
It took just two words for Billie Welsh from Fort Collins, Colorado to describe her trip highlight, “the waterfalls.”
For information on the tours offered by Road Scholar: www.roadscholar.org. or (559) 683-8162.