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Sierra College geography students forge friendships as varied as their studies

Group journeys through Santa Cruz
By: Toni Arnés, Placer Herald correspondent
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A diverse group of 19 Sierra College geography students embarked on a cultural and geological journey through the Santa Cruz County high and lowlands on a recent weekend and discovered friendship.

The group, led by geography professor Sean Booth departed the Rocklin campus early Friday morning, April 12, for a three-day, two-night hiking and camping trip as part of the Field Studies program. The long-standing course provides a unique experience for students wanting to earn additional class credit while learning about the physical, cultural and historical elements of a region.

"Field studies is a big part of the sciences," Booth said. "Earth and biological sciences."

The morning  of the departure, there was little interaction among the class. Most students admitted later to being apprehensive about taking a trip with a group of strangers. By mid-morning, after a stop in Saratoga for coffee and introductions, the group livened up.

Standing among the ancient groves of old growth redwoods, ferns and horsetails, the first lecture ensued and students were given trail names. Given for fun, Booth said the names added character to everyone. Saratoga Sarah, Walking Cloud Asa, Chief Joseph and Bald Eagle Baldwin were a few. Booth was renamed Salmon Sean.

Big Basin State Park was where the group had its first solo hike into a "primeval" redwood forest.

"The forest is a remnant of the past," Booth said. "The trees were around when the dinosaurs were around."

By evening, camp was set and dinner was eaten. The group shared campfire stories and highlights from the day. Part of the re-cap included a memorable tale of a trailmate, a head-over-heels tumble and a creek.

Jolted awake 6:30 a.m. Saturday by the cry of ravens, the group ate breakfast and worked together to break camp. In Henry Cowell State Park, the hikers got a docent-guided tour among myriad towering tree species and other flora.

Walking together closely, the group hiked to the University of California Santa Cruz campus while learning the cultural history of the area. "Treetop" Treat Meier, who said he came for the credit and the fun, learned a lot about the Spanish occupation, the Gold Rush and population influx.

"I had a really enjoyable time,” Meier said. "I got to learn a lot about the cultural history of the area and meet a lot of great people. You definitely become closer to people, especially when you are camping and driving in the car a long time."

After leaving Monterey Bay’s northern shores, the friends had pizza for dinner at a local eatery. Sunset State Beach provided camp for the evening. There, they had s’mores as an evening treat.

"Forest" Phyllis Ye, who was persuaded to take the trip by her twin sister, said she thinks the beach and the sunset was her favorite part, although she admits the entire trip was good for her physical health.

"Going outside and meeting new people, and getting connected with people, and hiking ... All these aspects were refreshing to me,” she said. "I didn't expect I would have so much fun."

Booth called the group unique and diverse.

"Older, retired, parents, grandparents, all one unit. Out there with the same purpose; to learn," he said.

"The trip was not just about education, it was really about a social experience," Booth added.

Toni Arnés is a student at Sierra College.