In recent years, adventure learning companies have focused on quantity versus quality in regards to their programs. As a trip leader, I’ve seen it too often.
In a rush to increase destination offerings, for a wider audience, many of the experiences are often not in context with the purpose of the trip. The result is that after a week-long program the guest remembers they participated in some fun things, but are not exactly sure how they grew as a person. If they cannot successfully answer this, then how is your company unique? And, why should they return?
An easy way to help guests grow, and nurture them for joining future trips, is to keep all of the travel program’s experiences in context with a big idea. In short, what is the big idea you want your guests/participants to remember? Think of a big idea as a unifying theme for the trip. All of the site visits, excursions, and explorations on the trip should gravitate around this big idea.
It is very easy to build a program around generic information, which is what most tourism companies do (see photo below). It is more challenging to design an adventure learning travel program around a unifying message where all of the experiences (walks, food, guest speakers, site visits, etc) are in context with a big idea. When travel experiences are in context, guests remember they had fun, but also their discoveries.
All program managers at learning/adventure travel companies wrestle with how best to design quality programs. The most common approach is to think of a subject or a destination (as fire, central Oregon, or Crater Lake) and build the program around it. This seems simple enough, yet themes are a continuous source of frustration, ambiguity, and pain. I’ve seen friends and co-workers, who are solid program managers, struggle with themes that never effectively come together into a cohesive whole.
The problem arises because themes are thought of as things or destinations (nouns). Themes should be thought of being actions (verbs).
A multi-day program built around a topic of “fire” now becomes the theme, “Discover how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (sub-themes include: homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).”
A week-long bus/hiking/rafting program with a topic of the “Seven Wonders of Oregon” transforms into a theme of, “Exploring Oregon’s dynamic geology allows for first-hand discovery and connection to one of the most fundamental forces of nature – in both its creative and destructive roles.”
An active hiking program with a topic of “Exploring Crater Lake” evolves into the theme, “Crater Lake’s breathtaking beauty, seasonal weather extremes, and distinguishing natural and cultural features, combined with a variety of recreational opportunities, provide visitors with abundant chances for discovery, reflection, and inspiration.”
Another way of thinking about a theme is to answer, “What is the big idea I want participants to remember?” Creating a theme in this light focus all of the activities and interactions around a single idea; it helps the program designer and the trip leaders focus on what is relevant while bringing the program to life.
Winter is a wonderful time to explore Eugene, Oregon. Here’s a sampling of several group tours I led in late 2019 to see local murals, holiday lights, the university, and historic districts.
Learning about a local author (Opal Whiteley) and the statue commemorating her life. This was part of a local art walk.
Leading a walk to see some of the holiday lights.
After a tour, I always ask if participants would like to continue their day (or evening) enjoying some local flavors. This was a delicious lunch.
A walk through the grounds of the University of Oregon to see local art and craftsmanship.
Enjoying a brief side-trip to learn about some of the participant’s explorations in Oregon with this wall-sized map.
There are always curious things to see on my trips, this Holiday skeleton was spotted in a car while I was leading a recent group walk.
Eugene was once home to 18-miles of electric streetcars (trolleys). On this neighborhood walk, our group was able to see some of the original tracks that are resurfacing.
This location is actually near an old stop on the historic trolley line (from the previous photo), but today the stop is home to little free tea kiosk where a person can get a hot cup of tea and enjoy a book.
Walk participants are finding some micro-art pieces for themselves in this photo. This is a trompe-l’œil art piece, it uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that looks three dimensional.
Visiting a historic district in town.
Some of the curious street art in Eugene. This 1-hour walk is a blast to lead.
Our group was fortunate with sunny weather this week as our program was bookended by storms. Our local study leaders, who were well-versed in the area’s natural history, really brought the program to life – thank you for their expertise! This was a great trip to discover how the natural history of the central coast has changed, especially over the past 150 years. I’m happy to have helped with bringing my own experiences and knowledge to help such a wonderful program.
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 20+ | Type: hiking
Crater Lake National Park never ceases to amaze the viewer, but this time it astounded with some mysterious rings seen upon the lake’s surface.
These unusual rings were viewed near Wizard Island from Watchman Peak, and were observed on August 29, 2019, between 9:20 am & 9:40 am (approximately).
That morning, my educational tour group had hiked to the summit of Watchmen Peak. We were treated to an expansive vista over an exceptionally peaceful Crater Lake. The gigantic body of water mirrored the sky as there was no wind, nor any waves caused by the island excursion boats. What we did see upon this flat liquid pallet were multiple “rings.” At first, the rings appeared to be raindrops to the west and southwest of Wizard Island (in the Skell Channel area), yet our perspective was 800-feet higher and three-quarters of a mile distant. These rings were sizable!
I had never observed such rings during multiple visits to the lake. Were these new? Had I not observed them before because of wind, light, or other surface conditions? -The mystery is afoot!
As my group arrived at the summit several of the participant’s phones reconnected with cell service. The group had been a couple of days without any service and a few people were eager to check email, news, etc. One person exclaimed that about an hour earlier (approx. 8 am Pacific) a 6.3 earthquake had struck off the Oregon coast. The question was raised, could a massive and distant energy release encountering a different density (energy waves traveling from rock then to liquid, especially upon a very still body of water) have allowed stored gases in a shallow area of the lake to escape, causing these rings?
It was intriguing, yet an earthquake some 200+ miles distant seemed remote. What there a more likely cause? The area in the Skell Channel area is relatively shallow (from 60 to 200 feet deep) compared to the rest of the lake, and has an abundance of underwater moss. The water at Crater Lake is known for its clarity and this massive biomass might have been bathing in a bounty of sunlight. The weather for several days prior had been mostly sunshine with only some rain that night…could these conditions have accelerated photosynthesis? What about springs in the area? Based on the ring images (especially the close-up image) this seems likely, but Crater Lake is essentially a closed system, its small watershed (the rim of the lake) means the lake receives all its incoming water from snow-melt and rain. There is supposedly some hydrothermal spring activity on the bottom of the lake, but this appears to be limited and at greater depths.
Was there a more likely explanation? I reached out to the Crater Lake Institute and the Oregon Master Naturalist program for help. I also included some photos of the curious phenomena, including one close-up, and several photos that were overlaid with Google Earth to help with identifying the location and determining the scale.
After a few emails were exchanged one cause of the rings’ formation was the most supported: “unusually strong photosynthetic activity by prominent beds of submerged plants, which occur in shallow waters around Wizard Island creating supersaturated oxygen levels, resulting in oxygen bubbles rising to the surface.” – Crater Lake Institute.
This sounds very plausible and I’m grateful for the feedback. I am curious if there is any research or photos showing this phenomenon in previous years. If anyone has any knowledge, please contact me. Seeing the rings were amazing and I hope to return on future clear summer days to gather some additional data.
Thank you to the Crater Lake Institute and the Oregon Master Naturalist program!
I enjoyed leading an 8-day outdoor spirited program in central Oregon for a group of 16. This was an inter-generational trip for grandparents and grandchildren. The tour was an exciting exploration of the natural and cultural history of the area. I’m so happy to have helped develop this interpretive program and I loved introducing others to this amazing landscape.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: July 2019 | Duration: 8 days | Participants: 16 | Type: hiking, rafting, tour
This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping
On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.
On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.
We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.
The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 7 | Type: kayaking
Kayaking Oregon’s Siltcoos River during the springtime is a treat, provided you can time it right. A day earlier dark clouds, lighting, and sheets of rain pelted the area. But, today, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear, allowing us to witness the Siltcoos in all its splendor. We were fortunate and very thankful. The Siltcoos is an interesting interplay of a riparian area within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes are one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. When geologic forces created the dunes, the sand-choked off several coastal rivers and created about 30 lakes. Some of the rivers have found a way back to sea, the Siltcoos River is one of these rivers. Today, it is a slow-moving three-mile long waterway that holds the distinction of being a canoe trail. We were unable to visit the lower water dam because of a large fallen tree. A special thank you to the River House Outdoor Center of Eugene for the use of their kayaks and local guides. From the water, our group saw at least 18 animal species: bald eagle, osprey, a grey fox, swallows, killdeer, newt, bumble bee, heron, fish, stellar’s jay, crow, seals, egrets, mergansers, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and egrets. We also saw a dog at the bow of a kayak, and (not paying attention to posted signs) a human and dog in a protected area.
Imagine attending a great celebration. Every year 100 people gather to laugh, tell stories, eat good food, and celebrate. At the conclusion of the festival, everyone erupts into a joyous and lengthy song, but this music is special because for it to be harmonious each person is responsible for contributing just one note. The song rises and flows with many voices as older members share and the young participate. The following year there is another celebration but a people few are missing, the next year others don’t attend and the melody starts to fray. For decades this unraveling of the song continues, as fewer people are around to sing. After one hundred years only two people remain. They sing, but how do they celebrate the song with so many notes missing? …How would you?
In the early 1800s, the Kalapuya people numbered around 15,000 and were the largest Native American group in what is now known as the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. Diseases introduced to the area decimated the population and by 1850 about 1,000 people remained. In 1900, the Kalapuya numbered about 300 (2% of the original population) and by the 1950s the last generation of speakers had passed. A 1977 University of Oregon anthropological paper declared, “the Kalapuya population is now presumed extinct.”
This was the setting for Esther Stutzman, a woman of Kalapuya heritage who wanted to revive the language. Over the years she made incremental steps to build awareness about the Kalapuya and awaken the language, but even into the early 1990’s she was told by academics to not even bother – the language was dead. One reason for this difficulty was the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names no longer existed; all the landmarks had been given names by pioneers. Esther eventually partnered with the Citizen Planning Committee of East Alton Baker Park. Together, they convinced Willamalane Parks and Recreation and City of Eugene to re-associate place names with Kalapuya words and phrases. The 237-acre park was re-named the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park, and a year later, they placed cultural art installations known as the Kalapuya Talking Stones.
The Talking Stones are etched boulders that carry a Kalapuya word from one of the several dialects that describe the location where the stone’s reside. Today, fifteen stones quietly speak with those who will listen from along riverside trails in the Whilamut Natural Area in Eugene and the Eastgate Woodlands of Springfield, Oregon.
The stones are etched with a simple font that approximates being written by a human finger as though an elder has just shared an idea by drawing a concept in the earth.
Placing the stones required years of work, public education, and patience from Esther and often-unsung heroes on the Citizen Planning Committee (CPC), including Charlotte Behm, Vicky Mello, and David Sonnichsen, and others. The group has spent more than twenty years (as volunteers) diligently working to place and maintain the sacred Talking Stones and to educate the public about their important role in our community. The Talking Stones are a watershed project on blending native place names within metropolitan areas for the education about the people who once lived – and still live – in the area.
To better understand the Talking Stones’ stories Charlotte Behm joined us on our 2.5-hour walk. She shared her experiences and history about the stones and some of the challenges that remain. We were happy to listen and better understand the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names. Thank you, Esther and Charlotte, and the many others for helping to share a larger story with your voices.
An additional thank you to Charlotte Behm for her help with this article.
This is my personal Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Infosheet. I created it while completing several NOLS Wilderness Medicine WFR courses. It is a two-sided reference that prints to 8.5 x 14 inches. This is offered freely to WFR students & WFRs who might some additional help after opening that “can of calm.” Several WFRs have asked for the document so I’m placing it online; my intent is that others can hopefully benefit, offer some great patient care, and feel more secure with a patient assessment.
Get WFR certified – this document is NOT a substitute for professional training. I have tried to be as accurate as possible with my student notes within the NOLS curriculum, send any suggestions or corrections to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wow! One of my photos was selected by the National Wildlife Federation to use in their March 13, 2019 article, “Ten Big Wins For Land, Water and Wildlife.” The article celebrated the passage of the WILD ACT, which helped to create 30,000 acres of new wilderness in Oregon.
My photo was used on #6: A Path to Oregon’s Devil’s Staircase. The photo is of a Dark Grove giant from a trip I organized into the remote Devil’s Staircase area to help bring awareness to this amazing place. Here is my 2016 trip report with the image that was used in the NWF article. I’m so happy to have helped bring awareness to this beautiful area (in a small way) and to have spoken with the NWF while they were researching their article.
I’m happy to have introduced a great group of 11 to some of Eugene (OR), beautiful murals. Eugene has scores of outdoor images and they are best enjoyed while walking. Most are part of the 20x21EUG Mural Project, an initiative by the city to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals between now and the 2021 IAAF World (track) Championships. Our walk of the downtown area visited building-sized masterpieces and a number of hidden micro-art images. We walked just over 2 miles and a great lunch afterward.
Trip Report – Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Eugene-based Hiking Club | Dates: March 3, 2019 | Participants: 11 | Type: Urban Walking
Judge John B. Waldo is often associated with John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. While his impact was substantial he is not as well known as other conservationists of the day. In the late 1800’s he proposed a greenspace straddling the crest of Oregon. For decades he traveled extensively documenting the area’s unique topography and natural beauty. He worked hard to pass legislation preventing special interest from monopolizing the area’s resources. Today, numerous national forests, a national park, and wilderness areas between the border with California clear to the Columbia Gorge exist because of his vision. Our visit to the UO Archives was an introduction to his original writings and photographs. We even saw some founding documents for Crater Lake National Park.
Trip Report – Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club; | Dates: February 16, 2019 | Participants: 6 | Type: University of Oregon Archives
Dan Witz is a master of trompe l’oeil (‘trick of the eye’), the visual style of painting that looks three dimensional.
In the summer of 2017, he visited Eugene, Oregon, and placed 11 (according to the city) of his works around town. While Eugene celebrates many building-sized murals, Dan’s artwork is on a smaller scale. Locating them requires some leg-work as they are not published on a map. Also, you might have to revisit places that you at first would overlook. Most of his works are downtown between 7th & 11th Avenues and Olive & Willamette Streets – I listed some hints below – their charm is in discovering them. Several pieces are outside the downtown grid and for these, I’ve provided more specific information on where to find them. Several were removed (stolen), these are mentioned as well.
While researching Dan’s work I learned that he called such works “WTF” images. The idea is that a casual bystander on the street or someone passing in their car might briefly spy one his works, and ask the question, “What the f$@k was that?”
His artwork is creative, surprising, and sometimes disturbing. You will be asking questions about his work long after you spy them.
#9 REMOVED: This was located near 6th & Pearl along the stairwell of the Lane County Parking structure.
#10 REMOVED: This very small piece was located on the corner of Oak & Broadway. Look for the crossing light box in front of D.A. Davidson & Company. You will see an outline of where the piece had been affixed to the box. It is just below his tag: a gray smudge (a tell-tale sign, but it is incongruous with the clean surroundings and one’s eye will at first overlook it).
Blek le Rat is a street artist whose work appears in many cities, including Eugene, Oregon. Finding his work can be part of a great day outing.
In 2017 Blek le Rat visited Eugene, Oregon, as part of the 20×21 Mural project. He placed 10 works around town. Most are located in a grid in the downtown area between 7th & 11th Avenues and Oak and Olive Streets. Several images are outside this grid area and those locations are mentioned in the captions. One piece was painted over in the summer of 2018, an image of it is included below.
Blek le Rat got his start as a graffiti artist in the 1970s in Paris. Eventually, he used stencils to differentiate his street writing from others. Today, he is considered the godfather of stencil street art and is credited with influencing many others, including Banksy. Accompanying his work is often the image of a black rat. Blek once mentioned (paraphrasing) that rats are the only wild creatures in an urban setting, their numbers are vast compared to the human population, and they also carry subversive plague like how graffiti affects a city.
Happy Winter Solstice! This evening, a group of runners, hikers, and outdoor enthusiasts celebrated the return of the light at the Mt. Pisgah Sighting Pedestal, Eugene, Oregon. During sunset, we also witnessed a simultaneous moonrise – the December Cold Moon. What was really cool was that by looking back through the pedestal to the east the moon could be seen cresting the horizon. The setting sun and moonrise were approximately 180 degrees opposite!
San Francisco is a city born within a moment — the discovery of gold in 1848. The city’s parents were not elites or idealist, but gritty prospectors, sailors, railroad workers, gamblers, ladies of the night, grifters, poets, and carney hustlers. Today, San Francisco is often viewed as a place where a person can discover one’s fortune, where an individual can craft their future, and where it’s OK to be weird. But, beneath the sidewalks, in unimpressive alleys, and among lonely buildings is a hidden San Francisco, a city that was forged in fear, sex, and gold.
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: November 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 8 | Type: walking and urban exploration
Our interpretive walking trip explored how fear, sex, and gold changed the city in three important ways. We saw how fear directed at those considered “unfit” by society (poor, minorities, and women) reveals they are the true backbone of the city, then how censorship of sex led to modern freedoms, and finally how gold fever changed forms never really disappeared.
Our group traveled by air from Oregon on Thanksgiving Day to San Francisco. Many of us overnighted at the Fort Mason Hostel and dined at a waterfront restaurant. The next day we traveled by trolley to Union Square and enjoyed the Christmas decorations before starting our 5-mile walk. We explored the sordid history of Maiden Lane, the colorful streets of Chinatown, and the historically depraved area known as the Barbary Coast. Our route followed much of the original shoreline, which is now half a mile inland. We visited City Lights Books and places where the counter-culture Beats hung out. We climbed the steep steps of Telegraph Hill to see the murals of the historic Coit Tower. Our walk took us along garden-lined staircases and alleys. The next day we traveled to the lonely island of Alcatraz to learn more about its prison then enjoyed an afternoon exploring the city. That evening the group enjoyed a salty performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. On the final full day, several members walked ten-miles from the Marina District over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and returned by ferry. The group walked ~20 miles in total. The group returned by plane to Oregon. Photos by Mark Hougardy & Meg Stewart Smith.
Explorations can sometimes be found at 38,000 feet while sitting in the cramped quarters of an airplane. The route between San Francisco, California and the Pacific Northwest is a favorite to visually explore because of the varied topography. Here are some photos, the images were taken over several trips.
A magnificent view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. San Francisco covers an area roughly 49 square miles! The Golden Gate Bridge shown on the left is 1.7 miles in length and 746′ tall.
Mount Shasta (14,179′). Shasta sits uniquely at the southern end of the Cascade Range and the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The mountain is so massive that it can be seen from 280 miles away from atop Diablo Mountain (3,848′), the tallest mountain in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.
Crater Lake is in the distance. Once known as Mount Mazama, this peak rivaled Mount Shasta for prominence upon the skyline. Mazama erupted about 7,000 years ago, and in the process list its peak and collapsed upon itself. Over time the remaining crater filled with water. The lake is 2,000′ deep and about 5 miles across.
From north to south – left to right: Black Butte (6,436′) Mount Washington, Belknap Crater (6,876′), and the Three Sisters (north, middle and the south sisters); they were once known as Faith, Hope, and Charity.
From north to south – left to right: Ollalie Butte (7,219′), the snow-capped Mount Jefferson (10,497′), Three Fingered Jack (7,844′), Black Butte, Mount Washington, and Belknap Crater.
Mount Hood (11,250′) dominates the skyline east of Portland, Oregon.
Looking north into Washington State to Mount St. Helens (8,366′), Mount Rainier (14,411′), and Mount Adams (12,280′). The mighty Columbia River is in the foreground.