Wicked San Francisco: Fear, Sex, and Gold

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.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | 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.

Some of the faces and places who showed participants a good time… er, helped them learn more about San Francisco’s story on this wicked trip.

Group Leader Mark Hougardy sharing a story about a gutsy woman who challenged societal norms in the 1860s. Today, everyone can ride a trolley in San Francisco because of her struggle.

We caught a Holiday performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. King Louie sings his heart out. Photo: Beach Blanket Babylon

A resident of Alcatraz Island

SFO to PDX: View from the Window Seat

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.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox at Lava Beds & Crater Lake

This was an exploration of two dramatic volcanic landscapes timed with the Autumnal Equinox.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: September 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 5 | Type: car camping, hiking, and caving

Upon arriving at the forbidding Lava Lands National Monument we made camp and then explored several accessible lava tube caves around the visitor center. We also climbed the conical shaped 5,302-foot tall Schonchin Butte where we enjoyed views 100 miles east to the Warner Mountains, near Nevada, and 50 miles west to Mount Shasta. In the evening, we walked along a dusty trail into the Schonchin Wilderness Area and encountered an entrance to a lava tube that was at least 4 stories tall.

The next morning we hiked from the campground to Skull Cave where a small ice pond can be viewed year round. We also hiked to several pictograph caves and enjoyed our lunch on the trail. As the afternoon warmed we spent our time underground where we explored three caves and partially a fourth. Back at camp, we were surprised to discover that several hundred bugs had descended upon the hood of one of the cars, possibly attracted by the metallic-blue color. They had apparently been engaged in a frenzied mating and exhausting themselves to death. Bugs that fell onto the ground were snapped up by an eager lizard. As the sun set, we hiked into the nearby wilderness and enjoyed a pastel sky.

On the third day, we packed up and drove through the northern section of the monument. Our last stop was to Petroglyph Point where a monolithic wall includes petroglyphs, raptor nests, and evidence of former wave action. Tule Lake was a gigantic, yet shallow inland lake that existed for millennia. The lake was drained in the early 1900s and the exposed land turned into farmland. The existing lake is far to the west and is one-sixth its original size. Future explorations to Lava Beds will include additional sites of the Modoc War and seeing the remnants of an imprisonment camp where Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live during WWII. In the afternoon we drove to Crater Lake and made camp. The Mazama Campground was closing for the season and this was its last weekend. Upon our arrival, the sky darkened and it rained for several minutes. After making camp we hiked to the Great Spring and down the picturesque Annie Creek trail loop. In the late afternoon, we made good use of the camp showers then drove the rim to enjoy the views from Discovery Point. At dinnertime, we made our way to the historic Crater Lake Lodge where we raised a glass to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox then enjoyed a meal. Back at the campground, a nearly full moon encouraged multiple parties at neighboring campsites and sleeping was difficult.

On day four we woke to a frosty 28 degrees Fahrenheit. We warmed up though at the local Annie Creek Restaurant with some hot coffee and breakfast. As we drove along the east rim to the Mount Scott trailhead the sky was blue and clear. We hiked for about an hour to this highest point in the park, which stands just less than 9,000 feet. The view of the once massive volcano Mount Mazama, now known as Crater Lake, was superb! We could see about 100 miles in each direction; to the north the Three Sisters, and to the south Mount Shasta. As noon approached we hiked back down the mountain and ended our trip with a late lunch. There was a definite chill in the air, fall had arrived.

Hiking and Kayaking on Oregon’s Scenic and Wild Central Coast

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area on Oregon’s coast is stunning.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: August 2018 | Duration: 2 days | Participants: 8 | Type: car camping, hiking, and kayaking

Our group was fortunate as the weather was surprisingly mild and there was little wind. We spent much of the morning exploring tide pools and beachcombing during low tide. The Cape’s forest offered us the chance to stand at the base of the 200-foot tall and 500-year old Sitka Spruce. These amazing trees grow in a four-mile-wide zone along the coast from northern California to Kodiak Island in Alaska. Around lunchtime, we pitched our tents at a nearby campground and had a quick bite to eat. Our two tiny campsites proved challenging with our collection of tents. In the late afternoon, during high tide, we appreciated the coast’s craggy beauty. A favorite is Spouting Horn, where wave action forces water into a small sea cave and through a hole at the top creating a sizeable plume. Thor’s Well, a large sinkhole on the shoreline, water cascades into what appears to be an unearthly entrance to the underworld. In the evening, some of us climbed the 700-foot cape and enjoyed awe-inspiring views of the rocky shoreline below. Standing inside the historic Civilian Conservation Corps shelter, we witnessed a brief sunset. That day we saw a whale, gulls, cormorants, sea lions, a myriad of tide pool creatures, turkey vultures, and ravens.

We woke with the sun and drove to Brian Booth State Park where we participated in a kayaking trip along Beaver Creek. This interpretive tour is offered as a service by Oregon State Parks. Beaver Creek is a freshwater estuary and is prime habitat for Coho salmon, cutthroat trout, winter steelhead, and waterfowl. We finished our three-mile paddle about noon and had a great time. We had seen ducks, nutria (invasive), a family of river otters, kingfishers, a young bald eagle, swallow, cranes, blue herons, a green heron, Canada geese, a merganser, and a red-tailed hawk. As we pulled our kayaks from the water there was a nearby splash, a river otter had been playfully observing at us. Across the creek a bald eagle surveyed our group. That afternoon we drove south to Yachats and enjoyed a tasty lunch before heading home.

I snapped this picture half a second too late! A chain of bubbles was rapidly passing my kayak on Beaver Creek. They were followed by a furry head popping out of the water. The river otter, upon seeing me, immediately dove. Here is the splash it made as it disappeared.

Tips for Tour Directors Who Lead Natural History Walks

Recently, I was asked to share ideas with a tour director who was new to leading natural history walks. Here are some simple tips:

When introducing folks to a natural area I like to include in my welcome, “Are there things on this walk that you’d like to know more about?” People almost always want to know about poison ivy/oak and if they will be encountering any. Answering this takes some of the uncertainty people might have about an area off the table and helps them better enjoy the walk.

You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.

Do know the “big idea” of your walk. A big idea is what you want them to take when they leave.

If you know of any good stories about the area, place names, or local colorful characters, share them.

Think of things where people can engage their senses: look, listen, and feel.

When you visit a neat spot (beaver pond, an interesting grove of trees, etc), ask, “What do you think you know about this?” Get them to respond and share information. Everything has a story; people of first nations or settlers could have used even an unassuming plant as an important resource.

If there is an area where people can be comfortable have them sit in silence for several minutes (3 is ok). Afterward, ask them what did they see, hear, smell, and feel.

Point our any temperature shifts, like when you enter a shaded or lighted area.

Compare the feel of different tree barks. Why might they be different?

People tend to look at big things, have them find a small area and just observe for a few minutes. Ask them what they saw. A lot is happening on the small scale and it is just an important as the big things.

You need to know where north is for this. Well into your walk ask them to point to the north. The results are often surprising and entertaining even when the sun is out. Bring a compass and have a young person confirm the direction.

At the end of the walk ask people to share what they saw, heard, and smelled, etc.

Exploring Central Oregon’s Rich Cultural Heritage, Dynamic Geology, and Majestic Night Sky

Our 4-day trip to learn more about central Oregon’s historic past started with a call from the interpretive ranger at Fort Rock. The 100-degree heat wave hitting the region was cause for canceling our visit to the Fort Rock Cave for safety concerns and the threat of extreme fire danger. The cave is a significant archaeological site where shoes dating back 10,000 years were discovered and public entry is limited to just a handful of people each year. Sadly, but understandably, we were not able to visit the cave and I had to amend our trip to Oregon’s high desert on the fly. Fortunately, everything worked out.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: July 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 7 | Type: A 4-day exploration of central Oregon’s rich cultural heritage, dynamic geology, and the majestic night sky. Car camping, hiking, and lots of open space.

Group photo at the Pine Mountain Observatory. The red lights are easier on the eyes when working around astronomical equipment.

On our first day, we arrived at the massive caldera located in the heart of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. We visited the double 80-foot Paulina Falls and ate lunch overlooking the stream. We located two adjoining campsites on the picturesque East Lake, and just in time as the park was busy. In the afternoon we hiked the impressive Obsidian Flow trail, a massive flow of volcanic glass and pumice 17 stories tall. Returning to camp we enjoyed a swim in the cool and clear waters of East Lake. Afterward, we hiked on the beach to the local resort and were reminded of the subtle, yet abrasive qualities of volcanic glass on the feet. At the lodge, we enjoyed a delicious meal and had some good laughs with the staff. The radio in the background was playing a tribute to Tom Petty. We walked about a mile back to camp. That night we listened to acapella hymnals from a Mennonite group camping nearby.





 

On day two we drove to the top of Paulina Peak. The peak is 7,984 feet and sits in the middle of Oregon. The views are impressive; to the north, we could see the massive stratovolcano, Mount Hood, then down the spine of the Cascades to the steep-sided Mount McLoughlin close to the California border – a distance of about 300 miles! To our south was our next stop, the iconic shaped Fort Rock, a volcanic landmark named for the tall fort-like walls. We left Paulina Peak and drove about an hour. Out first stop was the Fort Rock Homestead Museum, an open-air collection of historic structures. This is where I learned about a shortcut of a backroad to Derrick Cave, a remote lava tube that we had hoped to visit. Apparently, the private landowner had closed the shortcut because visitors were not closing a gate and his cows were escaping. The alternate route would have involved about a 50-mile detour on forest and back roads. This was tabled until another visit. Our next stop was the massive Fort Rock a horseshoe-shaped tuff ring that rises 300-feet over the surrounding flat landscape. We hiked for about an hour in the heat then drove to the town of Christmas Valley for ice. We continue on a short distance to Crack in the Ground, a 2-mile long tension fracture where we could hike and scramble over boulders about 30 feet underground. The temperature at the surface was 95 degrees, in the fissure it was a comfortable 70 degrees with some pockets of air in the lowest sections that we were chilling. Late that afternoon we stayed at the Rockhorse Ranch where we pitched our tents and gleefully enjoyed their shower! A celebrity at the ranch’s store was a black cat named, “Scratchy.”

 

On day three we drove a short distance to Hole in the Ground, a crater that is a mile wide and 500-feet deep. Once thought to be a meteor impact the formation was actually caused by magma contacting groundwater. The resulting flash (there were many over the millennia) formed the massive hole we see today. The steep hike down the side was dusty and the walk up the forest service road was blazing hot. Near the end of our hike, three cars zipped up the road in a cloud of thick dust. The vehicles looked as though they were from the set of a Mad Max movie. The last car to pass was missing the driver-side door; the driver was wearing thick goggles. The rag-tag group waved as the passed. These were participants in the Gambler 500, a navigational adventure for cars whose value is no more than $500. Later that day we visited the High Desert Museum for a closer look at the cultural and natural history of the region, and we explored by flashlight the 1-mile long Lava River Cave, the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The cave was a welcome 42 degrees! As the sun lowered in the sky we made our way about 30 miles east of Bend to the Pine Mountain Observatory, an astronomical observatory operated by the University of Oregon. The center sits near the top of Pine Mountain at an elevation of 6,509 feet. We made camp, ate dinner, watched the sunset, and enjoyed the various telescopes of the facility. There were close-up views of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, nebulae, globular clusters, and various astronomy talks from UO instructors. Most impressive was a view of Jupiter and several moons through the 24-inch scope.

The final morning we woke up hearing a chorus of cows in the distance. We made our way off the mountain appreciating the drastic change in terrain from pines to the open high desert. We took a shortcut around Bend and stopped at the Lava Lands Visitor Center where we explored the 500-foot tall Lava Butte that has commanding views of central Oregon’s volcanic story before returning home.

By Playing with Fire We Appreciate How It Forges Every Aspect of Life

I’m happy to have been the leader on another great Road Scholar trip. This program introduced grandparents and grandkids to how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 28 | Type: Field Trips & Motorcoach

“Erupting volcanoes. Blacksmithing. Outdoor cooking. Glassblowing. Fire has countless uses, incarnations, and has been paramount to our way of life since the beginning of our time. You and your grandchild will spark your desire to safely learn more about fire through interactive experiences with professional firefighters, survivalists, welders and fire dancers. Discover how fire can create a delicate piece of artwork, as well as destroy entire forests and cities. Learn how to survive in the remote wilderness, and discover the inner workings of a city’s fire engine. Together with your grandchild, finally have the chance to play with fire as you discover why nothing can hold a candle to this learning adventure.”

Exploding Whale Beach Hike


This hiking trip was to the site of the “exploding whale,” one of Oregon’s most prominent stories of local lore.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 6 | Type: Day Hike

In 1970, near Florence, a 16,000-pound whale carcass the length of a bus washed ashore. After 3-days in the sun, it became so foul smelling that locals wanted it gone. An idea was hatched to dynamite the odorous mass into tiny bits. A local TV report of the incident is classic web viewing. In the clip, a massive boom launches putrid blubber into the sky. As the blast ends, behind the camera, a series of cheers and laughs ring out. One woman’s voice is heard, “All right, Fred, you can take your hand’s our of out of your ears now … here come pieces of … my G-” No one was injured, but viewers were covered in goo and a car was nearly totaled. Our group located the approximate location of the detonation. The day included a pleasant 5-mile beach walk where we viewed a number of shells. We also observed a memorial to 41 sperm whales who mysteriously stranded themselves in the area in 1979. One whale spout was observed just offshore.

Hiking & Camping at Mount St. Helens – Eruption Celebration

Our visit to the Mount St. Helens National Monument was timed to the 38th anniversary of the May 18, 1980 eruption.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 10 | Type: Hiking, Multi-day Camping

Our group rendezvoused at the Silver Lake Visitor Center off the I-5 where we enjoyed lunch and listened to an interpretive presentation by a ranger. Osprey flew overhead. Afterward, we continued about 20 miles up the road to the sediment retention dam. This massive structure holds back a reservoir of volcanic mud 13-miles long, a half a mile wide, and 200 feet deep. Several Army Corps of Engineer Rangers were inspecting the structure and they graciously talked with us about the dam’s history. Later that afternoon we proceeded a few miles up the highway to the laid-back Eco Lodge Resort where we pitched our tents and then hiked to the reservoir. The surface looked solid, but it quickly sucked unsuspecting walkers down to their ankles. In the ash and mud, there were tracks of raccoons, elk, and footprints of some enormous birds, possibly eagles. That evening we enjoyed dinner and some down-home hospitality at the lodge’s café. Before bed, we sat around a warm campfire. The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast then drove about 25 miles to Coldwater Lake. The lake is an enormous body of water that had not existed prior to the eruption. On that day, a wall of ash and rock several hundred feet deep blocked the creek causing the newly formed basin to fill. At the Johnston Ridge Observatory, we were told the facility was closed due to a power failure. We hit the Boundary Trail and hiked several hours through the apocalypse-like blast zone. In the distance, the massive volcano began to emerge from the clouds. On top of Harry’s Ridge, we walked along the snow line until we looked directly into the crater of Mount St. Helens. Below us was the hauntingly beautiful Spirit Lake. This is the location where long-time resident Harry Truman refused to leave his home. After the blast, he would live forever as a legend. A very sinister cloud suggested it was time for us to go. Our hike had been 8.8 miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. At the visitor center, we discovered they were open, but the power went out again after about 5 minutes. In the evening, we enjoyed a tasty home-cooked meal at the café and heard stories from the lodge’s owner, Mark. He had witnessed the eruption when he was 20. We enjoyed another humorous nightfall telling jokes and stories around the campfire. In the early morning, raindrops pecked at our tents. After breakfast, we thanked Mark and his family. As we left for home the rain started to pour. We had been fortunate with the weather, and to enjoy such a great time at the volcano.

A Spring Weekend on the Upper McKenzie River

The season’s first warm weather brought significant snowmelt into the McKenzie River watershed and over the majestic Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking and Car Camping

Our plan to hike to Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) was cut short when a sign stated a mile of trail was closed because water had flooded the path in places to a depth of 3 feet. Even with the closure, there was plenty to appreciate further upstream at Clear Lake with its crystalline waters and turquoise colored Great Spring. Animals that were seen along trail also appeared to appreciate the warmer weather as fish jumped in the lake, several species of birds flew overhead, and a garter snake warmed itself on the rocks. In shaded areas winter still managed to hold its grip as large patches of snow remained. Springs spontaneously appeared on the trail sometimes forming small ponds, and at one point, all of us were mesmerized by a plate-sized vortex that had formed in such a pool. After a solid day of hiking, we visited Belknap Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Because we timed our visit before the Memorial Day crowds the U.S. Forest Service campground was basically empty. Our campsite was green with moss and located next to a white rushing stream that looked like it was born from a Tolkien novel. The next day we enjoyed the comfort of a morning campfire, broke camp, and explored several more miles of trail before heading home.

   

Rediscovering Eugene’s Forgotten Trolleys

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: March 2018 | Participants: 14 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

It’s difficult to imagine today, but between 1907 and 1927 streetcars (commonly referred to as trolleys) ran along 18-miles of electrified tracks in Eugene. Their comforting clickety-clack as the wheels passed over connections in the tracks where heard on four routes in this city of 11,500 people. Only the finest cars were used and each was superbly-crafted with heaters and rattan seats. At 45-feet in length, they could carry up to 100 passengers. The cost per trip was 5 cents for a child and 10 cents for an adult. Our walk will help re-discover this curious icon of the early 1900’s using old photos and traversing the Fairmount trolley’s 5.5-mile route. We walked the Fairmount’s route in its direction of travel from the train station, through downtown, across the University of Oregon’s picturesque campus, passing historic residential neighborhoods, crossing over some of the last remaining visible tracks, and back. Although many of the trolley’s tracks are not visible today, look carefully, many miles of track from this time are hidden just under the pavement.
 

“Animal House” Movie Walk

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: January 2018 | Participants: 7 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

In 1978 a low-budget movie about a misfit fraternity who challenged authority was released. The movie “Animal House” prominently featured locations around the University of Oregon. Much to the chagrin of university officials, the movie brought an unwelcome attention to the UO; to others it is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Forty years later, this small group of Animal House fans visited fifteen sites around campus featured in the movie. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the light rain. Some areas on campus were similar while other locations, like a refurbished room 110 Fenton Hall where the courtroom scene was filmed, are unrecognizable. We ended our walk the former site of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house, the Animal House. The dilapidated structure has since been demolished and replaced with an office building. Only a small plaque remains about its history from the 1800’s and uses in the movie. Thank you to everyone in the group for sharing their stories about the movie’s production.

Walking the Murals & Urban Art Scene in Eugene, Oregon

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: December, 2017 | Participants: 19 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

Over the past months in Eugene, Oregon, a number of building-sized murals have started appearing  – some almost overnight. I needed to check out this gigantic expression of creativity, so I gave an open invitation for an informal walk. Surprisingly, nineteen people joined me! The murals are part of the 20×21 project, an initiative to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals in Eugene between now and the premier track and field 2021 IAAF World Championships. As a runner myself, I am really excited for this event. After the walk, some of us enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and salad (the vegan pizza there rocks; an image is included below). Here are a few photos:

Where to Stay in San Francisco on a Budget

Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.

The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Website: www.adelaidehostel.com

Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of building’s military history.  The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.  A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Website: www.sfhostels.org/fishermans-wharf

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
Website: san-francisco-hostel.com

All of the above mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.

The Power of Nature Adventures (Why I Guide)

I’m an outdoor guide because traveling and nature experiences can be powerful teachers. Here is one such story about how an encounter with a whale helped others (and myself) to grow.

Gray whale calf. Photo: Nature Picture Library / Copyright Todd Pusser.

“Whale!” a woman squealed. Two-dozen people slammed themselves onto the starboard railing of a small whale watching the ship. The vessel listed uncomfortably sideways. Just feet away a baby gray whale the length of a long kayak floated in the rough surf. Its large black eye seemed to study each of us. Everyone was absorbed in the experience. They had forgotten their discomfort in the previous hour and a half. Up until then it had been a bad day to be on the water: we had not seen a whale – not one. Our ship sickeningly rolled side to side in the deep troughs, the smell of diesel permeated our nostrils, cold January weather nipped our skin, the sky was oppresively overcast and the wind-chapped our lips.  Worst of all was seasickness, not just a queasy feeling, but real illness. I heard my name being simultaneously cursed as participants barfed over the boat’s edge. Some made multiple trips. As they staggered back with a sick yet relieved look on their faces I received several vexing glances. The words were blazed in their eyes, “Why did you make me come out here?”

It was a hard day. My camera had broken too, then again maybe it was for the best. This was the first whale-watching tour that I had organized for a group and it was going horribly. I secretly wanted this trip to be over, to slink home and erase it from my memory. I wanted the trip participants to forget about it, too.

When the young whale appeared the trip was born anew. A marine biologist shared her commentary: the mother was likely on the seabed feeding and would be returning shortly. The juvenile was not lost, just hanging out at the surface.

Amazingly the whale stayed parallel with our ship for about twenty minutes. Then several hundred feet away from a large mass the size of a city bus rose to the surface. She dramatically announced herself by ejecting a plume of air in a geyser-like spray. This was mother! The smaller whale joined her and they swam off together.

The people were giddy, but also happy to return to port. Upon disembarking from the ship, the trip participants said little, just drove away. I had organized the outing as a way for over scheduled tech workers to connect with their families in the outdoors, but had I inadvertently turned more people off that helped? This was first of several trips where unexpected situations and hardships caused me to question my outings and slowly I became disillusioned. After several summers, I stopped leading nature adventures.

Fast forward five years. I was at an outdoor market selling child-sized backpacks I made at the time. A man approached and we talked for a minute, then he said, “Hey, you’re that guy who led the whale watching trip.” He briskly shook my hand said, “Thanks.” I wondered if we were talking about the same excurion. He told me about that day, I listened with interest then in dismay as my well-intentioned nature trip was turned into a tale of deceit. At the time, he and his mother-in-law despised one another and for spite they created ever-increasing hardships for their rival, often to the detriment of family members. One day he saw my whale watching trip and suggested a pleasant outing for the entire family. But his coyness was masked with a desire that his mother-in-law have a miserable experience. In fact, she hated that trip and wanted nothing to do with him again. To his glee she stopped visiting altogether! Eventually her lengthy absense spoke to his better nature and he felt guilty for his childish behavior.

Almost a year later she returned for a holiday visit. The conversation at the dinner table was still; everyone in the room knew the two were enemies. As the serving plates started to move about she looked at him and said, “Remember that whale watching trip?” He suspected a trap but replied, “…yes.”

She looked directly at him and with a heartfelt voice said, “Thank You.” His mind was blown. No one in the family knew what to say, him especially.

She shared her story: At the time she suspected the man wanted her to get sick while whale watching, but she went anyway. It was a most unpleasant time. But when she viewed the whale up close and looked into its eye, she saw there was something there – more to the point, something in her. She returned home to southern California and was anxious to the point where sleep was difficult. She spent more time outside and took longer walks. She started to walk to the store. Her walks became hikes and she asked her friends to join her, but they were “too busy”, so she went by herself. Later she joined a local hiking club. On these outings she saw hills and valleys near her house that she had never seen despite having lived in the area for decades. On one hike in the Mojave Desert she saw a magnificent vista and it inspired her to make a big decision. She decided to visit a place she had always dreamed of seeing since she was a child: South Korea. Then she announced to the family around the table, “I’m leaving for Seoul in three weeks.”

The iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. Image copyright Korea Tourism Organization.

The man was shocked, something in her words had spoken to him. He felt ashamed. After dinner, the two of them had a heart-to-heart talk. The trickery and malice evaporated and they started to heal their relationship. Several weeks later the mother-in-law traveled to Korea and had a wonderful trip. In the months that followed, she visited the family more often and the two of them started to go on short walks. They both enjoyed being outside, even having deep conversations. A year later they had become friends and even hiking buddies. The entire family was happier and everyone was even talking about an overseas trip.

The man finished telling me his tale. Before disappearing into the crowd he said, “Thanks again for the great trip!”

His story was an elixir for me, it helped to renew and strengthen my own passion – connecting people with the outdoors. I started to organize and lead trips once again. Fifteen years later I’m still going strong.

I guide because travel and being in the outdoors teaches things that we can only learn by experiencing life. Guiding is at that nexus, the point between being in the now, learning, and living; and it is best shared with others who seek it.

 

How a Photo from 1890 Helped My Nature Travel Group Solve a Mystery

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017 | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding

My nature travel group set out to solve a mystery, where is Camp Edith? The campsite was a favorite of Judge John Breckenridge Waldo, an Oregon man whose legacy is comparable in stature to John Muir or Henry David Thoreau. Like Waldo’s impact on America’s conservation movement, this camp has been generally overlooked by history. Over the years a few people have found the campsite, they keep its location guarded so others might enjoy making their own discovery.

A photo of Camp Edith (circa 1890) taken at Waldo Lake, Oregon. I saw this while researching the journals and letters of conservationist Judge John Breckenridge Waldo at the University of Oregon archives. I’ve hiked all over Waldo Lake and never encountered this camp. Where was it? I’ve spent the past year reading, inquiring, and trying to find out where this camp might be, but with little luck. Some fieldwork was needed. I decided to lead a trip with other curious folks to find this historic location using this photo as one of our only clues.

John Waldo explored and documented the Cascades from 1877 to 1907, increased public awareness with his letters to state newspapers in support of forest conservation, and steadfastly pushed legislation to preserve the mountains for future generations. Today, Oregonians can appreciate six national forests, a national park, and at least eighteen wilderness areas because of Waldo’s vision and perseverance.

Thank you, John B. Waldo, for helping us to enjoy such beautiful places! A photo of a meadow and Mount Ray, Waldo Lake area.

On his treks, Waldo would travel along the Cascades’ crest for months at a time. Although he traveled with a handful of colleagues and friends it is likely that he became homesick for his family. One of his most beloved destinations now bears his name, Waldo Lake, and it’s upon this magnificent shore where he christened the camp in honor of his daughter, Edith. Today, the campsite doesn’t appear on any maps, it quietly rests with only a century-old blazed tree to signify its human history.

I first learned about Camp Edith while studying Waldo’s journals at the UO Archives last year. In the archives were several photographs, including one photo from 1890 that was simply titled, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” But where was it? I found a few references to the camp in his journals but nothing definitive. An online article said it was in the shadow of Mount Ray near the lake. I met one chiseled-faced man who said that it was somewhere on the south shore. It was helpful information, but since Waldo Lake has an area of 10 square miles, locating the camp would require some fieldwork.

Part of the marshy south shore of Waldo Lake.

On this trip, our only tools were a copy of the 1890 black and white photograph, several entries from the judge’s journal, and a 2004 Forest Service photo showing a tree with an inscription.

The hike started at Shadow Bay. We were fortunate that thick smoke from nearby fires was blowing in another direction, giving our day a striking clarity. After walking a bit studying the photo, we bushwhacked through the forest, crossed marshy fields, and clamored over downed trees. We made slow progress, partially to avoid stepping on a number of dime-sized toads. One plump toad was the size of an apple.

At the shoreline we again studied the older photo: it showed the campsite in the foreground, and in the distance were what appeared to be several shadowy outlines of land jutting across the lake. As we looked across the water, we could see similar landforms, but our angle was off the mark. We needed to explore further. Several hours after starting our hike one member of our group let out a joyous call: “I found it!”

The rest of us followed her voice through the woods to an area by the shore. Blazed on a tree was a heart-shaped mark. The bark’s growth had covered the outside letters, but the inscription was readable: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”

A close-up of the Camp Edith tree, part of the “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake” inscription is still visible.

We were excited about the find. We enjoyed lunch, shared our own stories, and even read a few of Waldo’s journal entries. We left agreeing to be discreet about the camp’s exact location and left it as we found it.

Standing in front of the Camp Edith tree. This group of curious folks enjoys a good mystery.

One of Waldo’s journal entries from 1890 was fitting for our hike that day,

“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”

A side-by-side comparison of the heart-shaped blaze seen in 2017 and 1890. You can still see the original heart outline in the bark of the newer photo.
Canoeing is still a favorite activity at Waldo Lake as evidenced by paddlers making their way through a channel. Waldo Lake is a gas powered motor-free zone.

The Great Eclipse of 2017, Eugene, Oregon

The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in almost a century occurred today (August 21, 2017). It was a must-see event. In my home town of Eugene, Oregon, the obscuration (amount of the sun’s disk that’s obscured by the moon) was 99.3%. We were geographically about 40 miles south of the shadow’s extent for complete darkness, but our location did not disappoint. Below are four photos, taken with my camera, showing the progression of the moon crossing in front of the sun’s disk.

A total eclipse is a phenomenal natural spectacle. To us humans both objects appear to be the same size in the sky, this is because our star (the Sun) is 400 times wider than the moon and it is 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. Even in the cosmos such a splended match up of size and distance for intelligent life to observe is likely a rare occurrence.

This composite photo shows the trees and valley thirty minutes prior to (left) and at the height the eclipse (right). During this time the sky became very dark and there were no bird sounds. The temperature also dropped 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit!

From my vantage, I could see about 20 miles south and about 40 miles north. The northern view was dark, the southern direction was sunny; in between this gulf of sixty miles was a gradient between the darkness and light. My wow moment was realizing that such an immense shadow, and on such a grand scale was made by the moon which is indeed very, very big.

Fostering an Intergenerational Respect for Animals

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Company: Road Scholar | Dates: Three trips, July-August, 2017 | Participants: 15-25 per group | Type: 6-days of field outings and motorcoach travel in western Oregon

I enjoyed leading this Road Scholar trip for grandparents and grandchildren. It was a fun and educational opportunity for different generations to share time together exploring the world of animals. For my programs, I wanted to create a mentoring environment where, at the end of the program, everyone who is young at heart would think of themselves as a beginning zoologist. A zoologist is a curious person (a scientist) who loves to learn about animals and everything they can teach us.

An enrichment activity I created. A key skill in tracking is understanding of how animals move. We did this by measuring the stride and placement of tracks by various animals. This activity reinforced the story of OR-7 “Journey” Oregon’s most famous wolf who has traversed 4,000 miles during his lifetime (so far).

 

 

 

A Story on the Ground – Getting to Know Track Patterns

Understanding how animals move is a basic feature of tracking. When you start to see “the story” written upon the ground you see patterns, infer distances, visualize speed, and even what type of animal made the tracks. Recognizing the gait – the animal’s manner of walking– is key to knowing the story. Here is a simple PDF I developed called, “Getting to Know Track Patterns” to use in the field. I use when I’m interacting with kids (and adults too). It helps to have someone demonstrate these gaits on all fours to visualize the gait. Then try to walk that way for yourself.

Hiking, Eagles, and Restoration in the Whychus-Deschutes Proposed Wilderness

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians (met ONDA on site)
Dates: May 22, 2017
Participants: 6
Type: Weekend Camping & Restoration Work

The Whychus-Deschutes proposed Wilderness is a rugged and beautiful landscape in central Oregon. Driving here requires a vehicle with high clearance and some sturdy hiking shoes for the remaining distance. It is a place of weathered cliffs, cold streams, and rocky canyons. If you have observant eyes you might even see bald eagles flying overhead. A prominent landmark is Alder Springs. The main spring appears to spontaneously gush from the dry ground at an impressive 60 gallons per second. These cool waters flow a short distance into the picturesque Whychus Creek and a few miles further it joins the turbulent water of the Middle Deschutes River. These unique waterways provide spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, and are central to all life in the area. This wilderness is prominent in fueling the region’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, tourism industry, and a high quality of life. The Whychus-Deschutes landscape is an asset, yet it lacks permanent protection.

The first evening allowed for some hiking and enjoying the local sights. The ridge above the campground offered wonderful views of basalt columns. The columns were between 80 and 100 feet in height.

I wanted to find out more about protecting this land so I led a group of fellow Obsidians for an explore. We joined several other volunteers for an extended weekend of restoration work with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). During the summer months, this sensitive area can be hammered by an influx of visitors who are seeking their own interpretation of this place. We were there to learn about the natural history, rebuild trails, fix up campsites, and remove some invasive plants that were taking resources from native species.

First, a shout out to ONDA. Learn more about ONDA’s great work and how you can help at onda.org

Here are some photos of our restoration weekend:

The next morning we drove to the Alder Springs Trailhead and gathered our gear.
This is stark and beautiful country. Our route was about three miles one way. We worked the entire distance.
Volunteers jumped to it keeping the trail open.
This water bar (a small dyke that prevents erosion on trails) had filled in and was no longer functioning. Our team rebuilt this and a good many others that day. The green in the background is courtesy of Alder Springs that flows at the base of the canyon.
Our host, Gena from ONDA, is crossing Whychus Creek.

 

Our group is removing an abundance of Knapweed from a meadow. Knapweed can quickly take over an area and choke out native vegetation.
The creek skirted along the base of this amazing painted cliff. The horizontal bands displayed a multitude of geologic layers. The cliff’s face was streaked with gray which oozed out during recent rains. Several of us enjoyed lunch at this picturesque location.
Our work group is removing a large outcrop of Mullein. Mullein adapts easily to natural meadows and can outpace native plants.
An amazing view looking down Whychus Creek.
We enjoyed a well-earned break at the confluence of Whychus Creek as it pours into the Deschutes River. This view is actually several hundred feet downstream from the confluence. The scenery here is spectacular.
The hot afternoon required a head-dunk in the cold waters of the Deschutes River. This is me.
The next day we were at it again. We easily spent two hours pulling Knapweed in just this little meadow.
More Knapweed! One plant was so tough it snapped a hand trowel.
Such amazing colors on these butterflies. Animals we saw on this trip included two bald eagles, turkey vultures, several meadowlarks, a robin, one gemstone colored Lazuli Bunting, scores of butterflies, and two snakes. Sadly, we saw four deceased deer, victims of an aggressively cold winter.
Our group removes an illegal fire ring that was fifteen feet from the creek. We restored this sensitive habitat as best we could.
Such simple, yet complex, beauty can be observed here. Note the small butterflies.
The last of our group returns down a dusty path after a long and rewarding weekend.
A true delight was spotted next to the trail. This is a primary feather of a Bald Eagle (possibly from a sub-adult). The top edge of my trail shoe is included for scale. This feather was discovered near the final hour of our restoration work – helping to protect public land. Seeing it was a welcome gift.