How to Create a Water Discovery Kit for Your Tour

Creeks and rivers are amazing storytellers — they can teach, captivate, and inspire curious minds.

I always try to include creeks and rivers into the larger interpretive theme of a tour, especially when these waterways can provoke people into broadening their horizons.

It’s always fun to open up an itenary so trip participants can look under rocks, get their feet wet, observe critters in the water — to touch, hear, smell, see, and learn more about the story of a place.

To help with bringing this story to life I bring along a simple “Water Discovery Kit.” The kit can be made at home, packs well, and weighs just a few pounds. It includes:

  • 1 Gallon-sized Plastic Bucket with Handle
  • 1 10x Microscope
  • 2 Dip Nets
  • 1 Big Pipette (medium-sized turkey baster)
  • 1 Thermometer
  • 3 Magnification Loops
  • 1 Set of Laminated Instructions
  • 1 Plankton Net with ziplock
  • 6 Small Pipettes
  • 3 Round clear observation dishes
  • 3 Rectangular clear observation dishes
  • 3 Rectangular observations plates
  • 1 Funnel
  • 1 Gallon-sized ziplock
  • 1 Secchi dish (8-inch)

Everything on the list fits inside the bucket, except for the Secchi disk which I carry separately.  The kit can be used by elementary kids on up, though it works best when various generations (grandparents and grandchildren) are involved.

Seven Tour Director Survival Tips for Dealing with “Vegan Issues”

Shown: Two vegan “small plate” dishes enjoyed at an Indian restaurant while on tour; Gobi Manchurian – fried cauliflower tossed in a sweet and sour sauce, and Samosa Chaat – two savory bean and pea pastries topped with a garbanzo bean curry and house chutneys.

As a trip leader, I love creating meaningful experiences for participants — especially through food. I’m also a vegan who loves to travel and engage new places through local tastes. For me, tour directing and eating vegan are complimentary flavors.

That’s why I’m surprised when fellow tour directors express derision towards vegans. These sentiments were summed up at a recent guide training when a group presented their hot topics titled, VEGAN ISSUES.  The frustration was perplexing because to be blunt, vegans aren’t problems on tour. As with any interpretive travel what is required is a better knowledge of the audience. Here’s seven survival tips for tour directors dealing with “vegan issues.”

1. Why are vegans, vegan? And, what is plant-based?
Vegans eat the same food as everyone else, except it’s not made from animals. Vegans value compassion. They seek to eliminate, as much as practical and possible, the use of and exploitation of animals in their everyday lives.  They understand the most immediate way to enact compassion is to control what they put on their plate. Another group to know about are travelers who are plant-based; they eat plants solely for dietary or health benefits. Veganism takes plant-based a step further and includes the ethical component.

2. Why are vegans quiet?
Vegans are often stereotyped as being quiet. Some can be. Many vegans tend to be reserved when traveling because they don’t want to be derided. Here are some actual comments by professional-level tour directors about vegans:

Why don’t they eat like normal people?
If they can’t eat normal food on a tour, they should be made to eat what the rest eat!”
“They seem smart, too bad they can’t figure out what they’re going to eat this week.

Is it any wonder a traveler might be quiet when a tour director’s personal biases (yes, biases) are seeping into other communications? Trip leaders need to understand that everyone on their tour want to eat good-tasting, wholesome food. Vegans just want food without the animal or the hidden animal products.

3. Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?
I often hear trip leaders say, “Why are they vegan at home, but not while traveling?” At home, all of us can control ingredients, quantity, salt, oils, etc., but this can be very difficult for anyone during a week-long tour. Vegans have learned to be pros when it comes to ordering food selectively at restaurants to avoid hidden animal products, substituting side dishes, or supplementing their travel meals by visiting the store.  However, on tour, most of the pre-selected restaurants on an itinerary are solidly meat-centric.  When confronted with zero choices many vegan travelers just won’t eat at all, others might order various side dishes to create something of a meal. Others might make a “what causes the least harm” decision. A few might substitute fish, though these are usually travelers who need to eat something (anything) at each meal to regulate blood sugar or taking medicine with food.

4. Why don’t they eat the special vegan meal?
The biggest frustration I’ve heard from tour directors is that the specially prepared vegan meal rarely gets eaten. I can say without hesitation – 95% of the specially prepared
vegan meals on tours are notoriously bad. These vegan meals might be made by well-intentioned kitchens, but staff often have no clue what vegans eat and the results can range from lackluster to frightful. If someone on tour is skipping meals, their basic needs are not being met.

5. What about vegans eating alternative meat on tours?
The target audience for alternative meat products aren’t plant-eaters, the target audience are meat-eaters who want to reduce the amount of meat they are eating. To many vegans, alternative meat is junk food and should be eaten sparingly.

6. What do vegans eat?
Vegan food can be as diverse as a fresh salad or pizza. I like food that is unrefined or minimally refined and excludes or minimizes meat, dairy products, and eggs.  Vegan food can include apples, bananas, blueberries, oranges, strawberries, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, kale, lettuce, potatoes, corn, green peas, winter squash, barley, millet, oats, quinoa, wheat berries, brown rice, black beans, chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, walnuts, pumpkin seeds, tahini, almond butter, or even rice, soy, oat, almond, and cashew milk. The entire vegetable and fruit aisle at the store is vegan. A good part of the grain aisle and some of the bread aisle is vegan. Additionally, there are plant-based mayonnaise, cheeses and other sandwich condiments that taste like traditional products and are cost-effective. On the more recreation and social side, most french fries and beer are vegan. There’s no shortage of plant-based foods or creative ways to eat vegan while on tour, here’s a few:

Shown: Some of the vegan meals, desserts, and snacks served on the tours and trips I’ve led.

7. How should I talk with a vegan on my tour?
Have a conversation with them as you would with anyone on your trip. Remember, vegans want to eat delicious food too, if they have a question about food it’s originating from a place of compassion. Use compassion as a starting point in your own conversation with trip travelers. I try to set this tone in my pre-trip welcome letter, I explain that while our trip has made efforts to eat at places that offer a variety of foods some of the menus can be limited. I add that we will have an opportunity to stop by a local grocery store so all participants can supplement food, and grab something fresh and healthy if needed. At times when travelers explore a town on their own, I always find a local restaurant that offers a selection of vegan options and invite others to join me. I also communicate with the office about locating restaurants that are generally healthier. During the tour, I speak with the kitchen to see about suggestions if something can be substituted.

On a tour, everyone can experience new places through local tastes. It does requires some up-front communication with travelers about what to expect on a trip. It also requires some greater knowledge of your audience.

Note: The list of foods on #6 comes from Forks Over Knives

When Travel Experiences Are Not in Context, Guests Don’t Remember

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.

The Essential Ingredient for Designing a Tour is Understanding Its Theme

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 nouns. While they do include destinations and things, the essential ingredient for designing a theme is to think of it as a verb.

Some examples:
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.

Walking Track Town (Eugene, Oregon)

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.

Exploring & Hiking on Oregon’s Central Coast

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.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 20+ | Type: hiking

A pleasant walk on the last day.
A dune ride to see how the dunes looked prior to the introduction of European Beach Grass.
Walking across the dunes.
Left alone, everything grows big here.
A wonderful walk in the woods.
An out-of-shoe experience on the beach.
A lovely sunset seen during a quiet beach walk after dinner.
Experiencing the lush temperate rain forest.
Enjoying a walk on the beach

The Case of the Mysterious Crater Lake Rings

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?

Overlooking Crater Lake & Wizard Island from the Watchman

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.

The ring images were highlighted (first in Adobe Illustrator) then overlaid into Google Earth. The shoreline features of Wizard Island were mapped to the photos.
A close-up of the two images showing ring diameters. The various ring diameters were measured using Google Earth.

The diameter of some of the rings was massive:

2.1 meters
3.6 meters
5.4 meters
6.1 meters
6.7 meters
8.8 meters
11 meters
42.5 meters

The inside ring measures 8.8 meters!

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!

End of the Summer Camping in the Cascades

This was possibly the last warm-ish weekend in the Cascades this year, and our group was able to enjoy 3-days of hiking and camping at beautiful Waldo Lake, Oregon.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: September 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 11 | Type: hiking, car camping

A remote area of the lake
Waldo’s Camp Edith sign continues to show its age…not bad though for 130 years of weathering. The camp remains a secret, known only to those who find it, including my group who spent part of an afternoon using a photo from the 1890s to re-discover the location.
It was a mycological paradise in the woods – lots and lots of mushrooms to see!

Hiking & Rafting in Central Oregon – An Active Education Tour

Helping people experience and learn about the rich natural history of central Oregon is always a treat. My energetic group of 14 adults hiked, rafted, and explored the amazing volcanic landscape.

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: August 2019 | Duration: 8 days | Participants: 14 | Type: hiking, rafting, tour

A Double Rainbow Over Crater Lake!
Rafting on the Deschutes River
A Day Hike in Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
A day hike across a magnificent lava field.
Entering the Massive Lava Tube Cave
Crater Lake National Park – The Watchman – Overlooking Wizard Island
Hiking in the lush Cascades
Enjoying the 100-feet cascade of Diamond Creek Falls, Willamette Pass, Oregon.
We just finished up a rafting trip on the Santiam River.
Enjoying an evening walk to explore Eugene’s colorful murals and micro-art.

Crater Lake & Bend: An Intergenerational Outdoor Spirited Trip

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

Rescuing a Banana Slug off the trail. The visit was also an introduction to the dynamic and rich Cascade Forest ecology.
Walking through a bountiful Pacific Northwest forest.
Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood. Also enjoyed a stellar lunch at the Lodge.
Hiking in Smith Rock State Park and learning more about its geology.
An eagle catches lunch from the river!
A group photo at a beautiful bridge in Bend, Oregon. The bridge was used in the movie, “Homeward Bound.”
A first view of Crater Lake.
Snow! For some in the group this was the first time they had encountered snow.
Some of the younger members of the group found a cool-looking bug on the trail during a night hike.
A real treat! Because of an interpretive talk I gave the younger members of our group knew about the Old Man of the Lake and were able to point it out to the captain.
Hiking at Crater Lake
Rafting the Big Eddy Rapids on the Deschutes River. I’m on the other side of the raft taking the full river experience in the face.
A grandparent and grandchild enjoying walking across the lava at Lava Lands.
Overlooking the Big Obsidian Flow – one square mile of black Obsidian!
Entering the Lava River Cave (lava tube)
Walking with the group at Lava River Cave
Playing on the lower Deschutes River – one of the trip participants is about to get really wet.

Traversing to Fort Rock Cave the Home of Oregon’s 10,000 Year-Old Shoes

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.

A reproduction of a 10,000 year-old sagebrush sandal

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.

Kayaking While Surrounded by an Ocean of Sand

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.

An 80-foot wall of sand along a bend in the river.
Upriver there were a number of fallen and downed trees we gave them a wide berth.
The dunes gave way to open spaces and a green marsh. Several ducks were flying overhead.
A large bird turned in our direction. As it approached we saw a white head and white tail feathers – it was a bald eagle! A magnificent sight, and seeing it was worth all the money in the world at that moment.
The river widened as we approached the mouth of the Siltcoos River.
At the mouth of the Siltcoos River. The Pacific Ocean had 4-6 foot swells that day. A bald eagle was observed looking for a mid-afternoon snack in the surf. Note the white tail feathers. The area before us (all the shoreline in the area) was closed to protect habitat for the Snowy Plover, a threatened species. Photo credit: Anna Hougardy.
A happy trip participant

Listening to Oregon’s Kalapuya Talking Stones

Talking Stone LI-YUU (Prairie)

Trip Report – Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Eugene-based Hiking Club; Dates: April 2019; Participants: 16; Type: Urban & Trail Walking

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.

Talking Stone GUDU-KUT (frog)

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.

Charlotte Behm sharing stories about the creation, installation, and public interactions with the Talking Stones.

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.

Additional Resources:
> Kalapuya Talking Stones Brochure & Map (PDF)
> Video: Hunting for History Part 5: The Kalapuya Talking Stones
> Article: “Future of the Kalapuya Story
> Article: “Ancient Oregon Languages Being Nudged Awake
> The “presumed extinct” reference is from publication,”Cultural resource overview of the Willamette National Forest, western Oregon” 1977, #12, (page 79 > actual location in PDF is page 90)

Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Infosheet

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 mark@letsgoexploring.com.

>> Download Printable PDF – Side A
>> Download Printable PDF – Side B

My Trip Photo Is in a National Wildlife Federation Article

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.

A Walking Exploration of Eugene’s Murals

Group Photo in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Mural, Eugene, Oregon, Photo by Eduardo Tapia.

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

An Afternoon with Judge B. Waldo: A Visionary Conservationist & Explorer

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’s Street Art – Hiding in Plain Sight in Eugene, Oregon

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.

#1. One of the most photographed images of Dan Witz’s work in Eugene. It is located downtown on Broadway near a restaurant. Look close to the ground.

#2. Dan’s images are sometimes in places that you might not visit. Here, in a downtown alley, next to the trash dumpster and the recycling bin is a WTF image. …most people would overlook such an area, I did…at first. I wonder how much of the grime on the wall and the neglected-looking doors is real vs painted by the artist.

#2 (continued) A close-up of the image.

#3. These hands appear to be wearing yellow rubber gloves like a person might wear who uses caustic chemicals in cleaning. Such gloves hide hints of race, age, gender or other traits that might bias the viewer. It also suggests anonymity. You’ll find this in an alley close to Broadway.

#4 (two panels). Many of Dan’s images are in close proximity to Blek le Rat’s stenciled works here in Eugene. Like all good things, it takes some work to divine the location of his images. Both pieces in the photo shared wall space which appears unfinished, even a bit garish, yet it is in this unkempt space where you find the artists’ creativity. Dan’s work on this wall is possibly one of this most disturbing for me; one because of its unnerving presentation of a reclining human figure that appears to be inside a wall, and secondly that I walked past this wall for many months before I really saw it.

#4 (continued) A close-up of the reclining man; is he resting, or deceased? The two panels together are about 5 feet. Sometimes it’s easier to see this image from the side. To find this piece, look at the back wall where a cabaret for actors might work.

#5. Definitely a WTF image – seeing a blue hand pushing the grate apart. Why is the hand blue? Does the hand belong to a tagger whose hand is covered in blue paint? Or is it something more sinister? The location for this is easily overlooked by people visiting the local farmer’s market on weekends. Instead of walking up the stairs to your car take a look around the garage’s ground level.

#6. OK, this is not one of his paintings, but his work does trick the eye. While in the proximity of Tacovore in the Whiteaker (Eugene) look at rooflines for his yellow gloves. Note the Blek le Rat work in the background.

#7. This image is downtown. It’s hiding in plain sight above the back door of a music venue that opened in 1925.

#8. This is a window-sized design.  I have both driven past and seen its location from across the street many times, yet never observed it. It is worth finding. Start at the Whole Foods in Eugene and make your way across the street to the All Prophets Tattoo shop, keep your eyes open. REMOVED: Sadly, this work was removed in early February 2019 when the building repainted. It is unknown if the artwork survived.

#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).

#11 REMOVED. This photo is from the 20x21EUG Mural Project. This 2017 image shows Dan Witz working on his street art located on 11th Ave by the Chase Bank. It was removed/stolen.

Tracking Down Blek le Rat’s Street Art in Eugene, Oregon

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.

Tug of War. This image is located next to the stage door of the Hult Center (in an alley).

Another one of Blek’s stenciled works outside the downtown grid. This eye-catching design is located next to Tacovore in Eugene. Enjoy a cup of coffee at the local shop as well.

This is another work that is outside the general grid. It is located near 13th and Oak, and in the proximity of some other wonderful murals (from other artists). The man is the image is apparently of Blek’s son and his likeness appears on many of the Blek’s works around Eugene. The Koi Fish are from a previous artist’s work and can be seen at several location swimming around town.

A downtown image on the backdoor of a restaurant. Note the tagger is dropping the can of spray paint. Is he dropping it because it is empty or because the cops have shown up?

Ballet – dancing couple. When you find this piece (if you take public transit downtown look around) keep your eyes open for works of other artists like Dan Witz.

Another one of his works in downtown Eugene. The musician is not playing. I really like the reflection in the plexiglass, this is almost two images. Curiously, in juxtaposition, a nearby work of his features two dancers.

The Pied Piper. This wall-sized work is at the edge of the IDX building in town. It is not hard to see the piper from the road below, but I’m surprised how many people overlook the work entirely. To see it properly you need to climb up several flights of stairs in the parking garage. At the piper’s feet is a rat with a microphone.

A graffiti tagger looks around a corner. If you park your car to attend the local Farmer’s Market you’ll see the tagger – or, the tagger will see you.

An image of the tagger and bird in Eugene, Oregon. This sadly was painted over in the summer of 2018, it was located just off Broadway between Willamette and Olive Streets. Photo from Blek’s website.

The mouse with a microphone. Possibly my favorite of his Eugene works. This is different from his other pieces in Eugene in that it is located inside a building. It is easy to overlook, though it can be viewed from the sidewalk through the door. The name of the establishment is in the photo. …Nice ink on the person’s arm.

Return of the Light: December Cold Moon & Winter Solstice Celebration 2018

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!

The sighting pedestal is aligned with the setting sun Summer and Winter Solstice, the light appears through the notch at these select times.

The moon’s orb rises over the revelry. Locals climbed 1,000 feet to the top of Mount Pisgah to celebrate.