Helping PAX Make Better Decisions About Hikes

Travelers (PAX) on a tour can sometimes select a hike that is beyond their current ability, and once on the trail, this can be disheartening, embarrassing, and even dangerous. How does a trip leader provide opportunities that allow travelers to make better decisions about hikes before they even set foot on the trail?

On this particular coastal trip, in Oregon, we have hikes that occur simultaneously (harder and easier hike options) that allow hikers with different interests and skill levels to participate. Throughout the program, I offer multiple opportunities for travelers to learn about upcoming hikes, this includes:

  • Working with the travel company to maintain accurate information in the trip’s description.
  • Presenting photos and information about the hikes in the first evening’s presentation.
  • Maintaining a permanent table in our meeting/dining area that has trail guides, maps, and all sorts of interpretive materials and visual and easy-to-read trail descriptions.
  • Provide a review of the hike the evening before, and the following morning along with current weather, temperatures, etc.
  • Use a drip-information method for communicating, meaning this information is always available. One of the best tools for this is having easy-to-read laminated sheets (shown) that provide photos and hike details. These are perfect for including in the shuttle and for passing around during meals the day before that particular hike. I make sure everyone on the trip has an opportunity to review these.

The photo shows both sides of the same 3 laminated sheets. These include:

Sheet A: This includes the WHY I want them to review this. On one side is the name of the area being visited, “Cape Perpetua,” and the header, “What Hike is Best for Me?” The other side includes large text, “The attached documents were created to help you make a well-informed decision about the two hike options at Cape Perpetua. Please, review them. Thank you! – Trip Leader, Mark”

Sheet B: Has information on the SHORTER hike; on one side is a high-quality map showing elevation lines and the route. Included is information about the duration, elevation gain, length, and a description. This is the suggested hike for travelers who want a more relaxed experience, can look for whales along the coast, enjoy photographing the scenery, and see old-growth in a temperate rainforest. The other side has a full-color image of one of an area we will be visiting.

Sheet C: Has information on the LONGER hike; on one side is a high-quality map showing elevation lines and the route. Included is information about the duration, elevation gain, length, and a description. This is the suggested hike for those who want to explore the heart of a temperate rainforest, see lots of old-growth, and get their heart pumping with a gain of 1,000 feet. The other side has a full-color image of the hike.

Exploring Ape Cave & Lava Canyon – Mount St. Helens National Monument

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 9 miles | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

This trip demonstrates perfectly why I don’t “just do a trip” for a group without having a solid knowledge of the area. This was organized as an exploratory trip (meaning I had not been to these locations before and neither had the participants). Since all 5 of us are members of a local hiking club, and skilled hikers/backpackers in our own right, this was known to all up front, but still, this trip was a gentle reminder that local knowledge is needed for providing the best experiences. We had a good time and learned a great deal, but had I known more about the area the trip would have been exceptional.

This trip was to visit the southeast side of Mount St. Helens, in Washington State.

Day 1: The group arrived and we had time to explore the quiet tent-only campground and some local trails near Cougar, Washington. We had dinner, talked around the campfire, and some stayed out close to 10 pm as the mid-summer sun stayed long into the evening sky.

Having lunch at Lava Canyon.

The morning of Day 2 began with birds blasting the campground with calls at about 4:30 am! The group had a relaxed morning, though several commented they had not slept well that night. Possibly this was related to being tired, or we were talking, but while driving to the hiking area we missed a turn-off and went the expected distance down a road to realize we needed to backtrack. This delay caused us to start about an hour and a half late. Driving back, we learned there was a significant absence of Forest Service signage in the area related to general features like river crossings, sights, overlooks, etc. We finally made our destination of Lava Canyon and hiked around the upper trail area. Prior to the trip, we knew the suspension bridge was out of commission, though we had hoped to hike downstream to the Ship Rock area, sadly this trail was also closed. Hiking back, we crossed over the main footbridge and ate lunch overlooking the beautiful glacial-blue Muddy River. Leaving, we made a stop at the bridge overlooking the 1980 lahar flow with Mount St. Helens looming in the background.

Viewing the waterfall at June Lake.

We drove to the June Lake parking area and began our hike to June Lake. The plan had been to continue to Chocolate Falls for a 5-mile loop, but about 2 miles in, little issues were quickly adding up into larger concerns [such as starting the morning hike late which made starting this long hike begin well after lunch, hiking over sections of lava fields that had now heated up in the afternoon sun, half of the group being tired, several with not enough water, the leader not having the best map, having to cross glacial melt steam late in the day, and increasing signs that at some -including the trip leader- were dehydrated]. The trip leader made the call to stop the hike soon after June Lake. This was an unhappy call to make but hopefully avoided an injury. Driving back to camp, we located where the earlier signage mistake had been made – a sign had been misinterpreted. We also visited the Ape Cave turnoff to better know where to go the following morning and we discovered the sign along the road identifying the turn for Ape Cave was completely missing! Finding the turn, we stopped for 20 minutes at the Trail of Two Forests Interpretive Site where a 2,000-year-old lava flow from Mount St. Helens ran through the forest, around trees, solidifying around the trunks and leaving tree wells. The group ended our day back at the campground and had an early evening.

Looking up the lahar, Mount St. Helens is in distance. For scale, note the people walking in the lahar.

On the final day, we departed camp at 8:45 am and visited Ape Cave for our 9-9:30 am time slot to arrive. We parked in a lower lot as the official signage in the area was poor and did not direct us to the upper lot. Finally, we began our adventure up the difficult 1.5-mile upper cave route. Progress was slow as there was a significant amount of bouldering across rock falls, several tight places, and a harder than it sounds narrow 8-foot wall that had to be scaled. There were a few scraped knees, but the group arrived at the end of the lava tube; our completion time was 2 hours and 15 minutes. We walked 1.5 miles back to the visitor center through the forest for farewells and then drove back to Eugene. We had hoped to get ahead of any surge related to the Fourth of July weekend holiday traffic but still managed to hit bumper-to-bumper traffic through Portland, making drive time from Ape Cave to Eugene 4 hours.

Looking up at the skylight – Ape Cave

Where’s the Money? Include a Rooming List to Document Tips for Housekeeping

Several years ago at a trip leader training, someone asked the question, “At the end of a travel program what happens to the tips intended for housekeeping?

Some quick background: The travel company had been providing tips to the housekeeping staff (at the various hotels utilized on tours) by paying the hotels directly. The expectation was these funds would navigate corporate accounting departments and “trickle down” to the individuals who did the work. The general feedback was these funds were not getting paid out, and if this was being paid out, had not been communicated to staff or observed in paychecks. To ensure that housekeeping was receiving their hard-earned tips, the travel company made the individual trip leaders responsible for this. The company would deposit the tips for housekeeping into the trip leader’s bank account, who then had to pull this out of their bank as cash, and then would pay the housekeeping manager directly at the end of the trip.

Then another question was asked, “How does someone know if the cash even reaches housekeeping?” The answer from the travel company was, “We don’t know. There’s no way to track this once the trip leaders pull it from their account.”

Whoa! This was not just a glaring hole in the travel company’s process, but one that left the trip leader exposed and in a precarious position about their honesty if anyone ever asked, “What happened to the money?”  Integrity and being mindful of others’ hard work mean everything in the hospitality/travel business. Having that questioned or even an ounce of suspicion is a death knell to one’s career.

After that day, I documented everything related to tips intended for others, and I do this with a simple process. I’ve listed this as A, B, and C:

A) At the end of the trip, when I am ready to pay out tips for housekeeping, I lay out the following items and take a photo that shows:

  • The Rooming List (this must include my traveler’s room numbers and the dates); I include a little note on the rooming list saying this is tip money for housekeeping’s hard work.
  • The correct amount of cash out, and I clearly display the ID numbers and amount of each bill.
  • An envelope with the housekeeping manager’s name [if possible] or at least their title; near and edge I write the date, the time, and the travel company’s trip ID.
  • A big “Thank You” is written on the envelope with the name of the travel company and my name.

B) I put the rooming list and cash in the envelope and immediately deliver this to the front desk staff, preferably when two people are at the desk, or someone that I have a working relationship with, and I say, “Please place this envelope directly in the Housekeeping Manager’s mailbox.” I stay to make sure I see the envelope go into their mailbox or at least go into the staff room and I thank the person for doing that when they return. Many front desks have cameras, and if I see one, I make sure to look at the camera for a moment so there is a record of me having delivered the tip envelope.

C) Depending on the situation, I might email my manager at the main office about this being delivered. Regardless, I always include this photo when I electronically submit all my transaction receipts at the end of the trip for reconciliation. Lastly, I keep a copy of this with my trip documents in my own files and I never get rid of this information.

This sounds a bit like overkill, but again, integrity is everything in this business; I want to make sure those who have helped my travelers receive their tips, and I also wish to practice CYA [Cover Your Backside].

On a walking tour that I led last year, a woman approached and asked about housekeeping tips since they were supposedly included in what she and others on the trip had paid. On two separate trips, with other companies, she found the tipping policy to be gray or nonexistent. This was a concern for the woman as her mother had been a housekeeper for decades and rarely received tips or was recognized. I agreed that housekeeping staff are the unsung heroes of any tour, and I wanted them to receive what was theirs. I explained the company she was currently traveling with recognized this was an issue and provided tip money to the leader to then pay the housekeeping manager directly. And, to ensure better accountability, I briefly mentioned my own process. The woman choked up and began to cry. She returned a few minutes later and thanked me for caring. At the end of the trip, she thanked me again and said she would be traveling again with the same company.

Minus Tide Explorations & Eagle Viewing on Oregon’s Central Coast

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: mid-June 2022 | Duration: 3 days | Hiking Distance: 7 miles | Participants: 8 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

The low tide zone is always covered, except for a few times a year during the lowest tides. It was during one such minus low tide that 8 of us ventured to an area along Oregon’s central coast to explore tide pools during an impressive -2.4 feet (-73 cm) low tide!

Day 1: Our group arrived on their schedule at one of the nearby Oregon State Park group camps. That afternoon and evening were open for beach walking, exploring on your own, or watching the sunset. In the evening, everyone enjoyed a campfire and discussed plans for the next day. It was interesting that one topic of conversation that arose was the book, “Braiding Sweetgrass.” Of the 8 participants, more than half had read the book, one was in the process of reading, and the others were interested. At 10 pm a gentle rain started and continued through to the morning.

Day 2: At 7 am, we carpooled to an unnamed parking area expecting a filling parking lot, but to the trip leader’s surprise were only 3 cars. The rain, cool temperatures, and overcast skies likely contributed to the low turnout. We arrived about 2 hours before low tide to follow the tide out. This particular tide pool area is special because we can walk on sand and open rocky surfaces to visit ‘islands’ of marine life. After 2.5 hours, and a returning tide, we started back and met several rangers who helped to provide some more context to the area. One ranger said the rain had chased most away that morning. We saw numerous anemones, various seaweeds, chitons, crabs, limpets, mussels, and some small fish believed to be skulpins. Also observed were a pacific harbor seal, seagulls, and great blue heron. Later that morning, we drove to a coffee shop in Nye Beach to warm up. Then half of the group ventured back to the campground, and the other half visited the Hatfield Marine Science Center. That afternoon, we met up at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and saw at least 4 bald eagles in addition to the common murres, surf scoters, and pigeon guillemots. One participant said that in 30 years of visiting Yaquina Head she had not seen that many eagles there as that day. That evening we enjoyed dinner around a campfire. Several of the group visited the beach at sunset to see up to 8 large birds visiting what appeared to be the body of a deer on the beach (the deer had not been there 24 hours earlier). The deer had been possibly struck by a vehicle on the nearby highway and made it to the beach before dying. Near the body were 8 birds; 3 were vultures, 2 were adult bald eagles, and 3 were juvenile bald eagles. The interactions between the birds were raucous at times. Just at sunset, the eagles departed and the vultures returned. That evening the rain returned.

Day 3: We awoke to a wet campsite and decided to meet in Depoe Bay at 9 am. Some broke camp early to grab some breakfast in town. In Depot Bay the group met up again, and we looked briefly for whales, but saw no signs, then drove north to Fogarty Creek to enjoy a -1.5 foot low tide. After an hour and a half, everyone departed for home.

Pacific Harbor Seal
A visitor to the tide pools during a minus low tide.
Great Blue Heron
Wet and overcast during our visit.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area. What was most amazing today is the lack of wind.
Eagles!
An adult bald eagle and what appear to be two juvenile eagles at the ocean’s edge.
An adult bald eagle and juvenile (at left) stand over what appears to be a deer carcass on the beach. A turkey vulture is at the right.
The two juvenile eagles are much larger that the turkey vultures who are keeping their distance.
Found some fossils while tide pooling!
Mussel colonies
Up close with a starfish

Three Golden Moments for Trip Leaders That Will Make or Break an Adventure Travel Program

As a trip leader, the first interactions with your group are golden. Participants want to know if they will be safe and if you as a leader are professional, approachable, and will help them to succeed in this adventure. Operations differ at different travel companies, but here are 3 golden moments that can set the tone of your entire adventure travel program.

Golden Moment #1: The Pre-Trip Communication Email
Not all companies provide this information to leaders before a trip, but If you have access to names and emails -and time- sending a pre-trip communication to your participants can be golden. You will help your travelers be better prepared, and they will greatly appreciate your effort.

  • Send a pre-trip email about 7-10 days before the trip begins.
  • Introduce your history with the area they are visiting, what they will be experiencing, a general idea about the weather they will encounter, and about helpful gear to have (as this is in addition to what the company provided).
  • Remind them the travel company remains their best point of contact before their trip.
  • Confirm to see them on X date at Y time and provide a personal email and phone number.

If you don’t have access to this information, don’t worry, just make sure Golden Moment #2 is knocked out of the park.

Golden Moment #2: Checking-In 
This differs from company to company, but at the trip’s beginning, there is often a quick check-in followed shortly after that by a more formal welcome. This part covers the check-in. Keep the check-in short and sweet and down to a few basics:

  • Welcome them; let them know they are in the right spot.
  • Let them know where the nearest restrooms are and what the hotel’s Wi-Fi password is.
  • Ask if they have all their luggage and if their check-in at the hotel was okay.
  • Ask them to set their watches to the local time (many people use watches); their phones will auto-update.
  • Inform them -although unlikely- where to gather if an emergency occurs (i.e fire alarm).
  • Give them any welcome materials from the travel or expedition company.
  • Let them know where/when to meet next, even if it’s in the same room.

Golden Moment #3: The First Night Welcome / Dinner / Presentation
I amend these depending on the situation such as the speed of when dinner is ready, how tired participants are, etc. My notes are for a group no larger than 24 travelers.

In the Room: (If this is possible, I have arrived much earlier to set up and review paperwork)

  • On each dining table, I try to provide a printed sheet with a URL or a process for the group to share photos of their shared experience.
  • I have set up a portable projector and my foldable fabric screen.
  • On a side table are hands-on items like topo maps, park maps, brochures, local natural history books, molds of animal tracks they might see, etc.

These are some core items to include in a welcome:

  • Always begin on time and show empathy.
    • Understand that many have traveled far, possibly from a different time zone, and are likely tired. Respect their time by being on time and having a purposeful welcome. Always keep them informed if there is a delay. I try to keep the first evening’s welcome (with dinner) to an hour and fifteen minutes, no more than an hour and a half.
  • Announce that the trip’s experience has officially begun.
  • Give a warm welcome and a quick overview of what they can expect that evening and the time you will be finished.
  • Provide a quick reminder about the uniqueness of the trip and why you are qualified to be their guide.
  • Introduce any other staff (like a naturalist or area expert)
  • Provide a space for the travelers to introduce themselves (I try to keep this to about 20 minutes, definitely less than half an hour.)
  • Let people eat (depending on the situation, sometimes I start the evening directly with dinner, it really depends on the needs of the program at that time, be flexible).
  • I usually start my presentation just as people are halfway through dinner or finishing up.
  • As a lead-in, I let them know about ways for sharing photos with the group during their trip. I also give them a heads up that I’ll be leading a short and optional [natural history or interpretive] walk at the end of that evening for those who might want to stretch their legs.
  • Try to keep the presentation to 20 minutes with 5 minutes for questions
    • The presentation is colorful with photos (from previous trips on the itinerary) helping to tell the story of the program.
    • I share my personal reason for being there.
    • The rest of the presentation includes logistical info: the shuttle, the terrain, safety protocols, meals, communications, etc.
    • The 2nd to the last slide covers the weather for the next day.
    • The final slide includes 5 data points -what I want them to remember- and this slide is all about the next day:
      1. For a wake-up I suggest using their phone AND setting a time with the main desk; don’t use the in-room clock.
      2. Breakfast is at X time and Y location.
      3. Gear to bring (daypack, sunhat, sunglasses, etc.)
      4. We depart at X time at Y location (or if there is a speaker, or walk, etc.)
      5. I say that I’ll see everyone in the morning; for those interested in the short natural history walk to join me in 10 minutes.

These first three interactions with your group are golden. Let them see that they are in professional hands, that you love what you do, that you respect their time, and assure them they will be having a life-enhancing experience on your adventure travel trip.

An Easy “On the Go” Tool for Helping to Tell the Story of an Educational Adventure Tour

When leading an educational adventure how does one tell the program’s story, while keeping those on your tour informed, imparting knowledge that helps them to make a connection, is lightweight, and “on the go?”

When building out my interpretive program I develop it so I can carry laminated sheets. For lack of a better term, I often call them placards. Here is the set of placards I use while visiting central Oregon on a 6-day educational travel program. There are about 80 placards that support my trip’s 1 interpretive theme and 3 sub-themes.

I also have about 10 placards with just data. For example, when we visit Bend, Oregon, travelers want to know about the cost of housing, population, etc. While I sometimes use the placards to help me remember, and even after discussing them, I often pass around the placards or share them during a meal so people can read at their leisure and better the photos.

On each placard, I include a color photo on one side and on the other text in 14-point font. This makes it easier to read for eyes that are over 50.

When I am working with a local or knowledge expert, I try to research their emphasis and then selectively use my materials to help them tell their story. It is like helping to set the stage so the sage on that stage can better succeed.

One of my favorite uses of placards was on an intergenerational (grandparents and their grandchildren) trip to Crater Lake National Park. That morning, I gave a brief presentation about where we were visiting and what to look out for, including a rare sight known as The Old Man of the Lake, a centuries old tree trunk that floats upright and traverses the lake’s clear waters. When I was done, I passed the placards around so people who wanted could read up a bit more. The placards included:
– basics about the lake water’s clarity
– the newts & crawdads of the area
– key info about the lake’s depth with a detailed satellite image
– how the lake is the source point of various watersheds
– more about the Old Man of the Lake (shown left).

Then our group was to hike 700 feet down to Cleetwood Cove where we would board a boat for a two-hour boat ride inside the 5-mile wide caldera. While returning across the lake, one of the kids called out that she had seen in the distance something on the water. She asked the caption if the boat could investigate, the captain did and everyone received a rare surprise, seeing the Old Man of the Lake up close.

Afterward, the captain pulled me aside and mentioned that he had known where the Old Man of the Lake was, but it was just far enough out of our route that he was not going to make a stop unless someone said they had observed it. She was surprised that someone so young in my group knew about the old man and was so eager about seeing this wonderful natural feature.

It is feedback like that that makes my job so wonderful, and having items that are lightweight, supports a theme, adds that bit of magic that makes travel so wonderful, and can better help me keep the program on schedule, are golden.

If interpretation is an idea you would like to know more about, here is a short video from the National Association for Interpretation.

Watching a Banana Slug Eat

While recently camping on the Oregon Coast, my daughter noticed a giant banana slug. This slug was a beast measuring 8.5 inches in length! Over several hours, the slug moved from the ground to some low-hanging leaves of a Salal plant. The lower oval-shaped leaves were leathery, but the smaller leaves, just a foot away, were tender-looking and bright green. The slug found these smaller leaves within a short time and began to devour the newly-found meal. What was most amazing to me was that I have only seen banana slugs eating decomposing materials. This was the first time I observed one eating leaves. Also, because of the slug’s location, just a few feet off the ground, this was a great way to see how they eat. The slug’s mouth quickly closed and moved to the next section on the leaf, it is the microscopic teeth (or radula that can number up to 27,000) that make this creature even more fascinating. Below are some close-up pictures and a 2-second time-lapse video taken over about 3-minutes showing the slug eating.

>> Watch a time-lapse video of the banana slug eating

Ideas for Organizing Daily Updates on an Adventure Travel Tour

Whether you are running an eco-trip, daily hikes, a week-long active travel program, or leading a bus trip, participants like knowing what to expect. Providing them with good information -throughout the day at key times- can help you, and the travelers, focus on the rest of the trip. Here are some hard-learned tips.

I plan my updates the evening before, it’s often about 9 pm when I have returned to my room and can prepare my materials and what I need to be successful that next day. This includes updating the schedule to include recent updates, planning around unexpected changes, and mapping this out so the people I am responsible for can have a safe and enjoyable time. I usually write it out on lined paper, or waterproof paper for taking into the field, though an iPad or similar could be used for more in-city programs.

The daily updates look something like this:

Breakfast Announcements: (What to Expect That Day)

  • A quick overview of the day.
  • Specific information about the day (or outdoor activity or sightseeing walk). This includes the schedule, the weather, and what to expect. I also include any information about water, snacks, and what they can leave on the bus/shuttle, etc.
  • I pass out any maps and remind them to review the additional trip information at a side table when they finished their breakfast. At the table are additional maps, brochures, natural history books, etc. There might even be a full trail description on foam boards or large paper that can be easily folded and moved.
  • Briefly go over equipment and I make sure everyone has the needed gear they need.
  • I mention how and when lunches are going to work (if lunch is boxed at they carry, or at a local cafe, etc).
  • A point is made about the buildings we will visit, such as visitor centers, and I let them know if real bathrooms will be available or if this is something more basic.
  • I end the announcements by letting them know that I’ll give another update at lunch or when a specific activity ends.
  • Ask if there are any questions.

Lunch or Early Afternoon Update (What to Expect Later in the Afternoon)

  • At this point, the day is about half over and I’ve had an opportunity to observe people. I watch to see if anyone is tired, or maybe needs to sit something out, if I notice this I try to speak with them in private before I give the group any updates.
  • During this short update, I mention what the next activity is and when we should be returning.

Pre-Dinner Update (What to Expect That Evening)

  • It’s late in the afternoon and people have usually finished up their hike or activity and are tired. I say I’ll be making an announcement about dinner ten minutes before we are back at the hotel.
  • If they need to rest and recharge on the shuttle, I let them rest.
  • When I make my update, I remind them about attire (casual, more dress-up attire, etc), and remind them if they pre-ordered any meals earlier in the week (and I pass around a list to remind them) or say if this is off the menu, etc.
  • If the dinner is on their own I let them know about local restaurants either via a list or better yet with a hand-made map that I researched and made for them. I also announce that I will be dining at a certain restaurant, and those who wish to join me are welcome.
  • I try to end on an upbeat note involving dessert, then the time we should be returning to the hotel where I will give another update.

Post-Dinner Update (What to Expect the Next Day):

  • After dinner, everyone has a full tummy and hopefully is relaxed. Because of this, I keep what they have to remember to 3 items:
    • I give a basic overview of the day’s schedule,
    • Mention the weather and what is good to wear or pack.
    • Where and when I will see them next
  • The process repeats: it’s often about 9 pm when I’m able to return to my room, prepare my materials for the next day, and organize what I need to be successful.

I’m always informing my travelers about what to expect throughout the day at key times. At the end of the day when I return to my room, I plan out the next day based on any recent changes, and the whole process repeats. I find I can use about 90% of the same materials on future trips, but it’s that 10% where new problems often hide, so I always have to review the schedule, make tweaks, and map things out for those on my trip.

Central Oregon Hiking Explore 2022

Trip Report:
Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking group | Date: late April / early May 2022 | Duration: 4 days | Hiking Distance: 17-20 miles | Participants: 9 | Type: Hiking & Tent Camping

Just getting to our assembly area was an adventure with snow and cold temperatures crossing the Cascades. Arriving at Oregon’s Tumalo State Park the temperatures were mild if a bit cool. The group hiked 6-miles along the picturesque Deschutes River and then enjoyed an evening around the campfire. On the morning of day 2, we made a stop at the Ogden Wayside to see and walk the impressive 500-foot canyon made by the Crooked River. The weather included dramatic downpours mixed by sun and calm. We drove to the historic town of Shaniko and were welcomed inside the historic Shaniko Hotel (1900) which is undergoing renovations for opening later in the year. The town is a page out of the late 1800s and early 1900s and the hotel has a number of ghost stories. Continuing to Cottonwood Canyon State Park we drove past a number of wind turbines, cows, and open rangeland. Arriving at the park we made camp and enjoyed a 4-mile hike. It was windy that afternoon and well into the night. On day 3, we hiked 7-miles in the morning along the John Day on the Pinnacles Trail. We had to turn around due to a trail closure because Golden Eagles were nesting. Bighorn sheep peered down at us from high above the basalt cliffs. After returning to camp and enjoying some lunch several of the party hiked another 4 miles, with some making an additional 7. We enjoyed a quiet and windless evening around a warm campfire. We went to bed as the stars were coming out. Later that night the stars were amazing, though rain clouds were rolling in. The morning of day 4 was an early departure for the group with some opting to enjoy a warm breakfast in Condon.

We observed merganser, deer, mallard ducks, turkey vultures, Canadian geese, California bighorn sheep, swallow, crows, hawks, an unidentified lizard, and several snakes along the trail. There were tracks and signs of bobcats, coyotes, more bighorn sheep, and possibly pronghorn. We heard soft hoots with a stuttering rhythm: hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo from a Great Horned Owl, and the chucks of what was believed to be Chukar partridges.

Driving over the pass to the Bend area that morning, we encountered snow with temperatures in the 30s. Arriving at Tumalo State Park in the afternoon the temperatures were mild today and provided the setting for a great hike along the Deschutes River. We stayed for an evening in the park before venturing further inland.
The often-overlooked urban caves in Redmond provided a respite from the rain.

The Shaniko Hotel is being refurbished. Our group was fortunate to be invited inside to see the renovations and hear some ghost stories.
The lobby of the Shaniko Hotel (dated 1900) is undergoing a facelift.
Horses and wind turbines
Arriving at Cottonwood Canyon State Park we enjoyed several hikes along the John Day River.
Swallows gather mud for their nests along the edge of the John Day River. They flew across the river to a cliff and disappeared among the complex shadows and crevices of the massive rock wall.
Occasionally called a white woolly bear caterpillar or “white woolly,” the hickory tussock moth caterpillar is white with a black line going down its back. According to legend, the wider the rusty brown sections, the milder the coming winter will be; the more black there is, the more severe the winter. 
Swallowtail butterfly
The beautiful John Day River amid a stunning landscape.
A herd of California bighorn sheep gazes down upon human hikers.
A quiet (and windless) evening in Cottonwood Campground. The quiet and comfortable evening led to a night of blustery weather with temperatures in the 40s (F), strong winds, and pelting rain.

What is the Tree of Life on Washington’s Coast?

Clinging to the rugged shoreline of Washington’s coast is an especially tenacious Sitka Spruce. The tree is a favorite among visitors to the area because it appears to grow suspended in the air with just a few roots clinging on for support.

A little creek flows underneath, forming a little cave, and on a rainy day I was there a little waterfall could be seen.

Sitka Spruce is known for being especially sturdy. During World War I, straight-growing Sitka Spruce was sought out because the wood was the preferred wood for bi-planes that needed a high-strength to lower-weight ratio on construction materials. This Sitka Spruce displays its heartiness as it hangs on to the western shoreline of North America.

On this day, just feet away was a high tide, a violent ocean, and little room on a small beach littered with tree-sized logs. Turing one’s back to the water was not advised. I didn’t stay long, but it was good to see this unusual and inspiring tree.

The Tree of Life is located near Kalaloch and within the Olympic National Park.

For more information visit the Coastal Interpretive Center’s page on the tree.

The Surprising World of Washington’s Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail

During a trip to the Olympic Peninsula in March, I was excited to experience the Hoh Rainforest, but upon arriving at the Ranger’s kiosk was told that a tree had fallen over the road. The tree was large enough that outside help had been called in to help with the removal. My vehicle, along with others, was told to return another day. 🙁

But the ranger, upon hearing that I was traveling to the south shore of Lake Quinalt suggested visiting the Quinault Rain Forest Nature Trail -a personal favorite of his.

Upon seeing the striking beauty of the trail I was hooked. This trail was about half a mile in distance but required an hour just to meander through this old-growth forest and fern-covered canyon. There were hanging carpets of lush green moss, signs of various animals, fungi, and the wonderful smell of clean air. This place, in a word, is breathtaking. I love interpretive trails but had not expected this half-mile walk to be so encompassing. For a longer walk, the nature trail connects to the Quinalt National Recreation Trail System with several additional miles of trails. The trail has some fantastic interpretive signage – kudos to those who arranged the material! This visit was in the springtime with temperatures in the low 50s and lots and lots of rain.

UO Gargoyles & Colophons Walk

Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based hiking club | Date: March 2022 | Walking Distance: 2 miles | Participants: 10

The weather was a bit wet and windy, but it did not lessen our enjoyment of the University of Oregon’s iconography. Our walk focused on the historic head sculptures at the Knight Library representing historic figures from the disciplines taught in academia, the science gargoyles of the Lokey Science Complex, and the printer’s marks (colophons) at Allen Hall. Shown is the humorous Einstein gargoyle.