Urban Walks & Explores in 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.

Leading an evening walk to see some of the holiday lights.

Learning about a local author (Opal Whiteley) and the statue commemorating her life. This was part of a local art walk.

After a tour, I always ask if participants would like to continue their day (or evening) enjoying some local flavors.

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’Å“il art piece, it uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that looks three dimensional.

Some of the curious street art in Eugene.

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.
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 as 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 the 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 shares 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  â€“ 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