I am excited to have completed the first half of my ecoregion fieldwork with the Oregon Master Naturalist (OMN) program this past week. The focus area was the mid-Willamette Valley. The OMN program is through Oregon State University Extension. Oregon’s landscapes define the people and wild species that call this land home. Students of the OMN program learn about the natural history, ecology, and natural resource management practices of Oregon. I am looking forward to applying this new knowledge within my own volunteer-led hikes so others can better appreciate Oregon’s beautiful and dynamic landscape. Kudos to the OSU Extension and the many volunteer instructors for helping to make this happen!
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 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.
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.
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 into the trip the 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Crater Lake National Park never ceases to amaze the viewer, but this time it astounded with some mysterious rings seen upon the lake’s surface.
These unusual rings were viewed near Wizard Island from Watchman Peak, and were observed on August 29, 2019, between 9:20 am & 9:40 am (approximately).
That morning, my educational tour group had hiked to the summit of Watchmen Peak. We were treated to an expansive vista over an exceptionally peaceful Crater Lake. The gigantic body of water mirrored the sky as there was no wind, nor any waves caused by the island excursion boats. What we did see upon this flat liquid pallet were multiple “rings.” At first, the rings appeared to be raindrops to the west and southwest of Wizard Island (in the Skell Channel area), yet our perspective was 800-feet higher and three-quarters of a mile distant. These rings were sizable!
I had never observed such rings during multiple visits to the lake. Were these new? Had I not observed them before because of wind, light, or other surface conditions? -The mystery is afoot!
As my group arrived at the summit several of the participant’s phones reconnected with cell service. The group had been a couple of days without any service and a few people were eager to check email, news, etc. One person exclaimed that about an hour earlier (approx. 8 am Pacific) a 6.3 earthquake had struck off the Oregon coast. The question was raised, could a massive and distant energy release encountering a different density (energy waves traveling from rock then to liquid, especially upon a very still body of water) have allowed stored gases in a shallow area of the lake to escape, causing these rings?
It was intriguing, yet an earthquake some 200+ miles distant seemed remote. What there a more likely cause? The area in the Skell Channel area is relatively shallow (from 60 to 200 feet deep) compared to the rest of the lake, and has an abundance of underwater moss. The water at Crater Lake is known for its clarity and this massive biomass might have been bathing in a bounty of sunlight. The weather for several days prior had been mostly sunshine with only some rain that night…could these conditions have accelerated photosynthesis? What about springs in the area? Based on the ring images (especially the close-up image) this seems likely, but Crater Lake is essentially a closed system, its small watershed (the rim of the lake) means the lake receives all its incoming water from snow-melt and rain. There is supposedly some hydrothermal spring activity on the bottom of the lake, but this appears to be limited and at greater depths.
Was there a more likely explanation? I reached out to the Crater Lake Institute and the Oregon Master Naturalist program for help. I also included some photos of the curious phenomena, including one close-up, and several photos that were overlaid with Google Earth to help with identifying the location and determining the scale.
After a few emails were exchanged one cause of the rings’ formation was the most supported: “unusually strong photosynthetic activity by prominent beds of submerged plants, which occur in shallow waters around Wizard Island creating supersaturated oxygen levels, resulting in oxygen bubbles rising to the surface.” – Crater Lake Institute.
This sounds very plausible and I’m grateful for the feedback. I am curious if there is any research or photos showing this phenomenon in previous years. If anyone has any knowledge, please contact me. Seeing the rings were amazing and I hope to return on future clear summer days to gather some additional data.
Thank you to the Crater Lake Institute and the Oregon Master Naturalist program!
I enjoyed leading an 8-day outdoor spirited program in central Oregon for a group of 16. This was an inter-generational trip for grandparents and grandchildren. The tour was an exciting exploration of the natural and cultural history of the area. I’m so happy to have helped develop this interpretive program and I loved introducing others to this amazing landscape.
Trip Report: Group Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: July 2019 | Duration: 8 days | Participants: 16 | Type: hiking, rafting, tour
This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping
On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.
On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.
We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.
The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.
Trip Report: Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 7 | Type: kayaking
Kayaking Oregon’s Siltcoos River during the springtime is a treat, provided you can time it right. A day earlier dark clouds, lighting, and sheets of rain pelted the area. But, today, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear, allowing us to witness the Siltcoos in all its splendor. We were fortunate and very thankful. The Siltcoos is an interesting interplay of a riparian area within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes are one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. When geologic forces created the dunes, the sand-choked off several coastal rivers and created about 30 lakes. Some of the rivers have found a way back to sea, the Siltcoos River is one of these rivers. Today, it is a slow-moving three-mile long waterway that holds the distinction of being a canoe trail. We were unable to visit the lower water dam because of a large fallen tree. A special thank you to the River House Outdoor Center of Eugene for the use of their kayaks and local guides. From the water, our group saw at least 18 animal species: bald eagle, osprey, a grey fox, swallows, killdeer, newt, bumble bee, heron, fish, stellar’s jay, crow, seals, egrets, mergansers, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and egrets. We also saw a dog at the bow of a kayak, and (not paying attention to posted signs) a human and dog in a protected area.
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.