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!

Tips for Tour Directors Who Lead Natural History Walks

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

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

You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017 – What’s in Your Backpack?


What gear do other backpackers use? During the recent Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017 held in Eugene, Oregon, I shared a printed spreadsheet detailing the various systems used by backpackers of all skills levels. Thinking in systems (rain system, footwear system, sleep system, etc.) is important because it can save you time, money, and reduce headaches. Enjoy the spreadsheet for yourself, may it help you better plan your own journeys. Thank you to everyone who contributed! Please note the spreadsheet is legal-sized and front and back. Download the PDF here.

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2017

Volunteer Organizer: Mark Hougardy | Location: Eugene-based Hiking Group Lodge | Date: April 2017 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 80+ | Type: Outreach Event

The Backpackers’ Rendezvous helps hikers, backpackers, and anyone curious about the trail to network, learn and do more with less. I’m happy to have organized the event and contributed to Eugene’s backpacking community.

An evening of rain, wind gusts, and downed trees could not deter seventy hearty folks of all ages and skill levels from attending the second Backpackers’ Rendezvous held at a local lodge in Eugene, Oregon.

The first hour included presentations from PCT and AT thru-hiker Chris “Scrub” Burke with tips on approaching a large hike, REI’s Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire on researching lightweight gear options, and Mark “Grub” Hougardy on five tips for starting a section hike on Oregon’s PCT.

Presenters from Left to Right: Mark “Grubb” Hougardy rendezvous organizer, Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire of REI, and Chris “Scrub” Burke a PCT/AT thru-hiker.

The second hour included knowledge tables, pack shakedowns, and interactions with local outdoor retailers and thought leaders, including lightweight ideas for the big three with REI-Eugene, staying warm and dry with Backcountry Gear; resources for making your own gear with the Rain Shed, staying safe outdoors with a hiking club’s safety committee, hiking Oregon’s coast with the National Coast Trail Association, and dry food options with Capella Market.

One of the best quotes during the event came from a woman in her thirties, “I want to go backpacking and don’t know where to start. I came here to find out more.” Thank you to everyone who helped enrich and strengthen the backpacking community in Eugene.

Chris “Scrub” Burke, PCT & AT thru-hiker shares his lightweight tips.

Mark “Jar-Jar” Lemaire of REI on “Lightweight Ideas for the Big Three, Starter Trips, & Navigation.”

Mark “Grub” Hougardy on “Want to Go Backpacking? Five Practical Ideas for Taking Those Next Steps”

Backpackers’ Rendezvous 2016

blog-2016-04-backpackers-rendezvous

Volunteer Organizer: Mark Hougardy | Location: Eugene-based Hiking Group Lodge | Date: April 30, 2016 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 25 | Type: Outreach Event

Backpackers of all experience levels spread out their gear to share ideas and swap stories about backpacking. Of particular interest was the lightweight and ultra-light items and how they could help people do more with less. Twenty-five people attended to learn from other backpackers about what stove, sleeping bag or tent might best help them on the trail.

Working as a Conservation and Outreach Intern with Oregon Wild is a Great Opportunity

In the fall of 2015, I pursued an opportunity with Oregon Wild as a Conservation and Outreach Intern. I could not resist as it folded well into my professional background in marketing and passion for conservation. Oregon Wild is a premier organization helping to protect and restore Oregon’s wildlands, wildlife, and waters as an enduring legacy for all Oregonians. I helped to organize language and data for 180 suggested public outings for the website, proposed a new flier layout, reported on website link cleanup, organized and managed volunteers for a public event where 200 new high-quality leads were gathered, participated on an annual Coast Range forest gathering with other stakeholders, assisted with a weekend trip to the Elliott State Forest to learn about protecting some of the last remaining old growth, and provided feedback on a proposed marketing and communications strategy for the organization. It was a great opportunity and I encourage others to apply.

Increasing Volunteerism with the Nature Conservancy of Oregon

In the spring and summer of 2014, I enjoyed volunteering my services with the Nature Conservancy of Oregon (Southwest office). My role was to help grow participation by the local volunteering community. My services included upgrading their email management tool (to Constant Contact) and designing several newsletters.

Here are some examples:
> Saturday Spring Work Parties (pdf)
> June Newsletter “Thank You Table Rock Leaders” (pdf)
> July Newsletter “Freedom to Volunteer” (welcome article by Mark – pdf)

Keeping It Wild – Camping 101 Event

Organization: Grand Opening Camping Festival at Little Basin
Date: April 20, 2102
Trip Facilitator: Mark Hougardy

In the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains is a beautiful area of redwoods that most people have never seen. Until recently the area was a retreat for employees of Hewlett-Packard. The area called, Little Basin is a new acquisition of the California state park system that has been annexed by Big Basin Redwoods State Park, yet run as a separate entity. In April of 2012 Little Basin, held a Grand Opening Camping Festival. I organized and facilitated a “Camping 101” event. Here are some photos:

       

Junior Ranger Backpacks, Interpretation, and the Art of Merchandising

How should Junior Ranger backpacks be merchandised? Here are some successful park store experiences –

A family enters the Visitors Center of a Park. Inside the building are the standard features: information counter, maps, interpretive displays, camping information, and a chalkboard scribbled with the latest trail and weather conditions. A small store area entices visitors with a colorful arrangement of park products that include: clothes, a Junior Ranger backpack, bug viewer, journal, compass, field guides, and a Junior Ranger activity book.

The Dad notices a Coyote Junior Ranger backpack displayed on the wall. He takes a closer look. A sign on the backpack reads, ‘Try Me On.’ For a minute the Dad adjusts the pack over his shoulder; this middle-aged man looks silly trying on a Junior Ranger backpack but the kid in him cannot resist. The young daughter approaches and picks up a smaller, Chipmunk Junior Ranger backpack. Dad had not seen this backpack on the shelf, but his daughter did. Close to the backpack samples were several baskets filled with flat backpacks ready for sale. Peppered around the baskets are child-sized binoculars, compasses, and items that complement the Junior Ranger program.

The young girl tries on the smaller backpack. She twirls to show Dad then picks up a Junior Ranger activity book. She runs over to Mom. Dad studies his backpack: the stitching, the zippers even the embroidery. It was maybe a few dollars more than he wants to spend, but it is a solid backpack that will be used many times over. He reads the hangtag and is impressed that a backpack’s manufacturer donates a portion of the sale to the National Park Service.

An eye-catching note on the wall mentions an ‘adventure pack’ program where families can borrow an outfitted backpack and aspiring Junior Rangers could use the equipment to help with their own explorations. The girl came back with Mom in tow. The daughter was ready to earn her Junior Ranger badge, maybe even get a Junior Ranger backpack.

At the counter, the family chatted with the store employee for several minutes. The employee was very knowledgeable about the park and products in the store.

The family enjoyed the day. The information from the store employee, the good workmanship on the backpack and the Junior Ranger activities were combined to make the family’s time in the park relaxing, fun and relevant.

Merchandising any product is about finding the right combination of products, price, promotion, and place on the store shelf. The art of merchandising Junior Ranger backpacks is to remember that park visitors seek benefits provided by a product – not the product itself. Consider these points when merchandising your Junior Ranger backpacks:

A). Perspective
Keep a stuffed backpack at your audience’s eye level. If your audience is 4 to 6; or 7 to 12 place items for their perspective. Need a refresher course? Stand on your knees and look at the items in your store. How do you see things?

B). Hands-on
The number one missed opportunity in park stores is leaving a sample backpack flat! Ever seen a flat backpack? It is boring – the benefits are hard to see. Provide your customers with a sample Junior Ranger backpack that is plump. Find some brown Kraft paper, or recycle newspaper, and stuff a backpack with the crumpled paper. This plump backpack will be a what customer can pick up and squeeze, grip the texture, look at the materials, observe the workmanship, feel the weight, see it on another family member, even try it themselves. These things are hard to do with a flat backpack. A plump Junior Ranger backpack allows people to visualize how it can benefit them.

C). Location
What are the first things people see when they enter your store? Do you have a display that is inviting? Do the products differentiate your store from another store – or associate your park to a larger park system? Are the products in context with the park? Do the products benefit or detract from the park experience?

D). Make the ‘buy’ decision easier
Make the decision to ‘buy’ easier for the customer. Take away as many objections as you can by providing a physical sample and offering helpful information about the backpack. Create opportunities for people to see how a Junior Ranger backpack can benefit their time in the park – even their experiences after they leave the park.

E) Pricing
Should Junior Ranger backpacks be priced higher or lower than the suggested retail? Are you in business to make money, further an interpretive mission or do both? These can only be answered at your store level. But consider what other parks have done. A handful of parks have sold Junior Ranger backpacks at low retail to increase program participation. Some heavily visited parks sell the backpacks at suggested retail to maximize revenue. The majority of parks sell the backpacks slightly less than suggested retail. They make less profit per unit but sell more.

F). Cross-merchandise
How do you want visitors to see the Junior Ranger backpacks? As just another backpack, or as a tool to help youth explore and gain a better appreciation of the park. Help visitors see that the backpack can be an extension of his or her own explorations. Provide a sample with a bug-box, binoculars, viewers, field guides, journals, and any items that might be appropriate.

G). Sell the Junior Ranger experience, not just a backpack
Do you have the ability or opportunity to link the backpacks into your Junior Ranger programming? Maybe the backpack becomes a reward item for completing a Junior Ranger activity. Possibly the backpacks are used as ‘discovery backpacks’ and loaned out to visitors to help them discover for themselves why your park is important. It is the larger Junior Ranger experience that should be marketed first; backpacks are a tool to help with the experience.

H). Increase Your Product Knowledge
Ten minutes of product knowledge can go a long way to benefit your sales. Visit these web pages for a quick read:

Mapping Park Store Products To Tilden’s Interpretive Principles
An interpretive product should help convey appreciation for or understanding of a site or park program. But, what is an interpretive product? These questions were developed as food-for-thought for park store staff…

A Strong Park Store Does Not Sell Products
A strong park store does not sell products, it sells benefits. During a visit to a National Park last summer I overheard a family refer to the products in the park store as ‘weak’. Looking at the shelves filled with plastic mementos and affixed logo items I knew what they meant…

GlyphGuy’s ‘Green’ Steps
GlyphGuy is a small, family-owned company that works to reduce waste, conserve energy and prevent pollution in all business activities. Since we began making backpacks in 2003 our ultimate goal was to become a zero-waste company…

Coyote is Still Teaching – Lessons from the Trail

coyote is still teaching

It was springtime in California’s Henry Coe State Park. The hillsides were sprouting green and rugged looking oaks dotted the hillsides.

My family enjoyed a day of just being outside. My six-year old daughter enjoyed hiking but would sometimes be so engrossed with her surroundings that she would not see sticks or rocks on the trail. After a near tumble she was heard to comment, “I don’t need to be aware of where I’m going.” That same day my wife had asked me to ‘check the camera’ and I was heard to say, “I don’t need to check my camera.” After all it was ‘my’ camera and when I last used ‘my’ camera there were plenty of pictures, though I had noticed the picture count did seem higher than it should be.

I don’t need to be aware of where I’m going.

I don’t need to check my camera.

We were hiking back to the car when my wife noticed a coyote several hundred feet in front of us on the trail. We were downwind, so the coyote (apparently) had not noticed us. The coyote had rich colorful fur. She was looking at something in the grass. I could count on two hands the number of times during my life I seen a coyote in the mid-day sun. Possibly this was a mother coyote with a litter of pups and she was gathering food.

Seeing the coyote reminded me that some people fear and even demonize these animals because they might venture into suburbs to scavenge for food. Coyotes are sometimes lumped together with dark creatures that few appreciate like bats, snakes and rats. On the contrary coyotes are interesting animals. In some Native American oral traditions, the coyote is a creature of power and influence; the coyote could choose to teach valuable lessons to people, and sometimes those lessons were taught through trickery.

After a short time the coyote lost interest with the something in the grass and looked unconcerned over her shoulder at us. She moved down the trail and rounded the bend. We also continued on the trail making sure to keep a distance between us. Just before every curve in the trail she would turn and pose in the sun. I would carefully take a picture but she always moved out of sight. I felt as though I was being teased.

This ‘teasing’ continued for twenty minutes until the coyote became very distant on the trail and then disappeared. My young daughter was so intent on looking for the coyote that she did not see a trail hazard, a very fresh pile of poo. After stepping in it the awkward grimace on her face spoke volumes – that from that day on she would be more aware of where was going.

My young daughter was so intent on looking for the coyote that she did not see a trail hazard, a very fresh pile of poo.

At that moment the coyote appeared, up the hillside from us some thirty feet away. She looked at us then gracefully turned and stood sideways along a rock outcrop. Her head was slightly raised as she sniffed the air. It was a picture perfect moment: the green grass surrounding the rock, gray rock underfoot and the deep blue-sky overhead accentuated the tan and golden brown of her fur, the late afternoon sunlight was soft and offered no harsh shadows.

I could not believe this opportunity for a photograph. I slowly raised the camera and pressed the shutter button…it was to be to be my best photo of the year! The camera made an annoying electronic peep-peep noise. I raced to look at the camera screen, it read, “Memory Card Full”

“What?!” I was shocked, angry and confused. I glanced at the coyote; she was still posing but she was looking at me and ‘my’ camera. She appeared to grin at my situation.

I quickly looked at the pictures in the camera’s memory. My family had used the camera to take photos of a school event, the pet guinea pig, and some relatives. “AAArrggh!” Within my mind I heard my carefree comment, “I don’t need to check my camera”. …I should have checked the camera!

“AAArrggh!” Within my mind I heard my carefree comment, “I don’t need to check my camera”.

I glanced again the coyote – now she seemed to raise her eyes as though mocking me.

I fumbled with the camera and erased a guinea pig photo. The coyote was shifting her weight as though readying to walk – she was turning. Quickly I raised the camera and snapped the photo…the coyote was gone. I checked the photo in the camera’s memory – it was a well-focused, perfectly visible picture of the coyote’s posterior. The messaging was not lost.

My daughter and I looked at each other, we both felt tricked, we both felt like posteriors. Neither of us talked much while returning home.

During dinner we talked about what had happened on the trail. At first we blamed the coyote for our own shortcomings, then we correctly blamed ourselves. Although we had made mistakes those mistakes would not happen again; my daughter would watch the trail better, and I would check my equipment before another trip.

Perhaps the stories about coyotes playing tricks are true – the encounter on the trail provided us with several valuable lessons.

Environmental Conservation Outdoor Study (ECOS) Program

From 1990 to 1992 I developed and led the Environmental Conservation Outdoor Study (ECOS) program at the Sanborn Park Hostel. The hostel was located in a 2,000-acre redwood forested park. I loved sharing the story of this place. It is a land where the Ohlone people once visited (and still do). They prepared food in an area that is underneath the modern floorboard of the hostel’s kitchen. It is a place where salmon once swam in the streams and condors flew overhead. In 1907 the Great San Francisco earthquake ripped a 40-foot scarp through a nearby orchard that most would never recognize today. It is a place where a uranium miner sold his fortune and created Walden West, a place where the early minds Silicon Valley gathered to grow an industry. Hidden among the trees and beneath the duff is a compelling story. Below is an early flier for the weekly programs.