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

Dan Witz is a master of trompe l’oeil (‘trick of the eye’), the visual style of painting that looks three dimensional.

In the summer of 2017, he visited Eugene, Oregon, and placed 11 (according to the city) of his works around town. While Eugene celebrates many building-sized murals, Dan’s artwork is on a smaller scale. Locating them requires some leg-work as they are not published on a map. Also, you might have to revisit places that you at first would overlook. Most of his works are downtown between 7th & 11th Avenues and Olive & Willamette Streets – I listed some hints below – their charm is in discovering them. Several pieces are outside the downtown grid and for these, I’ve provided more specific information on where to find them. Several were removed (stolen), these are mentioned as well.

While researching Dan’s work I learned that he called such works “WTF” images. The idea is that a casual bystander on the street or someone passing in their car might briefly spy one his works, and ask the question, “What the f$@k was that?”

His artwork is creative, surprising, and sometimes disturbing. You will be asking questions about his work long after you spy them.

#1. One of the most photographed images of Dan Witz’s work in Eugene. It is located downtown on Broadway near a restaurant. Look close to the ground.
#2. Dan’s images are sometimes in places that you might not visit. Here, in a downtown alley, next to the trash dumpster and the recycling bin is a WTF image. …most people would overlook such an area, I did…at first. I wonder how much of the grime on the wall and the neglected-looking doors is real vs painted by the artist.
#2 (continued) A close-up of the image.
#3. These hands appear to be wearing yellow rubber gloves like a person might wear who uses caustic chemicals in cleaning. Such gloves hide hints of race, age, gender or other traits that might bias the viewer. It also suggests anonymity. You’ll find this in an alley close to Broadway.
#4 (two panels). Many of Dan’s images are in close proximity to Blek le Rat’s stenciled works here in Eugene. Like all good things, it takes some work to divine the location of his images. Both pieces in the photo shared wall space which appears unfinished, even a bit garish, yet it is in this unkempt space where you find the artists’ creativity. Dan’s work on this wall is possibly one of this most disturbing for me; one because of its unnerving presentation of a reclining human figure that appears to be inside a wall, and secondly that I walked past this wall for many months before I really saw it.
#4 (continued) A close-up of the reclining man; is he resting, or deceased? The two panels together are about 5 feet. Sometimes it’s easier to see this image from the side. To find this piece, look at the back wall where a cabaret for actors might work.
#5. Definitely a WTF image – seeing a blue hand pushing the grate apart. Why is the hand blue? Does the hand belong to a tagger whose hand is covered in blue paint? Or is it something more sinister? The location for this is easily overlooked by people visiting the local farmer’s market on weekends. Instead of walking up the stairs to your car take a look around the garage’s ground level.
#6. OK, this is not one of his paintings, but his work does trick the eye. While in the proximity of Tacovore in the Whiteaker (Eugene) look at rooflines for his yellow gloves. Note the Blek le Rat work in the background.
#7. This image is downtown. It’s hiding in plain sight above the back door of a music venue that opened in 1925.
#8. This is a window-sized design.  I have both driven past and seen its location from across the street many times, yet never observed it. It is worth finding. Start at the Whole Foods in Eugene and make your way across the street to the All Prophets Tattoo shop, keep your eyes open. REMOVED: Sadly, this work was removed in early February 2019 when the building repainted. It is unknown if the artwork survived.

#9 REMOVED: This was located near 6th & Pearl along the stairwell of the Lane County Parking structure.

#10 REMOVED: This very small piece was located on the corner of Oak & Broadway. Look for the crossing light box in front of D.A. Davidson & Company. You will see an outline of where the piece had been affixed to the box. It is just below his tag: a gray smudge (a tell-tale sign, but it is incongruous with the clean surroundings and one’s eye will at first overlook it).

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

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

Blek le Rat is a street artist whose work appears in many cities, including Eugene, Oregon. Finding his work can be part of a great day outing.

In 2017 Blek le Rat visited Eugene, Oregon, as part of the 20×21 Mural project. He placed 10 works around town. Most are located in a grid in the downtown area between 7th & 11th Avenues and Oak and Olive Streets. Several images are outside this grid area and those locations are mentioned in the captions. One piece was painted over in the summer of 2018, an image of it is included below.

Blek le Rat got his start as a graffiti artist in the 1970s in Paris. Eventually, he used stencils to differentiate his street writing from others. Today, he is considered the godfather of stencil street art and is credited with influencing many others, including Banksy. Accompanying his work is often the image of a black rat. Blek once mentioned (paraphrasing) that rats are the only wild creatures in an urban setting, their numbers are vast compared to the human population, and they also carry subversive plague like how graffiti affects a city.

Tug of War. This image is located next to the stage door of the Hult Center (in an alley).
Another one of Blek’s stenciled works outside the downtown grid. This eye-catching design is located next to Tacovore in Eugene. Enjoy a cup of coffee at the local shop as well.
This is another work that is outside the general grid. It is located near 13th and Oak, and in the proximity of some other wonderful murals (from other artists). The man is the image is apparently of Blek’s son and his likeness appears on many of the Blek’s works around Eugene. The Koi Fish are from a previous artist’s work and can be seen at several location swimming around town.
A downtown image on the backdoor of a restaurant. Note the tagger is dropping the can of spray paint. Is he dropping it because it is empty or because the cops have shown up?
Ballet – dancing couple. When you find this piece (if you take public transit downtown look around) keep your eyes open for works of other artists like Dan Witz.
Another one of his works in downtown Eugene. The musician is not playing. I really like the reflection in the plexiglass, this is almost two images. Curiously, in juxtaposition, a nearby work of his features two dancers.
The Pied Piper. This wall-sized work is at the edge of the IDX building in town. It is not hard to see the piper from the road below, but I’m surprised how many people overlook the work entirely. To see it properly you need to climb up several flights of stairs in the parking garage. At the piper’s feet is a rat with a microphone.
A graffiti tagger looks around a corner. If you park your car to attend the local Farmer’s Market you’ll see the tagger – or, the tagger will see you.
An image of the tagger and bird in Eugene, Oregon. This sadly was painted over in the summer of 2018, it was located just off Broadway between Willamette and Olive Streets. Photo from Blek’s website.
The mouse with a microphone. Possibly my favorite of his Eugene works. This is different from his other pieces in Eugene in that it is located inside a building. It is easy to overlook, though it can be viewed from the sidewalk through the door. The name of the establishment is in the photo. …Nice ink on the person’s arm.

SFO to PDX: View from the Window Seat

Explorations can sometimes be found at 38,000 feet while sitting in the cramped quarters of an airplane. The route between San Francisco, California and the Pacific Northwest is a favorite to visually explore because of the varied topography. Here are some photos, the images were taken over several trips.

A magnificent view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate. San Francisco covers an area roughly 49 square miles! The Golden Gate Bridge shown on the left is 1.7 miles in length and 746′ tall.

Mount Shasta (14,179′). Shasta sits uniquely at the southern end of the Cascade Range and the northern end of the Sacramento Valley. The mountain is so massive that it can be seen from 280 miles away from atop Diablo Mountain (3,848′), the tallest mountain in the eastern San Francisco Bay Area.

Crater Lake is in the distance. Once known as Mount Mazama, this peak rivaled Mount Shasta for prominence upon the skyline. Mazama erupted about 7,000 years ago, and in the process list its peak and collapsed upon itself. Over time the remaining crater filled with water. The lake is 2,000′ deep and about 5 miles across.

From north to south – left to right: Black Butte (6,436′) Mount Washington, Belknap Crater (6,876′), and the Three Sisters (north, middle and the south sisters); they were once known as Faith, Hope, and Charity.

From north to south – left to right: Ollalie Butte (7,219′), the snow-capped Mount Jefferson (10,497′), Three Fingered Jack (7,844′), Black Butte, Mount Washington, and Belknap Crater.

Mount Hood (11,250′) dominates the skyline east of Portland, Oregon.

Looking north into Washington State to Mount St. Helens (8,366′), Mount Rainier (14,411′), and Mount Adams (12,280′). The mighty Columbia River is in the foreground.

Celebrating the Autumnal Equinox at Lava Beds & Crater Lake

This was an exploration of two dramatic volcanic landscapes timed with the Autumnal Equinox.

Trip Report:
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | Date: September 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 5 | Type: car camping, hiking, and caving

Upon arriving at the forbidding Lava Lands National Monument we made camp and then explored several accessible lava tube caves around the visitor center. We also climbed the conical shaped 5,302-foot tall Schonchin Butte where we enjoyed views 100 miles east to the Warner Mountains, near Nevada, and 50 miles west to Mount Shasta. In the evening, we walked along a dusty trail into the Schonchin Wilderness Area and encountered an entrance to a lava tube that was at least 4 stories tall.

The next morning we hiked from the campground to Skull Cave where a small ice pond can be viewed year round. We also hiked to several pictograph caves and enjoyed our lunch on the trail. As the afternoon warmed we spent our time underground where we explored three caves and partially a fourth. Back at camp, we were surprised to discover that several hundred bugs had descended upon the hood of one of the cars, possibly attracted by the metallic-blue color. They had apparently been engaged in a frenzied mating and exhausting themselves to death. Bugs that fell onto the ground were snapped up by an eager lizard. As the sun set, we hiked into the nearby wilderness and enjoyed a pastel sky.

On the third day, we packed up and drove through the northern section of the monument. Our last stop was to Petroglyph Point where a monolithic wall includes petroglyphs, raptor nests, and evidence of former wave action. Tule Lake was a gigantic, yet shallow inland lake that existed for millennia. The lake was drained in the early 1900s and the exposed land turned into farmland. The existing lake is far to the west and is one-sixth its original size. Future explorations to Lava Beds will include additional sites of the Modoc War and seeing the remnants of an imprisonment camp where Americans of Japanese ancestry were forced to live during WWII. In the afternoon we drove to Crater Lake and made camp. The Mazama Campground was closing for the season and this was its last weekend. Upon our arrival, the sky darkened and it rained for several minutes. After making camp we hiked to the Great Spring and down the picturesque Annie Creek trail loop. In the late afternoon, we made good use of the camp showers then drove the rim to enjoy the views from Discovery Point. At dinnertime, we made our way to the historic Crater Lake Lodge where we raised a glass to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox then enjoyed a meal. Back at the campground, a nearly full moon encouraged multiple parties at neighboring campsites and sleeping was difficult.

On day four we woke to a frosty 28 degrees Fahrenheit. We warmed up though at the local Annie Creek Restaurant with some hot coffee and breakfast. As we drove along the east rim to the Mount Scott trailhead the sky was blue and clear. We hiked for about an hour to this highest point in the park, which stands just less than 9,000 feet. The view of the once massive volcano Mount Mazama, now known as Crater Lake, was superb! We could see about 100 miles in each direction; to the north the Three Sisters, and to the south Mount Shasta. As noon approached we hiked back down the mountain and ended our trip with a late lunch. There was a definite chill in the air, fall had arrived.

Where to Stay in San Francisco on a Budget

Where can a frugal traveler stay in ultra-expensive San Francisco? These are friendly, clean, and safe hostels to help you explore this world-class city while not wrecking your budget.

The Adelaide Hostel
The Adelaide is a few blocks west of the centrally located Union Square. The hostel’s name originates from a former owner’s love of his Australian hometown. This is an older building, but the architecture’s warm color palette and modern facilities only compliment the charm. The kitchen and dining areas are clean and there are nights where the hostel prepares meals for guests. In the morning make sure to grab a bowl of complimentary oatmeal and orange juice. A quiet area on the main floor is a great place to read and work on a laptop. The staff is very knowledgeable about local places to eat and go sightseeing. Expect some street noise if the windows are open, but earplugs will take care of most extraneous sounds.
Website: www.adelaidehostel.com

Fort Mason Hostel (Hosteling International Fisherman’s Wharf)
All of the HI hostels in the bay area great places to stay, but Fort Mason takes the cake just because of its proximity to the Marina District, Fisherman’s Wharf, and Ghirardelli Square. The hostel retains the crispness and presentation of the building’s military history.  The kitchen is sizeable and the common area includes a pool table. Nearby is a small coffee shop that offers pastries and cookies. A palatial quiet room on the main floor offers a respite for computer work, reading, or just hanging out.  A grocery store (the Marina Safeway) is about half a mile away if you need to resupply. If you want to explore the city, a Cable Car turnaround is a short walk away. The staff is very friendly and helpful and went the extra distance to answer some of my questions. I really appreciate the hostel’s extra activities, which included area hikes led by knowledgeable locals.
Website: www.sfhostels.org/fishermans-wharf

Pacific Tradewinds Hostel
Don’t let the unassuming street entrance adjacent to a Hunan restaurant fool you, the Pacific Tradewinds Hostel is clean, modern, and has a friendly staff. Located near Chinatown, this hostel is centrally located to downtown and North Beach clubs. Be aware, this is a social hostel (aka a party hostel!) and is usually frequented by a younger crowd. The hostel’s main room can quickly become busy and an innocent game of Jenga can turn into a (friendly) beer drinking competition. Bring earplugs as street noise at the night can keep you up. The hostel has a small kitchen with all the amenities. The hostel staff leads tours and clubbing excursions throughout the week.
Website: san-francisco-hostel.com

All of the above-mentioned hostels run about $50 a night. Make sure to bring a small travel lock to secure any items in a locker, as well as shower shoes and extra soap. To avoid the crowds in San Francisco, the best time for visiting is mid-October through March.

The Power of Nature Adventures (Why I Guide)

I’m an outdoor guide because traveling and nature experiences can be powerful teachers. Here is one such story about how an encounter with a whale helped others (and myself) to grow.

Gray whale calf. Photo: Nature Picture Library / Copyright Todd Pusser.

“Whale!” a woman squealed. Two-dozen people slammed themselves onto the starboard railing of a small whale watching the ship. The vessel listed uncomfortably sideways. Just feet away a baby gray whale, the length of a long kayak, floated in the rough surf. Its large black eye seemed to study each of us. Everyone was absorbed in the experience. They had forgotten their discomfort in the previous hour and a half. Up until then, it had been a bad day to be on the water: we had not seen a whale – not one. Our ship sickeningly rolled side to side in the deep troughs, the smell of diesel permeated our nostrils, cold January weather nipped our skin, the sky was oppressively overcast and the wind-chapped our lips.  Worst of all was seasickness, not just a queasy feeling, but real illness. I heard my name being simultaneously cursed as participants barfed over the boat’s edge. Some made multiple trips. As they staggered back with a sick yet relieved look on their faces I received several vexing glances. The words were blazed in their eyes, “Why did you make me come out here?”

It was a hard day. My camera had broken too, then again maybe it was for the best. This was the first whale-watching tour that I had organized for a group and it was going horribly. I secretly wanted this trip to be over, to slink home and erase it from my memory. I wanted the trip participants to forget about it, too.

When the young whale appeared the trip was born anew. A marine biologist shared her commentary: the mother was likely on the seabed feeding and would be returning shortly. The juvenile was not lost, just hanging out at the surface.

Amazingly the whale stayed parallel with our ship for about twenty minutes. Then several hundred feet away from a large mass the size of a city bus rose to the surface. She dramatically announced herself by ejecting a plume of air in a geyser-like spray. This was the mother! The smaller whale joined her and they swam off together.

The people were giddy, but also happy to return to port. Upon disembarking from the ship, the trip participants said little, just drove away. I had organized the outing as a way for overscheduled tech workers to connect with their families in the outdoors, but had I inadvertently turned more people off that helped? This was first of several trips where unexpected situations and hardships caused me to question my outings and slowly I became disillusioned. After several summers, I stopped leading nature adventures.

Fast forward to five years. I was at an outdoor market selling child-sized backpacks I made at the time. A man approached and we talked for a minute, then he said, “Hey, you’re that guy who led the whale watching trip.” He briskly shook my hand said, “Thanks.” I wondered if we were talking about the same excursion. He told me about that day, I listened with interest then in dismay as my well-intentioned nature trip was turned into a tale of deceit. At the time, he and his mother-in-law despised one another and for spite, they created ever-increasing hardships for their rival, often to the detriment of family members. One day he saw my whale watching trip and suggested a pleasant outing for the entire family. But his coyness was masked with a desire that his mother-in-law has a miserable experience. In fact, she hated that trip and wanted nothing to do with him again. To his glee, she stopped visiting altogether! Eventually, her lengthy absence spoke to his better nature and he felt guilty for his childish behavior.

Almost a year later she returned for a holiday visit. The conversation at the dinner table was still; everyone in the room knew the two were enemies. As the serving plates started to move about she looked at him and said, “Remember that whale watching trip?” He suspected a trap but replied, “…yes.”

She looked directly at him and with a heartfelt voice said, “Thank You.” His mind was blown. No one in the family knew what to say, him especially.

She shared her story: At the time she suspected the man wanted her to get sick while whale watching, but she went anyway. It was a most unpleasant time. But when she viewed the whale up close and looked into its eye, she saw there was something there – more to the point, something in her. She returned home to southern California and was anxious to the point where sleep was difficult. She spent more time outside and took long walks. She started to walk to the store. Her walks became hikes and she asked her friends to join her, but they were “too busy”, so she went by herself. Later she joined a local hiking club. On these outings, she saw hills and valleys near her house that she had never seen despite having lived in the area for decades. On one hike in the Mojave Desert, she saw a magnificent vista and it inspired her to make a big decision. She decided to visit a place she had always dreamed of seeing since she was a child: South Korea. Then she announced to the family around the table, “I’m leaving for Seoul in three weeks.”

The iconic Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul, South Korea. Image copyright Korea Tourism Organization.

The man was shocked, something in her words had spoken to him. He felt ashamed. After dinner, the two of them had a heart-to-heart talk. The trickery and malice evaporated and they started to heal their relationship. Several weeks later the mother-in-law traveled to Korea and had a wonderful trip. In the months that followed, she visited the family more often and the two of them started to go on short walks. They both enjoyed being outside, even having deep conversations. A year later they had become friends and even hiking buddies. The entire family was happier and everyone was even talking about an overseas trip.

The man finished telling me his tale. Before disappearing into the crowd he said, “Thanks again for the great trip!”

His story was an elixir for me, it helped to renew and strengthen my own passion – connecting people with the outdoors. I started to organize and lead trips once again. Fifteen years later I’m still going strong.

I guide because travel and being in the outdoors teaches things that we can only learn by experiencing life. Guiding is at that nexus, the point between being in the now, learning, and living; and it is best shared with others who seek it.

The Great Eclipse of 2017, Eugene, Oregon

The first total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast in almost a century occurred today (August 21, 2017). It was a must-see event. In my home town of Eugene, Oregon, the obscuration (amount of the sun’s disk that’s obscured by the moon) was 99.3%. We were geographically about 40 miles south of the shadow’s extent for complete darkness, but our location did not disappoint. Below are four photos, taken with my camera, showing the progression of the moon crossing in front of the sun’s disk.

A total eclipse is a phenomenal natural spectacle. To us humans both objects appear to be the same size in the sky, this is because our star (the Sun) is 400 times wider than the moon and it is 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. Even in the cosmos, such a splendid matchup of size and distance for intelligent life to observe is likely a rare occurrence.

This composite photo shows the trees and valley thirty minutes prior to (left) and at the height the eclipse (right). During this time the sky became very dark and there were no bird sounds. The temperature also dropped 15 to 20 degrees Fahrenheit!

From my vantage, I could see about 20 miles south and about 40 miles north. The northern view was dark, the southern direction was sunny; in between this gulf of sixty miles was a gradient between the darkness and light. My wow moment was realizing that such an immense shadow, and on such a grand scale was made by the moon which is indeed very, very big.

Oregon’s Timber Industry and the Art of Persuasion

Big timber wants you to believe that clearcutting, spraying toxic chemicals, and shipping logs overseas are good for the state. The industry manipulates public perceptions to get around voters who want clean water, healthy forests, and a long-term economic vision. This is done through the art of persuasion.

Here’s one example. The book is the Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual, it is published by the Oregon Forest Resources Institute (OFRI). The book is an easy to use, visual instructional guide and is “the standard reference for those planning and executing timber harvests.”* OFRI is an organization that receives its funding from a volume-based harvest tax paid by timber companies. Critics have said that OFRI is a mouthpiece for the timber industry; supporters say they are just communicating the rules about the Oregon Forest Practices Act. **

Take a look for yourself. Spend a minute really looking at the manual’s front and back covers, the back cover is seen on the left.

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What do you see?
What do they want you to see?
How do you feel?

The heavy machinery is easy to spot. Did you notice the helicopter, or the clearcut being replanted as a monocrop? What about the cute forest animals hidden among the trees? The aerial perspective reveals a landscape where nature appears to be assisted by human activities.

This manual is more than simply communicating timber rules with cute artwork, it’s a high-dollar marketing publication that includes vibrant colors, professional layouts, and extensively uses hand-drawn images. There’s a reason why these simple designs, accentuated with a watercolor technique, in a three-dimensional birds-eye-view, pictorial map is used on this manual. The artwork is the hook. The artwork suggests authenticity, simplicity, good character, beauty, freshness, wholesomeness, and it even whispers about adventure. This imagery implies the message is genuine.

People relax and let their guard down when they believe something is genuine. Tourist boards use this style of artwork on visitor maps for towns and cities to comfort people so they feel safe and will spend money. Disney also uses this style of artwork on their location maps. Disney’s marketers are unparalleled masters of generating revenue by perpetuating a fantasy experience; this is done with functionality while weaving in elements of excitement, novelty, and escapism.

It’s no accident that big timber uses imagery refined by the tourism and entertainment industries. Influencing the public is about crafting a feeling in the heart, and what the heart believes the mind follows – perception becomes reality.

The Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual was created to influence and perpetuate public perceptions that big timber is a genuine steward of the land. The public is less likely to want answers about clean water, aerial spraying, or ask why all the forests are gone when their feelings have already been quietly influenced through the art of persuasion.

References-
* Oregon Forest Protection Laws: An Illustrated Manual
** Willamette Week. “Logrolling: The timber industry is mighty in Oregon—thanks to tax dollars it spends on ads.” http://www.wweek.com/portland/article-25348-logrolling.html

Rafting the Upper Willamette River with the McKenzie River Trust

Living near the Willamette River in Eugene, Oregon, offers some fun opportunities to be outside, yet after living in the area for two years I am surprised that I don’t know my local section of the river better. When the opportunity arose to experience 12+ miles of the upper Willamette (from Eugene downstream to Marshall Island) by raft and learn about important conservation work taking place, I could not refuse.

The morning of our departure, my family and I, along with about fifteen others were greeted by staff members of the McKenzie River Trust who had organized the event, and the Eugene Recreation Center who supplied the rafts, equipment and river guides. An interpretive river ranger from Oregon State Parks also joined our trio of rafts.

We were treated to hearing stories about river-lore, discovering the natural history, and learning about the McKenzie River Trust’s restoration work of 1,100-acres on Green Island. A highlight of the afternoon was a visit to the island where everyone enjoyed a fabulous lunch provided by the guides.

On the river that day we saw beaver signs of gnawed tree limbs, cranes stealthily stalking along the shore, and ospreys calling from overhead, though we ourselves were often under the watchful eyes of eagles.

There were many “take-aways” from the trip, lessons that stay with you after the trip is over. The big takeaway for me was that once we left Eugene how quickly the river became more of what I needed it to be: open and wild. I want to experience more.

Here are some pictures of the river-

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Learn more about Green Island and the work of the McKenzie River Trust visit:

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Kayaking Over Clear Lake’s Submerged Forest

My kayak breezes over the surface of the aptly named “Clear Lake” in central Oregon. The lake bottom descends below me ten, twenty, thirty feet, yet I can still see features as though looking into an aquarium.

blog-20121025-img2Each stroke of my paddle dips into the crystalline fluid and scoops out rounded orbs of glass-like liquid, I dip my hand into the water, the temperature is cold, somewhere around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake is fed by mountain springs that course from deep within old lava flows; the water temperature stays a near constant throughout the year.

The sun had been hiding behind a cloud, but now bursts forth illuminating the lake. The clear water that surrounds me now becomes a turquoise pool. The green and the tan forested shoreline is reflected onto this gem-colored liquid. I cannot help but to stop paddling and just watch – immersed at the moment.

blog-20121025-img3A number of Mallard ducks float next to my kayak, some are just a few feet away. One comes abreast to me and looks at me in the eye; he cocks his head as though wondering what kind of strange beast I might be. I can see his little legs moving underneath the water, churning like a miniature paddle wheel.

My kayak hugs a rocky shoreline; it is a jumbled and erratic wall that descends sharply into the water. This is the edge of an ancient lava flow that three millennia earlier was the outlet of a stream. As the water rose, a new lake was created, and the surrounding forest was submerged. The water temperature was so cold that decomposers could not survive and the original forest was preserved. Today, three-thousand years later, several dozen of the ancient trees from that forest remain upright and can be seen from the surface.

blog-20121025-img4A large dark form starts to become visible in the water before my kayak. I stop paddling and the surface becomes undisturbed allowing the shape to come into focus, it is the column-like shape of one of the ancient trees. The trunk appears to be as big around as a dinner platter, and only just a couple of feet below my kayak. I try to gently tap the top of the trunk with my paddle, but I am unable to reach it. The water has played a trick on my eyes by making things appear closer than they really are. I peer down the trunk looking, fifty, sixty, possibly a hundred feet down to the bottom.

The only sounds are people laughing in the distance, and a gentle wind blowing through the trees.
There are no motorboats on Clear Lake, just human powered crafts.

Learn more:
http://www.linnparks.com/pages/parks/clearlake.html

Finding a White Praying Mantis

blog-20120912-img1The small often overlooked things can bring people back to living in the moment. Our experience occurred while driving to our campsite in Lassen Volcanic National Park in northern California. We had stopped for gasoline, just off the Interstate, when my daughter saw something unusual. She looked closer and discovered a white Praying Mantis hiding on a cream-colored section of the pump and dangerously close to passing feet.

The location was not safe for the creature so I carefully picked it up, or rather it jumped to my hand. We studied it for several minutes, amazed by the buttery-white color. It seemed to study us as well.

Our drive that day had been hurried with stress and schedules, but the discovery of this curious insect changed everything for our trip. The act of finding the white mantis was a discovery moment, it had allowed us to mentally cross a threshold; we were no longer hurried by going somewhere, rather we were somewhere. Although we were not yet camping, we were living in the moment.

Nearby were some flowering plants that were in a protected area. We found a lighter colored plant so the mantis might be better camouflaged. We carefully deposited the mantis, and after a few minutes, it stealthily strode somewhat herky-jerky into the bushes.

We enjoyed a pleasant drive into the national park; thankful for the unusual experience the little insect had given us.

We later learned that this mantis (a California Mantis), molts several times and, after molting, their color is very light. The color then changes to brown or green.

Back to 1885 at the Sacramento Hostel

blog-20120902-img1If you want to overnight in a restored Victorian mansion dating to 1885, the Sacramento Hostel is the place. The hostel has worked hard to give visitors a comfortable experience while maintaining the elegance and beauty of this historic building.

The family room we stayed in was very spacious. The kitchen was well stocked with cooking utensils and the facilities were well maintained. My daughter enjoyed exploring the stairs and quickly discovered a foosball table and travel library in the basement. The small breakfast that was offered in the morning was a good way to start the morning. The staff members are very helpful in recommending local places to visit and an activity board listing local attractions and schedules is displayed in the main hallway.

The building itself has a long history and was once nearly destroyed to make room for a modern skyscraper. Fortunately, the building was preserved, actually moved several times over its history, to become a unique experience for today’s travelers. Look for a pamphlet on the building’s full story that is located in one of the Victorian style living parlors.

Parking is available on the street, or in a gated area for a small fee. The hostel is located in the heart of downtown and is a good location for exploring Sutter’s Fort and the Railroad Museum.

Learn More:
http://norcalhostels.org/sac/

The Point Reyes Hostel is Great for Families

After a long day of exploring the beaches, forests, and grasslands of Point Reyes National Seashore, where does a family stay?

In the heart of this 70,000-acre parkland, is the Point Reyes Hostel. The main hostel is located in a converted ranch house, but recently there is a new addition, the “green building.” The green building was constructed to LEED Silver standards so it maximizes water savings, is energy efficient and constructed with materials that support human and environmental health.

I found the new facilities to be clean, roomy and most of all quiet. Our family room had two bunk beds and a larger twin bed on the lower level, but what everyone liked most was the window, which could be opened to allow copious amounts of fresh coastal air inside. The communal kitchen was well stocked with cooking items and the shared bath facilities were well maintained.

Adjacent to the kitchen area is a sizable balcony for sitting outside and having a meal. If you sit outside the entertainment can include a covey of quail running below, or even a deer munching some grass nearby.

Depending on the time of year you can expect sun or rain, but there is always some amount of overcast that rolls in from the ocean. The seashore is located about an hour north of San Francisco, California.

To learn more about the Point Reyes Hostel visit:
http://norcalhostels.org/reyes/

A Quick Explore of the “Open Sea” An Exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Open Sea exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium is a visually immersive experience. It allows visitors to see the open ocean at a depth of roughly 25 feet underwater while standing in a comfortably warm viewing room.

Visitors enter a dark viewing theater with a 90-foot transparent wall that rises high to the ceiling. In this place, humans appear as dark silhouettes against the blue world beyond where silver and grey sea turtles, sharks, rays, tuna and a variety of other fish are in constant motion.

Lances of light piercing into the depths and brightly illuminate any creature that swims through the shafts.

I have found that just before closing time at the aquarium, you can enjoy this vista with just a hand-full of others, or in some cases have a precious minute to enjoy it all by yourself.

 

The Excitement of Discovering an Arrowhead

Discovering an arrowhead is an exciting experience.

During a walk, along with a lonely deer trail in eastern Oklahoma, the easy-going path had suddenly become overgrown and was impassable. The detour included traversing a variety of barbs, briars and scrambling over several fallen logs close to the river. The result led to a spectacular discovery.

The Excitement of Discovering an ArrowheadOverlooking the edge of the water, between the tangles of roots was a small ‘beach’ area no longer than twelve feet. In the middle of this sat a tan-colored arrowhead (also known as a point) about 3 inches long. I spent a good number of minutes scrambling down the rough ten-foot bank, being poked, scratched and stabbed by branches and roots in the most uncomfortable of areas. Finally, I reached the shoreline. I saw the point, it was now partially covered by the gently lapping waves. I carefully looked around but saw nothing more. I snapped some photos to document the find that had been literally hidden at my feet. I carefully approached.

The point was being covered by the black sand and mud of the river and in another fifteen minutes would be hidden from view for possibly years or decades or centuries to come.

I squatted near the point and studied it carefully – it was one of the most perfect points I have seen. The point had very distinguishable tangs (tangs are used for affixing the point to a shaft). The point appeared extremely sharp and the arrowhead was very thin. I found a twenty-five cent piece (which happened to be an Oklahoma quarter) and laid it next to the point for a size comparison.

The person who created this was obviously a master craftsman. This person cared greatly for their work, this arrowhead was not just a projectile, but a labor of love. I had a deep respect for this unknown person from long ago. A flood of questions surged through my mind-

Who was this person? What was the craftsman’s name? Was the point ever used in a hunt, or against people? Had the arrowhead been lost? Had this been a gift to a child or grandchild? Was the arrowhead created as a trophy signifying self-importance, or was it created to be used in the service of others? What was the story of this arrowhead? I would never know the answers…

As I sat at the river’s edge looking at the point I knew one thing; this arrowhead was not just a stone, rather it was a method of communicating. The person who cared for their work had unknowingly reached hundreds of years into the future to tell me – a stranger – that they had lived.

With each step that day I wondered what other stories were beneath my feet.

The lonely deer trail was no longer lonely.

Note: The land was private. The design of this arrowhead, for the location, was between 1300 to 500 years before modern times.

Discovering The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie

Few symbols represent the spirit of the American West like wild Bison grazing on the expansive and open prairie.

There is something about this setting that makes the heart pump a little faster and one’s breathing to quicken. Such a setting whispers about the time when our ancestors lived here, or even migrated across this expansive landscape. It quietly reminds us, in today’s busy world, not to forget their stories about independence, rugged individualism and family. This uniquely American setting is often seen two-dimensionally in movies and TV shows, but a three-dimensional landscape can be explored and experienced at The Nature Conservancy’s Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County of northeastern Oklahoma.

Tallgrass Prairie Preserve

The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve is big. On a map, it covers an area that is roughly 12 miles wide and 9 miles long! The total acreage is about 40,000 acres, with 25,000 acres reserved for the bison.

This is a wonderful place to visit for many reasons, but one of the most important is seeing this landscape that was almost lost. As the settlers came westward the Bison (also known as American Buffalo) were hunted and the land plowed to create rich and bountiful farmlands. But, there was a high cost. The original population of hundreds of thousands of Bison had been hunted to less than five-hundred individuals and the pristine open prairie that spanned from Texas to Minnesota had been reduced to less than ten percent of the original size. Fortunately, there were visionary folks who saw value in preserving untamed land. Since 1989 the Nature Conservancy, a private, non-profit organization, has restored the largest “fully-functioning portion of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem with the use of about 2500 free-roaming bison.”

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveMy visit to the tallgrass with my Father started in the town of Pawhuska, Oklahoma, close to the preserve’s southern entrance. The drive down a paved county road was surrounded by woodlands but this soon turned to prairie and the road turned to gravel and then a packed caliche clay.

Simple signage marked the entrance to the preserve.

The sun this autumn day was shining and the blue sky was punctuated with small white clouds. The wind was blowing about ten miles an hour and the temperature outside was around 40 degrees.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveA plaque near the entrance of the preserve includes the text, “The Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. You stand at the south edge of the largest unplowed, protected tract which remains of the 142 million acres of tallgrass prairie grasslands that once stretched from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Today, less than ten percent still exists, found mostly in the Flint Hills and Osage Hill regions of Kansas and Oklahoma. In an increasingly crowded and noisy world, what you see is an oasis of space and silence. Here you can experience the same beautiful vistas that greeted the earliest human hunters and gathers many thousands of years ago. This area is indeed a national treasure. Please treat it with respect.”

Sadly, the area surrounding this marker had been marred by a number of empty beer cans left apparently from the evening before. I later learned the roads leading to the preserve are county roads open to the public at all hours. Although there is a cleanup service provided in the preserve by volunteers they cannot be everywhere and at all times. We spent a few minutes picking up the unsightly and very uncool trash.

Twenty minutes or so down the road we stopped at an interpretive marker along the edge of the road. Dark stacked piles of bison poo dotted the area all around us. These were not messy cow patties, rather the dung was tightly packed together into circular disks. These nutrient-rich ‘buffalo chips’ were used by natives and settlers as charcoal because the material burns hot and slow.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveFurther beyond a few dark bison sentinels stood at the side of hills, these were apparently lone males who had been pushed out from the herds. The mature males, after mating, are no longer needed by the female-dominated herds and are excluded.

Hawks and kestrels soared over the dry prairie grasses. Most of the birds I saw were sitting on fence posts observing their domain, but sometimes one would fly up, soar overhead and then later swoop down and appeared to have caught a rodent in its sharp talons.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveA herd of bison was just ahead. It was easy to see their dark forms against the dry and brown landscape of late autumn. The bison allowed us to slowly drive past. They did not appear to mind us and continued with their business. If they wanted to the bison could cause us some harm as these are great creatures measuring 5-6 feet at the shoulders and 7-10 feet in length. Plus bison can weight up to 2,000 pounds or more! Some of the individuals peered at us through thick, wooly looking coats that would soon protect them from the coming winter cold. We watched them for some time.

In the sections of the preserve where we saw fences, the barbed wire included 6 strands and was at least 6 feet tall. We later learned that bison can jump 6 feet laterally and 6 feet in height! The fences are tall so the strands appear at eye-level to intimidate the great beasts from jumping over.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveWe passed another two groups of bison close to the road. The ‘Bison Loop’ road offered additional miles of great sightseeing.

The open prairie now presented low canyons of cottonwood trees and ash. In one of these more protected canyons was the Preserve Headquarters. As we pulled into the gravel parking lot an elegant looking eight-point buck darted in front of us and disappeared behind a building.

At the headquarters was an enthusiastic and knowledgeable docent who was a treasure trove of information. One item she mentioned was that the hunting of bison in the 1800s had been so intense that the last wild bison seen in Osage County was in 1869.

Tallgrass Prairie PreserveThe Preserve Headquarters offers a great visitors center. One memorable exhibit showed just how tall the grasses at the tallgrass prairie can grow – as tall as a grown man. The grasses on the tallgrass are very nutritious and part of an amazingly fertile ecosystem. Another item was a table filled with bison bones and fur. I had expected the fur to be harsh feeling but, it was surprisingly soft and extremely warm. A scapula (shoulder blade) was at least 21 inches in length and 14 inches wide – a big bone for a large animal.

Near the headquarters are several short walking trails that looked welcoming, but the temperature that day was lowering and the wind was picking up.

We left the preserve when the sun was very low on the horizon. As the sun lowered past the rolling hills the dark forms of the bison were silhouetted against the rich shades of an ever increasingly dark sky. My heart pumped a little faster and my breathing quickened – it was a scene of the American West.

If you are interested in visiting, make the most of your day, stay overnight in the town on Pawhuska so you can get an early start. There are no gas stations or places to eat on the preserve, so fill up your gas tank in town and take some lunch or munchies with you. Tulsa, Oklahoma, has an airport, but be prepared for a good hour-and-a-half drive just to get to the preserve. Entering the preserve is free, though recommended donations of several dollars per person are welcome at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserveheadquarters. I was informed by a docent who has been at the preserve for years the best time to visit is in the spring (May) when the wildflowers carpet the landscape and the colors are superb. I plan to return at that time.

Quoted source and learn more:
http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/oklahoma/placesweprotect/tallgrass-prairie-preserve.xml

The Quiet Cabin Creek Battlefield in Oklahoma

Exploring old country roads can reveal hidden stories about America’s past.

While traveling through a quiet corner of eastern Oklahoma I came across the Cabin Creek Battle Site, where Union and Confederate forces engaged during the Civil War.

It was a cold autumn day when I visited and the temperature outside was near freezing. The woods were still, only disturbed by several does as they walked slowly over the dry leaves.

Cabin Creek BattlefieldThe battle site sits near the banks of the wooded Cabin Creek (shown above) and an open field. This area was once part of the strategic Texas Trail, the highway of its day where thousands of settlers, wagons, and cattle-drivers would use the route to travel between Kansas/Missouri in the north and Texas to the south.

This place is quiet and small. Visitors are greeted by a lonely gated entry as you drive down a flint-gravel side road. The battle site itself consists of a small loop with several lonely markers and a few benches. A caretaker’s house is nearby, but there is no visitors center, no paved parking lot, no restrooms, no expansive field where you can walk among manicured grounds or maintained fortifications. The site is very spartan in facilities, but that only reinforces that something very genuine lingers at this place.

Walking around the site a visitor can see etched stones identifying the locations where the soldiers fought. It is easy to visualize distances because they are so close. Cabin Creek BattlefieldIt is easy to toss a rock to the opposite markers without much effort. This must have been a very in-your-face, bloody, personal and intense place.

Seeing the proximity it became easier to imagine the deafening noise of gunfire, clouds of smoke, bullets whizzing past, the ground littered with shards of shattered trees and hearing screaming in the distance from wounded companions as they received Civil War-era medical care.

Then I imagined such a battle not on a cold day, but during an Oklahoma summer (when these battles were fought); and having to fight not just against other people, but also against the unrelenting hot and sweltering summer day with 90% humidly which would make any physical activity torturous after just a few minutes of exertion. During mid-day, the battles probably consisted of shouting insults across this small plot of land taunting the other side until cooler hours allowed for the conflict to continue. But worse would have been fighting the things you could not always see: quick and annoying mosquitos, poison ivy plants carpeting the ground, stealthy ticks and unseen armies of chiggers that bite and leave itchy welts on the flesh.

I left with greater respect for this place where blood between Americans had been spilled, yet an uncomfortable feeling stayed with me for several days. This quiet location on an old country road had spoken in unheard ways about these tumultuous times.

Two battles were fought here; one in 1863 favored the Union, the second in 1864 favored the Confederates. A great amount of history occurred in this tiny area of land.

Cabin Creek BattlefieldA newly placed marker describes the first battle, “1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry 79th U.S.C.T. The 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry was the first black unit to engage in battle during the Civil War. On July 2, 1863, while escorting a wagon trail bound for Fort Gibson, the 1st Kansas Colored was attacked here by Stand Watie’s Confederates where the Texas Road crossed Cabin reek. After a Union artillery barrage the 1st Kansas Colored, supported by the Indian Home Guard, forded waist-deep Cabin Creek (shown) under heavy small arms fire emerging with bayonets fixed. The 1st Kansas Colored secured the ford, forcing the Confederates to retreat.”

The second battle in September 1864 is described by two markers in the area. “Cabin Creek Battlefield…a Confederate force of 2,000, mainly Gen/ Stand Watie’s Indian Brigade, intercepted a Union supply train en-route from Kansas to Ft. Gibson. The convoy of 130 wagons with supplies worth $1.5 million was captured after a heavy engagement.” A second marker states the spoils that day included the wagons, plus 740 mules which were also heavily loaded with supplies. This second battle was credited as being a major morale booster to General Stand Waite. Stand Waite was the last Confederate General to surrender at the end of the Civil War.

The Curious Frost Flower

If you have ever traveled in the central and southern states in the late autumn and winter you might think you see a piece of cellophane laying at the side of the road – look again, it might be a more natural sight.

You might be viewing a beautiful white “Frost Flower” set against the brown and tan ground.

Frost FlowerThis is not an actual flower, but frozen liquid, curved ice sheets that can resemble flower petals.

In the cold hours of the early morning as outside temperatures drop below freezing the moisture in the stem of the Verbesina virginica plant freezes. This plant has a very long and slender stem. As the liquid in the stem of the plant expands it cracks and shatters the stem, generally close to ground level. The liquid extrudes slowly outward and capillary action kicks-in drawing water up from the warmer ground. This supply of slow-moving liquid and freezing temperatures create stunning results: textured and striated sheets of ice sometimes forming curls and even delicate points.

Frost FlowerA great time to see them is just after sunrise, as the low-angle morning light shows through the ice crystals.

The ice flowers can be just an inch wide or be as wide as several inches. The largest I have seen formed when several plants, in close proximity, formed a “bouquet” of frost flowers. The display was about 9 inches in diameter.

Frost flowers can be seen in yards, at the edges of roads or even in the woods.

Learn more:
http://www.wildflower.org/plants/result.php?id_plant=VEVI3

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregon

You can see magnificent raptors at the Cascades Raptor Center in Eugene, Oregon.

What is a raptor? A Raptor is “another word for birds of prey: eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, osprey and kites … hunting birds with keen eyesight and hearing, strong feet with sharp talons for grasping and killing prey, and curved beaks for ripping up their food.”

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonThe Cascades Raptor Center cares for the “sick, injured and orphaned raptors” in central Oregon “with the goal of returning as many as possible to the wild.”

As a visitor, you can see many of these beautiful creatures up close. Be sure to read the signs that include information about the bird’s stories. Many of the birds came to the center with injured wings or other injuries that prevent them from flying well, some of the raptors are even missing an eye – all injuries that will mean certain death in the outdoors to the high-performance athletes.

Other birds at the center were injured, and are now healing, they will be returned to the wild once they regain their strength.

On the day I visited it was feeding time. Several docents approached the outdoor cages. The first docent carefully opened one of the doors while the second docent held a large tray. On the tray was lunch – an assortment of rodents from small mice to large rats. Stops were made at cages and the appropriately sized lunch was provided to the hungry raptors.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonI encountered these walking chefs several times, but the most memorable experience was just after they had provided the juiciest looking rat to a Bald Eagle. I quietly walked up, the eagle was about 8 feet away. The eagle stood at least 25 inches tall; it Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, Oregonhad a huge head crowned with white feathers and an intimidating yellow beak that reminded me of an upside-down hunting knife. The rat was pinned with sharp and massive talons equal to the size of my hand. The great beak was quickly reducing the rat’s body to gulp-sized morsels. In a final gulp the hind end of the rat – tail and all – was swallowed. Then the eagle’s gaze settled on me. It had eyes the size of large marbles; black orbs surrounded by a ring of golden yellow. We contemplated each other for a moment, but the eagle did not look at me – rather, the eagle looked through me. For an instant, a primal fear cautioned inside me that I did not want to be an enemy of this creature, and I was thankful for the cage. Still looking at me the eagle lowered its head and in a quick wave-like motion raised the head and shrieked at me three times with a high-pitched siren. The sound was loud, piercing and intense…it was wild. Wow!

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonFeeling I had intruded upon the powerful creature I lowered my gaze and did not look directly at him. I quietly walked off but the great raptor watched me closely as I departed.

The center has a number of birds to see. I especially enjoyed seeing the owls, hawks and the vultures. One vulture (shown left) liked to hang out by a fence and allowed for a close-up photo. As you can see, vultures are not as ugly a people take them for – consider it a stylish, bold look.

Seeing Eye-to-Eye with Birds of Prey in Eugene, OregonAs I left a private group was being treated to an interpretive demonstration about the Raptors and several were being shown. Some friendly docents, with raptors on their arms, were very eager to share information.

Quoted Reference:
Cascades Raptor Center Website

Learn More:
http://www.eraptors.org

Hiking the Rosengartenschlucht (Rose Garden Gorge)

Imst is a beautiful town in Western Tirol. Here visitors will find a wonderful gorge that gushes with cascades and roars with waterfalls. The hike begins in the middle of town near a centuries-old church, within minutes a visitor is traversing a series of catwalks and footbridges while exploring this rugged landscape. Steps along the trail are often carved from the rock itself, and if wet, can be slippery so wear decent hiking shoes. In fact, my local guide would not go on the trail for several days after a rain as she believed the steps to be too slippery.

The actual hike is not difficult, but there are several areas where the trail is very steep while other sections have low overhangs. Expect a 250 m (820 ft) elevation gain while exploring the 1.5 km (.9 mile) long gorge.

This is a beautiful place but be prepared for a good number of people in the summertime. Consider going on the early side to lessen the number of people on the trail with you. Be prepared for an unexpected rain shower; during my visit, a sudden and very unexpected rain shower poured from the sky on us for about ten minutes, then as quickly as it started, the rain ceased and the sky was clear again.

The sound of water is always around you in the gorge.

Near the top of the falls is a recreation area with opportunities for playing and dining. Plan for several hours to fully explore the gorge at a leisurely pace.