Traversing to Fort Rock Cave the Home of Oregon’s 10,000 Year-Old Shoes

This was a 3-day experience into Central Oregon’s Outback to learn more about early human habitation and the area’s geology. Our route included the archaeological site of Fort Rock Cave, the 2-mile long volcanic fissure known as Crack in the Ground, and plans to visit the Fossil Lake area.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 8 | Type: hiking & camping

On our first day, one member discovered she didn’t have the right key to the car carrier which held her sleeping bag. Our caravan stopped at a hardware store in Oakridge where the employee emerged with the largest pair of bolt cutters ever seen. He quickly removed the troublesome lock. For lunch, we stopped at Salt Creek Fall for a break and later at an info kiosk on Hwy 31 before continuing to Fort Rock. At Fort Rock, we hiked to “the notch” along the western tuff ring where the wind was really strong. We made our own trail back down the rough side to more level ground. Afterward, we visited the Homestead Museum to learn more about homesteading was like in earlier years. At a nearby private campground, we set up our tents and enjoyed a fire for an hour or so when we noticed a mist in the distance. Within a minute or two it started to rain. We called it an early evening.

On the second day, in the early morning, the sunrise was beautiful and a coyote was heard yelping in the distance. One participant had green shower shoes and after a miscommunication about where they were to be delivered, gave everyone a good laugh. At 9 am we drove to Fort Rock for our interpretive tour of the Fork Rock Cave where 10,000-year-old shoes had previously been found. The Oregon State Park Ranger had driven from La Pine and was delayed a few minutes because of traffic. Our group and two others joined him in a state park van and we drove ten minutes close to the site. Then we walked about half a mile to the cave. He shared 3 prevailing theories about how humans arrived in the Americas and included a traditional story about how Fort Rock had been formed. We were asked that the story remains in the cave. As we walked back to the van one participant was keenly interested in the bleached bones of a dead cow. Back at Fort Rock we ate lunch and watch some of the birds on the cliff face.

A reproduction of a 10,000 year-old sagebrush sandal

We then drove half an hour to Christmas Valley then to Crack in the Ground. We hiked several sections that we could scamper through and also hiked along the top of the fissure. Several participants disturbed a prairie falcon who was not happy to see them. The falcon made a lot of noise, and as they moved away it acted as though it wanted to nose dive them. Storm clouds were approaching; we left about 3 pm and drove to an isolated ranch. The directions were a bit off and we took several wrong turns before arriving. We were greeted by two rambunctious dogs, a golden colored and bear-sized dog and a smaller ten-month-old border collie. As we were unloading our cars the collie jumped in the back of the trip leader’s car when a door was open and pee’d on the back seat. Just as we completed setting up our tents a 20-30 mile-an-hour wind blew past and dark clouds rolled in. The rain started at about 6:30 pm and everyone quickly disappeared into their tents to eat. We didn’t see anyone again until the next morning. The rain poured throughout the night.

The morning of the last day we were happy to hear that everyone pretty much stayed dry during the rain. We decided that traveling on muddy back roads might be problematic so we canceled the last portion of our trip to Fossil Lake. Just as we packed the last of our gear the two dogs reappeared but now they covered in mud – quickly we departed. We stopped in Fort Rock at a convenience store for gasoline and a break, then another break at Fort Rock, then again Salt Creek Falls before returning home.

Kayaking While Surrounded by an Ocean of Sand

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: May 2019 | Duration: 1 days | Participants: 7 | Type: kayaking

Kayaking Oregon’s Siltcoos River during the springtime is a treat, provided you can time it right. A day earlier dark clouds, lighting, and sheets of rain pelted the area. But, today, the temperature was warm and the sky was clear, allowing us to witness the Siltcoos in all its splendor. We were fortunate and very thankful. The Siltcoos is an interesting interplay of a riparian area within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. The dunes are one of the largest expanses of temperate coastal sand dunes in the world. When geologic forces created the dunes, the sand-choked off several coastal rivers and created about 30 lakes. Some of the rivers have found a way back to sea, the Siltcoos River is one of these rivers. Today, it is a slow-moving three-mile long waterway that holds the distinction of being a canoe trail. We were unable to visit the lower water dam because of a large fallen tree. A special thank you to the River House Outdoor Center of Eugene for the use of their kayaks and local guides. From the water, our group saw at least 18 animal species: bald eagle, osprey, a grey fox, swallows, killdeer, newt, bumble bee, heron, fish, stellar’s jay, crow, seals, egrets, mergansers, butterflies, dragonflies, spiders, and egrets. We also saw a dog at the bow of a kayak, and (not paying attention to posted signs) a human and dog in a protected area.

An 80-foot wall of sand along a bend in the river.
Upriver there were a number of fallen and downed trees we gave them a wide berth.
The dunes gave way to open spaces and a green marsh. Several ducks were flying overhead.
A large bird turned in our direction. As it approached we saw a white head and white tail feathers – it was a bald eagle! A magnificent sight, and seeing it was worth all the money in the world at that moment.
The river widened as we approached the mouth of the Siltcoos River.
At the mouth of the Siltcoos River. The Pacific Ocean had 4-6 foot swells that day. A bald eagle was observed looking for a mid-afternoon snack in the surf. Note the white tail feathers. The area before us (all the shoreline in the area) was closed to protect habitat for the Snowy Plover, a threatened species. Photo credit: Anna Hougardy.
A happy trip participant

Listening to Oregon’s Kalapuya Talking Stones

Talking Stone LI-YUU (Prairie)

Trip Report – Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Obsidians; Dates: April 2019; Participants: 16; Type: Urban & Trail Walking

Imagine attending a great celebration. Every year 100 people gather to laugh, tell stories, eat good food, and celebrate. At the conclusion of the festival, everyone erupts into a joyous and lengthy song, but this music is special because for it to be harmonious each person is responsible for contributing just one note. The song rises and flows with many voices as older members share and the young participate. The following year there is another celebration but a people few are missing, the next year others don’t attend and the melody starts to fray. For decades this unraveling of the song continues, as fewer people are around to sing. After one hundred years only two people remain. They sing, but how do they celebrate the song with so many notes missing? …How would you?

In the early 1800s, the Kalapuya people numbered around 15,000 and were the largest Native American group in what is now known as the Willamette Valley of western Oregon. Diseases introduced to the area decimated the population and by 1850 about 1,000 people remained. In 1900, the Kalapuya numbered about 300 (2% of the original population) and by the 1950s the last generation of speakers had passed. A 1977 University of Oregon anthropological paper declared, “the Kalapuya population is now presumed extinct.”

This was the setting for Esther Stutzman, a woman of Kalapuya heritage who wanted to revive the language. Over the years she made incremental steps to build awareness about the Kalapuya and awaken the language, but even into the early 1990’s she was told by academics to not even bother – the language was dead. One reason for this difficulty was the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names no longer existed; all the landmarks had been given names by pioneers. Esther eventually partnered with the Citizen Planning Committee of East Alton Baker Park. Together, they convinced Willamalane Parks and Recreation and City of Eugene to re-associate place names with Kalapuya words and phrases. The 237-acre park was re-named the Whilamut Natural Area of Alton Baker Park, and a year later, they placed cultural art installations known as the Kalapuya Talking Stones.

The Talking Stones are etched boulders that carry a Kalapuya word from one of the several dialects that describe the location where the stone’s reside. Today, fifteen stones quietly speak with those who will listen from along riverside trails in the Whilamut Natural Area in Eugene and the Eastgate Woodlands of Springfield, Oregon.

Talking Stone GUDU-KUT (frog)

The stones are etched with a simple font that approximates being written by a human finger as though an elder has just shared an idea by drawing a concept in the earth.

Placing the stones required years of work, public education, and patience from Esther and often-unsung heroes on the Citizen Planning Committee (CPC), including Charlotte Behm, Vicky Mello, and David Sonnichsen, and others. The group has spent more than twenty years (as volunteers) diligently working to place and maintain the sacred Talking Stones and to educate the public about their important role in our community. The Talking Stones are a watershed project on blending native place names within metropolitan areas for the education about the people who once lived – and still live – in the area.

Charlotte Behm sharing stories about the creation, installation, and public interactions with the Talking Stones.

To better understand the Talking Stones’ stories Charlotte Behm joined us on our 2.5-hour walk. She shared her experiences and history about the stones and some of the challenges that remain. We were happy to listen and better understand the geographic connection to Kalapuya place names. Thank you, Esther and Charlotte, and the many others for helping to share a larger story with your voices.

An additional thank you to Charlotte Behm for her help with this article.

Additional Resources:
> Kalapuya Talking Stones Brochure & Map (PDF)
> Video: Hunting for History Part 5: The Kalapuya Talking Stones
> Article: “Future of the Kalapuya Story
> Article: “Ancient Oregon Languages Being Nudged Awake
> The “presumed extinct” reference is from publication,”Cultural resource overview of the Willamette National Forest, western Oregon” 1977, #12, (page 79 > actual location in PDF is page 90)

A Walking Exploration of Eugene’s Murals

Group Photo in front of the Martin Luther King Jr. Mural, Eugene, Oregon, Photo by Eduardo Tapia.

I’m happy to have introduced a great group of 11 to some of Eugene (OR), beautiful murals. Eugene has scores of outdoor images and they are best enjoyed while walking. Most are part of the 20x21EUG Mural Project, an initiative by the city to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals between now and the 2021 IAAF World (track) Championships. Our walk of the downtown area visited building-sized masterpieces and a number of hidden micro-art images. We walked just over 2 miles and a great lunch afterward.

Trip Report – Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Obsidians; Dates: March 3, 2019; Participants: 11; Type: Urban Walking

An Afternoon with Judge B. Waldo: A Visionary Conservationist & Explorer

Judge John B. Waldo is often associated with John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. While his impact was substantial he is not as well known as other conservationists of the day. In the late 1800’s he proposed a greenspace straddling the crest of Oregon. For decades he traveled extensively documenting the area’s unique topography and natural beauty. He worked hard to pass legislation preventing special interest from monopolizing the area’s resources. Today, numerous national forests, a national park, and wilderness areas between the border with California clear to the Columbia Gorge exist because of his vision. Our visit to the UO Archives was an introduction to his original writings and photographs. We even saw some founding documents for Crater Lake National Park.

Trip Report – Leader: Mark Hougardy; Group: Obsidians; Dates: February 16, 2019; Participants: 6; Type: University of Oregon Archives

Walking Wicked San Francisco: Fear, Sex, and Gold

San Francisco is a city born within a moment — the discovery of gold in 1848. The city’s parents were not elites or idealist, but gritty prospectors, sailors, railroad workers, gamblers, ladies of the night, grifters, poets, and carney hustlers. Today, San Francisco is often viewed as a place where a person can discover one’s fortune, where an individual can craft their future, and where it’s OK to be weird. But, beneath the sidewalks, in unimpressive alleys, and among lonely buildings is a hidden San Francisco, a city that was forged in fear, sex, and gold.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: November 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 8 | Type: walking and urban exploration

Our interpretive walking trip explored how fear, sex, and gold changed the city in three important ways. We saw how fear directed at those considered “unfit” by society  (poor, minorities, and women) reveals they are the true backbone of the city, then how censorship of sex led to modern freedoms, and finally how gold fever changed forms never really disappeared.

Our group traveled by air from Oregon on Thanksgiving Day to San Francisco. Many of us overnighted at the Fort Mason Hostel and dined at a waterfront restaurant. The next day we traveled by trolley to Union Square and enjoyed the Christmas decorations before starting our 5-mile walk. We explored the sordid history of Maiden Lane, the colorful streets of Chinatown, and the historically depraved area known as the Barbary Coast. Our route followed much of the original shoreline, which is now half a mile inland. We visited City Lights Books and places where the counter-culture Beats hung out. We climbed the steep steps of Telegraph Hill to see the murals of the historic Coit Tower. Our walk took us along garden-lined staircases and alleys. The next day we traveled to the lonely island of Alcatraz to learn more about its prison then enjoyed an afternoon exploring the city. That evening the group enjoyed a salty performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. On the final full day, several members walked ten-miles from the Marina District over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and returned by ferry. The group walked ~20 miles in total. The group returned by plane to Oregon. Photos by Mark Hougardy & Meg Stewart Smith.

Some of the faces and places who showed participants a good time… er, helped them learn more about San Francisco’s story on this wicked trip.

Group Leader Mark Hougardy sharing a story about a gutsy woman who challenged societal norms in the 1860s. Today, everyone can ride a trolley in San Francisco because of her struggle.

We caught a Holiday performance of Beach Blanket Babylon. King Louie sings his heart out. Photo: Beach Blanket Babylon

A resident of Alcatraz Island

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:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | 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.

Hiking and Kayaking on Oregon’s Scenic and Wild Central Coast

The Cape Perpetua Scenic Area on Oregon’s coast is stunning.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: August 2018 | Duration: 2 days | Participants: 8 | Type: car camping, hiking, and kayaking

Our group was fortunate as the weather was surprisingly mild and there was little wind. We spent much of the morning exploring tide pools and beachcombing during low tide. The Cape’s forest offered us the chance to stand at the base of the 200-foot tall and 500-year old Sitka Spruce. These amazing trees grow in a four-mile-wide zone along the coast from northern California to Kodiak Island in Alaska. Around lunchtime, we pitched our tents at a nearby campground and had a quick bite to eat. Our two tiny campsites proved challenging with our collection of tents. In the late afternoon, during high tide, we appreciated the coast’s craggy beauty. A favorite is Spouting Horn, where wave action forces water into a small sea cave and through a hole at the top creating a sizeable plume. Thor’s Well, a large sinkhole on the shoreline, water cascades into what appears to be an unearthly entrance to the underworld. In the evening, some of us climbed the 700-foot cape and enjoyed awe-inspiring views of the rocky shoreline below. Standing inside the historic Civilian Conservation Corps shelter, we witnessed a brief sunset. That day we saw a whale, gulls, cormorants, sea lions, a myriad of tide pool creatures, turkey vultures, and ravens.

We woke with the sun and drove to Brian Booth State Park where we participated in a kayaking trip along Beaver Creek. This interpretive tour is offered as a service by Oregon State Parks. Beaver Creek is a freshwater estuary and is prime habitat for Coho salmon, cutthroat trout, winter steelhead, and waterfowl. We finished our three-mile paddle about noon and had a great time. We had seen ducks, nutria (invasive), a family of river otters, kingfishers, a young bald eagle, swallow, cranes, blue herons, a green heron, Canada geese, merganser, and a red-tailed hawk. As we pulled our kayaks from the water there was a nearby splash, a river otter had been playfully observing at us. Across the creek, a bald eagle surveyed our group. That afternoon we drove south to Yachats and enjoyed a tasty lunch before heading home.

I snapped this picture half a second too late! A chain of bubbles was rapidly passing my kayak on Beaver Creek. They were followed by a furry head popping out of the water. The river otter, upon seeing me, immediately dove. Here is the splash it made as it disappeared.

Exploring Central Oregon’s Rich Cultural Heritage, Dynamic Geology, and Majestic Night Sky

Our 4-day trip to learn more about central Oregon’s historic past started with a call from the interpretive ranger at Fort Rock. The 100-degree heat wave hitting the region was cause for canceling our visit to the Fort Rock Cave for safety concerns and the threat of extreme fire danger. The cave is a significant archaeological site where shoes dating back 10,000 years were discovered and public entry is limited to just a handful of people each year. Sadly, but understandably, we were not able to visit the cave and I had to amend our trip to Oregon’s high desert on the fly. Fortunately, everything worked out.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: July 2018 | Duration: 4 days | Participants: 7 | Type: A 4-day exploration of central Oregon’s rich cultural heritage, dynamic geology, and the majestic night sky. Car camping, hiking, and lots of open space.

Group photo at the Pine Mountain Observatory. The red lights are easier on the eyes when working around astronomical equipment.

On our first day, we arrived at the massive caldera located in the heart of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. We visited the double 80-foot Paulina Falls and ate lunch overlooking the stream. We located two adjoining campsites on the picturesque East Lake, and just in time as the park was busy. In the afternoon we hiked the impressive Obsidian Flow trail, a massive flow of volcanic glass and pumice 17 stories tall. Returning to camp we enjoyed a swim in the cool and clear waters of East Lake. Afterward, we hiked on the beach to the local resort and were reminded of the subtle, yet abrasive qualities of volcanic glass on the feet. At the lodge, we enjoyed a delicious meal and had some good laughs with the staff. The radio in the background was playing a tribute to Tom Petty. We walked about a mile back to camp. That night we listened to acapella hymnals from a Mennonite group camping nearby.





On day two we drove to the top of Paulina Peak. The peak is 7,984 feet and sits in the middle of Oregon. The views are impressive; to the north, we could see the massive stratovolcano, Mount Hood, then down the spine of the Cascades to the steep-sided Mount McLoughlin close to the California border – a distance of about 300 miles! To our south was our next stop, the iconic shaped Fort Rock, a volcanic landmark named for the tall fort-like walls. We left Paulina Peak and drove for about an hour. Out first stop was the Fort Rock Homestead Museum, an open-air collection of historic structures. This is where I learned about a shortcut of a backroad to Derrick Cave, a remote lava tube that we had hoped to visit. Apparently, the private landowner had closed the shortcut because visitors were not closing a gate and his cows were escaping. The alternate route would have involved about a 50-mile detour on forest and back roads. This was tabled until another visit. Our next stop was the massive Fort Rock a horseshoe-shaped tuff ring that rises 300-feet over the surrounding flat landscape. We hiked for about an hour in the heat then drove to the town of Christmas Valley for ice. We continue on a short distance to Crack in the Ground, a 2-mile long tension fracture where we could hike and scramble over boulders about 30 feet underground. The temperature at the surface was 95 degrees, in the fissure it was a comfortable 70 degrees with some pockets of air in the lowest sections that we were chilling. Late that afternoon we stayed at the Rockhorse Ranch where we pitched our tents and gleefully enjoyed their shower! A celebrity at the ranch’s store was a black cat named, “Scratchy.”

On day three we drove a short distance to Hole in the Ground, a crater that is a mile wide and 500-feet deep. Once thought to be a meteor impact the formation was actually caused by magma contacting groundwater. The resulting flash (there were many over the millennia) formed the massive hole we see today. The steep hike down the side was dusty and the walk up the forest service road was blazing hot. Near the end of our hike, three cars zipped up the road in a cloud of thick dust. The vehicles looked as though they were from the set of a Mad Max movie. The last car to pass was missing the driver-side door; the driver was wearing thick goggles. The rag-tag group waved as the passed. These were participants in the Gambler 500, a navigational adventure for cars whose value is no more than $500. Later that day we visited the High Desert Museum for a closer look at the cultural and natural history of the region, and we explored by flashlight the 1-mile long Lava River Cave, the longest continuous lava tube in Oregon. The cave was a welcome 42 degrees! As the sun lowered in the sky we made our way about 30 miles east of Bend to the Pine Mountain Observatory, an astronomical observatory operated by the University of Oregon. The center sits near the top of Pine Mountain at an elevation of 6,509 feet. We made camp, ate dinner, watched the sunset, and enjoyed the various telescopes of the facility. There were close-up views of Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, nebulae, globular clusters, and various astronomy talks from UO instructors. Most impressive was a view of Jupiter and several moons through the 24-inch scope.

The final morning we woke up hearing a chorus of cows in the distance. We made our way off the mountain appreciating the drastic change in terrain from pines to the open high desert. We took a shortcut around Bend and stopped at the Lava Lands Visitor Center where we explored the 500-foot tall Lava Butte that has commanding views of central Oregon’s volcanic story before returning home.

By Playing with Fire We Appreciate How It Forges Every Aspect of Life

I’m happy to have been the leader on another great Road Scholar trip. This program introduced grandparents and grandkids to how fire helps forge every aspect of our life (homes/communities, food preparation, entertainment, arts, places we play, and our survival).

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Road Scholar | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 6 days | Participants: 28 | Type: Field Trips & Motorcoach

“Erupting volcanoes. Blacksmithing. Outdoor cooking. Glassblowing. A fire has countless uses, incarnations, and has been paramount to our way of life since the beginning of our time. You and your grandchild will spark your desire to safely learn more about fire through interactive experiences with professional firefighters, survivalists, welders and fire dancers. Discover how fire can create a delicate piece of artwork, as well as destroy entire forests and cities. Learn how to survive in the remote wilderness, and discover the inner workings of a city’s fire engine. Together with your grandchild, finally have the chance to play with fire as you discover why nothing can hold a candle to this learning adventure.”

Exploding Whale Beach Hike


This hiking trip was to the site of the “exploding whale,” one of Oregon’s most prominent stories of local lore.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Date: June 2018 | Duration: 1 day | Participants: 6 | Type: Day Hike

In 1970, near Florence, a 16,000-pound whale carcass the length of a bus washed ashore. After 3-days in the sun, it became so foul smelling that locals wanted it gone. An idea was hatched to dynamite the odorous mass into tiny bits. A local TV report of the incident is classic web viewing. In the clip, a massive boom launches putrid blubber into the sky. As the blast ends, behind the camera, a series of cheers and laughs ring out. One woman’s voice is heard, “All right, Fred, you can take your hand’s our of out of your ears now … here come pieces of … my G-” No one was injured, but viewers were covered in goo and a car was nearly totaled. Our group located the approximate location of the detonation. The day included a pleasant 5-mile beach walk where we viewed a number of shells. We also observed a memorial to 41 sperm whales who mysteriously stranded themselves in the area in 1979. One whale spout was observed just offshore.

Hiking & Camping at Mount St. Helens – Eruption Celebration

Our visit to the Mount St. Helens National Monument was timed to the 38th anniversary of the May 18, 1980 eruption.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Duration: 3 days | Participants: 10 | Type: Hiking, Multi-day Camping

Our group rendezvoused at the Silver Lake Visitor Center off the I-5 where we enjoyed lunch and listened to an interpretive presentation by a ranger. Osprey flew overhead. Afterward, we continued about 20 miles up the road to the sediment retention dam. This massive structure holds back a reservoir of volcanic mud 13-miles long, a half a mile wide, and 200 feet deep. Several Army Corps of Engineer Rangers were inspecting the structure and they graciously talked with us about the dam’s history. Later that afternoon we proceeded a few miles up the highway to the laid-back Eco Lodge Resort where we pitched our tents and then hiked to the reservoir. The surface looked solid, but it quickly sucked unsuspecting walkers down to their ankles. In the ash and mud, there were tracks of raccoons, elk, and footprints of some enormous birds, possibly eagles. That evening we enjoyed dinner and some down-home hospitality at the lodge’s café. Before bed, we sat around a warm campfire. The next morning we ate a hearty breakfast then drove about 25 miles to Coldwater Lake. The lake is an enormous body of water that had not existed prior to the eruption. On that day, a wall of ash and rock several hundred feet deep blocked the creek causing the newly formed basin to fill. At the Johnston Ridge Observatory, we were told the facility was closed due to a power failure. We hit the Boundary Trail and hiked several hours through the apocalypse-like blast zone. In the distance, the massive volcano began to emerge from the clouds. On top of Harry’s Ridge, we walked along the snow line until we looked directly into the crater of Mount St. Helens. Below us was the hauntingly beautiful Spirit Lake. This is the location where long-time resident Harry Truman refused to leave his home. After the blast, he would live forever as a legend. A very sinister cloud suggested it was time for us to go. Our hike had been 8.8 miles and roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain/loss. At the visitor center, we discovered they were open, but the power went out again after about 5 minutes. In the evening, we enjoyed a tasty home-cooked meal at the café and heard stories from the lodge’s owner, Mark. He had witnessed the eruption when he was 20. We enjoyed another humorous nightfall telling jokes and stories around the campfire. In the early morning, raindrops pecked at our tents. After breakfast, we thanked Mark and his family. As we left for home the rain started to pour. We had been fortunate with the weather, and to enjoy such a great time at the volcano.

A Spring Weekend on the Upper McKenzie River

The season’s first warm weather brought significant snowmelt into the McKenzie River watershed and over the majestic Sahalie Falls and Koosah Falls.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: May 2018 | Participants: 5 | Type: Hiking and Car Camping

Our plan to hike to Tamolitch Falls (Blue Pool) was cut short when a sign stated a mile of trail was closed because water had flooded the path in places to a depth of 3 feet. Even with the closure, there was plenty to appreciate further upstream at Clear Lake with its crystalline waters and turquoise colored Great Spring. Animals that were seen along trail also appeared to appreciate the warmer weather as fish jumped in the lake, several species of birds flew overhead, and a garter snake warmed itself on the rocks. In shaded areas winter still managed to hold its grip as large patches of snow remained. Springs spontaneously appeared on the trail sometimes forming small ponds, and at one point, all of us were mesmerized by a plate-sized vortex that had formed in such a pool. After a solid day of hiking, we visited Belknap Hot Springs for a relaxing soak. Because we timed our visit before the Memorial Day crowds the U.S. Forest Service campground was basically empty. Our campsite was green with moss and located next to a white rushing stream that looked like it was born from a Tolkien novel. The next day we enjoyed the comfort of a morning campfire, broke camp, and explored several more miles of trail before heading home.

   

Rediscovering Eugene’s Forgotten Streetcars

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: March 2018 | Participants: 14 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

It’s difficult to imagine today, but between 1907 and 1927 streetcars (commonly referred to as trolleys) ran along 18-miles of electrified tracks in Eugene, Oregon. Their comforting clickety-clack as the wheels passed over connections in the tracks where heard on four routes in this city of 11,500 people. Only the finest cars were used and each was superbly-crafted with heaters and rattan seats. At 45-feet in length, they could carry up to 100 passengers. The cost per trip was 5 cents for a child and 10 cents for an adult. Our walk will help re-discover this curious icon of the early 1900s using old photos and traversing the Fairmount trolley’s 5.5-mile route. We walked the Fairmount’s route in its direction of travel from the train station, through downtown, across the University of Oregon’s picturesque campus, passing historic residential neighborhoods, crossing over some of the last remaining visible tracks, and back. Although many of the trolley’s tracks are not visible today, look carefully, many miles of track from this time are hidden just under the pavement.

“Animal House” Movie Walk

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: January 2018 | Participants: 7 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

In 1978 a low-budget movie about a misfit fraternity who challenged authority was released. The movie “Animal House” prominently featured locations around the University of Oregon. Much to the chagrin of university officials, the movie brought unwelcome attention to the UO; to others, it is one of the greatest comedy films of all time. Forty years later, this small group of Animal House fans visited fifteen sites around campus featured in the movie. We enjoyed a pleasant walk in the light rain. Some areas on campus were similar while other locations, like a refurbished room 110 Fenton Hall where the courtroom scene was filmed, are unrecognizable. We ended our walk the former site of the Delta Tau Chi fraternity house, the Animal House. The dilapidated structure has since been demolished and replaced with an office building. Only a small plaque remains about its history from the 1800s and uses in the movie. Thank you to everyone in the group for sharing their stories about the movie’s production.

Walking the Murals & Urban Art Scene in Eugene, Oregon

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: December, 2017 | Participants: 19 | Type: Urban Walking Tour

Over the past months in Eugene, Oregon, a number of building-sized murals have started appearing  – some almost overnight. I needed to check out this gigantic expression of creativity, so I offered an invitation for an informal walk. Surprisingly, nineteen people joined me! The murals are part of the 20×21 project, an initiative to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals in Eugene between now and the premier track and field 2021 IAAF World Championships. As a runner myself, I am really excited about this event. After the walk, some of us enjoyed a tasty lunch of pizza and salad (the vegan pizza there rocks; an image is included below). Here are a few photos:

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.

Unearthing Waldo

Note: Originally published in September 2017, this trip report was updated in March 2019 by the author to read more like a travel article.

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Obsidians | Dates: September 10, 2017, | Participants: 7 | Type: Day hike and wayfinding

In Oregon’s Cascade Range an old tree stood guard over a forgotten story. The memory was about an explorer named Judge John Breckenridge Waldo and his intrepid spirit was that of John Muir and Henry David Thoreau. Waldo is the unsung grandfather of Oregon’s protected lands. It is because of his perseverance that six national forests, Crater Lake National Park, and over a dozen wilderness areas exist today. Yet, few remember Waldo’s name or celebrate his achievements.

A photo of Camp Edith (circa 1890) taken at Waldo Lake, Oregon. I saw this while researching the journals and letters of conservationist Judge John Breckenridge Waldo at the University of Oregon archives. I’ve hiked all over Waldo Lake and never encountered this camp. Where was it? I’ve spent the past year reading, inquiring, and trying to find out where this camp might be, but with little luck. Some fieldwork was needed. I decided to lead a trip with other curious folks to find this historic location using this photo as one of our only clues.

The tall perpendicular woods and glassy mountain lake made seeing this old tree even more intoxicating. A year earlier while researching Waldo I spied a grainy black and white photo. The picture was snapped in 1890; it revealed a couple of trees and a canoe by a lake with the handwritten text, “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.” An interesting yet unremarkable image, except that Camp Edith wasn’t referenced on any map. After a year of research, my fellow explorers and I stood before those words carved into the tree’s hardwood — it was Waldo’s “lost” campsite.

Thank you, John B. Waldo, for helping us to enjoy such beautiful places! A photo of a meadow and Mount Ray, Waldo Lake area.

Our morning started with sunlight enriching the blue and turquoise waters of Waldo Lake. The radiant vista poured 5-miles into the distance and an additional 2 miles at breadth. As the sun rose further into the sky it revealed depths of 60 feet or more in the crystalline-like liquid.

The beautiful Waldo Lake in Oregon’s Cascade Range. Waldo Lake is 10 square miles in area. The lake is a gas-free zone, only human-powered boats are allowed.

From 1877 to 1907 Waldo extensively explored and chronicled the “untrammeled nature” of Oregon’s Cascades. He believed that modern life had “narrowing tendencies” on a person and that wilderness allowed difficulties to “be perceived and corrected, and the spirit enlarged and strengthened.” Waldo was a reflective man who did not seek publicity. Rather, he quietly and diligently advanced his vision: a 300-mile long protected swath along Oregon’s mountainous crest from the Columbia Gorge to the California border. Upon returning from his expeditions he spent countless hours increasing public awareness through letter writing and using his resources as a State Legislator and Chief Justice of Oregon’s Supreme Court to advocate for preservation.

Part of the marshy shore of Waldo Lake.

After Waldo’s death in 1907, his writings went missing only to be rediscovered in the 1980s. The papers now reside in the archives at the University of Oregon. This is where I first saw the old photo of Camp Edith. When I inquired with seasoned hikers, campers, and old-timers, they had not heard of the camp. Finally, I met an aged flower child that loved to backpack. Surprisingly, he knew about Camp Edith but only revealed, “When you find ‘the tree,’ you’ll be there.”

The following winter I jumped into reading a rare 500-page copy of Waldo’s transcribed diary. During his treks, he traveled for months at a time to nourish his insatiable wanderlust and love of the Cascades. But like many travelers, he was often homesick. To lessen the loneliness he christened a favorite camping site in honor of his daughter, Edith. A colleague blazed the camp’s name into a tree trunk.

The snow had melted in the mountains and some ground reconnaissance was needed. I enlisted several members from a local hiking group to join me at Waldo Lake. We walked into the forest to find “the tree” provisioned with a photo from 1890, a few telling diary entries, and the mystifying advice of an old hippie.

Progress was slow as we bushwhacked through the woodlands, crossed marshy fields, and scrambled over downed logs. We were close to calling it a day when a member of our team let out a joyous shout. Thirteen decades of bark growth had covered the blaze’s perimeter, but the inscription was legible: “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake.”

We had unearthed a sumptuous moment of discovery.

A close-up of the Camp Edith tree, part of the “Camp Edith, Waldo Lake” inscription is still visible.

An excerpt from one of Waldo’s 1890 letters was appropriate to read-

“The lake stretches away up to the North; crags and peaks tower above us. It is a splendid scene – this source of rivers and cities, hid away, like pure trains of thought from vulgar observation – in the deep bosom of the wilderness buried. Camp Edith sends you greeting – greeting to Edith from ‘Papa’s Lake.’”

We departed Camp Edith carrying Waldo’s story with us — our spirits nourished and renewed.

Standing in front of the Camp Edith tree. This group of curious folks enjoys a good mystery.

A side-by-side comparison of the heart-shaped blaze seen in 2017 and 1890. You can still see the original heart outline in the bark of the newer photo.

Fostering an Intergenerational Respect for Animals

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy | Company: Road Scholar | Dates: Three trips, July-August, 2017 | Participants: 15-25 per group | Type: 6-days of field outings and motorcoach travel in western Oregon

<I enjoyed leading this Road Scholar trip for grandparents and grandchildren. It was a fun and educational opportunity for different generations to share time together exploring the world of animals. For my programs, I wanted to create a mentoring environment where, at the end of the program, everyone who is young at heart would think of themselves as a beginning zoologist. A zoologist is a curious person (a scientist) who loves to learn about animals and everything they can teach us.

An enrichment activity I created. A key skill in tracking is understanding of how animals move. We did this by measuring the stride and placement of tracks by various animals. This activity reinforced the story of OR-7 “Journey” Oregon’s most famous wolf who has traversed 4,000 miles during his lifetime (so far).

 

 

 

Hiking, Eagles, and Restoration in the Whychus-Deschutes Proposed Wilderness

Trip Report:
Leader: Mark Hougardy
Group: Obsidians (met ONDA on site)
Dates: May 22, 2017
Participants: 6
Type: Weekend Camping & Restoration Work

The Whychus-Deschutes proposed Wilderness is a rugged and beautiful landscape in central Oregon. Driving here requires a vehicle with high clearance and some sturdy hiking shoes for the remaining distance. It is a place of weathered cliffs, cold streams, and rocky canyons. If you have observant eyes you might even see bald eagles flying overhead. A prominent landmark is Alder Springs. The mainspring appears to spontaneously gush from the dry ground at an impressive 60 gallons per second. These cool waters flow a short distance into the picturesque Whychus Creek and a few miles further it joins the turbulent water of the Middle Deschutes River. These unique waterways provide spawning habitat for salmon, steelhead, and are central to all life in the area. This wilderness is prominent in fueling the region’s robust outdoor recreation opportunities, tourism industry, and a high quality of life. The Whychus-Deschutes landscape is an asset, yet it lacks permanent protection.

The first evening allowed for some hiking and enjoying the local sights. The ridge above the campground offered wonderful views of basalt columns. The columns were between 80 and 100 feet in height.

I wanted to find out more about protecting this land so I led a group of fellow Obsidians for an explore. We joined several other volunteers for an extended weekend of restoration work with the Oregon Natural Desert Association (ONDA). During the summer months, this sensitive area can be hammered by an influx of visitors who are seeking their own interpretation of this place. We were there to learn about the natural history, rebuild trails, fix up campsites, and remove some invasive plants that were taking resources from native species.

First, a shout out to ONDA. Learn more about ONDA’s great work and how you can help at onda.org

Here are some photos of our restoration weekend:

The next morning we drove to the Alder Springs Trailhead and gathered our gear.

This is a stark and beautiful country. Our route was about three miles one way. We worked the entire distance.

Volunteers jumped to it keeping the trail open.

This water bar (a small dike that prevents erosion on trails) had filled in and was no longer functioning. Our team rebuilt this and a good many others that day. The green in the background is courtesy of Alder Springs that flows at the base of the canyon.

Our host, Gena from ONDA, is crossing Whychus Creek.

Our group is removing an abundance of Knapweed from a meadow. Knapweed can quickly take over an area and choke out native vegetation.

The creek skirted along the base of this amazing painted cliff. The horizontal bands displayed a multitude of geologic layers. The cliff’s face was streaked with gray which oozed out during recent rains. Several of us enjoyed lunch at this picturesque location.

Our work group is removing a large outcrop of Mullein. Mullein adapts easily to natural meadows and can outpace native plants.

An amazing view looking down Whychus Creek.

We enjoyed a well-earned break at the confluence of Whychus Creek as it pours into the Deschutes River. This view is actually several hundred feet downstream from the confluence. The scenery here is spectacular.

The hot afternoon required a head-dunk in the cold waters of the Deschutes River. This is me.

The next day we were at it again. We easily spent two hours pulling Knapweed in just this little meadow.

More Knapweed! One plant was so tough it snapped a hand trowel.

Such amazing colors on these butterflies. Animals we saw on this trip included two bald eagles, turkey vultures, several meadowlarks, a robin, one gemstone colored Lazuli Bunting, scores of butterflies, and two snakes. Sadly, we saw four deceased deer, victims of an aggressively cold winter.

Our group removes an illegal fire ring that was fifteen feet from the creek. We restored this sensitive habitat as best we could.

Such simple, yet complex, beauty can be observed here. Note the small butterflies.

The last of our group returns down a dusty path after a long and rewarding weekend.

A true delight was spotted next to the trail. This is a primary feather of a Bald Eagle (possibly from a sub-adult). The top edge of my trail shoe is included for scale. This feather was discovered near the final hour of our restoration work – helping to protect public land. Seeing it was a welcome gift.