Winter is a wonderful time to explore Eugene, Oregon. Here’s a sampling of several group tours I led in late 2019 to see local murals, holiday lights, the university, and historic districts.
Learning about a local author (Opal Whiteley) and the statue commemorating her life. This was part of a local art walk.
Leading a walk to see some of the holiday lights.
After a tour, I always ask if participants would like to continue their day (or evening) enjoying some local flavors. This was a delicious lunch.
A walk through the grounds of the University of Oregon to see local art and craftsmanship.
Enjoying a brief side-trip to learn about some of the participant’s explorations in Oregon with this wall-sized map.
There are always curious things to see on my trips, this Holiday skeleton was spotted in a car while I was leading a recent group walk.
Eugene was once home to 18-miles of electric streetcars (trolleys). On this neighborhood walk, our group was able to see some of the original tracks that are resurfacing.
This location is actually near an old stop on the historic trolley line (from the previous photo), but today the stop is home to little free tea kiosk where a person can get a hot cup of tea and enjoy a book.
Walk participants are finding some micro-art pieces for themselves in this photo. This is a trompe-l’œil art piece, it uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that looks three dimensional.
Visiting a historic district in town.
Some of the curious street art in Eugene. This 1-hour walk is a blast to lead.
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.
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.
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.
I’m happy to have introduced a great group of 11 to some of Eugene (OR), beautiful murals. Eugene has scores of outdoor images and they are best enjoyed while walking. Most are part of the 20x21EUG Mural Project, an initiative by the city to create 20 or more world-class outdoor murals between now and the 2021 IAAF World (track) Championships. Our walk of the downtown area visited building-sized masterpieces and a number of hidden micro-art images. We walked just over 2 miles and a great lunch afterward.
Trip Report – Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Eugene-based Hiking Club | Dates: March 3, 2019 | Participants: 11 | Type: Urban Walking
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.
#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).
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.
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.
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | 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.
Recently, I was asked to share ideas with a tour director who was new to leading natural history walks. Here are some simple tips:
When introducing folks to a natural area I like to include in my welcome, “Are there things on this walk that you’d like to know more about?” People almost always want to know about poison ivy/oak and if they will be encountering any. Answering this takes some of the uncertainty people might have about an area off the table and helps them better enjoy the walk.
You’re not there to be an encyclopedia.
Do know the “big idea” of your walk. A big idea is what you want them to take when they leave.
If you know of any good stories about the area, place names, or local colorful characters, share them.
Think of things where people can engage their senses: look, listen, and feel.
When you visit a neat spot (beaver pond, an interesting grove of trees, etc), ask, “What do you think you know about this?” Get them to respond and share information. Everything has a story; people of first nations or settlers could have used even an unassuming plant as an important resource.
If there is an area where people can be comfortable have them sit in silence for several minutes (3 is ok). Afterward, ask them what did they see, hear, smell, and feel.
Point our any temperature shifts, like when you enter a shaded or lighted area.
Compare the feel of different tree barks. Why might they be different?
People tend to look at big things, have them find a small area and just observe for a few minutes. Ask them what they saw. A lot is happening on a small scale and it is just as important as the big things.
You need to know where north is for this. Well into your walk ask them to point to the north. The results are often surprising and entertaining even when the sun is out. Bring a compass and have a young person confirm the direction.
At the end of the walk ask people to share what they saw, heard, and smelled, etc.
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | 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.
Volunteer Leader: Mark Hougardy | Organization: Eugene-based Hiking Club | 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: