Tales from an Oregon Wanderer: William L. Sullivan

SullivanBooks.jpgOn a warm night at the Sunriver Nature Center last summer, visitors packed the room and stood outside the door for a chance to listen to the guest speaker. Who were they waiting so eagerly for? Fifth-generation Oregonian and author, William L. Sullivan. There are many people that write about the wonders of Oregon, but few are as prolific. His 18 books cover a variety of topics but he is best known for his travel guides that cover different regions of the state.

As he was introduced to the crowd that night, we were reminded that he had trekked across Oregon many years ago. Sullivan’s account of the 1,000-mile journey from the southwest corner of the state to the northeast corner can be found in his book, Listening for Coyote.

Driving towards Steens Mountain

Driving towards Steens Mountain

He also wrote a book about how he and his wife constructed a log cabin using only hand tools. They lived there for several years and still do so during summer months. Their account of that ongoing adventure can be read in Cabin Fever: Notes from a Part-Time Pioneer.

His lecture last summer focused on hikes and destinations in eastern Oregon. His book, 100 Hikes/Travel Guide – Eastern Oregon, was published in its third edition in 2015. Sullivan tries to visit the places he writes about once every seven years to see if any updates are needed. He stated that half of the hikes he covers are located in eastern Oregon.

Old western juniper tree at dusk

Old western juniper tree at dusk

William L. Sullivan was a great speaker with a good sense of humor. Here are a few tidbits from his talk that might inspire you in your explorations of eastern Oregon:

  • Oregon has more ghost towns than any other state. One hundred years ago, the population in eastern Oregon was much higher than it is today and towns were abandoned as people moved on.
  • There are 15 hot springs in eastern Oregon. They range from small hot pools to resorts with private soaking rooms.
  • The evidence found in areas such as Paisley Lake and Fort Rock indicates people lived there more than 14,000 years ago.
  • There are many ancient western juniper trees in the Oregon Badlands. One has been determined to be at least 1,600 years old.
  • You can drive to an elevation of 9,500 feet on Steens Mountain and, if the weather conditions are right, can see five states from there.
  • Oregon’s first power plant was constructed in Sumpter in 1869. It included ten miles of wooden pipeline and that pipeline was in use until 1969.

Buzzsaw Sharks Exhibit

Buzzsaw Shark at HDM September2016

Weird Science

Fossilized teeth that form a shape like a buzzsaw were found in the 1800’s but the type of creature they belonged to was not determined until 2013. A research team consisting of people with backgrounds in art, science, and digital technology solved the mystery. The whorl of teeth belonged to Helicoprion, the buzzsaw shark or whorl toothed shark. This exhibit brings the findings of that research to life through the artwork of Ray Troll and the sculptures of Gary Straub.

Buzzsaw Shark at HDM September2016A massive sculpture of the huge head of a buzzsaw shark bursts through the wall outside of the exhibit at the High Desert Museum and there are additional sculptures and detailed images inside the gallery. A large sculpture of a buzzsaw shark hangs over your head as you enter the gallery. The walls are covered with murals of waves and members of the shark family. Large colorful paintings show the shark family tree and how buzzsaw sharks swimming in the deep may have looked. Glass cases enclose fossils of the odd-shaped whorl of teeth. Projections of that whorl spin across the floor. Framed drawings of buzzsaw sharks hang on the walls. An interactive model of a buzzsaw shark skull shows the action of those formidable-looking teeth. You can sit on a comfy couch (emblazoned with a whorl pattern) and watch a video about the now-extinct shark.

Cheeseburgers?

When I was at the exhibit, I heard a five-year old boy entering the gallery with his family remark, “Wow! Mommy look at that!” Yes, this is a dramatic exhibit that contains a lot of visual interest and fascinating information. The whorl pattern is repeated throughout the exhibit. The artist also had a little fun with the exhibit by hiding several representations of cheeseburgers in the displays. Can you find any of them in the gallery?

Scientific research and art intertwine

buzzsaw3-sioAt first scientists could not figure out what the creature was that possessed the whorl of teeth or where exactly on the animal they were located. The 2013 research team, Team Helico, used CT scans and 3D digital modeling to figure out that it fit into the lower jaw of an ancient shark. Alaskan artist Ray Troll, has been obsessed with the buzzsaw shark for over 20 years and lent his expertise to the team at Idaho Museum of Natural History. Ray is a well-known natural history artist who has lectured at places such as Harvard and Yale. His work has appeared at the Smithsonian and is featured in the current High Desert Museum exhibit.

As part of their research, Team Helico tried to determine exactly how the buzzsaw shark’s jaw worked. It didn’t slice through the head of the shark because it was blocked by small “stops” on the jaw. The team thought it likely that it ate soft-bodied prey because there wasn’t much tooth wear. It probably grabbed and sliced its prey between its tooth whorl and upper jaw and then swallowed it down its gullet.

Buzzsaw Shark at HDM September2016As more and more of the distinctive whorl-shaped fossils were found in the early 20th century, scientists delineated many as separate species. Leif Tepanila and Jesse Pruitt, of the Idaho Museum of Natural History, did further analysis on the fossils and figured out there were only three distinct buzzsaw sharks species.

The teeth themselves are unique among sharks. Unlike other sharks, they formed a whorl as they grew and were never shed. A mature shark could have 150 or more teeth. New teeth form in a “tooth pit” in the back of the mouth and push the whorl forward when they erupt. They switch from being baby teeth to adult teeth at around tooth number 85. No one knows why their jaw has this unusual form.

A team effort

We are always thankful for the work of our staff on setting up exhibits but this particular exhibit was a little different. The artist wanted lots of participation from staff and volunteers on the background work. Images were projected onto the walls and then painstakingly painted by numerous people at the Museum. If you were one of the people who worked on the display, be sure to go into the exhibit to see the final product. The people who participated in this project had a variety of skill levels and some were nervous about doing it “right.” Everyone should be proud of their work because it all came together into a wonderful looking exhibit!

I am reprinting this article I wrote for the October 2016 issue of High Desert Voices, a newsletter for volunteers and staff at the High Desert Museum. The exhibit will be at the Museum until April 23, 2017. NOTE: This exhibit is no longer at the Museum.

To see a fast-speed video of the installment of this exhibit, go here.

Pilot Butte: Bend’s Volcano

Pilot Butte views to North & West October 2016

Pilot Butte views to North & West

Do you want to go to the top of one of the few volcanoes in the U. S. located within the city limits? Pilot Butte is a cinder cone that rises 480 feet above the city of Bend. There are some amazing views from its 4,142 foot summit.

Look at this 360° “photo sphere” image that I took from the top. You can move the image around to see it all. It is a fantastic place!

About 190,000 years ago, Pilot Butte erupted and spewed glowing cinders and steam hundreds of feet into the air. The butte was covered in a foot of ash when Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago. As Pilot Butte eroded away over the years, it evolved into the extinct cinder cone that we see today.

View from Pilot Butte looking to the East October 2016

View from Pilot Butte looking to the East

You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit Road Trail and the Summit Drive Trail are both 1.0 mile long. There is also a road that winds around the butte. The road closes for several months during the fall and winter. The Nature Trail is a dirt trail that ranges from moderate to moderately steep. There are several benches where you can rest and take in the sights. The Summit Road Trail starts on the west side and follows the road. You can also access it from the east side via a short trail. That’s the Summit Drive Trail.

The butte is covered by bunchgrass, wildflowers, shrubs, and western juniper trees. You will see reddish volcanic soil along the trail and in road cuts.

You can see lots of interesting wildlife here. Mule deer can be common during certain times of the year. A cougar was seen on the butte a couple of years ago but they are not a common sight. You are much more likely to see a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Red-tailed hawks and other raptors hunt here so be sure to look up. You might also see (and hear) black-billed magpies and scrub jays. On warm days, western fence lizards might be out sunning themselves on rocks.

At the top of the butte there is a peak finder and several informational panels. You get spectacular views of several Cascade Mountain peaks to the west and north. You may be able to see Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the three Sisters, Broken Top, Belknap Crater, Black Butte, and Mount Bachelor. To the south you get a great look at some of the 400 cinder cones that are a part of the Newberry system. Newberry volcano blew about 400,000 years ago and its lava flows covered 1,200 square miles in this region. To learn more about Newberry, click here to read one of my previous posts. To the east, you’ll see Powell Butte and the Ochoco Mountains.

You get great views of the city of Bend and the Deschutes River. You will also see the irrigation canals cut across the city on their way to the east and north.

The property where the butte is located was owned by the Foley family and was donated to the state in 1928. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is the most visited state park in eastern Oregon.

Pilot Butte with Pilot Butte Drive In November 2016

Pilot Butte with Pilot Butte Drive-In on the right

There is a local tradition of setting off big fireworks from the butte on the Fourth of July. It is not uncommon for fires to start from the falling embers. Firefighters are up there ready to put them out. Since the butte rises nearly 500 feet above the land below, it is easy to see the fireworks display from many locations in and around Bend.

Giving Art Wings

 

Woodhouse's scrub jay Aphelocoma woodhouseii by Siobhan Sullivan Nov 2016

Stress and chaos can take parts of you away; creating art helps to bring it back.

Here is a painting of a scrub jay that I worked on this week to help cope with some of my stress. Jays are one of my favorite birds and the most common one in my neighborhood seemed to be the perfect subject. Click  here to see another of my jay paintings and to read an entertaining post about jays.