Call Wade Skinner a cowboy artist. Or a metal sculptor. It’s the obvious call. He has a workshop and small gallery off HWY 99 just south of Junction City. An authentic, mid-19th century covered wagon sits out front. A John Deere tractor is parked alongside the shop. Dozens of his art pieces are showcased across the property. They depict images best described as “western” or “cowboy” icons.
Except, Skinner, himself, is the true cowboy or western icon. And it seems everything surrounding him portrays his life stories and personal lessons learned.
“Every piece of my art,” says Skinner “be it wildlife, Native American, things of nature, western. . . Every piece of art, is a piece of me.” He speaks slowly, politely, with contemplation. He’s a man made of many pieces.
He’s both simple, yet complex. Wise. Charismatic. Family-oriented. Soulful. A philosopher and a poet by nature. A naturalist by desire. A Texan by birth; an Oregonian by experience. A laborer and trained craftsman. An artist by instinct. Mill builder. Horseman. Industrial welder. He’s a man of purpose with a strong back, a large heart, and a hopeful spirit.
In so many ways, he embodies the same qualities as the cowboys and western adventurers portrayed in his art.
“People have an iconic image of ‘The Great American Cowboy,’” says Skinner. “He believed in riding for the brand, the code of the West. That code should still be followed today, and I think it is. But I’d like to see more of it embraced: Standing strong. Respect for women. Care for his horse. Dedication to his boss. . . .
As in most aspects of his life, Skinner holds to philosophies that direct his artistic intentions. He strives for technical perfection in his designs and he carries the same perfection into every piece of steel and iron that he cuts and welds. “To do the heavy work,” says Skinner, “you wear gloves. To do the fine work, you take off the gloves so you can feel the iron.”
It’s a sentiment that Skinner would likely say reflects his fundamental approach to life.
Lane County rocks
Marli Miller would like you to consider rocks. Miller’s a structural geologist, the author of a popular guidebook, Roadside Geology of Oregon. She’s fascinated by rocks, and truth be told, sometimes she gets downright giddy about them. No surprise that she’s intrigued by the rocks in Lane County.
“Okay, some rocks are boring,” confesses Miller. “Some you might look at and not know what you’re looking at. But the fact is, rocks are formed by earth processes that speak to magnitudes of time that we can hardly comprehend!
“Even young rocks are hugely old. Like around here, the rocks in the bedrock alone are 30 million years old! And that’s nothing compared to some of the older rocks that are 300 million, even 3 billion years old!”
Did you know that Lane County is one of only two Oregon counties that stretch all the way from the Pacific Ocean to the Cascade Range? To a geologist like Miller, that means big opportunities for field study.
Most locals are familiar with the rock wall favored by climbers on Skinner Butte. The rocks are uplifted basalt formations, cooled magma produced by undersea tectonic plates shifting off the Oregon coast. Much like the Fisher Formation near Goshen. Or the “Eugene Formation,” at Spores Point along I-5 North of the McKenzie River near Coburg.
Miller ticks off a list of other fascinating, local sites that include the “huge sandsheet” coastal dunes running south from Florence to Coos Bay. And the basalt cliffs extending north from Heceta Head up the coastline.
“But,” says Miller, “for the biggest WOW! factor, the old McKenzie Pass is outstanding.” It marks an important point, she says, along the boundary between the volcanic peaks of the High Cascades and the younger Western Cascades. The Pass represents a stunning example of lava flows generated by very recent volcanic activity, and like most rock, the pumice fields hold a message for Miller.
“The message,” says Miller, “is that human beings are a part of the earth. Humans are not apart from the earth. We are all part of the planet!”
A place for travelers
Adventure-seeking travelers on small budgets are often big fans of hostels. Hostel accommodations tend to offer amenities unavailable in typical, cookie-cutter hotel/motel settings: Inexpensive lodging, unique character, close connection to compatriot travelers and ground-level exposure to local communities.
The Eugene Whiteaker International Hostels, known individually as Hostel Oz and Emerald Garden Guest House, offer all that and more.
Mac Hines, the steady-handed owner and manager of the hostels, has slowly built his hospitality business “one or two beds at a time” since first settling into Eugene’s Whiteaker neighborhood in 2006. The Guest House and Hostel Oz both reflect Hines’ influences as a host, carpenter, band musician, sailor, gardener, green-lifestyle advocate, and intermittent traveler. “The hostels have never been a huge money maker,” says Hines, “but they’re sustainable. Consistent. And the business grows a little every year.”
Oz currently accommodates 26 visitors a night. Guests sleep in a variety of room configurations ranging from 4-bed dorms with shared baths to private rooms with private bathrooms. The “more homey, more farmy” Garden House resembles a bed and breakfast inn. It houses 12 guests. Prices in both places range from $30-38 a night. Most reservations are made via online booking sites including TripAdvisor, Hostelling International, and Airbnb.
According to Hines, his guests range in age from 18-80. International travelers account for more than half of all his visitors. The mix is eclectic and colorful. A large world map in the OZ kitchen spotlights the home countries of many former guests; pushpins are scattered across every continent.
A few yards away, several guests are preparing dinner. A couple trades rhythms on house drums in an adjacent room where a young man also tinkers on a piano. Another pair is caught up in a chess match. In the backyard, with its small stage and amphitheater seating, guests and staff hangout together and socialize. Some are reading. Others are chatting, likely sharing stories of their road adventures.
“This,” says Hines, “is about living together on a very small footprint. It’s smart, high-density, low-impact living. And it’s about high-quality hospitality.”