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Concrete Mountain High

Project by Surface Gel Tek

A memorial telescope installed at the apex of Double Peak Mountain in San Marcos, Calif., took an artistic turn with a 12-foot diameter slab of etched concrete that features artistic depictions of the landmarks visible from the peak's 360-degree vistas.

Every town has citizens that seem to stand out from the crowd. Perhaps they are involved in community service, or a favorite local college professor, or maybe they're just the person that knows how to get things done. Dr. Thomas Wahlund, microbiology professor at Cal State San Marcos, was one of those people.

Wahlund, a San Marcos resident, was 60 when he died after a five-week battle with cancer in 2008. Memorial and scholarship funds were created in his honor, and after considering a memorial on campus, the family set their sights higher - specifically, the top of Double Peak, a 1,644-foot summit south of the city limits that contained Wahlund's favorite hiking trails.


The concrete pad, depicted half-sealed here, was coated with Polyurethane 250 and 501 two-component sealants. Aluminum oxide was added between the second and third applications to improve slip resistance. The telescope was attached to the bolts when the pad installation was complete.

Wahlund's wife, Dr. Colleen Moss, also a professor at Cal State San Marcos, was the driving force behind the memorial. She presented an idea for a 12-foot diameter concrete slab with a telescope mounted in the center that would be freely available to anyone that hiked to the top of the mountain. Double Peak Mountain has nine hiking trails and 360-degree vista views from the top, with mountain ranges to the north, San Diego to the south, the Vulcan Mountains near Julian to the east and Catalina Island punctuating the Pacific to the west. The peak's panorama became the focus of the project - the design team wanted pictorial versions of the vista views etched into the concrete, allowing visitors to look out through the telescope and then down to the concrete to identify what they were seeing. Once the city agreed to donate the land, Dr. Moss generated more than enough capital to cover the project's $20,000 budget, with funds left over to maintain the site for several years.


Flattoo graphic templates and gelled acid (Surface Gel Tek) were used to create the concrete etchings and make the platform slip resistant. Acrylic colorants with a UV stabilizer provide pigment for the pictures. Tamryn Doolan worked with Los Angeles-based public artist Steve O'Loughlin to create the images and seal the slab before the telescope was installed.

Design & Installation
Months before the install was scheduled, every part of the graphic had to be approved by Dr. Moss and the city. Several points of interest were selected for each compass direction, among them San Jacinto Mountain and San Bernardino.

Wahlund's brother Jim referred Craig Sargent-Beach, San Marcos' Community Services Director, to Surface Gel Tek and company president Tamryn Doolan to make the project vision a reality. The Mesa, Arizona-based company's Flattoo system uses gelled acid for concrete etching and vinyl adhesive templates that create a layering effect, adding depth to the artwork beneath a weather- and UV-resistant polyurethane seal. The system was one of the reasons Doolan's firm was selected for the project.

"I knew I could handle creating the Flattoo templates of the views, but I'm a graphic artist, not a canvas artist," Doolan said. "Translating what Ms. Moss and the city of San Marcos envisioned was going to be a challenge." Steve O'Loughlin, an accomplished public artist from Los Angeles whom Doolan had worked with on another project, was recruited to assist with the artwork and its installation.


A four-foot by six-foot pad leading to the telescope station serves as an additional monument to Dr. Thomas Wahlund, to whom the memorial is dedicated. The area includes a commemorative poem with a hummingbird etched lightly behind the words.

The templates served as outlines for each of the four vista views, which O'Loughlin brought to life. Each view was worked from its own template; layers were peeled back, the images were etched in and the appropriate colors were applied. Once the etched sections were filled with color, the landmarks and features were labeled accordingly. While O'Loughlin worked on the vista views, Doolan worked on the logos, hummingbirds and the poem pad using the same system.

Doolan and O'Loughlin were on the job site for six days, enjoying majestic sunrises over the mountains and warm Pacific sunsets. Dr. Moss brought the team lunch and kept them company during the install. "This is my favorite project. It came together perfectly," said Doolan. The project wrapped with a dedication ceremony on September 3, 2011.

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October 15, 2019, 10:11 pm PDT

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