A walk along the mile-long trail of the Lava Cast Forest gives you a glimpse of how recent volcanic activity has affected the local environment. The trail is located several miles directly west of Sunriver, Oregon in part of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument.
Newberry National Volcanic Monument
The Newberry National Volcanic Monument, established in 1990, preserves unique features created in the recent geological past. Newberry volcano erupted 7,000 years ago and smooth textured pahoehoe lava flowed through a series of fissures along its northwest flank. This is the Northwest Rift Zone. The lava enveloped the forest creating lava trees and tree molds that are still visible today.
The most recent activity related to the Newberry volcano occurred 1,300 years ago. You can see the results of that activity by visiting the Big Obsidian Flow nearby.
There is evidence of three distinct lava flows in this area of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. These include the Lava Cast Forest Flow, the Cascade Flow, and the Forest Road Flow.
The current landscape
The area is slowly recovering from the past volcanic activity and healthy plant communities can be seen along the trail. Ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, white fir, and a variety of shrubs, grasses, and wildflowers are present. At certain times of the year, flowers such as Indian paintbrush and purple penstemon display a marked contrast against the grayish-black volcanic rock. Many plants have established themselves in the wind-blown ash that settled on the soil.
You may also catch a glimpse of some of the wildlife living in the area. The small mammal called a pika prefers to live in rocky habitats and you may hear its whistling call. Red-breasted nuthatch birds work down the sides of trees, calling in short nasal tones. Golden-mantled ground squirrels and yellow-pine chipmunks may scurry across the trail in front of you. A red-tailed hawk may drift over you carried by the warm thermals.
Remnants of a lava lake can be seen along the trail. Pahoehoe lava poured through a series of vents and settled into a depression.
Lava Cast Forest tree casts
Tree molds are present in many places along the trail. As lava flowed through the forest, it piled up along the upstream side of the trees burning them out but leaving a “mold” of the tree’s form. Some of the trees snapped off and were carried away by the lava; others fell to the ground and were hollowed out by the flows.
At one point along the trail you can see an island of trees surrounded by a rocky landscape. This tree island feature is a “kipuka”. In this particular spot, younger lava encircles older cinder cones.
The Warm Springs Museum, located in Warm Springs, Oregon, is impressive inside and out. As you approach the building, note the interesting architecture that echoes some of the structures local tribes lived in. Be sure to view the building from the back as well. The building honors the Wasco, Warm Springs, and Northern Paiute tribes that reside in the Warm Springs Reservation area. There is a ¼ mile long interpretive trail behind the Museum.
Historically, the Paiute lived in a large area of Southeastern Oregon and traveled far in search of food. The Wascoes, or “river people”, lived east of The Dalles along the Columbia River and were primarily fishermen. The Warm Springs people lived in a large area in the vicinity of the current reservation. They moved between summer and winter villages and were more dependent on game, roots, and berries. There was a lot of trading that went on between the tribes for food and other resources.
Tribes looked to their elders for guidance and passed on traditions to their children. The family was the center of learning. Children learned subsistence skills such as basket making and hunting but also learned the value of traits such as patience and commitment.
Each tribe chose their own chief. They respected the values and traditions of other tribes. For example, the seven drum religion of the Wasco was shared with other local tribes.
Europeans enter the scene
When white men entered the scene in the 1700’s, the importance of trade increased. Coffee, sugar, cloth, and especially beads, were valued trade items. Unfortunately the settlers also brought diseases that native people had very little immunity to. By the time Lewis and Clark arrived in 1804, the numbers of Native Americans had plummeted due to many succumbing to various diseases.
Exploration of the area by early settlers continued into the 1800’s. The Indian Removal Act was approved in 1830. In the 1840’s immigrants began moving to the area on the Oregon Trail. From 1840 to 1860, 250,000 settlers traversed the Oregon Trail. John C. Fremont explored the area that would become the Warm Springs Reservation in 1843.
Forced onto reservations
In 1855 Native Americans were forced onto reservations. Most of their ancestral lands were ceded to the U.S. The Wasco and Warm Springs tribes ceded ten million acres.
The Northern Paiutes fought against scouts, soldiers, settlers, and other tribes in an attempt to keep their lands. They were finally defeated by General George Crook between 1866 to 1868 and forced on to the reservation.
The tribes were forced to give up their culture. Certain traditions were outlawed. Children were forced to attend boarding schools. If they were caught speaking their native language they were given demerits.
Preserving a past
The Warm Springs Museum preserves part of the past and passes on valuable information to future generations. A short film on the history of local Native Americans plays as you enter the exhibit hall. You learn that water was important to all tribes and was referred to as the “blood of life”.
As you make your way through the Museum you will see an impressive collection of artifacts and recreations that give you a glimpse into the various tribes’ way of life. Many of the items are decorated with tiny seed beads that show an amazing amount of detail and artistry. Belts, bags, buckskin clothing, and war bonnets all feature intricate beadwork.
Re-creations of a wickiup and tule mat lodge invite visitors to look inside the structures local Native Americans lived in. A small, rustic cabin stands nearby. Tools of daily life are visible inside the structures.
There are a few parts of the exhibit that are interactive. A camera films you as you attempt to use a hoop and copy the moves playing in a video of the hoop dance. Another display features recordings of the languages of the three tribes living on the reservation.
A nice gift store
The small gift store is a great place to browse for local products. There are several books on regional topics. Jewelry, bags, and colorful prints are also available. Huckleberry jam and syrup are tempting to buy for yourself or as a gift for someone else. Boldly patterned Pendleton blankets are neatly tucked into shelves patiently waiting for someone to wrap themselves in their warmth.
If you are interested in the history of the Central Oregon area, consider a stop at the Warm Springs Museum. It is nicely laid out and has some remarkable artifacts in its collection. The information provided with the displays is interesting and may pique your curiosity into learning more. That is always a sign of a great museum.
Most people think of habitats classified as sagebrush steppe as looking flat and boring – something you have to drive through to get somewhere else. I was pleasantly surprised to see the following article this morning about some of the animals we will lose if that habitat is lost. Ten animals that will disappear with the sagebrush
Can you find the magpie photobombing one of the pictures in the article?
I have seen all of the animals mentioned in the article except the pygmy rabbit. Many years ago I was in their home range near Ephrata, WA and saw some droppings and burrows but that was about it. After I moved away, a captive breeding program successfully reintroduced them in the region.
The High Desert Museum introduced a new North American river otter, Lontra canadensis, into the otter display last summer. Rogue, the Museum’s 4-year old otter, was anxious to meet the new addition. After a short period of adjustment, they became the best of friends. Here’s a bit more about river otters:
Range of the North American river otter:
The North American River Otter ranges throughout most of North America including parts of Canada, the Pacific Northwest, the Atlantic states, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Identification & unique characteristics:
Otters have long streamlined bodies and webbed feet. Males weigh an average of 25 pounds and females weigh 18 pounds. They range in length from 26-42 inches and one-third of that length consists of the tail. Otters have a flat head with small, rounded ears and long whiskers that act as feelers. Their fur is dark brown above shading to a silvery grey on their undersides and throat. The thick coat of river otters repels water and has about 160,000 hairs per square inch. They spend most of their time in the water and can hold their breath for as long as eight minutes. Otters can swim at speeds up to seven miles per hour and dive 60 feet below the surface. They have an acute sense of smell and hearing but are near-sighted.
Behavior & life history:
This intelligent and curious animal is active year round but may be more active at night during the spring, summer, and fall and more active during the day in the winter. Known for their sense of play, they have been observed sliding down riverbanks and snowy hills, rolling over and somersaulting in the water, wrestling, and chasing one another. They are more social than other closely related mammals and can be seen living together in family groups. Otters communicate with each other with scent-marking and through a variety of vocalizations such as barks, growls, chuckles, whistles, and chirps.
They hunt mainly at night and feed on a wide variety of prey including mammals, waterfowl, turtles, salamanders, frogs, slow-moving fish, crayfish, and aquatic insects. River otters live an average of 8 – 9 years in the wild and 18 – 21 years in captivity. They are mature at two years of age. Females raise litters of 1 – 6 young in dens.
Otters live near waterways, lakes, marshes, and coastal areas. They have adapted to living in a wide range of elevations and habitats. Their home range may be 15 square miles or more.
Status & conservation:
By the early 1900’s, populations had decreased in large parts of their range due to unregulated trapping and development by settlers. More recently, their numbers were reduced due to habitat loss and pollution. Management efforts began in the 1970’s. They have been successfully reintroduced into 21 states where they once lived including parts of the Midwest. Populations are currently stable in much of their range.
Interesting facts about the North American river otter:
The nostrils and ear holes close when the animal submerges underwater. The right lung is larger than the left and this may help them adapt to living in the water.
A fluttering of wings draws my eyes. An unknown call turns my head. Finding birds and figuring out what they are is like working as an investigative detective. You notice things that don’t fit into the puzzle that forms the background environment. I’m no expert but I look for clues such as the silhouette, size, markings, behavior, and sound. Apps such as iBird and various field guides help you narrow down the list of possible suspects when you are out birding. Sometimes you know what something is right away; other times you need to confer with others. There are times when you have only a fleeting glimpse so then you might refer to the bird as an LBJ – Little Brown Jobbie.
Birding in the High Desert
Though Bend is located in a desert environment, there is no shortage in the number and variety of birds that live here. We are fortunate that there are so many organizations involved in educating visitors and residents about the wealth of feathered creatures in the area. I have been on birding walks with the High Desert Museum, East Cascades Audubon Society, Sunriver Nature Center, and Deschutes Land Trust. People who go on the walks range from novice to very experienced birders.
Many of the guided walks have one thing in common – water. Even in my own yard a water feature attracts birds like some super powerful magnet. Lakes, rivers, ponds, and even small backyard water features, draw birds in.
I see a rainbow of birds in my backyard from the comfort of my La-Z-Boy recliner. The constant flurry of activity includes the brilliant blue of mountain bluebirds, yellow of lesser goldfinches, red of Cassin’s finch, impossibly smooth tannish-brown and butter yellow of cedar waxwings, and soft gray of mourning and Eurasian collared-doves. A sharp-shinned hawk occasionally comes in for a quick meal. I also get to see unusual visitors such as leucistic American robins and dark-eyed juncos. Leucistic birds have plumage that is partially white and they really catch your eye.
Deschutes County has a wide variety of habitats ranging from high elevation mountains with alpine plant communities to lower elevation sagebrush steppe. You might see gray-crowned rosy finches on the way up South Sister or sage grouse on a lek at lower elevations near Millican. Several websites list birds you are likely to see at various locations. The Birding Oregon site has some detailed information on where to go. Here is the Deschutes County link http://birdingoregon.info/Home/DeschutesCounty/tabid/168/Default.aspx .
Birding hot spot in Deschutes County
One of the hot spots for birding in Deschutes County is Hatfield Lake, a wastewater-treatment facility. Nearly 200 species have been observed at this location just north of the Bend Municipal Airport. It also holds the distinction of producing more rare bird sightings than just about any other location in Central Oregon. There are websites such as http://lists.oregonstate.edu/mailman/listinfo/cobol where people share sightings from this and other locations.
Bird events and guided trips
There are also opportunities to look for specific types of birds. In September and October the East Cascades Audubon Society (ECAS), records the number and types of hawks and other raptors migrating over Green Ridge, located near Sisters, OR. The High Desert Museum (HDM) works in cooperation with ECAS at this event. Up to 16 different species have been observed there during the count. They have seen nearly 500 birds on their best days. In mid-June, ECAS also puts on the Dean Hale Woodpecker Festival where participants go out in search of the 11 species that live in the area.
Great Horned Owl
Damian Fagan, recently hired by HDM, takes participants out on a Museum-sponsored field trip. The Museum and US Forest Service are involved in a bird banding study. Limited space is available on field trips to the study site at Ryan Ranch Meadow.
If you ever want to learn more about birds in this area, take advantage of some of the many field trips available. Participants are always willing to help you spot birds – no matter what your level of expertise is.