Lava Lands Visitor Center – Stories of Oregon’s volcanoes

Lava Lands Visitor Center

Follow the red lava flow

The Lava Lands Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits that focus on local volcanology, geology, ecology, and archeology. As I entered the exhibit area, the red “lava flows” in the carpet guided me you through the center. Display boards are big, bright, and bold. They contain A LOT of information.

Lava Lands Visitor Center

This small center is a great place to start a visit to the 54,000+ acres of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon. The Monument was created in 1990. It encompasses unique geological features, lava flows, and many lakes.


Newberry Volcano is a 600-square mile shield volcano that erupted twice and part of it collapsed. The 17-square mile Newberry Crater is a the collapsed volcano – a caldera. You can drive to the highest remaining part of the caldera’s rim. Known as Paulina Peak, it is 7,985 feet high.

Temperatures beneath the caldera reach 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The area is being explored as a source of geothermal energy. Though drilling cannot occur within the boundaries of the Monument, nearby wells have shown potential. Proposed power plants could produce enough energy to supply 30,000 people.

Lava Lands Visitor Center

Newberry is covered with many lava flows. There are 400 cinder cones on its northern and southern flanks. Newberry volcanoes likely erupted hundreds, if not thousands, of times in the last half-million years.

The “Ring of Fire”

This area is a part of the “Ring of Fire” due to the presence of volcanic activity and features. Signs of an impending volcanic eruption in this region include gas emissions, steam eruptions, uplift, and earthquakes. Local environments and human populations may be affected by ash fall, lava flows, and lahars. Lahars are fast moving mudflows consisting of ash, soil, and water. Three Oregon volcanoes show the most potential for activity. They are South Sister, Newberry Volcano, and Mt. Hood.

Eruption of Mount Mazama

Mount Mazama erupted relatively recently in geological time. About 7,700 years ago its major eruption spread ash northwards into western Canada and eastward to Nebraska. The ash produced by that eruption was about 100 times that produced by Mount St. Helens in 1980. The explosions emptied the magma chamber beneath the summit. It collapsed and later filled with water. The resulting lake, Crater Lake, is the deepest lake in the U.S. The lake is at least 1,949 feet deep.

Examples of rocks

You can see obsidian, pumice, rhyolite, basalt, welded tuff, basalt, cinders, and ash. There’s a big piece of obsidian in an open display case and a sign encouraging you to touch it. Its smooth, glasslike surface reflects every ray of light.

Obsidian display

Evidence of past peoples

As scientists studied the area, they learned about the people that lived here thousands of years ago. Archeologists discovered a fire hearth containing obsidian points and other clues about the former residents on one site. Examples of obsidian points are in another part of the exhibit. The art of flint-knapping, where chips of stone are flaked off to form useful tools from stone, is more than 10,000 years old. Another display shows handcrafted items made by Native Americans today using local rushes and other materials. Patterns displayed have passed down over thousands of years.  The exhibit mentions the adaptability of Native Americans as they dealt with climate change, volcanic activity, and an influx of settlers. They incorporated explanations for some of the volcanic events into their mythology.

3-d map of volcanoes in Central Oregon

Lava Lands Visitor Center

Be sure to check out the small gift store next to the exhibit area at Lava Lands Visitor Center. There is a large 3-D map of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument. It not only shows you the scale of the Monument, but also some of the geological features. Can you see the many cinder cones? It’s a better than average gift store and it contains books, maps, art prints, t-shirts, mugs, and toys.

Note that the Visitor Center is only open for part of the year. It closes in mid-October and opens again in the beginning of May. For more information about the center, go the Lava Lands Visitor Center site.

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