The Lava Lands Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits that focus on volcanology, geology, ecology, and archeology locally and in regions nearby. As I entered the exhibit area, I noticed the red “lava flows” in the carpet that guide you through the display. Display boards are big, bright, and bold and contain A LOT of information.
This small visitor center is a great place to start if you plan to explore some of the 54,000+ acres of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument located south of Bend, Oregon. The Monument was created in 1990 and it encompasses unique geological features, lava flows, and many lakes. Newberry Volcano is a 600-square mile shield volcano and it has had at least two eruptions where part of it collapsed forming a caldera. The 17-square mile Newberry Crater is actually a caldera. You can drive to the highest remaining part of the caldera rim. It is known as Paulina Peak and is 7,985 feet high.
Temperatures beneath the caldera have been measured at up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit and 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.
This area is referred to as being 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 are outlined and they include gas emissions, steam eruptions, uplift, and earthquakes. Local environments and human populations might be affected by ash fall, lava flows, and lahars – fast moving mudflows consisting of ash, soil, and water. The three volcanoes showing the most potential for activity are South Sister, Newberry Volcano, and Mt. Hood.
Mount Mazama erupted relatively recently in geological time and it is featured in part of the exhibit. About 7,700 years ago it had a major eruption that spread ash northwards into western Canada and eastward to Nebraska. The ash produced by that eruption was about 100 times that produced by Mt. St. Helens in 1980. The explosions emptied the magma chamber beneath the summit and it collapsed and later filled with water. The resulting lake, Crater Lake, is the deepest lake in the U.S. and has been measured to a depth of 1,949 feet.
There are examples of several types of rocks associated with volcanic activity. You can see obsidian, pumice, rhyolite, basalt, welded tuff, basalt, cinders, and ash. There is a big piece of obsidian in an open display case and a sign encourages you to touch it. Its smooth, glasslike surface reflects every ray of light.
As scientists have studied the area, they have 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 of their study sites. 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 obsidian and other types of stones, is more than 10,000 years old. Another display shows handcrafted items made by Native Americans today using local rushes and other materials. The origins for these patterns likely were 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.
Be sure to check out the small gift store next to the exhibit area. There is a large 3-D map of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument that not only shows you the scale of the Monument but also shows 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 here: http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recreation/recarea/?recid=38394