I went on a field trip recently to one of my favorite places–Glass Buttes. Obsidian is everywhere you look! It’s like being a kid in a candy store. In fact in one of my previous posts, Glass Butte Dragonglass, I show a picture of some obsidian I have collected displayed in a candy bowl.
Located about halfway between the towns of Bend and Burns in eastern Oregon, this site is a rockhounder’s paradise. You can dig and crack open obsidian with a rock hammer, but you really don’t need to because it’s all over the surface. The Bureau of Land Management oversees most of this site. Individuals may collect up to 250 pounds of obsidian per year.
Glass Butte, elevation 6,388 ft., and Little Glass Butte, elevation 6,155 ft., tower over the surrounding hills. Sagebrush, rabbitbrush, and bunchgrass cover the landscape. Western juniper and mountain mahogany are interspersed over the land. Sagebrush-dependent species such as Brewer’s sparrows, sagebrush sparrows, and sage thrashers were seen and heard the day we were there. A pair of mountain bluebirds was seen perching high in the juniper trees. We caught glimpses of ferruginous hawks.
Glass Buttes formed during the Miocene and Pliocene periods, 5-5.8 million years ago. Three layers of lava flows from volcanic domes and vents formed the buttes. The first flow was basalt, the second rhyolitic lava, and the third another layer of basalt. Rhyolite contains a high percentage of silica and it forms much of the substrate. Due to a rapid rate of cooling of magma at Glass Buttes, larger mineral crystals didn’t have time to form. The silica-rich “glass” of obsidian formed as a result of this process.
Here’s an interesting article with more details about the obsidian at Glass Buttes for you geology geeks. Obsidian is Hot Stuff.
This area is in the Brothers Fault Zone of the High Lava Plains physiographic province. The many faults are easily observed in aerial photos and through the use of Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data. A 2011 map of Glass Buttes based on LiDAR can be seen here.
Obsidian from Glass Buttes has been used in making tools for thousands of years. Native Americans made arrowheads, spear points, and other cutting tools with the glass-like stone. Obsidian from this site has been found throughout western North America.
Modern day flint knappers take advantage of the abundance of obsidian at this site. Some groups meet annually at events such as the Glass Buttes Knap-in to work on their craft. My first photo on this post shows what flint knappers left behind at one of their campsites.
There are MANY types of obsidian at Glass Buttes. I will quote Tim Fisher who runs the Oregon Rockhounds Online website. “Need a list of what’s here? OK, here goes: black/mahogany, leopardskin, mahogany, Midnite lace, triple flow, double flow, pumpkin, purple and silver sheen, gold sheen, silver sheen, rainbow, peacock, purple sheen, fire, green, Aurora Borealis rainbow, black, opaque black, opaque banded, gunmetal, and probably many more!” If you want detailed information on where to find the different types, please purchase the Ore Rock On guide from his website. We own it and it contains invaluable info for sites in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and western Montana.
Some rockhounds search for specific types, such as rainbow and fire obsidian, and they can be the most difficult to find.
We made a couple additional short stops on the field trip. We stopped at an abandoned mercury-bearing cinnabar mine. The site was discovered in 1933 and mined until 1957. Another stop was made at an exploratory geothermal well site. No development is currently taking place but it may happen in the future. Greater sage-grouse live and breed here and that may limit development.
This is a great area to visit but I should remind you of a couple things. Obsidian is SHARP so make sure you have good tires and a spare tire. Four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended for certain areas. There is no water or facilities here. If you visit, be prepared. Access to this site is on an unmarked road near mile marker 77 on Highway 20. Drive south a couple miles to find obsidian. Additional information is available from the organizations listed here.
I have been to this site several times. My recent trip was with Bend Parks and Recreation. I always wish I could stay at Glass Buttes just a little bit longer. It’s a hard place to leave if you love rocks!
Here’s a photo I took in March of three twisted swans at Summer Lake in Central Oregon. The northern shovelers surrounding them seem to be doing some contortions of their own. Can you find a raptor hiding in the background taking it all in?
The three swans have bands on their necks. I saw them there last fall and turned in my sighting to find out where they came from. I found out the young birds were banded in the spring of 2017 at Summer Lake so they haven’t strayed far from where they hatched.
This area hosts thousands of snow geese at certain times of the year. Summer Lake Wildlife Area is open to hunting so in order to avoid confusion, they have this sign posted for hunters. From a distance, snow geese and swans can be hard to tell apart.
Do you want to learn more about trumpeter swans? See my post Swan Song to learn about the conservation success story associated with this beautiful bird.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Twisted
The hike to Gray Butte, located in the Crooked River National Grassland near Terrebonne, Oregon, is great to walk in the spring because of the wildflowers. I went here in May and we saw quite a few colorful flowers. The habitat is sagebrush steppe with scattered western juniper trees.
I have been here twice with Leslie Olson, one of my favorite guides with Bend Parks and Recreation. One time we went on Cole Loop Trail #854 and the other time we went on Gray Butte Trail #852. The roads to the trailheads have sections that are rough but passable. We did out-and-back hikes of around four to five miles total distance. They are listed as easy to moderate hikes. Here’s a map that shows both trails.
My most recent hike began at Gray Butte trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, near the McCoin Orchard. The orchard was originally planted by Julius and Sarah McCoin in 1886. The property was purchased by the U.S. Forest Service in the 1930’s. At one time there were 100 fruit trees here – apple, pear, plum, etc. Grassland range specialists saved the surviving trees in the 1980’s. When I was there, the trees were in full bloom.
Did I make it to the top of the butte yet? Nope, but we had fantastic views from the Gray Butte Trail. Gray Butte reaches an elevation of 5,108 feet. We stopped for lunch on a rocky overlook known as the Austin Creson Viewpoint, elevation 4,200 feet. Austin Creson was involved in the planning of this trail. The viewpoint is 1.9 miles from the trailhead and this was where we turned back.
The Austin Creson Viewpoint is on the northern edge of the Crooked River Caldera. This caldera is enormous. It encompasses 425 square miles. In fact, the volcanic eruption associated with this caldera was the sixth largest on earth. Woah! Right here in Central Oregon. That’s impressive.
From our lofty perch at the viewpoint we had great views of Mt. Jefferson, the Three Sisters, Broken Top, and Black Butte. Yes, it was a bit cloudy but seeing the peaks peeking through is always thrilling.
We saw and heard eagles, swifts, and sparrows on our hike. We also saw a weird beetle known as the American oil beetle. Nice to look at but don’t touch them because they will produce an oil that will irritate your skin.
Seeing the wildflowers on this hike made my day. They are so beautiful! I am including photos from my most recent hike and from my earlier hike a couple years ago. Enjoy!
For driving directions, see Gray Butte Trailhead. Note that if you stay on the trail for about 6.5 miles from the Gray Butte trailhead, you’ll end up at Smith Rock State Park. Please use applicable maps for this route.
Be prepared on any trips you make into the backcountry and help to preserve its beauty for the rest of us. Thanks!
Lupine plants were in full bloom on a recent trip I took to Glass Buttes, Oregon. They have beautiful flowers and a unique leaf form. The palmately divided leaves of lupine can have five to 28 leaflets. Water often funnels down the leaflets and collects at their base.
Today I took a hike up Gray Butte, northeast of Terrebonne, Oregon. It was a nice hike with lots of wildflowers and spectacular views. This view is from the edge of the Crooked River Caldera looking west to Mount Jefferson, on the right, and Black Butte, on the left. The rocks in the foreground are splattered with messages left by lichens.
My place in the world is out in the wild places of central Oregon. From dry sagebrush steppe in a caldera to lush meadows bordered by pine forests. There are so many special places to explore…
Weekly Photo Challenge – Place in the World
“Stretching his hand up to reach the stars, too often man forgets the flowers at his feet.” Jeremy Bentham
Last week I was out walking my dog on the Mill A Loop Trail in Bend, Oregon and I happened to see an osprey pair in the process of creating more ospreys. Spring is in the air!
Ospreys often nest in areas close to human activity. This nest is right next to the Bend Whitewater Park. There are perches and platforms installed on both sides of the Deschutes River here for birds. I’m glad to see them using the site after the initial disturbance caused by the park’s construction.
The osprey pair will lay 1-4 eggs and incubate them for 36-42 days. The nestlings will be in the nest for 50-55 days. It will be great to see more of them flying around in a couple of months.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Unlikely