There are three short hikes near the covered picnic area. The Geologic Time Trail winds along ¼ mile to connect you to the other two trails. Interpretive signs note the changes of the last 50 million years. The colorful small signs explaining the geologic history looked brand new. The Trail of Fossils takes you up a ¼ mile loop trail on the hillside and shows you fossils that left their imprints in large boulders.
An almost-tropical forest covered this region 44 million years ago. 120 inches of rainfall per year, compared to about 9 inches today. Bananas used to grow here! Bear-like predators, four-toed primitive horses, and other creatures once roamed this land. The Clarno Arch Trail takes you up ¼ mile trail (yup, another ¼ mile one!) to the base of a cliff with a natural arch cut into the stone. This trail has a 200 foot elevation gain. If you hike all the trails out and back, it adds up to 1.25 miles.
Spring shrubs and flowers
When I was there in mid-May, wildflowers were in full bloom. The rose bush featured in one of my earlier posts—Wild Rose: Friday Flowers—was near where we parked. The “trunk” of that shrub looked like a formidable weapon! We saw orange globemallow blooming along the trail. Large netleaf hackberry shrubs grew on the slopes near the cliffs.
Birds of the cliffs
There were a handful of birds out that day. Canyon wrens serenaded us with their descending song. A prairie falcon, American kestrel, and golden eagle flew near the cliffs protecting their nest sites. A California quail called Chi-ca-go in the background. Swallows flitted overhead.
Fossilized logs forming a “T” on the cliff face
Logs and lichens
We spotted several fossilized leaves and branches along the Trail of Fossils. When we went up the Clarno Arch Trail, we saw large fossilized logs sticking out of the cliff face. The colorful lichens covering the rocks attracted my attention as usual.
Colorful lichens on the rocks
Stairway to the arch
The columns of the Palisades were formed by volcanic lahars 54-40 millions years ago. They are stately and beautiful but the stair step-like structure beneath the arch really got my attention. Water must have pooled up in each “step” before falling.
Steps beneath the arch
When we were there with Bend Parks and Recreation, it was a cool day. I imagine it gets hot in the summer here so plan your visit with that in mind.
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.
Obsidian everywhere you look!
Glass Buttes – Rockhounding and habitat
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 Buttes, Oregon
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.
Mountain bluebird pair
Geological history of Glass Buttes
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.
Lichen covered Rhyolite rock
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.
Flint knappers then and now
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.
Lupine at Glass Buttes
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.
Obsidian from Glass Buttes, Oregon
Types of obsidian at Glass Buttes
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.
Glass Buttes Aurora Borealis Obsidian – Photo by Tim Fisher
Some rockhounds search for specific types, such as rainbow and fire obsidian, and they can be the most difficult to find.
Exploratory geothermal site
Other land use
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.
Obsidian-paved road at Glass Buttes
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!
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…
Here’s one more entry for the Weekly Photo Challenge of Lines. The many layered castles in Bryce Canyon National Park are an amazing sight. A single hoodoo formation is impressive, but when you see hundreds of them in lines like soldiers standing at attention, they are just plain stunning.
See my previous post Time Lines: Utah Parks for more pictures featuring a small taste of the geology in Utah’s parks.
I have so many Yellowstone favorite places it’s hard to choose. Here’s a collection of photos of things that make the park special. I start this post with a quote from President Theodore Roosevelt who was known as the “conservation president.”
“The only way that the people as a whole can secure to themselves and their children the enjoyment in perpetuity of what the Yellowstone Park has to give is by assuming the ownership in the name of the nation and by jealously safeguarding and preserving the scenery, the forests, and the wild creatures.”
Theodore Roosevelt, April 24, 1903 at the laying of the cornerstone of Gateway to Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park, with its larger-than-life landscapes, dramatically changing weather conditions, amazing menagerie of wildlife, variety of plant life, and geology in action, is one of my favorite places. It also has a rich history as the world’s first national park.
A park is born
Evidence shows ancient peoples lived in Yellowstone Country 11,000 years ago. European Americans began exploring the lands in the early 1800’s. Teams of explorers brought back tales of wonder of this unique environment. Their work was supported by images created by artists Thomas Moran and Henry W. Elliot and photographer William Henry Jackson. The park was established in 1872 by President Ulysses S. Grant. Additional protections for the park and its wildlife were instituted in 1894 when congress passed the National Park Protection Act – now known as the Lacey Act.
President Theodore Roosevelt had a love of the land and he was instrumental in making sure many natural areas were preserved. His quote above reflects the importance of preserving wild places so that all may enjoy them “in perpetuity.”
Landscapes – large and small
Here are photos of some special landscapes.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
And more of spectacular hot springs and other features.
And don’t forget to notice the tiny landscapes beneath your feet.
And of course the wildlife.
Yellowstone National Park gets visitors from all over the world. 4,116,524 people visited in 2017.
May we all continue to safeguard and preserve its scenery, forests, and wild creatures.
Do you ever drive by a place a million times and think to yourself, “I’ve got to stop there one day.” This rockshop, south of Redmond, Oregon, was one of those places for me. We finally stopped last summer. The shop has hundreds of carefully labeled rocks inside and out.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop display room
There are a wide variety of rocks in Central Oregon and this shop displays some of the beauties collected over the past 42 years by the owner. Owners Mel and Jerry Lindbeck obviously have a love of rocks. Mel shapes some of the rocks into spheres, bookends, and display pieces.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop
Lovely displays of rocks
We have been to plenty of rock shops over the years but this one displays them in lovely ways. The front room has a couple display cabinets, a table with small rocks, and windows lined with slices of semi-transparent agate.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop displays
The back room is filled with neatly arranged specimens. In other rock stores we have visited, dust and dirt seem to be part of the collection. Not here. The polished spheres shine and sparkle, reflecting the light. The many amazing specimens invite you to take a closer look.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
This is a good place to see some of the rock native to this area. Inside you can see thundereggs, petrified wood, jasper, agate, obsidian, and less common things such as Hampton green petrified wood. Outside you will see some of these same types of rock in boulder-size specimens. You will also see smaller specimens of some of the rocks in water-filled birdbaths that bring out their color. Rough rock is also on display outside in big piles.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
And more rocks…
Canutts Gem and Rockshop outside displays
Though most of the rock is from Central Oregon in this shop, there are specimens from elsewhere as well. Pyrite, malachite (one of my favorites), lapis lazuli, copper, quartz, and fossils are all represented. Click here and scroll to the bottom of the page to see the owner’s sense of humor about a special fossil in their collection.
So if you like rocks, think about stopping at this roadside attraction on Highway 97. To find out more about the shop, go to Canutts Gems and Rockshop.
Canutts Gem and Rockshop roadside sign
Please support our local businesses and buy rocks for yourself, friends, and family. Remember, a rock makes a special gift that lasts forever.
The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is Structure. I immediately thought of our recent trip to the five national parks in Utah. The structure of the rocks and geological features is complimented by the trees in these parks. Whether dead and twisting, or green and contrasting, the trees are a main character in an interesting landscape.
Arches National Park, Utah
The arches are amazing at Arches National Park and standing dead trees add to the scene. You can see Double Arch in the background.
A fence along the trail in Canyonlands National Park, Utah
I loved these fences made from old juniper wood in Canyonlands National Park. They helped keep people on the trail and were nice to look at too.
Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
The rainbow of colors in the cliffs of this canyon in Capitol Reef National Park were complimented by the bright green of the trees. A storm was moving in in this picture.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
A windswept pine tree clings to the edge of a cliff in Bryce Canyon National Park. Puffy white clouds (like in “The Simpsons” cartoons) float gracefully in the background.
Zion National Park
Colorful and tilting structures in the rock, line a tree-filled canyon in Zion National Park. A few wispy clouds hang over the valley.
The national parks in Utah are full of interesting structures both large and small. The geology of the region tells a dramatic story. The trees and other plants living here have adapted to harsh conditions. The wildlife living here takes advantage of the local environment.
Take the time to look up but also to look down when you visit these parks. Each park is a little different from the others and each one has amazing sights worth seeing. The forces of Nature are strong here.
The Otter Bench Trail gives you some breathtaking views of the Crooked River. The trail head is near the town of Crooked River Ranch and the trail goes along the base of the cliffs bordering the river. We walked a couple miles in, stopped for lunch, and then headed back. There is little elevation change on the section we hiked but if you decide to head down to the river, it gets steep.
The trail goes through juniper and sagebrush habitat and along rocky talus slopes. If you go off the trail a little ways, you can walk to the edge of cliffs that enclose the river far below. If you have a fear of heights, don’t get too close to that edge. A turkey vulture flew by at eye height when we were close to the edge. Hope it wasn’t waiting for a meal!
You get a good view of some of the geological forces at work here. The basalt columns in the lower cliffs are part of the Deschutes formation. Above them you can see light tan colored tuff. Far above the tuff area you will see more columnar basalt and it is part of the most recent Newberry formation.
There is a small dam on the river a few miles from the trail head.
There are golden eagles nesting on the cliffs and you can see how easy it was for them to find a nest site here. The Horny Hollow Trail forks off from the main trail but it’s closed seasonally when the birds are nesting. It was closed when we were there but I saw eagles flying above the highest cliffs in the distance.
I heard and saw quite a few songbirds on this hike in April. The list of species seen includes Townsend’s solitaire, black billed magpie, mountain chickadee, Brewer’s sparrow, and western meadowlark. It was nice to hear some of these songsters again.
As temperatures begin to warm up, the high desert starts its wildflower show. We saw big showy arrowhead balsamroot, purple phlox and rock cress, delicate pink prairie stars, yellow fiddleneck, larkspur, and white miner’s lettuce. After a particularly hard winter we were grateful to see these bursts of color.
This trail passes through Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Crooked River National Grassland, and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife land. There is no fee to use the trail and there’s a good parking area at the trail head.
Directions to Otter Bench Trailhead from Highway 97 From Highway 97, just north of Terrebonne, turn left on to Lower Bridge Road (Sign with left arrow says “Crooked River Ranch”). After 2 miles turn right on 43rd St. After 1.7 miles turn left on Chinook Dr. After 5 miles (including a steep descent), go straight on to Horny Hollow Rd (do not take Chinook back up the switchback) Go 1.7 miles to the end of the pavement and park there.
Being a visual person, I have always wanted to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. I was not disappointed when I visited the park in May. Here are some of the many multi-layered delicate castles of stone in the park. They are a visual treat to all that are lucky enough to see them.
Do you enjoy watching the HBO series Westworld? When I first watched the show, I wondered where some of the stunning outdoor shots had been filmed. Interesting land features and sunny skies serve as a backdrop in this series. I found out that several filming locations were in Utah so we visited them on a recent trip.
Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah
Origins of Westworld
This series is based on the 1973 Westworld movie, written and directed by Michael Crichton. In this sci-fi classic, wealthy tourists visit an Old West-themed amusement park where they can indulge in any of their fantasies with no consequences. The “hosts” in the park appear to be human but they are actually androids. Though the skies appear to always be sunny, there are dark plot twists involving the hosts in both the movie and the series.
Castle Valley near Moab, Utah
Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy worked on the screenplay for the new series. It debuted on HBO in October of 2016. You may have heard of Jonathan’s brother, Christopher Nolan. The two of them co-wrote the screenplays for The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, and several other successful films. Jonathan worked as a writer, director, and executive producer on the Westworld series, roles he also held for the Person of Interest series. Continue reading →
We just got back from the Rock, Gem, and Mineral Show in Madras. I overheard someone say there were 135 vendors this year so it took a while to see everything. This is the 68th year of this event. It is sponsored by the The All Rockhounds Pow-wow Club of America, Inc. Prices for the rocks, gems, and minerals range from one dollar to hundreds of dollars. Parking, admission, and entertainment is free. The show takes place June 22-25.
Here are a few pictures I took today at the event. Do I know what the name is of everything I show in these pictures? No! I have always liked pretty rocks even if I don’t know what they are. If you go to a big rock show like this, someone there can likely identify what’s there for you and tell you all about them. They may even tell a tale or two about the adventure they had when collecting them.
Land forms of the Moenkopi Formation at Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
Land forms at Capitol Reef National Park
The landscape at Capitol Reef National Park tells many stories in colorful layers of rock. The darker columns in the picture above are part of the Moenkopi Formation and it is 225 million years old.
The sedimentary layers of rock in this picture consist of silt, sand, clay, and gravel. The bands of gray and burgundy are made up of volcanic ash. The 700 foot thick layer at the base of the cliffs is the Chinle Formation. That formation contains a lot of petrified wood.
I was impressed by contrasting colors and textures at this park. If you take a trip to Utah, don’t overlook this park. There are a lot of hiking trails here and a short scenic drive.
The Three Sisters volcanoes in Oregon are beautiful but one of the three is dangerous. The photo above shows Middle Sister, a dormant volcano, and North Sister, an extinct volcano. Their other sibling, South Sister, is the troublemaker. This volcano last erupted about 2,000 years ago and research in 2000 indicated uplifting activity so it could blow again. See all three Sisters in the photo below. South Sister is on the left – some distance from her siblings.
The soil in central Oregon likes to remind you of its origins by shouting it out to you in deep shades of red. Here is the view from Lava Butte, south of Bend. For more on visiting that area, see my post here.
While on vacation, I picked up a rock and it told me what it was meant to be. A Tyrannosaurus rex of course!
I took it home and got ready to paint. All of the ridges and depressions seemed to be in exactly the right spots. Even the greenish color was right. I darkened a few spots and enhanced others. I added scales with a tiny brush. The crooked grin fit right into the contours of the rock. The nostril and eye placed themselves along a ridge and depression.
Look past external appearances and you may find magic hidden within.
I have always had a special feeling about Spasmodic Geyser in Yellowstone National Park. Why? I think part of it has to do with the interesting name. Check out this short video and watch for the butterfly that tempts fate.
Eruptions from this geyser range from a few inches to 20 feet in height. The time between eruptions varies but is usually in the range of 1-3 hours. Spasmodic Geyser has a temperature of 198° F. This geyser was named by Geologist A.C. Peale when he was doing work with the 1878 Hayden survey team. Peale chose this name due to the geyser’s erratic behavior.
Is this a post about the burgeoning marijuana business in Bend? No! I’m impressed by the local materials used in some of the buildings here and The Herb Center is an interesting example. It’s a small building covered in rocks including lots of obsidian. It was known as the Stone House. Perhaps now it could be called the Stoner House (?)
The Downing Building used to house the Downing Hotel and Cafe. It was built in 1920. It was made from local tuff and pumice blocks, bricks, yellow pine, and Douglas’ fir. When doing restoration work on the building in the 1980’s, a secret door was located and it may have connected to the brothel next door.
The Des Chutes Historical Museum is currently housed in the Reid School building. It is an impressive building made from pink volcanic tuff blocks. This was the first modern school in the area and it contained ten classrooms, an auditorium, indoor toilets, and central heating. It opened in 1914 and 241 pupils were enrolled there.
New Taggart Hotel
The New Taggart Hotel was built in 1911 by J.B. Goodrich. The front has rectangular blocks lined up perfectly with partial arches around the doors and windows. I thought the back of the building was interesting because the stonework is less concise. It’s wonderfully imperfect.
These are just a few examples of interesting architecture using local materials. Be sure to take a closer look when you are in Bend.
Do you want to go to the top of one of the few volcanoes in the U. S. located within the city limits? Pilot Butte is a cinder cone that rises 480 feet above the city of Bend. There are some amazing views from its 4,142 foot summit.
Look at this 360° “photo sphere” image that I took from the top. You can move the image around to see it all. It is a fantastic place!
About 190,000 years ago, Pilot Butte erupted and spewed glowing cinders and steam hundreds of feet into the air. The butte was covered in a foot of ash when Mount Mazama erupted 7,700 years ago. As Pilot Butte eroded away over the years, it evolved into the extinct cinder cone that we see today.
View from Pilot Butte looking to the East
You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit RoadTrail and the Summit Drive Trail are both 1.0 mile long. There is also a road that winds around the butte. The road closes for several months during the fall and winter. The Nature Trail is a dirt trail that ranges from moderate to moderately steep. There are several benches where you can rest and take in the sights. The Summit Road Trail starts on the west side and follows the road. You can also access it from the east side via a short trail. That’s the Summit Drive Trail.
Looking uphill on Pilot Butte
Roadcut on Pilot Butte
Juniper tree and views to the East
The butte is covered by bunchgrass, wildflowers, shrubs, and western juniper trees. You will see reddish volcanic soil along the trail and in road cuts.
You can see lots of interesting wildlife here. Mule deer can be common during certain times of the year. A cougar was seen on the butte a couple of years ago but they are not a common sight. You are much more likely to see a golden-mantled ground squirrel. Red-tailed hawks and other raptors hunt here so be sure to look up. You might also see (and hear) black-billed magpies and scrub jays. On warm days, western fence lizards might be out sunning themselves on rocks.
At the top of the butte there is a peak finder and several informational panels. You get spectacular views of several Cascade Mountain peaks to the west and north. You may be able to see Mount Jefferson, Three Fingered Jack, Mount Washington, the three Sisters, Broken Top, Belknap Crater, Black Butte, and Mount Bachelor. To the south you get a great look at some of the 400 cinder cones that are a part of the Newberry system. Newberry volcano blew about 400,000 years ago and its lava flows covered 1,200 square miles in this region. To learn more about Newberry, click here to read one of my previous posts. To the east, you’ll see Powell Butte and the Ochoco Mountains.
Peak finder at Pilot Butte
Cinder cones in the distance to the South
Powell Butte & the Ochoco Mountains to the East
You get great views of the city of Bend and the Deschutes River. You will also see the irrigation canals cut across the city on their way to the east and north.
The property where the butte is located was owned by the Foley family and was donated to the state in 1928. Pilot Butte State Scenic Viewpoint is the most visited state park in eastern Oregon.
There is a local tradition of setting off big fireworks from the butte on the Fourth of July. It is not uncommon for fires to start from the falling embers. Firefighters are up there ready to put them out. Since the butte rises nearly 500 feet above the land below, it is easy to see the fireworks display from many locations in and around Bend.
I recently went on a two-mile trek to the center of the earth. Okay, not quite the center of the earth but the trail did lead underneath Highway 97 – the main North-South highway in these parts. I decided to visit Lava River Cave before it shut down for the season. This cave is located 12 miles south of Bend, Oregon in the Newberry Volcanic National Monument area.
I had heard that there was limited parking so I got there early. WAY too early! I forget that I only live a half an hour from many of these geological attractions.Check the operating hours and entrance pass requirements for Lava River Cave here.
Lava River Cave
It is a cool but creepy experience to go into some of these caves. When I say cool, I really mean cool. The average temperature inside this cave is 43° F so dress accordingly. You can bring your own lights but they rent high-power flashlights there for only $5. I chose to help support the site by renting their light. They have a donation jar near the exit so you can make additional contributions there.
At 5,466 feet in length, Lava River Cave is one of Oregon’s longest lava tubes. Lava from Newberry Volcano flowed down here about 100,000 years ago. As the lava drained away, it created this long tube. The lava was 2,000° F!
Lava tubes are often discovered when a part of the roof collapses, exposing the cave below. This cave was discovered in 1899 by stockman and trapper, Leander Dillman. The site was acquired by the U.S. Forest Service in 1981 and was included in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument when it was established in 1990.
Lava River Cave sand gardens
One of the unique features in this cave is the presence of “sand gardens.” Over time, sediment washes through cracks in the roof and it partially fills the cave. These sand gardens form as water droplets erode the sand fill away. They look a bit like very small badland formations.
The cave is about a mile long to the end. I only had to duck to avoid hitting my head in a couple of spots. Much of the cave has a roof that is high overhead. Wear good boots and watch your step.
It took me 50 minutes on the way in to get to the end as I attempted to take many pictures. On the way out it only took about 25 minutes since I was walking much faster. Note that you are required to listen to a veryshort talk on protecting local bat populations from White-nose Syndrome prior to going into the cave.
Lava River Cave entrance stairs & ramps
One last thing…I saw a group of several young mothers carrying infants in front packs. No, just no. When you start the walk, you go down a series of ramps and 55 metal stairs. Then you get into some rough ground for a short while. Though much of the walk is over fairly smooth ground, you will run into rough sections and you can stumble even when using a good light. Lava River Cave is a nice cave to visit but I would not recommend it for young children or people who have mobility issues. Just my two cents worth…
Dee Wright Observatory in the distance from the trail
Dee Wright Observatory, McKenzie Pass, Oregon
Looking like some medieval castle about to be attacked by dragons, the Dee Wright Observatory is located near the top of McKenzie Pass at an elevation of 5,187 feet. No, there is not a telescope set up here for star viewing, but you can see several Cascade Mountain peaks nearby standing tall amidst 65 square miles of black lava rock.
The lava is from relatively recent flows from Yapoah, Little Belknap, and Belknap Craters. One of the types of lava you will see here is called Block or A A lava.
Though there is little rainfall in this area, there can be up to 20 feet of snow. The melting snow travels through cracks in the lava to underground reservoirs that feed the McKenzie and Metolius Rivers.
The McKenzie Pass Highway follows parts of the McKenzie Salt Springs and Deschutes Wagon Road that was built in the period of 1866-1872. It was used to move cattle east. The wagon road was established as a toll road in 1872. It’s hard to imagine how travelers made it over the rough lava rocks at the pass and many had to abandon their wagons. See my previous post on the Santiam Wagon Road for a little bit more history on the wagon road.
The Dee Wright Observatory building was completed in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. This and other projects in the area, such as the Santiam Ski Lodge, employed many people in a time of economic hardship. Dee Wright supervised the crew but passed away a year before the observatory was completed. This site was named in honor of his 24 years of service with the Forest Service as an officer, guide, and packer.
The Sisters from a large viewing window, Dee Wright Observatory
Peak finder at Dee Wright Observatory
Small viewing window looking at the Middle Sister, Dee Wright Observatory
There are large and small openings in the observatory that have labels indicating which mountains you are viewing. If you follow the staircase up to the top of the building, you will find a peak finder. Arrows pointing in various directions show the distance to different peaks with their respective elevations. You can see many peaks including the Sisters, Little Brother, Mount Jefferson, Mount Washington, Black Butte, Cache Mountain, Dugout Butte, Condon Butte, Scott Mountain, South Belknap Cone, Belknap Crater, and Little Belknap.
View of Mt Jefferson and surrounding peaks from lava fields
If you want to take a short hike, the ½-mile long Lava River Recreation Trail is right next to the observatory. This accessible trail has informational panels that will teach you more about the site.
We drove the entire 82-mile loop of the McKenzie Pass-Santiam Pass Scenic Byway. We started at Sisters and drove west along the winding byway. The two-lane road is only open for part of the year due to snow. If you go early in the day, you can avoid the traffic – motor vehicles and bicycles. Note that vehicles over 35 feet long are not allowed on this narrow, curvy road.
Subalpine forests near Scott Lake
It’s an interesting drive because you pass through several types of habitat. East of the loop you will see drier sagebrush steppe habitats. As you travel around the loop, you will go through Ponderosa pine forests and subalpine forests. On the west side of the loop, you’ll travel through mixed conifer forest areas with high rainfall. Keep your eye out for interesting wildlife that live in the different habitats along the route.
You can see Clarks’s nutcrackers, gray jays, woodpeckers, crossbills, grosbeaks, rock wrens, Northern goshawks, and grouse in forested areas near McKenzie Pass and several types of ducks and sandpipers at nearby Scott Lake and Hand Lake. There are also deer, elk, and many other mammals here.
Belknap Springs, located 23 miles west of McKenzie Pass, is 3,625 feet lower in elevation. If you coast most of the way down like we did, look at the gas mileage you can get! Ours went all the way up to 99.6 mpg. It’s a fun drive with a lot to see.
The amazing, and appropriately named, Big Obsidian Flow feature was formed a mere 1,300 years ago. You can walk up a trail that winds through a massive mountain of sparkling obsidian. When I say massive I mean MASSIVE – 380 million cubic yards! From a distance, the landscapes appear to be a real life version of Mordor. Up close, the shimmering reflections all around you are dazzling.
If you are at the Monument on a clear day, you might want to drive up Paulina Peak. When the Newberry volcano erupted 7,000 years ago, it collapsed and formed a caldera. Paulina Peak is what is left of the volcanic peak. It is 7,983 feet tall but was likely 500-1,000 feet higher before the eruption. If the weather cooperates, you will get a glimpse of peaks in Washington state and California from its summit.
Looking West from Paulina Peak
Be forewarned that the road up is “primitive.” In this case, primitive means that parts of the road consist of bone-jarring washboard. The view from the top is worth it though.
From the top of Paulina Peak you get a great view of Paulina Lake and Twin Lake. These two lakes formed in the caldera created after the Newberry volcano erupted. Hot springs are present at both of these lakes. There are plenty of places to camp nearby. If you’re into fishing, the lakes have a plentiful supply of kokanee, brown trout, rainbow trout, and Atlantic salmon.
Snowshoe and ski tracks at Ten Mile Sno-Park
The road into this area is closed during winter near the Ten Mile Sno-Park but there are a lot groomed trails for winter activities. I went snowshoeing there on February 20 for the Winter Recreation Celebration. The Discover Your Forest group once again hosted free guided walks. Our group was small but there was a lot to see there. It’s a much different habitat than Mt. Bachelor. There were snowmobiles using some of the trails but the cross country skiing and snowshoeing trails had light usage.
Winter sights near Paulina Lake
The last big events planned around the 25th birthday celebration of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument occur between June 30 – July 4th. There will be a re-dedication of the Monument. On July 4th there will be a fireworks display in La Pine. It will celebrate the 10th anniversary of La Pine, the 30th year of the Frontier Days celebration, and the 100th anniversary of Deschutes County.
You can get to top of the Lava Butte cinder cone by hopping onto a shuttle or taking a short hike from its base. The 500-foot tall butte is located at the Lava Lands Visitor Center in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument about eight miles south of Bend, Oregon. Lava Butte is one of the hundreds of cinder cones in the immediate area.
Benham Falls trail
Lava Butte erupted about 7,000 years ago. There are several trails that wind through the ancient lava flows and onto the flanks of the butte. There were three main gutters where most of the lava flowed. Ten square miles of pine forest were buried by lava. The lava flows blocked the Deschutes River in five places. If you walk the trail to Benham Falls you can see where the river has made its way through the lava rock.
Giant lava “snowballs”
When the eruption of Lava Butte occurred, gas-charged lava was ejected into the sky. Cinders cooled and collected to form the 500 foot tall cone shape you see today. Giant balls of lava can be seen along the trail. These “snowballs” started out as small pieces of molten rock and as they rolled through the lava flow, they grew in size. If you could cut one of them open, it would resemble a cinnamon roll in form.
The basalt rocks have less silica in them so they aren’t shiny like obsidian. The cinders are used locally to gravel the roads in snowy and icy weather conditions. The lava rocks are also used for landscaping purposes.
The wildlife that live in the lava lands have to adapt to the harsh conditions. You may see some of the small rodents such as the American pika, Ochtana princeps, yellow-pine chipmunk, Eutamias amoenus, or golden-mantled ground squirrel, Spermophilus latreralis. You may hear the sweet song of the rock wren, Salpintes obsoletus, before you see it. You may also hear the sound of the pallid-winged grasshopper, Trimerotropis pallidipennis. Their call has been likened to the sound of a sprinkler.
Lava Butte plants
The plant life has also adapted to the dry, or xeric, conditions. You may see varieties of rabbitbrush and buckwheat growing between the lava rocks. If you are there at the right time of the year, you will see the showy colors of Davidson’s penstemon, Penstemon davidsonii, or Oregon sunshine, Eriophyllum lanatum. Wax currant, Ribes cereum, has berries that were used in the past by Native Americans in the making pemmican – which is similar to beef jerky.
Many of the remaining trees in the area have a twisted form. The rocks take a long time to break down into soil here in the very dry conditions. The trees send out a taproot that searches for water. The spiral growth form allows all of the branches to get water. One of the tree trunks here is referred to as the “Lava Ness Monster” since it resembles the Loch Ness Monster in profile.
Can you find the Lava Ness Monster?
The Lava Lands Visitor Center is only open from May 1 to October 31. You can purchase a recreation pass at the entrance gate or use one you may already have. Due to very limited parking at the top of Lava Butte, you must board the shuttle to drive to the top. The fee to ride the shuttle is $2 round trip.
Trailhead for Trail of the Molten Land
There are several trails around the butte. I have walked on the 1.1-mile long Trail of the Molten Land and have also driven to the top and walked around the crater. There is a fire lookout at the peak but it is not open to the public. Information about the trails can be found inside the visitor center. Click here to see my article about the Lava Lands Visitor Center .
Funfact: Astronauts trained here in 1966. NASA thought the landscapes of the moon might be similar to this habitat.