This week the word for the Weekly Photo Challenge is Layered. Here is one of the many beautiful layered formations along the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
This week the word for the Weekly Photo Challenge is Layered. Here is one of the many beautiful layered formations along the Scenic Drive in Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
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.
The arches are amazing at Arches National Park and standing dead trees add to the scene. You can see Double Arch in the background.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Here is a map that shows the Otter Bench trail:
Here are driving directions from BLM:
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.
Here are my entries for the Weekly Photo Challenge related to Texture. I am fascinated by the many shapes, colors, and textures of rock.
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.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Satisfaction
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.
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.
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.
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.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Order
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.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Danger!
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.
Weekly Photography Challenge – Repurpose
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.
Weekly Photo Challenge – Names
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.
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.
You can get to the top in a few different ways. The Nature Trail is a 0.8 mile hike and the Summit Road Trail 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 very short talk on protecting local bat populations from White-nose Syndrome prior to going into the cave.
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…
There are plenty of sights to see around here. See my posts on the following for more information: Lava Cast Forest, Lava Butte, Lava Lands Visitor Center, and Happy Bday Newberry! Note that the visitor center and some of the attractions close during fall and winter months.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Looking down at the details in a smorgasbord of rocks near Thermopolis, Wyoming.
Look beneath your feet
Notice the textures
Notice the colors blending
Bold and brilliant hues
Bold and distinct edges
Patterns of cracks
Patterns of smoothness
Transitions moving towards new
Transitions moving in a rhythm
Beat into the earth
Beat into your memory
I am re-posting one of my favorite posts in celebration of one year of blogging and 100 entries. Hope you are enjoying my blog!
If I have to travel to the west side of the state, at least I get to peek at this peak.
Here is a link to a site with all kinds of interesting info about Mt Hood AKA Wy’East.
Maybe Newberry National Volcanic Monument can light its own candles for its 25th birthday celebration. It’s young as a monument and is also young in geological terms.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .
Fun fact: Astronauts trained here in 1966. NASA thought the landscapes of the moon might be similar to this habitat.
Look beneath your feet
Notice the textures
Notice the colors blending
Bold and brilliant hues
Bold and distinct edges
Patterns of cracks
Patterns of smoothness
Transitions moving towards new
Transitions moving in a rhythm
Beat into the earth
Beat into your memory
Sometimes you forget to appreciate what is in your own back yard. Last week I took a quick trip to Smith Rock as the sun was setting. I will go back when I have more time…
Game of Thrones fans may know what Dragonglass is but the rest of you may be going, “Huh?” The rock plays an important role in the story. Most people know it by the name obsidian. Like glass, obsidian fractures into pieces with sharp edges. It can be found in a wide variety of colors.
Obsidian forms when lava from a volcano cools rapidly with minimal crystal growth. Volcanic activity in Central Oregon is recent, in geological terms, so obsidian is fairly common in some areas. Lava flows covered hundreds of acres in this region. I have found obsidian in my yard between the sagebrush and bunchgrass. Isn’t this a cool piece?
I’m lucky because I live about an hour away from a place with TONS of obsidian called Glass Butte. When you drive along the dirt roads there, the streets are literally paved in “gold” in the form of obsidian. You are advised to have good tires on your car because that stuff can pop a tire fast.
Recent research has found obsidian is so sharp it cuts more cleanly than a metal scalpel blade. http://www.cnn.com/2015/04/02/health/surgery-scalpels-obsidian/
The varieties of obsidian at Glass Butte can be found in shades of black, silver, gold, mahogany, green, and rainbows of color. The obsidian is solid, striped, spotted, and clear. It sparkles and shines when the smallest ray of sunlight hits it. As you wander in the sagebrush covered hills at Glass Butte, it’s like being a kid in a candy store.
In my guest room I keep a dish full of obsidian where most people might place a bowlful of candy. Guests might be temporarily disappointed until they take a closer look. It is amazing!
People have been collecting obsidian and making arrowheads, spear points, knife blades, and scrapers with it since the Stone Age. Items made from obsidian have been found hundreds of miles away from the source.
Here is a site where you can learn more about obsidian.
This site has obsidian for sale but I like going to it to see pictures of the many different varieties. You can also purchase a detailed guide about rockhounding in Oregon here.
It is easy to see why the Painted Hills are designated as one of Oregon’s Seven Wonders. The Painted Hills Unit of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument is 3,132 acres in size and it is located nine miles northwest of Mitchell, Oregon. If you visit the Painted Hills after rainstorms move through the area, the colors will look more intense from the recent moisture. The colors are striking no matter what season it is. It is like looking at a parfait of luscious layers spread out before you. The deep crimson and black layers at the base of the hills contrast with the sandy browns and golds of upper layers.
The color of the hills is due to volcanic eruptions and changes in climate. Over 35 million years ago this area was part of a river flood plain covered by thick forests of semitropical plants. Abundant ash fall and lava floods helped to shape most of the formations. Erosion started about five million years ago. The area was later subjected to immense forces that tilted the layers downward to the east. Basalt floods hardened and protected softer layers underneath from erosion. Over time the layers of ash and vegetation-rich soil became exposed.
The strata in the John Day formations include Big Basin (28-39 million years ago), Turtle Cove (22-28 million years ago), Picture Gorge Ignimbrite (28 million years ago), Haystack Valley (20-22 million years ago), and Picture Gorge Basalts (16 million years ago).
For more information, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/ptd-hills-unit.htm
There is a link to a map that gives information on several trails in the area ranging from ¼ mile to 1.6 miles in length.
The Painted Hills are extremely photogenic so don’t forget a good camera, phone, or other device. You will want to bring back a memory of the surreal landscape.
If you drive just a couple of hours east of Bend, Oregon you will find strikingly painted hills and a center devoted to paleontology. The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center will impress you with fascinating information and artfully displayed artifacts. Wow! What a place.
In 1862 minister and self-trained scientist Thomas Condon learned there were fossils in the John Day basin from soldiers stationed in the area. He began excavating fossils in 1865 and sent specimens to the east coast for verification. There was a great amount of interest in the specimens he uncovered. He was later appointed to be Oregon’s first state geologist due to his many discoveries.
Fossil collectors collected as much as they could as fast as they could for many years. In the late 1800’s, John C. Merriam, Professor of Geology at the University of California, developed a new practice when collecting specimens. Detailed notes were taken about the layer of rock strata a specimen was collected in. Merriam, along with Ralph W. Chaney and Chester Stock, led the way in correlating the fossils found in each layer with the geological age of the strata.
As early as 1903, concerns were voiced over the preservation of the fossil beds. Concerned citizens wanted the area to be designated as a state park. They later pushed for the protection that national park status would provide. In 1975 the area was designated as the John Day National Monument. In 1984 Ted Fremd was hired as the Monument’s first paleontologist. He developed a program of systematic prospecting, mapping of geology, and radiometric dating of the rock layers. Scientists in a wide variety of fields were employed in helping to understand the flora, fauna, and geology of the region.
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center was built in 2003 and houses fossils found in the three units of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and areas nearby. It is located in the Sheep Rock Unit near Dayville, Oregon. Visitors can get a good view of scientists carefully cleaning fossils found in the field as they work in a lab with large viewing windows. Scientists have found 2,200 species of plants and animals in the lands of this National Monument. The Center displays fossils in glass cases and large murals with re-creations of what scenes may have looked like when those animals and plants existed. A small store with fossil and dinosaur-related products is located in the lobby.
The Monument covers 14, 000 acres in its three units. The units are many miles apart and services are limited so plan in advance. There are several trails in the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to give you a close-up view of the landscape. Since this is a National Monument, collecting fossils is not allowed.
Digging for fossils is allowed on the hill located just behind Fossil High School in the town of Fossil. I have collected fossils at that location and the site is easily accessible. For more information on collecting fossils there, go to http://www.oregonpaleolandscenter.com/#!wheeler-high-school-fossil-beds/c17uw
To find out more about the Thomas Condon Paleontology Center, go to http://www.nps.gov/joda/learn/photosmultimedia/Thomas-Condon-Paleontology-Center.htm
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
The year is 1905 and you have traveled thousands of miles across the country. You spot a fort-shaped rock formation in the distance and know you are finally close to your destination. A sage thrasher perched atop sagebrush seems to be singing its melodic song to welcome you. As you draw closer, you see several buildings clustered around a windmill-driven well. The wind blows the desert dust into your eyes. Blinking to make sure it’s not a mirage; you can’t help but let out a sigh of relief. You made it – you are finally here.
Though that account was fictional, it would be easy to imagine that kind of scenario as you tour the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum. The site currently contains 12 buildings from the early 1900’s that were moved to the site from various locations in Central Oregon. A replica blacksmith shop was constructed at the site in 2006 using reclaimed wood and other materials. Volunteers restored the buildings and carefully furnished them with artifacts. As you walk into a house with the table carefully set, you really get a feel for how the early pioneers lived. You will be impressed by the attention to detail. There is a small store with items related to the area on the front of the property.
There are buildings of businesses representative of what would have been present in a small town of that time period. A small doctor’s office sits waiting for the next patient. The Fort Rock General Store welcomes visitors with a wide selection of goods. It is the only building original to the site. It supplied goods to 1,200 people at one time. Sunset School has lessons on the chalkboard and rules for teachers to abide by near the door. The pews at Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church are empty now but were once full of people at the only building in the vicinity built expressly for worship. It still serves as a place for weddings and memorials.
Six buildings served as homes for pioneers in the early 1900’s. There was a major influx of settlers after the Enlarged Homestead Act of 1909 increased the allotment of land from 160 to 320 acres. Fred and Hannah Stratton moved to the area from Michigan in 1912. Their sons, Frank and Lewis, grew up in the house and Frank later married Vivian. Frank and Vivian founded the Fort Rock Valley Historical Society and opened the Museum in 1988. The Widmer cabin was moved from the Bend area and now houses a large collection of arrowheads and other ancient tools crafted from obsidian collected in the area. George Mekenmaier built a cabin in 1910 before he married Hazel Penrose. Their children, Beatrice and George, played in the area now known as Fort Rock Cave. Many years later, Hazel encouraged anthropologist Dr. Luther S. Cressman to explore the cave. He excavated the cave and discovered nearly 100 sagebrush bark sandals that were later determined to have been made 9,000 to 13,000 years ago. They are the oldest ever discovered and they were arranged in a ceremonial pattern. Simon Boedigheimer came to Fort Rock around 1912 and built one of the few two-story houses in the area. He left his wife and two children in the Willamette Valley while he worked on the house. A carpenter by trade, his house included special features such as built-in shelving and a stairwell closet. The Websters and their six-year old son moved to the area in 1912. They bred Hereford-Shorthorn cattle and were very successful. Their son Carl went on to become a successful trapper and he kept careful records of his trap lines on the bedroom door casings. Alex Belletable and his wife came to Fort Rock in 1911. He was one of the wealthier homesteaders in the valley. The couple were French immigrants and they tried farming in the area but were not nearly as successful as they had been in France. They left the area in 1922.
Fort Rock is a short drive away and it is now part of a state natural area. After a short walk uphill, you enter an amphitheater-like setting. The formation is part of a 6,000 foot wide caldera. About 12,000 years ago this area was covered by ice hundreds to thousands of feet thick. Temperatures warmed and a 900 square mile lake formed over the site. Three thousand years later sagebrush replaced the marshlands.
The Brother’s Fault zone lies beneath the site. Faults allow magma to get to the surface. As the lava hit the water, it caused a massive explosion. This explosion, and the prevailing Southwesterly winds, caused the horseshoe shape of the Fort Rock formation. The tuff walls are all that remain as it collapsed upon itself. Terraces formed by the pounding action of the waves can be seen on surfaces of the tuff ring.
When I was there in May of 2015 on a Bend Parks and Recreation field trip, wildflowers were in full bloom and cliff dwelling birds flew around the site. There was a thick stand of death camas in the crater. A few bitterroot plants bloomed nearby. Early pioneers quickly learned from the resident Native Americans that the camas was poisonous while the bitterroot root could provide sustenance. Meriwether Lewis ate bitterroot during his explorations and brought specimens back east. The scientific name, Lewisia rediviva, reflects his discovery of the plant.
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 .
The Newberry National Volcanic Monument was established in 1990 and it preserves some 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 known as 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.
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 can be seen working down the sides of trees and heard 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.
Tree molds can be seen 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 feature is called a “kipuka”. This particular spot consists of older cinder cones that were encircled by younger lava.
To learn more about this and other volcanic features in the area, be sure to visit the Lava Lands Visitor Center located south of Bend. See this link for hours of operation and additional information. Note that this center is only open from May 1 to mid-October. http://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/deschutes/recreation/recarea/?recid=38394