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.
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.
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?
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.
If you drive just a couple of hours east of Bend, Oregon you’ll 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.
The Lava Lands Visitor Center has interpretive exhibits that focus on local volcanology, geology, ecology, and archeology. As I entered the exhibit area, the red “lava flows” in the carpet guided me you through the center. Display boards are big, bright, and bold. They contain A LOT of information.
This small center is a great place to start a visit to the 54,000+ acres of the Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon. The Monument was created in 1990. It encompasses unique geological features, lava flows, and many lakes.
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.
Fort Rock Homestead Village Museum
Though that account was fictional, it would be easy to imagine that kind of scenario as you tour Fort Rock Attractions. The Fort Rock Valley Historical Society Homestead Village Museum site currently contains 12 buildings from the early 1900’s that were moved to the site from various locations in Central Oregon. There is a small gift store with items related to the area at the entrance. 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. Due to their painstaking work, you really get a feel for how the early pioneers lived.
You will be impressed by the attention to detail. Buildings represent what would have been present in a small town of that time period. For example, the small doctor’s office appears ready to accept the next patient.
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.